Md. Joynal Abdin
The Financial Express on December 21, 2014
Economic development without socio-economic challenges is inconceivable. The journey to development has never been easy for any nation and it is always a long hard battle to turn promises into achievements. Bangladesh is a developing economy growing with an annual growth rate of around 6 per cent, striving to become a member of the middle income group. The per capita income and GDP size of Bangladesh are also growing with time. The country’s economy is changing from traditionally agro-based to industry-based entity.
The country is making progress which is more or less visible. At the same time, it is also visibly clear that the growth is not inclusive. Economists have defined economic growth as the increase in the market value of the goods and services produced by an economy over time. It is conventionally measured as the percentage rate of increase in real gross domestic product, or real GDP. In our case, not all the people are getting better off, rather it is a group or few groups of people who are getting richer everyday and amassing wealth beyond measure. An average of the income of the common people and that of rising wealthy community may rise from time to time, but that does not indicate a real income growth. Parameters of growth stretch far beyond and involve series of socio-politico-economic challenges, some of which are mentioned below:
1. ABSENCE OF INCLUSIVE GROWTH: Economic growth of a country includes economic development, but does not reflect every citizen’s growth. For example, if the total size of an economy is $100 billion, with 30 per cent people living below the poverty line, 40 per cent belonging to the lower middle class, 25 per cent to the upper middle class and the remaining 5 per cent to the rich class owning 60 per cent of the country’s wealth, doubling of the economy size will not necessarily mean that incomes of all the groups have increased equitably. If, for instance, it is found that 30 per cent of the population is still tottering below the poverty line, the growth is not inclusive. Ensuring inclusive growth has turned out to be a major challenge for Bangladesh.
2. ABSENCE OF FAMILY/ SOCIAL BONDING: Mutual bonding among members of the family is fast breaking down in our society and a tendency to imitate the life styles of foreign societies has surfaced. This will not help us establish social justice, which is an essential prerequisite for balanced economic growth.
3. ENSURING INSTITUTIONAL CAPACITY BUILDING AND GOOD GOVERNANCE: The government of Bangladesh emphasises on digitisation of public services. But very little progress has been achieved so far in that direction. None of the public services, including those relating to healthcare, trade licence, electricity, gas-water connection, passport, land registration, municipal activities, law enforcement activities, taxation etc., are available on online mode fully. To overcome this situation, institutional capacity building of the concerned agencies is required. Digitisation at every step in a transparent process could help improve the situation.
4. PROVIDING EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR LOCAL AND FOREIGN INVESTORS: With increasing number of job seekers, Bangladesh needs foreign investment to create more employment opportunities and foreign investment can only be attracted through formulation of investment friendly policies. A level playing field should be provided to both local and foreign investors in terms of policy and practices. There is a clear dearth investment friendly policies and attitudes.
5. MAINTAINING A BALANCE BETWEEN LOCAL VERSUS IMPORTED PRODUCTS: Countries like Bangladesh should provide protection to local products to enable them to be competitive and thrive. At the same time, there are items that we do not produce and have to import. Therefore, trade policy of the country has to be moulded in a manner that allows local products to enjoy a certain level of advantage over imported products. At present, there are irrational import tariffs on import of finished products and import of its raw materials. In some cases, VAT and other local taxes imposed on local products have made them un-competitive compared to the same kind of imported products. Therefore it is imperative that local products be given adequate protection to meet competition from imported products.
6. MAINTAINING POLITICAL STABILITY: Economic development can not be achieved without political stability. Absence of political stability is a major challenge to our future economic development. Political platforms/parties must be transparent and accountable for every action, from selection of candidates for elections to selecting ministers.
7. MANAGING RISE IN UNEMPLOYMENT: There are about 1.98 million unemployed/ under-employed people in Bangladesh. Every year many more enter the job market. Ensuring employment for these unemployed people is clearly difficult for the government alone to handle. The private sector will have to share the burden. We have so many platforms to work for employment generation and better coordination among these agencies could give us more tangible results. Export of trained manpower or skilled professionals could be the next step in this regard.
8. ENSURING DEMAND DRIVEN AND PROFESSION ORIENTED EDUCATION: The number of educated unemployed is rising and the education system has to be reorganised. Profession-oriented and demand-based curriculum have to be introduced. A powerful link is required between the academia and industry leaders to affect adjustments in the curriculum according to requirement.
Apart from the above mentioned issues, there are many other socioeconomic problems facing Bangladesh. Our policy makers, politicians, think-tanks and civil societies will have to respond to the demand of time. If the issue of economic development is the uppermost in our minds, every citizen of the country has a stake in the affairs of the state.