Govt must listen to businessmen | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, March 31, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 10:50 PM, March 30, 2013

Govt must listen to businessmen

BSM Group chairman seeks more cooperation and understanding

Abul Bashar Chowdhury Abul Bashar Chowdhury

The government should consider the business community's recommendations from time to time, as they too have the country's best interests at heart, said the chairman of a prominent conglomerate.
“The opinions and recommendations that the businessmen make are not out of thin air. They are, actually, based on ground reality and experience, Abul Bashar Chowdhury, chairman of the Chittagong-based BSM Group, told The Daily Star in an interview.
He rued the fact that their suggestions most often go unheeded, with decisions simply imposed on them.
Chowdhury went on to mention the instance early last year when the government decided to sell rice in the open market at a subsidy, and in doing so, provided rice importers with untenable competition.
To save themselves from heavy losses, the importers offered to supply rice to the government -- at less than the latter's procurement rate.
“Not only would it have saved the government time, the importers would have gotten the chance to dispose off their stock as well.”
The government took up the rice importers' tender only to make an abrupt U-turn.
The government imported rice from abroad, leaving the importers counting losses which, according to the BSM chairman, ran up to few hundred million dollars.
Chowdhury's entry into the world of business was by chance. He dreamt of going abroad for higher studies, but his hopes were quashed when his father died in 1985.
Being the eldest son, the responsibility of looking after the family fell squarely upon his shoulders.
“My sister gave me Tk 40,000 to try my luck in business, and with that I made my foray into this world. My first spot of business involved buying spices from importers and re-selling to wholesalers in Chittagong and other districts.”
Then in 1988, after having gained ample experience in spice trading, he started importing himself, in small quantities.
Next, in 1992, he moved on to bulk imports of items like pulses, rice, wheat and sugar, along with spices.
By this time, Chowdhury also managed to have an office of his own, employing 8 staff.
“But the wheels of fortune turned my way in 1996, when I set up a shrimp fry hatchery in Cox's Bazar.”
The business was a runaway success. In the very first year, it fetched a profit of around Tk 28 crore.
“There was no looking back after that.”
The BSM Group now boasts 13 industrial units that include food products, polyester and synthetic yarn, hatchery, power plant and jute, along with real estate, stock broking and insurance and general trade concerns.
The workforce has now swelled to around 2,300, while the annual turnover stands at around Tk 2,400 crore.
“We also pay around Tk 95 crore to the government exchequer in the form of taxes, VAT and duties,” Chowdhury proudly adds.
Food, polyester yarn and jute are the group's most profitable ventures, with massive expansion plans on the way.
The group now exports jute products to Thailand, Indonesia and the Middle East and polyester yarn to Turkey.
“We would like to build a food silo along the banks of Karnaphuli river, and also set up a new plant nearby to manufacture polyethylene terephthalate (PET) with German and Japanese technology in the primary form for textile industry.”
The BSM chairman said the PET plant would not only reduce imports, it would also use xylene, a petrochemical substance which happens to be a by-product of his latest project, a fuel refinery plant.
The company took over the fuel refinery plant recently at a cost of around Tk 500 crore, and Chowdhury hopes it would generate employment for 300 to 400 people when production starts in three months' time.
Chowdhury spoke enthusiastically of another of the group's new acquisitions, the once-thriving Mokbulur Rahman Jute Mills.
There are plans to import machinery from China and India to enhance production capacity to 30 metric tonnes a day, he said.
The BSM chairman, however, stressed the importance of education, terming it to be “vital” for a country's progress.
As part of its corporate social responsibility endeavours, the group provides scholarships to 150 students in seven unions.
“In my own union of Ashiya, we provide for additional English and mathematics teachers in all the primary and secondary schools,” he added.
Workers in each factory are generously helped in any of their family and social events, and there is a fund for medical treatment for all members of the staff.
The Chittagong native also highlighted the importance of his city to the country.
“Economic development can only be achieved if we concentrate on building export-oriented industries. And, because of its location and proximity to the port, Chittagong can play a big part in all this,” he said, while calling for wholesale renovations of the port.
“If the wheels of development are to move briskly, the Chittagong Port has to play a very pivotal role. And for that to happen, the port needs to be transformed into a world-class one.”
Chowdhury said the country can be on the same footing as China if only the infrastructure is upgraded and workers' skill levels enhanced.
“We, the industrialists, are even ready to pay for the infrastructure if the policy is right.”
Regardless, he is hopeful of the country's prospects.
“The workforce is hard-working and sincere -- their integrity can never be questioned. What we lack is real leadership, and if there is a real change in that area, Bangladesh can see the fruits of development -- that we all desire.”

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