We can take a little pride

Mamun Rashid

Despite natural calamities, political tensions, low governance, weak policy-planning, and corruption, Bangladesh has done remarkably well

  • Photo- Dhaka Tribune

Bangladesh’s GDP is expected to increase by 6.12% in the outgoing fiscal. This is good news for the ruling government and even better news for the opposition BNP. Despite all those strikes, blockades, arsons, killings of the common people and political activists, and more importantly, supply chain disruptions during the entire first half of the outgoing fiscal, Bangladesh’s GDP maintained a buoyant trend.

The opposition BNP, especially Khaleda Zia, has been blamed by Finance Minister Muhith to have back-tracked the economy through disruptive political activities. However, we get to hear from his planning minister friend that the GDP growth rate in the next fiscal is going to be more than the last fiscal. We have all the reasons to be happy and, along with the prime minister, express our gratitude to the Almighty. This is the beauty of Bangladesh, the poet wrote: “Arson, fire, deaths could never let Bangladesh down.”

Bangladesh’s GDP growth had been showing a downward trend for the last three fiscals – 6.7% to 6.3% and then 6.18% – though there are also doubts in and around the methods followed by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). An estimated 6.18% GDP growth in fiscal 2013 became 6.01% when the final numbers were published. This time, though many felt the GDP growth to be between 5.5% to a maximum of 6%, BBS came out with the projection of 6.12%. Many felt they were trying to satisfy their seniors in the government.

I never thought averaging in and around 6% GDP growth for a somewhat known-to-be unstable country like Bangladesh is bad. Rather, despite natural calamities, political tensions, low governance, weak policy-planning, and identified corruption in project implementation processes, Bangladesh has done remarkably well. We don’t always have to go to Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen or the World Bank seniors to tell us that we are ahead in the game than our peers regarding the progress made on the social indicators. Muhammad Yunus, Sir FH Abed’s Brac, “Made in Bangladesh” garments, non-resident Bangladeshis, our citizenry, and media have done that already. Bangladeshi women entrepreneurship is a “big name” all over the world.

Last Thursday, I was in a panel discussion at the Kellogg School of Management at North Western University in the USA. We were all focusing on the topic: “Driving business in a challenging environment.”

Many in the audience and the moderator appreciated Bangladesh learning lessons from the accidents and hazards in its industrial sector, and increasing its exports and businesses despite multiple challenges, corruption included. Let’s accept the fact that our entrepreneurs, our businesses, our extremely industrious workers abroad, and our resilient farmers made this happen. Maybe credit can be added to our ruling government and more importantly, to a few regulatory and facilitating agencies as well.

Let’s also accept that political disturbances – fire, strikes, blockades, and killings during the entire first half of fiscal 2014 did damage our service industry, small and medium businesses, transportation, construction, and tourism industries. BGMEA and few other thinktanks estimated the damage to be worth $5bn to $7bn. The most acceptable figure came from the World Bank, which estimated the damage on the economy to be $1.4bn or Tk11,700cr. It is supposed to be around 1% of the total GDP.

Our BBS is telling us to doubt all the speeches made by our prime minister, our very articulate ministers, popular economists, and the assessments made by the development partners. It seems some of the seniors in the government-owned Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies and Bangladesh Bank also doubted this was superimposed by BBS.

My macro-audits in South Asia remind me of one other country in South Asia that tried to tamper around their GDP size and growth as per the wish of the “big man” in power. It hindered the entire economic management process and most importantly, the integrity of the numbers produced by their relevant agencies. Economic numbers can’t be hidden or over-blown. We did not earn these numbers. The entire world has started to look at the Bangladesh numbers, our entrepreneurial success, and most importantly, the quality being harnessed and produced in Bangladesh. Bangladeshi politicians cannot distract them from the real scenario.

Now let’s look at our GDP size. BBS data showed our GDP size to be $155bn that is Tk1,198,923cr in the last fiscal or fiscal year 2013. This showed a per capita income of $1,044, though we always carry doubts about our population size too. On the other hand, the number produced by Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) put this at $935, which is accepted by all the global investment analysts.

EIU also put in our GDP size at $137bn. BBS says that the outgoing fiscal would put us on a GDP size of $173bn or Tk1,350,920cr. Newspaper reports have been talking about an estimated per capita income of $1,190.

It seems Bangladesh is almost aspiring to be a low-middle income country. We have reasons to be proud of our successes. Only tough job remaining is – we must make the world to believe in this. They need to see that there is money to be made in Bangladesh. They also need to believe that there is policy continuity irrespective of the government change; there are young, enterprising, and capable workforce and respectable institutions to safeguard the investment and investors.

Income inequality in Bangladesh was never as bad as in other competing countries. Subsequent governments were glued on to ensure synergy at “the bottom of the pyramid” through various safety net programs. As the numbers of rich and very rich people are increasing, the country should augment its revenue-earning mechanism and divert the surplus generated to the hungry and to the growth-impacting streams of the economy, but always with total commitment to entrepreneurship development in Bangladesh. We need investment to create employment, only continuous employment generation can efficiently attack poverty. Simple math.

Source: Dhaka Tribune