Sustainable infrastructure development would secure a middle-income country (MDC) status for Bangladesh by 2021, said economist Wahiduddin Mahmud, chairman of the Economic Research Group, at a policy dialogue on Tuesday.
UNESCAP (United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific) and SANEM (South Asian Network on Economic Modelling) jointly organised the event titled “Asia-Pacific countries with special needs development report 2017: investing in infrastructure for an inclusive and sustainable future Implications for Bangladesh” at a city hotel.
SANEM Executive Director Prof Selim Raihan presided over the programme while economist of UNESCAP at Bangkok office Sudip Ranjan Basu gave an overview of the event.
Emphasising the need for sustainable and inclusive infrastructure development, Wahiduddin Mahmud said: “Bangladesh will almost qualify to come out of lower-development countries (LDCs) by 2018, and then, we will surely transform into MDC within three years.”
Mentioning challenges of land scarcity and population density, he recommended decentralisation of infrastructure development projects across the country for smooth economic activities.
“Bangladesh’s main challenge is decentralising infrastructure development as well as ensuring environmentally friendly industrialisation and urbanisation.”
Wahiduddin Mahmud also emphasised developing the country’s port infrastructures as the economic development is taking place widely day by day.
About meeting the demand for cost-effective infrastructure, the eminent economist said: “Although the big picture of mega-projects looks good, there is a need to look at the finer details, such as the project designs, their qualities, the priorities and social goals.”
The former caretaker government adviser added that, “There are some good-looking flyovers, but if the roads below it are neglected, the flyovers may not contribute to our economy.”
“We need to allocate more funds for the maintenance of the infrastructural projects to make them cost-effective.”
In his presentation, Sudip Ranjan Basu said Bangladesh can gain maximum in Asia-Pacific region by reducing infrastructure gaps.
“Bangladesh needs to further strengthen tax collection to overcome infrastructure and energy shortages to sustain medium-term economic development.”
He observed that despite ongoing efforts to streamline tax administration and encourage compliance, the tax-GDP ratio still remains below 10%.
He also emphasised improving the efficiency of public expenditure of Bangladesh.
At the programme, the Asia-Pacific countries with special needs development report 2017 was published formally.
The report said Bangladesh scored 0.277 positioning 28th in the Access to Physical Infrastructure Index (APII) in 2015.
The APII evaluated the condition of four infrastructure sectors – transport, energy, ICT and Water Supply and Sanitation – in 41 Asia-Pacific countries over time and found uneven progress among them in special needs group, with LDCs comprising seven out of 10 poorest-performing countries.
The report found major inadequacies in transport infrastructure and energy in the LDCs and the least development countries should prioritise investment in transport infrastructure in order to reduce trade costs.
Improvements in these infrastructure sectors will bring those countries on a par with other developing Asian countries and increase their combined national income by up to 6% by 2030.