Bangladeshis paying way more for essentials
It is unfortunate that people in Bangladesh are unable to benefit from the fall in the prices of essentials in the international market. On the contrary, Bangladeshis have been struggling to make ends meet with domestic prices remaining extremely high. As a result of the Russia-Ukraine war, prices of essentials in the international market hit a record high 10 months ago. Since then, prices of most commodities have come down in the international market, but not by the same amount or at all in our domestic market, according to Prothom Alo findings.
The price of soybean oil, for example, went up to $1,883 per tonne back in May 2022. That has dropped to $1,331 this month in the international market – a 29 percent decrease. Yet, in Bangladesh, the soybean oil price has dropped by a measly nine percent. Similarly, the price of palm oil has also come down in the global market by 36 percent per tonne, but in the domestic market, the price has been reduced by 26 percent. The price of lentils, one of the few sources of protein which the lower-income groups can afford – especially when prices of meat and fish are still high – has gone down by 20 percent internationally. But in Bangladesh, the price has been reduced by 10 percent only. The main reasons for such discrepancies, according to traders, are the rise in the prices of dollars, gas and electricity. And for that, the blame must fall on the government's poor policies.
The price of onions, which has gone down by 25 percent in the international market, has gone up in Bangladesh because of shortage rumours. In both cases, poor market monitoring and the government's inability to assure that there are no shortages, or to squash rumours of shortages, are to blame.
Had the government not artificially propped up the taka's value against the dollar over the years, but allowed it to depreciate gradually instead of suddenly all at once, as experts have opined, the price shock would not have hit consumers this hard. The government's refusal to explore gas within the country – despite multinational organisations and experts remaining confident that it would pay dividends – and opting to import expensive LNG, in defiance of all logic, have been terribly detrimental for us. In fact, the only explanation behind this government decision which makes any sense is that the government wanted to benefit some politically connected importers of gas, as some have recently proposed.
Meanwhile, the price of flour, which has remained steady internationally, has gone up by 35 percent in Bangladesh in the last 10 months, apparently because its import from India has stopped completely since last November. The price of onions, which has gone down by 25 percent in the international market, has gone up in Bangladesh because of shortage rumours. In both cases, poor market monitoring and the government's inability to assure that there are no shortages, or to squash rumours of shortages, are to blame.
What all these government failures and poor policies show is that the government is either terribly unaware of how badly people are suffering as a result of high commodity prices, or it just doesn't care; but given the scenario on the ground, it ought to. The government needs to own up to its past mistakes, listen to expert advice, and work overtime to bring prices under control and within people's reach.