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Development at what cost?

  • Published at 03:51 pm April 23rd, 2019

The current growth of the country is not inclusive nor sustainable

The Chawkbazar fire, FR Tower fire, along with many other recent fire incidents -- Bangladesh Biman’s crash landings on many occasions -- can usually be chalked up to large debt defaults in our state-owned banks.

All these incidents are possibly telling us something -- we are in a mess, and there is seemingly no way out of it.

We, of course, love to talk on the recent development and digitization of the economy. However, rising social menaces like disobedience, erosion of political and social accountability, non-transparency among leading institutions, and social ills and wrongdoings may soon eat at our gains on the economic front.

The country has progressed a lot -- our poverty rate has dropped and the per capita income has risen to almost $2,000. Our airports and sea ports are much busier, domestic consumption and disposable income have risen significantly and people can certainly afford more, yet we continue to read the kind of headlines we don’t want to see.

Our governments have been blaming each other for being the root cause of wrongdoings or encouraging a culture of impunity. Of course, two wrongs don’t make a right. Our job is to identify or focus on the wrongdoings and establish a culture of taking the wrong-doer to justice.

We get to see our political leaders or even think tanks telling us that it is impossible to ignite a movement like 1969, 1991, or even 2006. Hence, the nation will remain at the mercy of certain political monsters. On the other hand, we should supposedly try to remain happy with the portion of money being fed back to the system, as a beneficiary of the so called “trickle-down theory.”

Our tax-GDP ratio is still lower than Nepal, and considering the size of the growing GDP, it is, in fact, falling. In a country of 175 million, we have only 4 million that have tax identification numbers (TIN), and out of that, only about 1.8 million submit tax returns, and going further, only 1.2 million people (mostly salaried persons with various private commercial organizations) pay taxes. 

People are resisting implementation of the new VAT law, because many think that expenditure at the point of sale (POS) ultimately will also affect the income of the individual. On the other hand, in a country where at least 22% of its population is living below the poverty line, how is it justified that a member of the parliament is encouraged to buy a vehicle without paying taxes as part of his or her entitlement? 

We live in a country where there is a serious dearth of professionals due to a lack of accountability across sectors. University teachers are never held accountable for poor or low quality teaching, engineers are not held accountable for inadequacy, and doctors are not held accountable for not being available to look after patients during office hours. 

All of this has a detrimental effect on our education, on our infrastructure, and on our health care. It all continues to sharply increase income inequality as well as benefits inequality.

Majority of the people, including a significant portion of the party in power, don’t see any remedy to the above. Most believe that we are meant to look after our own personal interests only. This of course would mean that there will be more Chawkbazar incidents, more Rana Plaza-like disasters, larger defaults in the state-owned banks, and loss-making state-owned corporations shall continue to get support from the government and not the honest private entrepreneurs.

More of our women will be violated, and the poor will continue to not have access to quality education, good health care, or even the minimum possibility of justice.

On the other hand, the beneficiaries of this so-called growth, considering their role to be able to add to the system, will keep on flying to better health care centres out of the country, continue to send their children to the best private schools, and compete with each other to buy the latest cars, while our roads continue to be in the miserable condition that they have always been in.

Can this change? Let us ask ourselves. There is a crack that has appeared. If we keep on shying away from our responsibilities, fail to build adequate capacity, fail to ensure accountability, and continue to let wrongdoings be based on political considerations, this crack may soon become a gaping hole.

Mamun Rashid is an economic analyst.