Many countries of the world have experienced sharp economic incline on several occasions, but failed to sustain. Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and many other Asian and African nations are such examples. We never want to lose our progress which we achieved during the last few years and also want to keep justifying the acclamation of the whole world that we received for this progress. But considering the current scenario of Bangladesh, sustainable development will remain the greatest concern and we need to critically address this issue immediately.
Undeniably, the performance of Bangladesh on different economic indicators is commendable in the last decade. We are constantly recording over 6 per cent GDP growth meaning the size of our economy is going up. Our per capita income has gone up from $700 to around $2000. We have observed improvement in lifestyle of the citizens reflecting inclining quality of life. The literacy rate has improved. Digitalization has been a major change during the last decade as even the youths of rural areas and suburbs are now enjoying internet.
Moreover, we have become almost solvent in terms of food and clothing. Growth in terms of inflow of remittance and RMG export has significantly contributed in the development of our economy. Along with that, we have shifted from an agriculture-based economy to an industry-based economy as agriculture now contributes only around 14% of the total GDP. But, here we must also mention that our economy is still greatly influenced by the service industry rather than manufacturing.
We must realize the fact that Bangladesh is not full of mineral resources. Very few countries of the world have achieved economic progress without such resources. But we have huge human resources and water resources. It will be critical for us to utilize these two resources in the upcoming future to attain and sustain economic growth which we all can realize. With so many constraints, Bangladesh was successful in achieving significant growth mostly due to huge infrastructural developments. With so many ongoing mega projects, we can be rest assured that, infrastructural development is going to be the strongest point for Bangladesh though on few cases, the experts find out several loopholes and term few projects as unplanned. Irrespective of all factors, the courageous steps of current Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina is truly remarkable in bringing Bangladesh this far.
Now, the issue is that we need to keep progressing and need to sustain that progress. In this aspect, inclusive development will be most important. It has been found that, the economic development of Bangladesh is mostly distributed among the rich or the top tier of the society. The growth is not significant in terms of the middle and lower income group of people. But most of our people fall in these categories. Moreover, though the per capita income has gone up significantly, the growth is leaned towards the higher income group while this growth has driven up the inflation. Our inflation rate is at around 5 per cent but the actual inflation rate might be much more as we can realize from our day-to-day experiences. The price of everything has gone up irrespective of commodity products or even medicines. Along with that, inclining utility prices has become a critical burden over the middle and lower class people. Amazingly, the utility prices were raised on multiple occasions without any logic. These created extreme pressures on the citizens. Hence, the middle income, lower middle income and lower income class is burdened with increased expenditure.
Moreover, due to modernization and digitalization, several new expenditures were added on the list like; expense for mobile bills and internet bills has become vastly common. Hence, the rise in income is comparatively much less than the rise in expenditure. Along with that, lack of social security with increase taxes is making the scenario miserable. Though the top class can avail huge loans from the banks and has the luxury of not paying back, the middle and lower income group is struggling to receive loans from the bank though they usually pays back regularly. From all aspects, the benefit of economic development is less for these groups.
To sustain economic growth, we can never ignore the middle and lower income people. Our economic policies must focus on reducing income disparity. There are several risk factors if there is economic discrimination among different social class in today’s context. First of all, the huge development of the country will not be greeted by the mass and silent dissatisfaction will keep going up. And we must not forget that most of our people hail from this discriminated group and despite solely working for the progress of the country, the recognition from the people will not come.
Moreover, despite several economic developments, the unemployment rate is inclining, raising dissatisfaction. The middle class is the greatest victim of unemployment. Terrorism and fundamentalism is a threatening factor in today’s world and Bangladesh is also fighting this phenomenon. If the middle and lower income people remain constantly under pressure, then the fundamentalists will be able to utilize them for destructive interest, which was the case at several places of the world. We cannot risk this. A person living in luxury can never imagine the pressure the middle, lower middle and lower income people are facing today in Bangladesh. They are the people who have to even suffer the burden of huge corruption especially at the public sector of the country while the upper class actually enjoys the benefits from corruption. This scenario must change.
To change the fate of the mass of the country, the government should adopt the concept of inclusive development. The government should heavily encourage the SME sector as the middle and lower income groups usually are associated with SME. The government should instruct all banks and financial institutions to sanction a moderate part of their total fund for SME as well as should adopt strategies like allocating EPF loans to reform the SME sector to boost employment generation and equal distribution of income among all classes of the society.
Another important aspect for sustaining our economic growth is to create a skilled human resource. We need to invest to make capable workforce. As the technological developments are in great pace, we need to form technically sound workforce not only for grabbing the opportunities of upcoming 4th industrial revolution but also to keep the remittance flow inclining. Along with the skilled labor force, the qualified and educated group of the human resource should also be made competitive. For which we need to reform our curriculum from the primary level.
Unfortunately, our education system is not at all satisfactory. Firstly, due to social inequality and failure of the schools and policies, every year we lose students at each level. From a certain batch, which appeared in the PSC this year, only around 25% will complete their post-graduation degree. It is a failure of our education system. The government under the leadership of Prime minister Sheikh Hasina has set different development goals like; Vision 2021, Vision 2041, 100-year Delta Plan etc. But leaders of today will not be in charge in 2041. The leaders of that time are today’s children and teenagers. Hence, we should focus on them. But today’s children are going through several social dilemmas like; drugs, corruption, wrong education, harmful use of social media, crimes etc. Hence, it is important that we introduce a curriculum with no delay which will promote moral education as well as globally acclaimed quality education to the greatest extent. If we can do so without any delay, then Bangladesh will be in good hands in the future and only then the developments will be sustained and growth will be ensured.
Experts have expressed their worries about threats from novel coronavirus, which has already impacted the global economy. Many are arguing that, this phenomenon will not impact Bangladesh as in previous such cases of global economic depression, Bangladesh was not affected. But the fact is, Bangladeshi economy has expanded today highly and now we have the global business interaction to the all time greatest extent. It is not possible to avoid the impact of global economic depression this time and the future especially when we are heavily dependent of remittance. Many countries have already closed flights from Bangladesh and it will be hard to send new labor force and those who are currently in the country on vacation. Hence it will create unemployment and will reduce remittance income. But we have to keep growing and hence the government and experts should concentrate on introducing policies to fight this phenomenon at the earliest.
There are many areas the government needs to address like tax to GDP ratio. Our tax revenue collection is very poor but that does not mean that we should grind the middle and lower income people. There should be a classification and associated slabs so that those who has plenty of income pays the most amount and vice versa. As we could not introduce social security for the citizens till now, we cannot push them for paying tax but those who are in the privileged groups must not avoid paying proper taxes.
The government must also focus on addressing issues like non-performing capital market due to manipulation, NPLs and reform of banking sector, increasing export and reducing import, diversifying exports to reduce dependency on RMG, scientific research, empowering women as part of economic growth by increasing their participation in the labor force, utilizing regional market opportunities and most importantly reducing corruption in the economic sector. If all these issues can be addressed, we will enjoy a safe passage of economic growth. But for all these to be sustained, we must put highest priority on building an excellent future generation who will be morally strong, filled with patriotism, educated and globally competitive.
We hope our government along with addressing short-term and long-term issues will focus on sharing economic growth with people from all classes while ensuring comfort of the mass and will also focus on building the future generation of Bangladesh. We believe Bangladesh will also reach the place of Japan, Malaysia, Singapore or South Korea soon and will keep growing from that position.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and