Among the myriad challenges lying ahead of the Bangladesh government, tackling rising inequality in society is one of them. Looking behind the veil of GDP growth, which does not fully reflect the socioeconomic realities of the majority, we would see that the benefits of economic growth are accruing in the hands of a few which is deepening the rich-poor divide. The latest Household Income and Expenditure Survey (HIES) of BBS revealed that Bangladesh’s Gini coefficient, which is an economic measure of equality, stood at 0.482 in 2016, up from 0.458 in 2010—pointing to the fact that inequality in our society has increased. The poorest five percent today own less than one percent of national income whereas the richest five percent collectively own upwards of 25 percent. The state of inequality could not be any starker in Bangladesh today.
The challenges ahead of us are numerous and daunting: unequal access to affordable health and education and other facilities such as public transport, poor state of public service delivery, project inefficiency, etc. The complete disregard for meritocracy and embrace of political patronisation in our public institutions over the years have paved the way for shunning out individuals who cannot wield influence through wealth or power. This has helped keep out the unprivileged out of the system. Furthermore, unemployment among the educated youth in the country is particularly high as the country undergoes jobless growth. Worst of all, a deeply embedded culture of systematic corruption has led to the rise of an ultra-rich elite class at the expense of the wellbeing of poorer sections of society. The anarchy in the banking sector exemplifies the dizzying heights that corruption has reached in the country.
Promises of good governance—which is essential for tackling inequality—cannot be taken seriously until and unless we see a system of accountability and transparency across all sectors. Social safety net programmes have to be widened to target a wider population of the extreme poor; capacity of public institutions has to be increased; politicisation has to be rooted out of institutions; transparency in public works programmes is needed along with project efficiency; quality health and education services have to be made affordable for all, just to cite a few prescriptions. What we want to see are actions and policies that reflect a wholehearted commitment to reducing inequality.