Lofty promises, real challenges | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 19, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, December 19, 2018

Lofty promises, real challenges

AL, BNP vow to accelerate growth, create jobs though risks loom over financial sector, business climate

Bangladesh has achieved impressive economic expansion in the past decade averaging a 6.5 percent GDP growth rate. For the three past consecutive years the growth went past 7 percent, making the country one of the fastest growing ones in the world.

Per capita income rose to $1,751 in 2017-18 from $703 in 2008-09. Other economic indicators such as export, import, eradication of poverty, inflow of remittance, inflation and foreign exchange reserve paint a success story about Bangladesh.

The government's go-ahead to a raft of mega projects and 100 economic zones also deserves credit despite slow implementation.

Achieving and celebrating success is a common thing for any government, business or individual. The Awami League-led government, which has been ruling the country for the past decade, can boast that it has achieved something worth celebrating.

But there are some fault lines in the economy that equally warrant attention from the political parties competing with each other for power.

At the foremost of these faults is the deteriorating health of the banking sector as some businesses have grown the tendency of making money by taking loans but not returning those afterwards, something evident in the growing amount of non-performing loans. The NPL, also called toxic assets, has increased more than four times to nearly Tk 1 lakh crore in the past decade.

The NPL figure would be almost double, according to many analysts, if loans that had been written off and rescheduled were taken into account.

Growing asset concentration to single borrowers is another concern. The government's plan to allow three more banks may hurt the banking sector further.

As the country's equity market is highly dependent on banks, political parties must focus on the banking sector to establish discipline.

Rising unemployment among educated people is another concern for the economy, which is on track to graduate to a lower-middle income country by 2021.

Out of 28 countries in the Asia-Pacific region, Bangladesh has the second highest educated unemployment rate. The International Labour Organization's Asia-Pacific Employment and Social Outlook 2018 revealed that youth unemployment in Bangladesh doubled between 2010 and 2017, in a span of only seven years.

The business climate, which reflects a country's general economic environment and governance situation, is in a sorry state, according to a number of international reports published this year.

Bangladesh ranked 176th out of 190 countries in the World Bank's Ease of Doing Business index, the lowest ranking among South Asian nations. Even war-torn Afghanistan and troubled Myanmar were ahead of Bangladesh.

The two major parties, AL and BNP, have not promised anything significant that would help improve the business climate.

Moreover, Bangladesh this year has come down one spot in the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness Index to 103 among 140 countries. According to the Global Innovation Index 2018, Bangladesh is the least innovative country. Similarly, because of pollution, Dhaka is the second least livable city in the world.

On the other hand, Bangladesh has topped the list of countries that saw the quickest growth in the number of ultra-wealthy people between 2012 and 2017, according to a report from New York-based research firm Wealth-X. The number of ultra-high net-worth individuals rose by 17.3 percent during the period.

All these reports necessitate the next government to address the bottlenecks if it wants to put the country on a sustainable growth path.

So, an election manifesto, which is a list of promises made to citizens, should not be limited to rhetoric only. In an era dominated by digital and social media, the growing awareness of voters, especially young ones, will hold political parties accountable for their promises.

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