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Govt fears reforms lest it stall development, says MA Mannan

  • Published at 12:00 am November 10th, 2019
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Discussants at a conference on strategies and policies for an upper-middle income Bangladesh organized by Bangladesh Economist Forum at a Dhaka hotel on Saturday, November 9, 2019 Dhaka Tribune

Economists call for reforms, including privatization of all state-owned enterprises, to create ground for good governance   


Planning Minister MA Mannan said on Saturday that the government was afraid of bringing about reforms lest it put a brake on the ongoing development activities. 

The minister came up with remark in response to critics, analysts and economists calling for immediate reforms in the financial sector in order to create a ground conducive to good governance.  

"We reaped benefits from the strategy we applied in the last few years. The government wants to take forward both the politics and economy simultaneously. We do not want to lose or slow down the pace we have brought to the economy because of reforms," said M A Mannan.

He was addressing the fourth conference of Bangladesh Economist Forum (BEF) on "Strategies and Policies for an Upper-Middle Income Bangladesh" at a hotel in the capital.

The planning minister said majority in his government felt the necessity of reforms but any reform usually takes a long period to take effect. 

He maintained: "Many (speakers) suggested structural reforms. Those in the government also recognize that there is need for reforms. No reason to get disappointed. The government is actively thinking about it." 

The minister stressed that the government had a duty to each of the citizens, even a thief. 

He countered the experts' call for privatization of the all commercial entities of the state. 

"I can feel your concerns about banks, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and the need for their privatization. But, what is politics?. It is an art of compromise; everyone must be included in politics. No one should be left behind, not even a thief. We have to take also a thief along the development journey. As a citizen, a thief has rights to get benefit of development. We want to establish such a situation in the country," he elaborated.

Speaking on the occasion, noted economists of the country recommended immediate reforms in the financial sector to bring good governance. 

In two separate sessions, noted economists placed a total of nine keynote presentations portraying the current state of different sectors of export products, import substitute local industries, tax policy, balance of payments, financial sector management, investment, education, migration and challenges of skills development and recommended ways to address the issues. 

As chair of the first session of the conference, former finance and planning adviser to a caretaker government AB Mirza Azizul Islam underscored the need for reforms in capital market, merger of banks and privatization of the SOEs. 

"Why are we not privatizing all the state commercial entities? These are plagued by corruption, misappropriation, irregularities. They generate loan burden and become partisan," Mirza Azizul said adding: "We have worst example of Jute Mills Corporation before us." 

He said governance in the banking sector weakened due to the recent changes that enabled all members of a family to become board members for a period of six to nine years.  

He said the finance minister often told the media that merger of weak banks might happen if situation demanded but there was no such initiative so far.

He said irrational behaviour at capital market was destroying small investors' confidence but the government did not seem sincere about addressing the problems.    

He said the government was not offloading shares of public entities in the capital market, which was discouraging the private sector companies.

He said the tussle with Grameen Phone was having a negative impact on the market and giving the foreign investors bad impressions.

"GP is significant in the capital market," he observed, adding that there was a need for listing both foreign and local   companies with the capital market.

Former Bangladesh Bank governor Dr Atiur Rahman said the investment GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ratio in the country remained static at 31%, which needed to be boosted up to attain the projected double digit growth.

The speakers at the conference also stressed the need for moving beyond the single product export basket of readymade garments and extending policy support towards diversification of export products.

They said some of the export items of the country were doing good in the global market but facing tremendous competition due to the emergence of many countries with same products.

Chairman of Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmed chaired the afternoon session of the conference. 

Member of board of trustee of BEF and Vice Chairman of PRI Sadiq Ahmed welcomed panel discussants and guest speakers. 

Chairman of Policy Research Institute Dr Zaidi Sattar, Executive Director of Institute of Inclusive Finance and Development Mustafa K Mujeri, former president of Bangladesh Economic Association Mohiuddin Alamgir, Executive Director of PRI Ahsan H Mansur, Distinguish Fellow at Centre for Policy Dialogue Prof Mustafizur Rahman, Executive Director of SANEM Selim Raihan, Associate Professor at Dhaka University Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha and senior research fellows at Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies Dr Nazneen Ahmed, Dr Anwara Begum and Dr Minhaj Mahmud and senior economist at PRI Dr Ashikur Rahman spoke, among others.