Who and what have contributed most towards Bangladesh success story? The question came to the fore during my recent visit to the USA where I had a number of meetings with Bangladesh Diaspora. Back home now, with most political parties, policy planners and regulators claiming the credit for taking Bangladesh to where it is now, the discussion on the issue who has contributed most to the Bangladesh success stories or achievements has become more intense.
Since independence, to be more precise, from the beginning of the eighties, Bangladesh has been maintaining a praiseworthy growth trend. Macroeconomic fundamentals are now good, social indicators have shown remarkable progress, poverty has reduced noticeably, national capital has grown significantly with consistent focus on private sector-led growth and without hurting the Gini-coefficient, life expectancy has increased from 45 years to 69.2 years with fantastic 'demographic dividend' and access to education and health services has improved over time. 'Made in Bangladesh' goods has arrested significant attention in the global market. There are more Bangladeshi young men and women enrolling into top grade US, Canada, UK and Australian universities and, more importantly, the Bangladesh graduates are grabbing management roles in the globally acclaimed companies at home and abroad. The country has increased its average GDP (gross domestic product) growth rate by 1.0 per cent in every decade since the early eighties. As a student of Economics, I won't be at all surprised, if the country makes out to the list of middle income economy earlier than projected time, despite all the challenges in relation to infrastructure, public utilities and governance it has been facing since long.
There is almost a consensus that economic reforms arrived out through government policy actions have yielded good results for Bangladesh. Those have struck better enterprise management through the private sector development and some successes achieved through the privatisation-injected competition in the banking sector, in the forms of determination of market-based exchange rate and interest rate on the basis of client-bank relationship and more importantly, classification
and provision exercise for the loan portfolio for banks.
These reforms also have significantly influenced the public procurement procedure, management of development projects and resources made available particularly to the ministries of health and education through the national budgets every year. Some of my friends say the economic reforms, initiated in the late 1980s and early 1990s were inevitable, no matter whoever were or would have been at the helm of the statecraft. However, they also recognised that otherwise unlucky with natural endowment, large population and safeguard institutions, the country was somehow quite lucky as far as the selection of its finance ministers is concerned. Especially the engagement of people like M. Saifur Rahman did make lot of difference and helped accelerate the reform process. Many of my friends also felt that late Mr. Rahman was also given a 'free hand' by the head of the government, which did matter most. Persons like SAMS Kibria and even AMA Muhith more or less continued with the reform process and, more importantly, maintained dignified aloofness from nasty issues emanating from politics. There is no doubt economic reforms would have been much more effective, inclusive and far-reaching, had those been supported by the political leaders, debated, discussed and resolved in the parliament.
The countries like the United Kingdom and Japan always came forward to 'hand hold' Bangladesh in case of most needs. The World Bank though hated by few in the citizenry, also consistently subscribed to the 'Bangladesh story' and significantly contributed to the growth-driving projects. Bangladesh being one of the UNDP's pilot countries, was also benefited out of its charter for championing the causes of the marginalised, democratic values and civil institutions. The armed forces officials joining the UN missions abroad not only did good for the host countries and earned good remittances, many retired ones joining the entrepreneurship and private sector did help migration of best practices. The private sectors in China and India also extended some support to Bangladesh and its entrepreneurs to join the `global supply chain' in an integrated manner.
Bangladesh is a land of entrepreneurs. Our domestic entrepreneurs, many of them even semi-literate have done wonders. Having accessed many landmark business schools in the world, it is in order for me to say their story is nowhere different from the maharajas of business in South Asia. Despite many challenges from inside and outside, Bangladesh entrepreneurship and their work ethics have earned significant 'mentions' in the global arena. Average work ethics of our workers, especially the women workers have been resolved to be very good.
The subsequent governments, no matter how they fought to undermine each other, were seen very supportive of the rise of domestic entrepreneurship. Policy planners, though little confused at the beginning years with the 'recipe for growth', did soon correct their stance without much casualty. Reforms did yield very good results for Bangladesh. Large employment generating enterprises always received policy support and attention from the political high ups. Two large political parties at the end of the day always upheld entrepreneurs' interest. The slow but steady growth of a responsible media also provided necessary safeguard against atrocities, indiscipline and political excesses. Increasing number of women joining the workplace also added significant diversity. Multinational seniors joining the local corporate houses added extra synergy and speed for them.
The man behind the machine or in the driving seat is always very important. When someone in the west would write about the 'Bangladesh growth story', forty-fifty years down the line, I am sure they can't ignore the names of Fazle Hasan Abed, Professor Muhammad Yunus, Nurul Quader, Samson H Chowdhury, Kamal Hussain, Akbar Ali Khan, Mirza Azizul Islam and many of their comrades and colleagues, relentlessly dreaming and contributing towards building a better Bangladesh that would draw admiration from all directions.
(The writer is a banker and economic analyst)