2014: THE YEAR IN REVIEW
Despite the setbacks and shocks in the RMG sector over the last couple of years it continued to hold on to its position of second largest exporter of ready made garments. RMG export figure reached a record of USD 25 billon, with a good possibility of the figure going up to 30 billion.
A very significant achievement for Bangladesh in 2014 was the UNCLOS verdict by the international Court that gave Bangladesh its due share in the Bay of Bengal vis a vis India. The much-awaited verdict on the dispute regarding the delimitation of the maritime boundary between India and Bangladesh was delivered in July, with a United Nations tribunal awarding Bangladesh 19,467 sq. km of the 25,602 sq. km sea area of the Bay of Bengal. The verdict it was hoped would further help the two countries closer to more cooperative mode in future.
Achievement of food autarky was evident in the plans to export 50,000 tonnes of rice, first of its kind since the independence, to Sri Lanka in 2014. Rice purchasing capacity had improved in 2014 following decreasing trends in 2013.
Bangladesh became the fourth major fish producing country in the world. Steady growth in inland fish production from 7.5 lakh metric tonnes to 35 lakh metric tonnes in last three decades helped Bangladesh achieve the feat. The country saw a quantum jump in vegetable production and modernisation of farming with introduction of mechanical implements. Bangladesh now ranks third in vegetable production
Politically 2014 was a peaceful year belying all apprehensions to the contrary. Apart from some sporadic violence at the very beginning of the year centering on January 5 elections, and during the later phases of the upazilla elections. January 5 election was a blot on our democratic credential, the blemish caused by both the AL, who wanted to have elections at any cost, and the BNP, who perpetrated all the violence to prevent it.
And, thankfully, for the general public and the business houses, particularly the RMG sector, little happened by way of hindrance to the normal functioning of the people’s daily life or to the economic wheel of the country. However, the very sedate political atmosphere was vitiated from time to time by very snide, uncivil and injudicious comments by the two major parties about each other’s leaders. On 1 Nov. the country was plauged into one of the worst power outages that affected the entire country.
The end of the year, unfortunately, was marred by a serious disaster in the Shela River in the Sunderbans on 10 December when a vessel carrying around 3 lakh liters of furnace oil sank. The oil spill has put the world’s largest mangrove forest in peril. The ill prepared state of government ministries and agencies to tackle a mishap of this kind was exposed vividly.
The strategy of the BNP in 2013 of violence to force AL to succumb to their demand backfired. If it was a battle of attrition between the AL and BNP then it was AL that came out better of the two and the people still smarting under the effect of the 2013 violence.
The January 5 national elections were boycotted by most major parties and the JP was arm twisted in participating in it. Predictably, the AL did not relent on the BNP demand for a caretaker government, and was perhaps not too unhappy to see the BNP boycott the elections.
The AL won but the elections left a deep furrow on the democratic credentials of the AL.
For the first time 153 seats of the Sangsad were uncontested and in the rest the voter turnout was abysmally low, although the Election Commission would want us to believe that forty percent voters turned out to chose their candidates. Consequently, what we have is a unique parliament with not only half its members elected unopposed but a parliament having an opposition that is represented in the government also. (See page 4)
India, Russia, China and a few Southeast Asian countries were quick to congratulate Sheikh Hasina on her assumption of office for the third time. Conversely, the western countries including the US, Canada and the EU made no secret of their disappointment over the January 5 elections and have been reiterating their position on the urgent need to hold a participatory, free, fair and democratic election.
It was not surprising that the UZ elections were held on the heels of the Jatiyo Sangsad elections. And the AL strategy to hold the elections in phases paid off. After getting a drubbing in the first phase of selection where only 97 seats were contested, the subsequent phases witnessed violence, incidence of vote capture and consequently better performance by AL backed candidates. But it lost badly in all the mayoral elections held in 2014. The joker in the pack in all this was Jamaat. And much as some would like to brush its performance aside, the phenomenon must be analysed seriously. A political party that was on the run literally, having invited the wrath of not only the public, its garnering 12% of the seats, cannot be discarded out of hand. And they did not ride on the BNP’s back either.
The ruling party used the UZ results as a saving grace, made a virtue of it and claimed that free and fair election could be possible with the incumbent in office
Political space for the BNP continued to shrink. The much vaunted political programme following the 5 January election could not get off the ground with Begum Zia virtually under house arrest, her house being fenced off with sand laden trucks for more than two days. However, BNP’s capacity to launch a credible ant-government programme is being questioned by many.
Legal – Judicial
The year witnessed several landmark verdicts from the ICT. In October, Matiur Rahman Nizami, erstwhile head of the Jamaat-e-Islami party, was sentenced to death for war crimes and in November Mir Quasem Ali, was sentenced to death for committing crimes against humanity during the 1971 Liberation War. The nation is waiting for the execution of the verdict against Kamruzzman, whose death sentence was confirmed by the Appellate division in November. January 14 2015 has been fixed for commencing hearing in the appeal of war criminal Ali Ahsan Mohammed Mujaheed, sentenced to death last year for committing crimes against humanity. The last of the verdicts in 2014 was the verdict of death sentence against S M Kaiser for war crimes was delivered on 23 December.
The ICT in a singular case of contempt against it sentenced journalist David Bergman to a symbolic sentence of jail till rising of the court and a fine.
In another landmark case the court trying the case of ten truck arms haul sentenced to death 12 persons including two ministers and erstwhile heads of the DGFI and NSI.
It was disappointing to see the verdict in Manzoor murder case was put off once again, and for the 22nd time the presiding judge was changed in 18 years of the trial. The court ordered further probe in the Gen Manzoor murder case though it was at the final stage of trial. Is it a coincidence that the change came with Ershad acquiescing to participate in the 5 January election?
On 18 September the Supreme Court Judges’ Impeachment bill was passed by the parliament. And in the previous month the national Broadcast Policy was announced by the government. Both the issues elicited sharp criticisms of the government and its motive was called to question. Both the broadcast policy and the impeachment law were seen as means of fettering the judiciary and the media.
Despite the sedentary political climate the area of good governance was marred by continued extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances mostly, allegedly, by law enforcing agencies. Despite claims by the heads of the police there was perceptible slide in the state of law and order in the country and the role of the security agencies came under criticism of the chief of the country’s Human Rights Commission. The worst instance of the law enforcing agencies involvement in abduction and killing occurred in April — the infamous seven murder case has become a symbol of security forces waywardness.
We fared badly both in terms of human rights as well as corruption where we went down two more notches.
The country’s image was dealt a blow when it was reveled that the quantity of gold in the crests presented to our friends from abroad was much less than the
approved quantity. However, the matter seems to have been swept under the carpet, there being no progress in the enquiry in the shoddy affair.
An equally distressing incident was the revelation of senior public servants using fake Freedom Fighter certificates to get government perks and benefits.
Bangladesh’s traditional links with countries like India, china, Japan, Malaysia was further strengthened by the visits of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to these countries and reciprocal visits to Bangladesh. Economic cooperation between these countries was also strengthened with large committment made for the development of Bangladesh. However, we are still waiting fort the Indian prime minister’s visit which, one can assume, will take place only if the LBA and Teesta deals can be finalised.
Election of the Speaker and an MP to the IPU and CPA respectively was made out to be the recognition of the democratic credentials of the country.
Our diplomatic front was once again focused on two countries India and the USA. Initial uncertainty about a Modi-led government was partly assuaged when his pre-election ant-Bangladesh rhetoric was toned down. There was also more proactive move on the part of India to resolve the two most pressing issues for Bangladesh — the Teesta deal and the LBA. The positive aspect of the LBA is Mamata’s acquiescence to go along with the exchange of land in adverse possession, but the Assam BJP has expressed its objection to land exchange.
The blast in Burdwan in India’s Paschim Banga confirmed the deep liaison between the radicals and terrorists of the two countries. It also reaffirmed the need for regional cooperation in combating extremism and terrorism.
Regrettably GSP from USA remains an elusive matter.
In the economic front the estimated growth in the current fiscal is projected in the region of 6.2 percent. Per capita GDP also increased to USD 1,115 in FY2014 from USD 976 in FY2013, i.e. USD 139 increase (14.2 per cent growth; 7.6 per cent in real terms). With its latest economic feat, Bangladesh now stands fourth in South Asia in terms of per capita income. The country’s FE reserve reached a high of 23 billion USD. That was so because of the slump in internal investment and import of capital goods, which reflected the uncertainty of the investment climate in the country.
The RMG despite many shortcomings continued to flourish with export reaching 25 billion USD which may even go up to 30 billion by end of December 2014. However, export to the USA dropped, a consequence of Rana Plaza that had imposed a constraint on the buyers. A redeeming feature is the effort of the BGMEA to make all the RMG factories compliant. And in this context the BGMEA has cancelled the license of 465 factories for failing to meet with compliance requirement.
Leather and leather goods has joined the list of exports, which in the current fiscal reached a figure of more than 1.0 billion in ten months of the current fiscal. Likewise our pharmaceuticals have succeeded in market substitution such that ony 3 percent of medicines are imported. And 30 pharmaceutical companies are exporting their products.
The 16th summit of SAARC was held in Katmandu. On top of the agenda were three connectivity agreements on road, rail and energy, to be endorsed by the eight SAARC leaders. Only one of these – on energy – has been signed. The remaining two will be discussed again in three months, as Pakistan was yet to complete its “internal processes” to endorse them.
The region saw a change of Government in India with Modi’s BJP winning a majority in the Lok Sabha. The Congress was wiped out and lost even the role of the opposition.
Pakistan saw the worst carnage in many years when the TPP shot and killed 141 students and teachers in a school in Peshawar run by Pakistan Army. It may be turning point for the country in combating extremism and radicalism by galvanizing the nation into one.
In spite of several border incidents across Bangladesh-Myanmar border in which several BGB and Bangladesh national were killed the two countries continued to make efforts to enhance cooperation. Several high-level visits were exchanged between the two countries. However, the situation in Arakan, the plans of the government of Myanmar to disenfranchise the Rohingyas and stripe them of citizenship continued to create apprehensions in Bangladesh.
The international scene was hogged by the Middle East in particular the rise and spread of the Islamist Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL) which brought a large part of Iraq under its control. An international coalition was arrayed against it but actions against IS was restricted to only aerial bombardment. The US had allocated 5 billion dollars to fight the menace.
The security scenario, internally, regionally and international, was influenced by radicalism fuelled terrorism.
The al Qaeda captured the attention of the people of South Asia with the Al Zawahiri’s statement that it was going to intensify its focus in South Asia by setting up what he called Al Qaeda in South Asia.
The IS on the other hand had launched a recruitment campaign around the world and that included Bangladesh. This became very apparent when in September Bangladeshi police arrested a Bangladeshi born British in Dhaka on suspicion of recruiting jihadists to fight for the Islamic State in Syria. The arrest came just days after Bangladeshi police arrested seven Islamic militants who intended on travelling to Syria via Turkey under the guise of followers of the Tablighi Jamaat religious movement.
Over the entire period of 2014 the security forces arrested a large number of HUJI (B) and JMB cadres. Much of the credit for the relative secure environment in this regard is due to the law enforcing agencies effort to anticipate the radicals in time to thwart their plans.
If the greater part of the year was peaceful, threats of agitational programmes by the BNP and counter threat s by the AL to prevent it does not portend well for the political climate in 2015. We witnessed a slight manifestation of it in the BCL’s threat to prevent BNP holding a meeting in Ghazipur on 27 December.
Thus , as we step into another year we do so with the hope that democracy will find its full meaning and that peace will prevail for the country to progress further.
JANUARY 10, 2015