Today we celebrate this paper's 24 years of service to the people of Bangladesh through “Journalism without Fear or Favour” based on the fundamental belief that free and independent media is the best guarantor of democracy, fundamental freedoms and welfare of the Nation. Born at the fall of autocracy in 1991, The Daily Star aimed to encompass the spirit of the moment stemming from the rebirth of democracy, and the values of our Liberation War with all its glory. The Dreams that were interrupted with the murder of Bangabandhu and the entering of military into our governance process were rekindled with the restoration of the supremacy of elected leadership at the helm of state power.
At the outset I would like to recall our founders -- SM Ali (Founding Editor), Azimur Rahman (Founding Chairperson), AS Mahmud (Founding Managing Director) and Towfiq Aziz Khan (Founding Managing Editor) -- but for whose vision and guidance we could not have produced The Daily Star that it is today.
From the very beginning this paper pledged to be an objective and independent voice for democracy, fundamental freedoms, human rights, minority rights, gender equity and freedom of expression, including and especially freedom of media.
We also pledged to support the process of economic growth through a market-based, competitive and private sector-driven economy.
Today as we look back on the past twenty four years, we can take great satisfaction at the economic picture of the country of which we have been a regular reporter and, in terms of policy reforms, an actor.
In the past decades, the economy has grown at nearly 6 percent per year despite natural disasters, soaring fuel and food prices, and other global financial crises. In the past two decades, poverty was reduced by nearly one third whereas life expectancy, literacy and per capita food production have increased significantly. More than 15 million Bangladeshis have moved out of poverty since 1992.
Bangladesh improved access to all levels of education, especially to the primary level. As a result of massive expansion of supply, targeted stipends to bring the poorest and girls into schools and continued investments in education, Bangladesh achieved almost universal access to primary education. The primary net enrolment rate (NER) is most recently reported at 93 percent.
With 98 percent of girls enrolled in primary schools and enrolment of girls in secondary schools over 6 million from 1.1 million in 1991, Bangladesh is a role model for similarly placed countries.
In achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Bangladesh has made remarkable progress. It has either already achieved the first five of eight goals or is about to.
Bangladesh has already reached the targets on cutting the number of poor and poverty gap ratio, and reducing under-five mortality rate under Goal 1 -- Eradicate Extreme Poverty and Hunger. The Household Income and Expenditure Survey of 2010 data show that poverty has declined at a rate of 2.47 percent per year since 1991-92 in Bangladesh. It can be said that the target of halving the population living below the poverty line was already achieved in 2012.
Under Goal 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education, the country is set to accomplish 100 percent net enrolment ratio in primary education.
Under Goal 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women, the girl to boy ratio in primary and secondary education has already been achieved.
Bangladesh has performed superbly in reaching Goal 4: Reduce Child Mortality, where it has either achieved targets in all indicators or is on track to reach them.
Five targets have been met while two are to be achieved under Goal-6: Combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases.
The country is likely to reach targets on lessening maternal mortality ratio, and raising contraceptive prevalence and the proportion of births attended by skilled health personnel.
Exports doubled in the last six years from $15.57 billion in 2008-09 to $30.18 billion in 2013-14. Although in the first eight months of the current fiscal year, the export growth is about two percent, we have to keep in mind that we achieved this on high growth and amid domestic and international challenges. We can easily have $50 billion in apparel exports by 2021 if we can give adequate infrastructural support and maintain political stability.
Foreign currency reserves have crossed $23 billion in February for the first time in the country's history.
Bangladesh is one of the top ten recipients of remittance in the world, according to the World Bank. Bangladesh earned $14.22 billion in inward remittance in the last fiscal year.
Inflows of FDI into Bangladesh rose 24 percent year-on-year to $1.6 billion in 2013, according to the latest report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.
According to a study of the Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO), Bangladesh is the most cost comparative advantageous country for operating business. Despite this advantageous situation, per capita FDI is one of the lowest in the world.
Bangladesh is one of the top destinations for investors planning to relocate their businesses from China.
The per capita income is $1,190 -- a figure whose repeat for three consecutive years could make the country a middle-income nation in the foreseeable future.
Since independence, food production has more than tripled to 35 million tonnes, making the country self-sufficient on food production.
Garment industry accounts for 80 percent of the country's export earnings. It contributes more than 10 percent to GDP and employs 3.6 million people directly, 80 percent of them women. The industry has created a platform for 2.8 million women to engage in new productive role in the society as well as empowering them.
Drawing examples of India's growth story, Prof Amartya Sen said India's per capita GDP doubled over the last three decades compared to Bangladesh, while life expectancy in Bangladesh is now three years more than that of India.
Our employed population, according to the provisional data of Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, was 44.3 million in 2003 that has increased to 58.1 million in 2013.
We have deliberately discussed our economic success rather elaborately only to drive home the tragedy that our destructive politics is bringing upon us. Given the above economic picture, it would not be an exaggeration to say that Bangladesh is poised to take off in a significant way to reach the goals of becoming a middle income country by 2021. But politics appears to be coming in the way.
Just as the country has been on a positive growth trajectory since the restoration of democracy, so also we had been on a similar trajectory in democracy and fundamental freedoms. Regular elections and alternation of the parties in government led to a feeling that people could punish rulers for their failures. Enactment of some progressive laws, establishment of the Human Rights and Information Commissions and some such moves set us on a pro-democracy course. The last two decades also showed a tremendous growth of private media in print, TV and radio, not to mention the growth of online media that has added to open public discourse at least among a section of the citizenry.
However, the unrelenting rivalry between our two political parties over the same period, which grew from non-violent to petrol bombing of the innocent in the hands of BNP and Jamaat has now brought the nation to a zero-sum political game that confronts us with disastrous consequences. The culture of hartals and parliament boycott started by the Awami League at the beginning of our post-Ershad journey, against which this paper has been an untiring voice, fatally reduced the effectiveness of the most important organ of parliamentary democracy- namely our Jatiya Sangsad.
Politicisation of vital organs of the government, namely the bureaucracy and the law enforcement agencies, especially the police, has greatly compromised the neutrality of the civic administration which is of crucial importance for good governance. Absence of elected local government and lack of transparency and accountability at all levels have led to massive corruption which has affected the government's ability to deliver.
Overarching above everything is the dangerous phenomenon of “culture of impunity” that has disempowered the ordinary citizens in a manner hitherto unknown, creating a sense of insecurity among ordinary citizens that hits at the very core of democratic governance.
To put it bluntly, we are doing impressively well on the economic front but depressingly bad in the political arena, with the clear possibility that bad politics may ultimately destroy our good economics.
It is in these challenging times that The Daily Star thrives into the future. The question is: how are we to remain an independent, patriotic and objective voice in the midst of a growingly acrimonious and violent, partisan politics that is threatening the future prosperity of the country and all its freedoms?
However tough the challenge, however treacherous the path, however antagonistic the powers that be, we pledge to our readers, patrons and advertisers to serve the nation and our readers with the same determination and professionalism that has marked our record of the last twenty four years.
We have always believed that free and independent media is one of the best guarantors of democracy and welfare of the people. That has motivated us to be one, and it is the same spirit and vision that will guide our actions in the future.
Once again, thank you all, readers, patrons and advertisers.