Addressing social, economic inequality: Qualitative changes in politics the way forward
The society in Bangladesh has become economically and politically hostile and unequal, said Debapriya Bhattacharya, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue yesterday.
The economy and society are more discriminatory than ever before, he told a roundtable organised by the Prothom Alo at its office.
The situation will not improve unless there is a democratic development, he added.
"You expect a competitive and accountable economy, which is efficient, capable, not wasteful, free of projects with inflated costs, and not discriminatory. But at the same time, people are not able to vote, there is no competition among the parties, no democracy within the parties, and the local government does not function properly. You cannot have a competitive economy without competitive politics," he said at the discussion on why the economy was in a crisis.
"If you want institutional qualitative change, the first institution to change qualitatively is politics."
The ruling party is known as a moderate social democratic party, Debapriya said, adding that when the party formed the government in 2009, it made a declaration titled "Vision 2021".
One of the goals mentioned in the declaration was to establish a welfare state, in which there will be equal opportunity for all.
"But the society is discriminatory," he added.
"We have an unfruitful parliamentary system, in which no discussion about the general public takes place."
Entrepreneurs are now linked to politics for their individual interests, he said, adding that entrepreneurs do not consider what is good for the business community.
Ahsan H Mansur, executive director at the Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh, said, "We need short-term measures before the national election to rein in inflation and prevent the foreign currency reserves from falling further. If needed, the government should borrow more, but the reserves must not drop.
"After the election, we need some fundamental reforms in the financial sector. Otherwise, the new government will not last."
Mansur said that the banking sector could have been strong in years but it had become weaker now.
Mustafa K Mujeri, executive director of the Institute for Inclusive Finance and Development, said policy response is now reactive, not proactive.
The major challenges facing the economy are runaway inflation, a volatile exchange rate, depleting forex reserves, and the weak banking sector.
"We all know why the banking sector continues to be weak, but our policy-makers and authorities are not recognising those issues," said Mujeri, also a former chief economist at the central bank.
He said that the regulators of the financial sector have become weak which is one of the reasons for the lack of governance in the financial sector.
Replying to a question, the economist said since 2014, the elections held were "morally weak". "That is why the government largely depends on influential people."
Shams Mahmud, a former president of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industries, said loan rescheduling facilities are given to some business groups because of political considerations.
Sayema Haque Bidisha, a professor of economics at Dhaka University, said maintaining forex reserves and tackling inflation are essential now.