Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica), one of the nation's top development partners, is celebrating four decades of operations in the country.
The Japanese government started providing voluntary services for restructuring the war-torn country a couple of years after independence. Those services took an institutional shape after the formation of Jica in August 1974.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith is scheduled to inaugurate the celebrations of the 40th anniversary today.
Chief Representative of Jica in Bangladesh Toda Takao has granted an exclusive interview to the Dhaka Tribune on the eve of the celebration.
DT: How have the Japanese volunteers have been contributing to the development of Bangladesh since 1973?
Toda Takao: Since the inception of Jica, Japanese volunteers, especially young people, have been doing a wonderful job in reducing poverty, and in promoting the development of agriculture and healthcare.
They have always stood by the common people. What they have been doing is
not charity. When they go back home,
they take back with them experience and expertise.
DT: How do young Japanese volunteers feel about the people of Bangladesh?
Takao: Our young men and women are hopeful about Bangladesh. They feel really comfortable working with the people of this country. Takeo Oshina, who volunteered in 1973, has come back many times to work for the country’s development.
DT: Bangladesh and Japan celebrate 40 years of bilateral relations. Both countries have changed a lot in these four decades. What is your evaluation of Bangladesh?
Takao: Bangladesh has great potential. The nation has come a long way towards becoming a middle-income country. Global investors now see Bangladesh as a potential investment destination.
Bangladesh’s leading role in establishing world peace and promoting the cause of least developed countries is widely acclaimed. Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in women's education, maternal health and reducing maternal mortality. The population density, especially the huge under-30 population, will lead the country in future. The populations in Japan and China are now ageing.
DT: Bangladesh gets the highest amount of aid from Japan. But the level of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) is low. Why?
Takao: In terms of investment, we are fifth in Bangladesh. But in recent years, a total of 170 Japanese companies have set up businesses in Bangladesh focusing on infrastructure, information technology, solar power, real estate and the service sector.
DT: How do you think Bangladesh can make the best use of one of the cheapest labour costs in the world?
Takao: Labour costs vary with the pace of economic development. In the long run, labour costs will rise.
The government should focus on developing efficiency and productivity. Philippines workers earn more than Bangladeshi workers in the Middle East.
DT: Japan is extremely advanced with regard to technology. But Bangladesh lags far behind. How can Jica help?
Takao: There are institutions like the Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology (Buet) and the Bangladesh Industrial Technical Assistance Centre who are technically sound. Jica will not set up new tech centres, but can assist existing organisations. You will be pleased to know that Tokyo University acknowledges Buet students.
DT: How can the government ensure good governance in the country?
Takao: Absence of good governance is a barrier to growth. The government should adopt a realistic approach. The administration and the service sector must ensure good governance firs.