The excellent news of our graduation from the “least developed country” category is both a cause for celebration as well as a spur for more action.
As Bangladesh comes into its own and finds its footing in the ruthlessly competitive global landscape, we must take it upon ourselves to do everything we can to build a strong, sustainable, and self-sufficient nation.
As op-ed contributor Mazher Mir correctly pointed out in his latest article on Business Tribune, we have to start thinking about how to finance our future growth and development since foreign grants and assistance will surely dry up now that we are no longer an LDC.
There will be a host of other challenges we have to face on the road to development but with proper preparation and execution, we can overcome all of them.
Private sector-led growth
One of the things that the private sector does best is maximize output and minimize costs. Thus, the private sector is able to sustain much higher rates of growth, at least in the case of most goods and services, the exceptions being public goods like utilities, education, and healthcare.
It would be beneficial for the whole population if the government supported and cooperated with the private sector, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
Bangladesh has consistently been ranked near the bottom in various global assessments of “ease of doing business,” and that needs to change; the government has to play a critical role here.
There’s enough to go around; all we need is a proper allocation of financial resources
The private sector functions at an optimum level only when certain conditions in the market are met. These conditions include enforcement of contracts, access to information, low barriers to entry, and the like.
It’s the job of government regulators to ensure those conditions.
When it comes to further development in Bangladesh, particularly with the sustainable development goals in view, the critical need of the hour is access to adequate and uninterrupted power supply.
Experts predict that Bangladesh will completely run out of gas by the year 2045, or even earlier according to some estimates. But the disturbing part is currently about 80% of electricity generation comes from gas.
What are we going to do when that gas runs out?
The present government has taken some excellent initiatives, despite considerable and rather groundless opposition, to significantly increase our future capacity and supply.
It’s imperative that we deal with the situation practically and pragmatically, and not idealistically or unrealistically.
In a world with finite resources there are always difficult choices to be made. Every economic decision requires some form of sacrifice, which economists call “opportunity cost.”
In the case of energy we have to consider less than ideal options such as importing from neighbouring countries, at least in the short-run.
At the same time, we must take long-term measure like investing in renewable energy -- especially hydropower, building more efficient power plants, transitioning away from fossil fuels, and so on.
Human capital refers to the stock of skills, knowledge, ability, creativity, etc of workers in an organization, firm, or nation, and it is strongly correlated to output. Basically, more human capital means greater labour productivity.
In order to survive in the highly competitive global markets in international trade, we have to make sure our workforce is equipped with the right set of skills, and that needs considerable investment on the part of government as well as employers.
In other words, we have to focus on capacity building and skill enhancement. Quality education is crucial for this.
21st century skills like leadership, critical thinking, innovation, communication, and the like are essential.
Banking and finance
Development is a rather costly endeavour; it doesn’t come cheap.
What with our ongoing banking crisis, it can often feel like we just don’t have enough money for all the myriad things we have to do, the roads we have to build, the mouths we have to feed, and more.
But that’s actually not true. There’s enough to go around; all we need is a proper allocation of financial resources.
Mazher Mir, whom I mentioned earlier, is a financial analyst and he has an excellent solution for this: Municipal bonds.
Only a fraction of our population falls into the tax bracket and an even smaller fraction among them actually pay taxes. Thus, we need an alternative source of financing public projects, and municipal bonds are a great way to raise funds, particularly for local development projects.
Local development has been long overdue and we just can’t afford to delay it any longer.
As for our banking system, privatization – with proper monitoring and regulation, of course – will solve the crisis to a considerable extent. There are a number of other steps that need to be taken concomitantly.
If we can commit to these efforts collectively and consistently, there is every reason to believe that we will fulfill our Prime Minister’s vision and our common goal of becoming a developed nation by 2041.
Fairuz Faatin is a sub-editor at the Dhaka Tribune