That time, I was posted to Malaysia as the High Commissioner of Bangladesh. I was planning to write a book in Bangla on Tun Dr.
Mahathir Mohamad, the architect of modern Malaysia. Tun Mahathir was the Prime Minister of Malaysia for more than 22 years. I had to visit him a number of times as and when I needed, especially for materials to be included in that book. One day, I requested him to say something about the immediate steps to be undertaken for the economic development of Bangladesh. In a nutshell, he advised to give priority to the industrial sector instead of agriculture. Citing an example, he told that an industry established on one acre of land could arrange employment of workers hundred times than the same area of agricultural land could provide. Millions of Bangladeshi migrants are working abroad. Their host countries are becoming economically stronger due to their hard labour. On the other hand, their contribution to the economy of Bangladesh is only the remittance of a few billion dollars. But it is possible to provide employment of a major portion of those people in Bangladesh by widening the industry sector. Thus they will be able to contribute their own country’s overall development including the socio-economic security of their families.
Bangladesh can earn more foreign currency by exporting its own industrial products than the remittance received from its migrant workers. In addition, Bangladesh would be able to cut in expenditure for its import due to the increase of local production. For this, the Government of Bangladesh should take necessary steps to create investment friendly environment to attract foreign as well as local investments. Praising Bangladeshi migrant workers, Dr Mahathir had further mentioned that those who could fuel other countries’ economic development were able to develop their own country. But that environment should be created.
I had clearly understood that day from Tun Mahathir’s recommendations that we would not be able to include Bangladesh in the group of developed countries if we fail to expand our industry sector. The development of Bangladesh would be faster if we could create the opportunities to employ our migrant workers in Bangladesh instead of sending them abroad to invest their relentless hard labour for the development of other countries. But, nobody knows the possibility of creating such environment in Bangladesh. However, I elaborately included Dr. Mahathir’s comments in my book.
Once, agriculture was the main sector of economy for all countries of the world. Management of production was totally dependent on workers’ physical labour. There was no much difference among states on the standard of living or per capita income of their people. The world has travelled hundreds of years in this way. However, necessity inspired people to think everything in a newer and improved fashion. Thus they started planning to increase investment for the development of machinery decreasing dependency on physical labour. They took initiatives to increase the volume of production as per demand. These thoughts were primarily evaporated from the minds of European industrialists. As a result, the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century in England ushered a new horizon in the economic sector. The basic characteristics of the industrial revolution were technological, socio-economic and cultural. The waves of England’s technological know-how slowly started spreading over other European countries including Belgium, France and Germany, though England was very conservative in technological cooperation with other countries. In any way, it brought remarkable economic development for those countries. Industrial revolution in America, Japan, Soviet Union and other countries of the world had begun in the twentieth century. This had an immense impact on world economy and politics. Not only in the economic sector, but the gaps in political, socio-economic and cultural sectors among countries also started widening. As a consequence, countries were becoming rich and poor. The countries, which preferred industrialisation, had turned into developed or rich countries. And the countries, which remained dependent on agriculture, could not come out of poverty.
Bangladesh, a small sized country, has a population of 160 million. Understanding the urgency, Bangladesh, once a country of agriculture based economy, has been shifting to build up an industry based economy. However, the rate of industrialisation is going very slow due to a number of reasons. According to 2015 statistics, the contributions of agriculture, industry and service sectors to the GDP are 15.5%, 28% and 56.3% respectively. On the contrary, 40% of country’s workforce remains engaged in agriculture sector and 30% in the industry (2013). That means, the contribution of workforce in the industry sector is more than double of the agriculture sector. The contribution of the industry sector to our economy could be enhanced through more investment, utilisation of modern technology, development of infrastructure and modernisation of management. The country would get enormous benefit once we understand the reality and take necessary measures accordingly.
The technology has been developing every moment and reaching to the people within no time. Actually, technology places itself in front of us in a new look every day. People, at the same time, come to know the latest technology and are not facing any difficulties in utilising that. In fact, a country can easily avail all opportunities of technology, if it desires so and has the ability. Concerned government agencies should take necessary steps to inspire our industrial establishments as well as extend all possible supports and cooperation in this regard.
The present government of Bangladesh would like to make the contribution from the industry sector to the GDP at the target of 40% by 2021. Do we have that preparation to attain that target? Could we have created necessary preconditions such as (a) infrastructure, (b) policies and (c) business friendly environment for the country’s industrialisation? Were we able to increase the foreign or local investments at the desired level? Were we able to take required measures after identifying the problems in that regard? Our industry sector would never get momentum until we could resolve those problems. Then our dream to have a developed Bangladesh would never be fulfilled. However, it would not be a very difficult task to elevate the contribution of industrial sector to the GDP to 40% from the existing 28%, only if we take appropriate steps without losing any time.
I can’t but refer here one important issue. And that is the investment, both local and foreign. There is no way to widen the industry sector unless investment in this sector is increased. For that, an investment friendly environment is crucial. Actually, growth rate in the industry sector has decreased in 2016-17 from previous year’s rate, whereas growth in the agriculture has increased. The main reason for decrease in the industry sector is the absence of required investment. Recently the one stop service law has been passed to attract investment. This law would allow the intending investors to avail 16 types of services from the same office. It is expected that this would not remain only written on paper, but would be reflected in reality. We wish to see such an environment that investors forget their past sufferings. Thus, foreign and local investments in the industry sector will be increased.
We must consider setting up of those industries the products of which will have competitiveness in the world market. However, we need to make a complete product wise list of the existing industries in Bangladesh before setting up of any new industry, if such a list is not available. In addition, we need to know- (1) Total volume of each product; (2) Internal demands and volume of exportable products; (3) Types of existing machinery, possible improvement of machinery; (4) Number of employees (category wise); (5) Production quality as per international market and pricing; (6) Demands of various products in the international market and future market situation; (7) Demand of Bangladeshi products in the international market; (8) List of new profitable products to be produced in Bangladesh; (9) Whether raw materials are collected locally or imported; (10) Available advantages for importing raw materials; (11) Infrastructural facilities; (12) Undisrupted supply of electricity, gas and water; (13) Government’s measures to protect the quality of locally produced items; (14) Utilisation of technology for enhancing trade volume; (15) Management of security system in the industries; (16) Financial facilities including bank loans; etc.
It is essential to organise training programmes to those employees who are directly connected with production and management. Even, they could be sent abroad for training if it is not possible locally. We should establish new training institutes for various products including up-gradation of the existing institutes to international level. We can seek cooperation and suggestions from the concerned institutes of other countries, if necessary.
Initiatives should be taken immediately to remove all such rules and regulations that have been obstructing our industrialisation process.
Preferences should be given to establish an industry in an area where the raw materials for that industry are available locally. This will, simultaneously, reduce the production cost as well as play a positive role in reducing local unemployment. However, necessary infrastructural facilities should be ensured in that case.
Many Bangladeshis, like me, dream a developed Bangladesh. And it is not so easy to do that. But, I strongly believe this task would not remain impossible, if we have a strong leadership and a team of committed persons for implementation of the working plans. In fact, there is no way but to widen immensely the industry sector if we really like to see Bangladesh as a developed nation.
The writer is a former ambassador and secretary.