Sunday, June 24, 2018

Talking about Bangladesh's success stories in UN

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The people of Bangladesh started to rebuild the war-torn country's economy after winning the glorious Liberation War of 1971 which was fought under the charismatic leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The people of Bangladesh cherished a dream of inclusive development with which they fought for the country's independence.

Upholding the same dream the patriotic masses drove the country forward following independence facing challenges like dealing with adverse global phenomena, rising petroleum prices, rehabilitating one crore refugees, reconstructing devastated infrastructure, natural disasters including floods and so on. This fighting spirit of our hard working entrepreneurial people has been the strongest source of amazing transformation of Bangladesh's economy.

During 1972 Bangladesh's economic size was only 8 billion US dollars with not even a dollar in our foreign exchange reserve. Still the hope-awakening leadership of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was propelling the country ahead.

But a ruthless tragedy hit the nation hard in 1975 through the assassination of Bangabandhu. Following Bangabandhu's death the country's ruling power went into the clutches of anti-liberation forces damning that fighting spirit. Pro-liberation forces regained ruling power in 1996 under the leadership of Bangabandhu's daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.

Then Bangladesh was put back to the rails of the spirit of 1971. Sheikh Hasina worked relentlessly with full devotion to raise the living standard of the country's people including the downtrodden ones like farmers and workers.

Bangladesh marched forward championing the strategies of democracy, spirit of the Liberation War and the notions of inclusive development. Unfortunately, the rhythm was disrupted once again in 2001when the anti-liberation forces managed to come back to power.

Bangladesh moved backward riding on the back of a weird camel for long seven years. However, Sheikh Hasina achieved a landslide victory in the election of 2008 and formed a pro-independence government at the beginning of 2009.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina started working with rejuvenated vigor for enhancing the pace of journey towards inclusive development. The country achieved unprecedented macroeconomic stability providing the needed space for the private sector to make productive investment.

The principal financial regulator Bangladesh Bank provided a complementary regulatory regime where entrepreneurs, including the small and medium ones, could thrive. The economic size of Bangladesh amazingly expanded from  mere 8 billion dollars  to today's 272 billion dollars. Average life expectancy at birth (longevity) has increased from 48 to 72 years over this four plus decades of our independent existence.

It is higher than the Indians by 4 years and Pakistanis by 6 years .Women empowerment in Bangladesh has made striking progress. Our Prime Minister has been awarded many times by international agencies for her relentless support to empowerment of women in addition to many other significant global awards.

Bangladesh, which was once called a 'bottomless basket', is now a role model of prosperity. Bangladesh is indeed booming under the prudent leadership of HPM Sheikh Hasina.

I visited New York a few days ago being invited by the Human Development Report Office (HDRO) of the United Nations. I presented my research paper on the role of financial inclusion for human resource development before the UN officials. The session was chaired by Dr. Selim Jahan, Director of HDRO.

The UN officials from different agencies who participated in this workshop were overwhelmed at the stunning success stories of Bangladesh. I addressed at the UN Headquarters on different occasions earlier. During all my speeches at the UN I have always spotlighted on the enormous scale of socio-economic advancement Bangladesh has been undergoing during the focused leadership of our present Prime Minister.

I have talked at more than thirty programs worldwide during last two years in World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Asian Development Bank (ADB) and renowned universities of the United States of America, Canada, Japan, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, India and some more countries and focused on the ongoing inclusive development of Bangladesh.

It is beyond words to express how delightful it is to talk about the success of one's own motherland in foreign countries. I remain ever grateful to the organizers for providing me this exceptional opportunity to project the success story of Bangladesh.

In my speeches at all the events in foreign countries I have broadly highlighted how a country's central bank can as well play decisive roles for the expansion of financial inclusion. I shared with the foreigners my experience as Bangladesh Bank's former Governor and also as a researcher.

A senior professor after hearing my speech on innovative monetary policy pursued by Bangladesh Bank at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, USA remarked that officials of Federal Reserve should have been invited to that program to know how efficiently Bangladesh navigated through the last global financial crisis.

When I delivered my speech at a Japanese University on financial inclusion one of the professors said the Governor of Bank of Japan should have been there to learn important lessons from Bangladesh's experience.

Financial inclusion is another name for financial democratization by making financial services easily accessible for everyone. Bangladeshis did not at all feel the negative impact of the global recession due to Bangladesh Bank's strategic approach to inclusive finance and the government's inclusive development strategy.

Bangladesh's economic growth has been consistently increasing during last one decade. This growth rate is expected to exceed 7.5% this year. It is being expected that we will be able to obtain over 8% growth rate next year.

This year Bangladesh's growth rate may cross that of India according to World Bank's former Chief Economist and currently a Professor at the Cornell University Dr. Kaushik Basu's article "Why Is Bangladesh Booming?" Published recently by the 'Project Syndicate '

The inflation in Bangladesh was over 12% during 2007-2008 which came down to 5.35% in 2016-2017. Bangladesh's per capita income has increased three folds during this period. Per capita income in Bangladesh was 1,602 dollars in 2016-2017 fiscal year.

This has gone up to 1752 dollars during current fiscal year. During the same period remittances have doubled while foreign currencies reserve has increased by five times. Investments and consumption have increased consistently as well.

Poverty rate in Bangladesh was 36.8% in 2007 which decreased to 22.3% in 2017. Percentage of people living in extreme poverty has dropped from 22.6% to less than 12% by now. It is heartening to report that we have been working with utmost efforts to bring down poverty rate to zero percent, effectively. This means there will be a couple of percentages of extreme poor who will have to be provided with well planned social security.

The present government has invested comprehensively for the improvement of agriculture, education, health and industrial sectors. Digital technologies have spread all over the country which have greatly expedited development and administrative activities. This has also facilitated growth of grassroots level small digital entrepreneurs.

Financial inclusion has by far reduced economic discrimination. Around one crore farmers have been enabled to open bank accounts with just ten taka each. The private banks have set up their branches across the rural areas. Automatic teller machines (ATM) booths, mobile banking and agent banking have facilitated financial services for people all over the country.

As a result new entrepreneurs are coming up each of whom are being able to provide jobs to another two or three people. Bangladesh's rural economy has now gained unprecedented vibrancy which has surprised many economists and scholars of the entire world.

School banking, stipends for poor people's children to help them get education, e-commerce, e-payment, outsourcing and other technological advantages have turned the wheels of the luck of countless numbers of people in the country. Enormous support is being given to banks to run their corporate and social responsibility (CSR) programs smoothly generating financial benefits for the disadvantaged people.

Bangladesh Bank has taken up several social responsible steps to set up daycare centers, to train up bankers on gender equity, green banking and many more innovative programs which are admired by the whole world. Women emancipation and small and medium enterprises (SME) are being taken care of very seriously by the banks under the regulatory thrust of the central bank.

Bangladesh's success in achieving the targets of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) was very much impressive.

The present government has initiated required measures to engage the private sector, nongovernment organizations (NGOs), universities and research institutions with the monitoring of the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). All concerned are very much hopeful that Bangladesh will be able to fulfill the objectives of SDGs in due course.

All these things have become possible due to Bangladesh's extensive economic development. Bangladesh is one of the 30 countries which have acquired 6% to 7% growth from 2007 to 2016.

Bangladesh's growth was higher and more stable than that of China and India too. Bangladesh is among the top five countries from these 30 countries on the index of export-oriented industrialization.

Bangladesh can become a developed country by 2041 if we can keep confidence on our strong social and cultural heritage, remaining focused on the fighting spirit of 1971 and retain a liberal viewpoint for a pluralistic society.

  That doesn't mean that we don't have challenges. Of course, we are facing challenges like unplanned urbanization, growing unemployment of the educated youths who could be our assets if we could train them as human resources, the overwhelming challenge of climate change and of course the threat of religious fundamentalism. The government and the society at large are aware of these challenges and fighting back steadfastly.

That we could turn Rana Plaza tragedy into an opportunity for more exports of our apparel products through improving social and environmental compliances with support from our buyers and the government speaks a volume about our capacity to enhance resilience. Same can be said about our success in overcoming post Holy Artisan terrorist attack.

While in New York this time I addressed another two programs on socio-economic thoughts of Tagore besides the event in UN Headquarters. I have recalled some optimistic words of Rabindranath Tagore while speaking on my country's development thoughts in those programs.

Tagore wrote in one of his essays, "Human beings' strength rises immensely when the space of hope is wide enough. At that time strength can clearly see the pathway and steps forward firmly. Hope is the greatest thing a society can give to humans."

A nation's most valuable asset is its ability to have high hope and to believe in themselves. Let us uplift our hearts with big hope and work for building up the Bangladesh we have always dreamed of. Certainly, we will be able to achieve Sonar (golden) Bangla as dreamed by our Father of the Nation.

The writer is an eminent economist, Professor, Dhaka University and former Governor of Bangladesh Bank

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