Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal yesterday divulged that he is at wits’ end on what to do with the lose-making mills under the Bangladesh Jute Mill Corporation (BJMC).
“I don’t know how this will be fixed,” he said, while briefing reporters after a meeting of the cabinet committee on purchase in the cabinet division in the secretariat.
Over the past decade, the government handed the BJMC, the largest state corporation, Tk 7,477 crore to bail it out of its financial troubles and yet it has put its hand out for more.
It has sought Tk 340 crore to clear arrear wages until June of its 32,740 workers and employees.
“If we get the fund, the ongoing labour unrest will be over,” BJMC Chairman Shah Muhammad Nasim earlier told The Daily Star.
The BJMC, which comprises of 22 jute mills and 3 non-jute mills, is likely to seek an allocation of Tk 1,600 crore to implement the 2015 wage scale for its workers.
And yet, it is nowhere near to standing on its own feet.
“How long will the government finance the BJMC?” Kamal questioned.
He said he had a meeting with the BJMC, in which he asked the top management of the corporation to go the prime minister.
“I believe the honourable prime minister will be able to find a solution,” Kamal said.
Meanwhile, at the cabinet meeting it was decided that the government will review the price of gas used in gas-based power plants every five years instead of keeping them unchanged for 22 years.
The minister said nobody knows what the price of gas will be after five years. “So, the tariff will be reviewed every five years.”
The meeting, chaired by the finance minister, approved a 450-megawatt gas or liquefied natural gas (LNG)-based combined cycle power plant at Meghnaghat in Narayanganj under the new condition.
The purchase committee endorsed the “Transformation of production process of Chhatak Cement Factory to dry process from wet process (revised)” involving Tk 670 crore.
A Chinese company will supply the necessary equipment for the cement factory to transform the production process, Kamal said.
However, the Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation will have to wait a couple of weeks to complete the bidding process as a Saudi company showed interest in investing in the cement factory.
If the Saudi company agrees to invest in the factory, the project’s design will change.
The committee approved a proposal seeking to increase the allocation of three bridges by Tk 78.02 crore.
All the three new bridges -- 2nd Kanchpur, Meghna and Gumti -- will be opened to traffic before Eid-ul-Fitr, Kamal said.
The bridges’ construction work has wrapped up and they are ready for vehicle movement.
“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is eagerly looking to open the bridges before Eid-ul-Fitr.”
About the increase in project cost, the finance minister said the implementation of the bridges was delayed due to the terrorist attack in July 2016 that killed a number of Japanese nationals.
Scared, the Japanese nationals employed in the projects fled the country and did not return for at least six months.
The other projects are: the procurement of spare parts and services of related specialist for Bhola 225MW combined cycle power plant involving Tk 207.07 crore and the electricity connection to 15 lakh customers under the expansion of rural electrification involving Tk 64.38 crore.
Kamal yesterday held a pre-budget meeting with the former governors of the Bangladesh Bank at the NEC conference room in the city’s Sher-e-Bangla Nagar.
He briefed them about the budget to be unveiled next month.
At the meeting, Kamal said the government aims to widen the tax network instead of raising the tax rates.
Around four crore people are able to pay tax. In the first phases, at least one crore people will be brought under the tax network, he said.
Bangladesh’s tax-to-GDP ratio is very low and it has to be raised, said AB Mirza Azizul Islam, a former finance adviser to the caretaker government.
Mohammed Farashuddin, a former central bank governor; AKM Aftab ul Islam, a director of the central bank board; Fazle Kabir, BB governor; Md Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan, chairman of the National Board of Revenue; Abdur Rouf Talukder, finance secretary; Md Ashadul Islam, banking division secretary; and Monowar Ahmed, secretary of the Economic Relations Division, were also present.