It’s time to unleash the power of the private sector
It is clear now that the 11th parliamentary election will be held in December 2018. The Election Commission (EC) has finalized boundaries for 300 seats by now.
It is, indeed, anticipated that given achievements of the AL-led government over the last two consecutive terms, this alliance certainly would play as upper dog and BNP-led alliance would remain as underdog in the elections.
Given AL-led alliance having an incumbency disadvantage, the chief of the alliance and PM Sheikh Hasina is looking for a manifesto deeply committed to long term prosperity of the nation. She has been talking about Vision 2041, which she reckons as when Bangladesh has the potential to reach the ultimate dream of our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to make the country a truky Sonar Bangla.
While to some it is a tall talk, the PM is right to claim this, given the backdrop of making Vision 2021 a reality. This agenda surpassed all the records of the major socio-economic criteria articulated in Vision 2021, ahead of time. Given such a record under the belt, the PM is convinced and highly positive about the outcome in the year 2041.
In the development literature, however, there are always some reservations about success of a long-term vision as opposed to achieving short and medium term goals. In the literature of development, it has also been shown that long-term planning and development approach certainly has some merit covering the challenges and identifying the opportunities of a nation for the future. For example, Malaysia 2020, World Bank’s China 2020, OECD’s The World in 2020-Towards a New Global Age, and so on.
In view of the above, I was looking closely at the PM’s Vision 2041 agenda. In one sentence, as I gathered, Bangladesh in 2041 would enter a golden age. Indeed, the momentum the nation gathered over the last 10 years in both social and economic terms, the opportunities certainly have opened up towards a prosperous 2041.
This is also recognized by the multi-lateral development agencies and the bi-lateral development partners. However, time has come to see the other side of the coin closely -- the challenges, from the viewpoint of the election of 11th parliament, which is approaching fast.
Having said all these, in the non-political arena, a new volume just released has a comprehensive analysis of Bangladesh’s socio-economic issues and the achievements over the last few decades. The volume is titled, Socio-Economics of Bangladesh Through the Decades, published by Pathak Shamabesh Book, 2018.
It is indeed an excellent overview of author’s contribution in the field of development spreading from 1979 to 2017. The book has 26 selected articles published over 37 years at home and abroad.
We have no space here to provide an extensive review of the volume, however, will make an attempt to illustrate main challenges of the nation the author, Professor Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, articulated for the next 20 years. This volume unpacked the power of private sector for the next wave of growth.
Since agriculture sector is the backbone of the nation, the agricultural wage growth is important too. The book says, “the daily wage rate in rural areas is now, on an average, the equivalent of 10/11kgs of rice. It may be recalled that, in the 1980s it was only 3.5 kgs” (page 560).
The power sector which makes the industrial growth sustainable has been showing major stride. For example, electricity generation has enjoyed phenomenal increase from only 3,300MW in 2000/01 to 9,036MW in 2015/16. This contributed to the industrial sector, which accounts for 32.48% of the GDP now. In social indicators such as “education, health services, poverty reduction, maternal, and mortality etc, enviable improvement have been achieved” (page 261).
Given all the indicators the volume claims, the nation is, no doubt, marching forward. This is indeed a people-driven growth, particularly initiated by post-liberation generation, together with the private sector.
Credit also goes to the incumbent for creating people-friendly investment in infrastructure and employment opportunities at home and abroad. Now, what are the challenges for 2041? The volume makes some observations for both social and economic sectors for the future.
National Skills Development Policy 2011 provides a basic framework to develop skilled people for all sectors. However, a study by the BIDS suggests that 90% of workers of 10 major industries have no skill and clearly have little facility available to enrich skill.
Due to lack of skills, production and productivity have been falling behind. The 10 industries were surveyed in 2013 and the results were published recently. These are: Agriculture processing, construction, health, tourism, information technology, leather, light engineering, ready made garments, textile and ship building. Among these, the study refers leather as having the most unskilled workers.
With climate change, Bangladesh becomes one of the most vulnerable countries on the planet. The achievements so far are in great danger due to climate change, particularly agriculture and related industries.
Last but not the least, the volume identified a major issue -- the responsibility of the public sector has major implications on the private sector going forward. It has been found that, only 27% of the total development budget has been utilized in the first six months of the 2017/18.
In other words, there was reason for concern among economists that implementation and monitoring of national budget spending is very ineffective.
Finally, Professor Kholiquzzaman made some observations in the non-economic areas, most importantly on the politics at present which has major bearings in the stride of long-term economic growth.
He mentions that political destabilization is a major cause of concerns for the private sector in terms of harassment, violence, destruction of infrastructure and so on. This affects growth and spirit of the private sector, which is recognized as the major driver of the future wave of growth.
Moazzem Hossain is a freelance contributor writing from Brisbane, Australia.