'Development of Bangladesh conventional, not surprise'

Guests pose at the book launching programme at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) office in Dhaka on 18 April, 2024.Prothom Alo

The economic developments in Bangladesh are not a paradox, nor have they taken place surprisingly; rather, they have come about in a conventional way, through the coordination of different factors.

Experts came up with the observation at an event to mark the launching of a book – 50 years of Bangladesh: Economy, Politics, Society and Culture – at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) office in Dhaka on Thursday. 

Rounaq Jahan, distinguished fellow of the CPD, conducted the programme, where CPD chairman Rehman Sobhan and Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman, among others, spoke. 

The speakers highlighted a coordination between collective and individual initiatives in the country. 

A type of symbiotic relationship developed between the government and the market and it acted as the driving force behind the development, leaving no scope for the lack of resources or good governance to stand in the way, they said.  

Regarding the upcoming challenges, the speakers said the driving forces would not remain the same forever. Bangladesh is all set to graduate from the group of least developed countries (LDC) in 2026 and it will take away the longstanding trade privileges. 

Hossain Zillur Rahman, a former caretaker government advisor, said other than the driving forces, there are some factors that have played influential roles in the economic developments. One of them is the revolution of human personality. The  resilience of people despite a myriad of adversities is a crucial driver of development.  

Rounaq Jahan, distinguished fellow of the CPD, conducted the programme.
Prothom Alo

He, however, noted a significant shift in the country's development paradigm from an inclusive to an exclusionary perspective. He believes that the economic agenda will increasingly become political agenda in the coming days. 

While moderating the programme, Rounaq Jahan mentioned a similar book which was published in 1996 with a prediction for a political betterment rather than economic development. She pointed out the contrasting reality as there are disappointments regarding politics while the economy is in a good shape now.

Some authors of the book attended the event in person, while the others joined online from abroad. 

In his virtual speech, Syed Akhtar Mahmood, economist and former lead private sector specialist of the World Bank Group, described the economic developments as the collective result of increased crop production, improved rural communication system, and robust inflow of remittance. 

He noted the emergence of separate spheres for entrepreneurship, policymaking, research, and dialogue in Bangladesh and said their combinations expedited the developments in the country. 

It is not like the government has done everything, rather the entrepreneurs have contributed a lot to the developments, he said, with a fear that the coordination is getting disrupted nowadays. 

CPD chairman Rehman Sobhan speaks at the book launching programme.
Prothom Alo

Impending challenges 

Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of CPD and another author of the book, shed light on the dual transition of Bangladesh and described the socio-economic developments as a reflection of the transitions. 

Bangladesh became a lower-middle income country in 2015, and will graduate from the LDC group in 2026. Now the question is if the country falls into the trap of middle income or debt. The developments have so far been based on labour-intensive industries and it now needs to step into the phase of tech-based production and exports, he said. 

Highlighting the current performance, he said Bangladesh’s exports of high-tech products have been stuck at 1 per cent throughout the last 10 years, while its regional competitor, Vietnam, made significant progress  in this regard. 

Selim Raihan, an economics department professor at Dhaka University, said the informal sector has thrived in Bangladesh despite institutional weaknesses. It, however, may not work well in the upcoming phase of development. 

There is a type of political consensus regarding the advancement of the informal sector, but there is no consensus on whether the country will depend on FDI, or it will develop on the basis of economic zones after the LDC graduation, he added.  

Regarding corruption, Selim Raihan noted a status quo and underscored the need for a political will to break the corruption cycle. Otherwise, it will not be possible to carry out reforms and increase the government’s capacity for revenue collections. 

Zahid Hussain, former lead economist of World Bank’s Dhaka office, said the development in Bangladesh is not an apparent contradiction. How developments took place despite the lack of institutional reforms is no longer a matter of discussion, rather it needs to apprehend why institutional reforms are not taking place despite the developments.

“We can slide down just the way we have climbed up,” he added.