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IPDC Ogroj: AMA Muhith looks back fondly on a storied career

  • Published at 08:16 pm September 17th, 2020

Ogroj takes place from 8pm-9pm every first and third Thursday of the month

In the fourth episode of IPDC Finance Limited’s webinar series titled “IPDC Ogroj,” Abul Maal Abdul Muhith - one of the most revered economists and former finance minister of Bangladesh – was the guest.

The September 17 webinar marked 46 years of the United Nations recognizing Bangladesh. Ogroj host Anis A Khan introduced AMA Muhith as one of the crucial planners behind the entire process in his role as the newly-liberated Bangladesh’s first planning secretary.

Muhith was born on January 25, 1934, the third among seven children, to a family that prided in education and civil service.

He studied at Sylher’s historic MC College, and then enrolled at Dhaka University to study English Literature for both Honours and Master’s degrees. His comprehensive bibliography is a testament to his prodigious student years at Dhaka University that ended in 1955.

In 1956, he joined the Pakistan Civil Service. His illustrious career led him to Oxford University in 1957, and later to Harvard to 1963.

“At Oxford, I had a delightful time. Their tradition for rowing was riveting. I was part of the Oxford Eights Week, not as a rower, but as a baton,” the former finance minister burst into a hearty laughter as he reminisced being pushed into the water after a race was over.

“At Harvard, there was a professor named Fainsod (Merle Fainsod) who was also the director of the library. He was one of my closest friends. We would often leave the library together in the late hours. He was a great teacher who encouraged me to publish an article in the Canadian peer-reviewed journal Pacific Affairs in 1953. I wish I could have written more, but since then, all I’ve written are government papers.”

He emphasized that Harvard had transformed his life, rousing his appetite for voracious reading.

“I must thank Dr Sattar, Dr Rabbani, Dr Azizur Rahman, and I appear to have forgotten the name of another esteemed colleague, who helped me complete a 40-page report on the economic disparity of East Pakistan and subsequently Bangladesh in just a few days.”

In 1971, Muhith was serving as the economic councillor at the Pakistan embassy in the United States. Upon hearing the declaration of independence by Bangabandhu, he became the first senior diplomat to abandon their embassy post and help set up the Bangladesh Mission in Washington DC.

After independence, he became the first planning secretary of Bangladesh of the first cabinet, but was swiftly reassigned back to Washington DC after three months.

“Here’s a fun fact, I was made the planning secretary, but I never officially joined there. The commission members were upset with me, but Bangabandhu offered me a way out. He told me ‘If you don’t want to work there, it’s fine, but you have to do something for me. You need to find a way to turn the mohkumas into districts, and figure out how to make district councils, within March 15’ and I got to work.”

When asked what the former minister is doing, he said he is writing a book on world history.

“I have been writing a letter to my publish, UPL, to update them about the first volume of the book. The book is on ancient history, the Mesopotamian civilizations, kings like Darius, Artaxerxes, and the knowledge, like the Hammurabi code, they have passed down through the ages. Once I am done with the three volumes, it will be the culmination of all my desires.”

Host Anis A Khan asked: “Do you recall that a few years ago I visited you in your office and you had said that you were taking a weeklong break from everything and everyone, stamped and approved by the prime minister herself, so you could finish writing your book.”

The economist and former minister ended on a positive note: “I have led a very fortunate life. My father’s guidance was instrumental in my growth. Though he was a lawyer by profession, he was a teacher at heart. His final 21 years were his finest, as he was a principal. I’ve learned to relish my golden years from my father and grandfather.”

IPDC Finance Ltd presents Ogroj takes place from 8pm-9pm every first and third Thursday of the month. Guests on previous episodes include Matiul Islam, Prof Rehman Sobhan, and Geeteara Safiya Chowdhury.