'The correlation between governance and development needs serious discussion'

Nurul Islam, senior economist and first vice president of Bangladesh’s Planning Commission

As Bangladesh’s Golden Jubilee draws to a close, Prothom Alo confronts three eminent citizens of the country with three questions. All three of them were involved in various ways with the Liberation War or the political upheavals preceding independence. They were asked the same three questions.

Nurul Islam, senior economist and first vice president of Bangladesh’s Planning Commission, responds.

Q :

The nation went through various political upheavals which culminated in the 1971 War of Liberation. You yourself were also a part of those unfolding events. What were your thoughts at the time on Bangladesh as a state?

We had one motivation for seeking independence. We wanted a democratic, socialist country.

Q :

How do you compare the state that you envisioned, with Bangladesh as it stands now, 50 years hence? What are the similarities and the dissimilarities?

After independence we had to focus on reconstruction and rehabilitation. As a prerequisite to growth, there was the matter of regaining economic ground. We had to think of the food problem. We had to place stress on increasing food production and ensuring equitable distribution for the welfare of the poor and those at risk. We managed to adopt a very successful population control programme. Importance was placed on the modern inputs in the agriculture sector. The road infrastructure was improved for the marketing of the increased production.

The non-agricultural achievements were the most important. Institutions like Brac and Grameen Bank had significant contribution in this regard. They played a strong role in the expansion of education, particularly in non-formal education. The farmers responded very positively to the market prospects that had arisen.

Two factors have played a role till now in Bangladesh's growth. One is overseas remittance and the other is exports, even though till now these exports are basically restricted to one single commodity. Labour in this sector is less skilled, and mostly women. This is quite significant for a developing country. All these earnings have come through the hands of the rural population. The first direct impact was on purchasing power. The impact was also marked on infrastructure construction and non-agricultural activities, that is, business and small industries. This required market access and rural infrastructure. This can be termed a new stage in Bangladesh's advancement.

The non-agricultural sector provided input and market for the agricultural sector. We say that we have made significant achievements in the education and health sector, but there is scope to ensure that everyone benefits from these achievements equally.

Q :

After this Golden Jubilee of independence, in the context of the spirit of the Liberation War, which are the issues we should focus our attention upon for achievements in the future?

We lag behind in the balance between input and output. This is partially due to the fact that we have failed to adequately train the labour that we utilise. We must pay particular attention to extreme disparity in income. The transferring of capital overseas can be a reason for this extreme disparity. In that case, an investment-friendly environment and incentives must be ensured. Disparity is basically a political problem. I feel that this is creating political unrest globally.

Independent, precise and unbiased input is required to formulate economic policy. Along with this, non-political analysis is also necessary. Without that, it is impossible to come up with an economic policy. If that can be ensured, then even if the politicians get away with their failure for now, they will have to take the liability for this in the future.

Researchers, on their part, should publish the results of their research in a manner comprehendible to the politicians. They must also learn to understand the language of the politicians. They must grasp the circumstances under which the politicians function.

There needs to be an understanding of the correlation between disparity and poverty alleviation and a determination of which needs to be given priority. Bangladesh's researchers need to discuss and research the character and reach of disparity. Also, I would say, the correlation between governance and development warrants serious discussion.