Large businesses bring danger to small ones

The government has announced a fresh gas price hike following a rise in power tariff amid a dollar crisis that is taking a toll on business. Big and corporate businesses have ownership in banks or maintain a close relationship with banks and they even stay well ahead in lobbying the government. But, small and medium businesses fall behind in these aspects, thus, small and medium entrepreneurs and businesses were hit hard amid on-going crisis.

There is no representative of small businesses in different trade bodies of the country. There is no one to raise voice on behalf of them. Leaders of trade bodies do not speak for them either. As a result, small businesses are being sacrificed in the interest of big ones. This was proved once again as top business leaders forgot about small ones during talks over gas price hike with the government. Business leaders proposed a 56.26 per cent rise in gas price and the government accepted their ‘simple’ proposal without even thinking about the capacity of small and mid-level entrepreneurs.

The government announced the price of gas at Tk 30 a unit for all industries except fertiliser and tea industries. Due to the decision, per unit gas price for captive power plants at the large industries has increased by 87.5  per cent. Meanwhile gas price jumped by 178.29 per cent in small and cottage industries.

Thus, large businesses have brought a great danger for small and medium entrepreneurs. The authorities increased gas price six times in the past 14 years and every time separate prices were fixed for small, medium and large industries every time. The precedence was not followed this time. 

Now the question is whether top business leaders did this deliberately. To know the answer to this question, we must look to the leadership of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) and other product-based trade bodies. Influential businesspersons hold the top leadership of all trade bodies. Previously, members elected their leaders in majority of top trade bodies including FBCCI, but leadership through election is now about to go to the museum. Though it was held partially, FBCCI last saw an election in 2017. Leadership is being selected though bargain in most of trade bodies, with several trade associations including FBCCI picking up its leaders with a green signal from the top level of the government. And, small and medium businesspersons has zero representation in it.

The government hiked fuel prices at the end of last year in a bid to normalise gas supply situation and reduce subsidy. At that time, ministers and secretaries of the government held several meetings with leaders of the power trade bodies. Lastly, the prime minister's private industry and investment advisor Salman F Rahman  and state minister for power, energy and mineral resources Nasrul Hamid sat with businesspersons at Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) office over demand, supply and price of gas. At that meeting, the government proposed to rise gas price by Tk 40 a unit what business leaders objected.

Later, FBCCI leaders held a meeting with the leaders of several top trade bodies including Bangladesh Textile Mills Association (BTMA), Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) and Bangladesh Knitwear Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BKMEA). FBBCI president Md Jashim Uddin proposed to fix per unit gas price at Tk 25 for captive as a condition of getting uninterrupted gas supply. The letter did not mention anything about the price of gas in the other industries.

The gas tariff was hiked on 18 January. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina told the national parliament on that very day said, “If they (businessmen) want uninterrupted gas supply, they must pay the price at which the government is buying gas. There is no point of giving subsidies.”

Following the PM’s remark, the business leaders were disappointed. A day after the PM’s remark, a leader of a powerful business organisation told this correspondent that they don’t feel comfortable talking about the gas price hike anymore. Leaders of three-four more business organisations echoed the same view.

Although the powerful business organizations remain silent, small and medium businessmen said they will have to spend three times more on gas after the recent hike while doing business had already been tough due to dollar-crisis and rising inflation. This will make business tougher for them.

Dhaka Chamber’s recent past president Rizwan Rahman told Prothom Alo that the way big business organisation leaders proposed gas price hike without taking small and medium industry into consideration was selfish. They misused their power. The government also pays attention to only these big shots. That’s why they fixed same price for all industries.

Rizwan said small and medium industries have already been facing various crises and that will be exacerbated due to gas price hike by 178 per cent. Many of them will not be able to sustain.