It is said people use their right hand, left hand, and excuses. Let me begin with the last one, excuses. Later I'll take up the left hand and the right hand.
There are excuses everywhere in the country. Whether it is for cricket, the economy or politics -- there are excuses galore. The ruling party, the opposition, everyone is ready with their excuses.
There is no end to excuses concerning the floundering economy. First there was Covid-19, then the Russia-Ukraine came along, and now there is the Israel aggression on Palestine
World Cup cricket
The One-Day World Cup is nearing the semifinals. India and South Africa have confirmed their berths in the semis. Australia and New Zealand's chances are good too, though Afghanistan or Pakistan can turn the tables. In the meantime, Bangladesh, England, Sri Lanka and, playing for the first time, the Netherlands, have dropped out of the race. Yet there had been so much hype before Bangladesh set out to play -- Bangladesh would surely play in the semifinals and may even clinch the cup! Litton or Tanzid would score the highest number of runs. Yet it was only Mahmudullah that stood strong, though BCB, the selectors, coach and captain, had tried their best to drop him from the team. Now come the excuses -- any team can play bad in a tournament.
Just look at the plight of the champions England! They vie for the lowest spot with Bangladesh. All said and done, let Bangladesh win a title like England first, then we will accept all such excuses. There were more excuses -- Tamim wasn't selected on fitness grounds. Yet we saw injuries throughout the World Cup.
Actually these are no excuses. The thing is that Bangladesh cricket has long been run by the 'left' hand (left, in local lingo, implying something dubious). That is why the World Cup team comprised a president whose term is long over, coaches discarded by other countries, a useless board of selectors and a captain engrossed in his business interests. So the outcome was inevitable.
There is no end to excuses concerning the floundering economy. First there was Covid-19, then the Russia-Ukraine came along, and now there is the Israel aggression on Palestine. Ahead of us is the opposition of hartals and blockades which is an excuse that can kill two birds with one stone. Yet much of the economic crisis of created internally.
Prices and inflation
The price of essentials and inflation has made life difficult. l have written much about how inflation is cause by flawed policies in the case of imports and excessive extortion in the transport sector. The dark shadow of the syndicates looms large over the market.
In the nineties I was involved with economic liberalisation and import policy reforms. At the time, licences were required to import anything. We then decided that pre-clearance would not be required in the case of importing any product in general. Imports could be done freely. There would be a short list of certain items that would require pre-clearance. And there would be a few items that would be prohibited for import. Thus the commerce ministry would not interfere in daily market management.
At present the commerce ministry determines the market price of edible oil and sugar, but that is not implemented. They gave permission to import eggs, but the eggs come at a much delayed date. The price of eggs spirals. The cold storage owners create a syndicate and push up the price of potatoes. The commerce ministry acquiesces, fixes the price of potatoes and the price of potatoes in the market is much higher than their fixed price. But the farmer at the production level does not benefit from these high prices.
On Saturday I bought three bunches of 'lal shaak' (red spinach) from the Shailan bazaar in Dhamrai for 20 taka. Each bunch is about one and a half times bigger than in Dhaka. In Dhaka, one bunch of 'laal shaak' is 25 taka. So what I bought for 20 taka in Dhamrai, would cost me 100 taka in Dhaka. In short, the main cause of inflation of imported and local items is nothing but the sleight of the 'left' hand.
Foreign reserves and exchange rates
Perhaps it was in 2013 when, in an interview about Padma Bridge, I had said that it would not be judicious to use our foreign exchange reserves in the infrastructure sector. Certain persons had retorted at the time, what is the point in leaving the reserves lying idle for negligible interest? We are now seeing the consequences of that. The reserves are rapidly depleting. I had also repeatedly written that the foreign currency exchange rate should be left to the market. Others said, the taka will devalue drastically. But now the dollar rate has shot up from Tk 80 to nearly Tk 115. And siphoning foreign currency out of the country has broken all previous records.
Bank interest rates and foreign debt
Addressing businessmen and bank owners, I had written about interest on bank deposits and loans, "Depositors are not criminals" and "Stop playing with the economy". Some readers had echoed my apprehensions and shared my writing on Facebook. What I had written then has come into fruition now. The financial pressure on the people has come to no good, default loans have increased manifold, control has been removed from interest on bank deposits and loans, both are going up.
I had repeatedly stressed the need to limit foreign loans on commercial conditions. I had said today the low Libor rate means it will increase in the future. That that is what happened. Libor has gone up as has the burden to replaying foreign debt. Development was used as an excuse then. But no one is asking why the expenditure on Padma Bridge is threefold that of such development projects in neighbouring countries, and the time of implementation double. Who is pocketing the benefits of development? The influence and control of the 'left-handed' players in economic management is crystal clear.
Excuses in politics
In my personal life and in my writings I maintain a safe distance from politics. But it is now clear that the dark cloud over the economy will not clear unless there is a political solution. And so I will make an exception and discuss 'excuses' in politics. I'll start with the opposition. They have been in a movement for a long eight years to topple the government. That is all well and good. After all, politics means change of guard. Large rallies are being held, with hartal (general strike) and blockades being added. But the situation is as before, those in power are moving towards the election.
When asked, the opposition's excuse is, "What else can we do? We are victims of police repression. The people are not taking to the streets." But they are not saying what the point is for the people is in their movement. Where are the points about inflation, corruption, dengue deaths, the syndicates, good governance? They will say it's all in the 31 points. But if they don't put their points forward, why will the people take to the streets? Where are their interests in the syndicate-funded movement? If the people are not taken on board, then why cause losses to the people through hartals and blockades?
The list of the excuses of those in power is even longer. The constitution is the biggest excuse. To my knowledge, the constitution has never been an obstacle to political understanding in any country. They have absolute majority in parliament. They are saying, where is it written in the parliament that this party or that party has to be brought to the election? But they never say that where it is written in the constitution about stuffing ballot boxes on the night before the election, about voterless elections, and about creating a pet opposition party.
The left hand is at play in the country's cricket, economy and politics. And so we are failing in all faltering areas. That is why I say, increase the use of the 'right hand' (a positive term in local jargon). Then there won't be any need to concoct excuses anymore.
* Muhammad Fouzul Kabir Khan is former secretary and economist and can be contacted at [email protected]
* This column appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir