As our national political pastime of calling hartals persists, the economy of the country continues to suffer.
While everyone understands that a nationwide shutdown of economic activities causes significant fiscal and economic losses, the true extent of such has been largely unknown. A recent study carried out by the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) has shed some light on the matter.
The study paints a more dismal picture of the effects that hartals have on the economy than previously thought. It states that the annual loss, on average, is estimated at 6.5% of GDP. Simply put, hartals are to blame for Bangladesh’s inability to hit double-digit economic growth figures.
In addition to the macroeconomic woes, the hardest hit sector is retail, which means that the middle and lower middle class portions of the population bear a disproportionate burden. This is to say nothing of the fiscal impacts upon inflows of foreign direct investment and the effects on the stock market of the political instability that hartals represent. This simply cannot continue.
It is high time for the leaders in the government and opposition to come up with a better way to address the problems of the nation – ways that do not cripple the economy. The first step in this process would be to open up dialogue between the different factions. If they come to the negotiating table with an open mind, who knows what they may be able to achieve?
Of course, this seems to be a pipe dream. In the meantime, the government must do all that it can to ensure that business activities can continue as normal and minimize the impacts of hartals. Increased security, normal functioning of government offices and maintaining regular bank operations would be a good start.