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Opportunities have expiry dates

Publication Date : 22-06-2012

 

Living with senseless politics often makes us gloomy, even obsessively cynical.

Sometimes we have to pinch our skin to make a sense of any happy tiding pouring into our ears. Whether the good words showered on Bangladesh, because of our extraordinary collective or individual deeds, are well-deserved, we may sometimes wonder!

While two of our leading women are suspended in mid-air on a political parachute, a pair of our sisters or daughters has put us on the summit of the Himalayas. The contradictions are overwhelming but these can hardly take away the gloss of the list of our accomplishments.

On the one hand, we have grown consistently at 6-7 per cent in terms of GDP with food on our tables; on the other, we lose 2 per cent growth through endemic corruption. Just think of it, despite power outages, jammed traffic, and what have you, 63 Bangladeshi youngsters picked up laurels on a global scale as the highest marks holders in different subjects at "O" & "A" Levels, including English, last year. In the SSC and HSC scorecards, numbers of high achievers have been on the rise. In Maths Olympiad, innovating software, region-wide debating competitions, we clinch top honours.

There is talent everywhere, potential and proven, with devilry out of sheer idleness tugging at our elbows. Had we been able to provide an enabling environment to our youth they would have worked greater wonders as they do in their extended study, research and professional stints overseas.

Take a pause and reflect on the good words, praises and recognitions Bangladesh has been receiving from various knowledgeable quarters: "A model among developing countries given its improving social indicators including women's education, empowerment and status, low child mortality rate, (if dogged by malnutrition) and reduction in the absolute number of poor."

On the failed state index (FSI) prepared by US-based non-profit research body Fund for Peace -- Foreign Policy, Somalia tops the list for the fifth time in a row followed by Congo, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Haiti, Yemen, Iraq, Central African Republic, Ivory Coast, Guinea, among others. Pakistan ranks 13th on the list.

That Bangladesh comes 29th, four steps higher than last year, can only be a small solace.

Twelve parameters including population pressure, economic crisis, human rights situation, governability formed the basis for the comparative worldwide evaluative assessment.

Bangladesh is not a failed state but a failed democracy, like it or not, a point that hardly needs to be laboured.

Just as we remain poor "by choice" despite tremendous potential for growth so are we a failed democracy by choice.

Very sad thing to say that our leadership is a metaphor for "two fighting ladies."

There is hardly any room for self-glorification. The government, let's face it, has an image clearing job on its hands. It has to come clean on the stigma of extra-judicial killings including disappearances and alleged corruption in Padma Bridge project. In the latter case, World Bank has supplied the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) with facts and figures, based on findings of Canadian investigations. The ACC, which had given a clean chit earlier on, has its job cut out in the face of what is claimed to be mounting evidence.

The second priority is grappling with a few projections made on the world economy by Manu Bhaskaran in his reprinted article in South China Morning Post (May 30, 2012 issue), courtesy YaleGlobal Online. Manu projects a sharper than expected deceleration in global demand. The eurozone will suffer a deeper recession than forecast; Chinese economy, the largest source of growth in global demand, is slowing sharply; and the US economic recovery will remain modest at best and, therefore, highly vulnerable to external shocks. Protectionism is likely to claw in.

Given the scenario, our US$18 billion worth of garment exports last fiscal almost entirely to eurozone and USA may be in for trouble. In this context, if we have to protect our position as the second largest exporter of RMG products after China in the Western niche markets, we have to do some real underpinnings of the sector. We can ill-afford any labour unrest simmering around living wages, minimum housing, and better working conditions for the three million-strong garment work force. When crunch comes, the buyers can be fussier.

Come to investment. A Beijing datelined story by Celine Sun in South China Morning Post's Business sums up the scenario like this: European firms put off by rising labour costs, competition and policy barriers in China are looking to invest in other emerging economies. But there are two caveats to such a plan: First, Vietnam to which the European companies rivet their attention will take years to build up the required infrastructure; and secondly, profits in China would hover higher than the global average for at least next two years.

Another favourite destination for investment is Indonesia. Indonesia has younger population compared with China, a big workforce and affordable labour costs. Even with such advantages, the Indonesian archipelago desperately needs "to invest in infrastructure to replace worn-out roads, ports and airports, to build railways and make its cities more livable" (The Sunday Times; April 29, 2012 issue).

So, what is the bottom line for Bangladesh? We have a lead time but only a limited one for a marked improvement in our infrastructures including roads, highways, energy supply and port efficiency brought closer to the Southeast Asian standards. We have an abundant workforce, also easily trainable, and highly affordable labour costs. Our energy reserves are diverse, impressive and exploitable too provided critical investments are made in the right areas. We have connectivity advantages.

In the ultimate analysis, all this is iffy in a context of self-attritional political acrimony and confrontation between the two major political forces. To the liberators of the country and our posterity we owe a debt to leave a Bangladesh performing to its full potential.

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.

 

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