A WELL-KEPT SECRET
Global investors are not aware of the fantastic returns on investment or on assets possible in this country
The gentleman was the boss of a finance agency. He said Bangladesh had conveniently kept itself an LDC, and the business community home and abroad had intelligently kept Bangladesh hidden from global investors to take the skim for themselves only.
He said if we monetise our natural resource depositories as per international prices, adjust the agricultural produce with global prices, and put a price tag on the domestic work put in by many women at home, the size of the Bangladesh economy would be at least $250bn.
That gentleman is not alone. Many in the West, and professionals working for global corporations with short stints in Bangladesh, think the same way. Unfortunately for them, our statistics do not paint the kind of rosy picture that would attract global biggies to invest in Bangladesh.
They are not aware of the fantastic returns on investment or on assets possible in this country. Global corporations are yet to take cognisance of the rising per capita income, or the rise of the middle class with changing tastes, lifestyles and outlooks. Bangladesh remains a safe haven for local investors, with lower corporate governance.
The Bangladesh rural economy remains the beneficiary of 89% of inward remittances, which exceeded Tk1 trillion in recent years. Increasing inward remittance along with money disbursed by large microfinance networks not only created tremendous synergy in rural Bangladesh, it significantly contributed towards the rise of women entrepreneurship, and integrated rural women into nation-building.
Continuous focus on the rural economy, and medium term and seasonal employment generating programs by subsequent governments backed by thoughtful support from development partners, has helped Bangladesh reduce its rural poverty significantly.
Synergy in the rural economy, focus on urban slum dwellers, and the rise of small and medium entrepreneurship, along with attention on building an above average health and education network, has helped Bangladesh to fast meet or even exceed many MDGs.
Despite resistance to continuous reforms, or the lack of courage to go for bigger institutional or regulatory reforms, the country has already become an example among LDCs where reforms driven by development partners worked well. As usual, there are corruption charges against project managers, or lack of coordination among implementing agencies, or delays in project implementation. Yet, large projects supported by development partners have helped Bangladesh to positively impact its growth drivers.
Despite a shortage of funds, inadequate project implementation capacity, corruption, and institutional bottlenecks, Bangladesh never lost track of improving education. Public education has helped Bangladesh create graduates with a global outlook. A few private universities also moved fast because of the increasing demand of higher education. Bangladesh today should be proud to have a respectable private education sector, which is better than that of many similar countries.
Private entrepreneurship in Bangladesh is a success story all along. They have learned the tricks of survival amidst multi-faceted global challenges. They have proven their successes in not only putting up a large and reliable supply chain in the apparel business, but also in demonstrating their leadership in pharmaceuticals, steel, food processing, and consumer goods. Though the banking sector had to live with large default loans and a lack of customer-friendly products, things are shaping up fast.
Our media has stayed on the path of championing democratic values, women’s empowerment, better economic management, and support for the marginalised. Even major Islamist parties never made their voices loud against a scientific education policy. Increasing numbers of women are joining the workforce, taking senior positions in management and politics.
The country has comfortably positioned itself as an emerging trading nation, and has successfully reaped benefits from the international trade regime. The time has come for us to not only build but expand our core competence to operate as a global operator in the chosen fields.
We need more political, administrative, fiscal, and market reforms to attend to the changing needs of the global community. We need to build up our watchdog agencies in a respectable way, with commendable capacities. More of our educational institutions should pass the standardisation process, and produce world-class graduates.
Our courts must deliver results closer to people’s expectations. Our regulatory bodies must be forward-looking, and our politics must reflect the aspirations of the teeming millions. We want more young and educated people to be in command of charting a path for Bangladesh, and lead this country from the front.
Mamun Rashid is a business professor and financial sector entrepreneur.
MARCH 27, 2014