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‘Rising inequality to hinder Bangladesh’s dev agenda’

  • Staff Correspondent
  • 14 December, 2021 12:00 AM
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Bangladesh’s development agenda might falter if the pressing issues of growing inequality and vulnerabilities are not properly addressed alongside corruption.

The country has had many achievements in the last 50 years, but rising inequality is going to be the main hurdle in the path of its further development aspirations, eminent economists have said.

The concerns were raised on Monday at the closing session of Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh’s conference on ‘Bangladesh Emerging from the Pandemic: Coping Experiences and Policy Choices.”

“If Bangladesh’s largest achievement in last 50 years is becoming a mid-income country, then its biggest incompleteness is inequality,” commented Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, the platform’s convener.

In all these years, he said, inequality has sharply risen in all aspects --- resources, consumption, education and health. “Removing this inequality has to be brought to main activities of the government.”

Dr Zahid Hussain, former lead economist of the World Bank’s Dhaka office, sees inequality and vulnerability as the two sides of a coin. Addressing these issues very seriously is a major task for the country now.

“Getting results from the development interventions might be very difficult if improvement is not made in corruption issues,” he pointed out.

“There is enough room for being sceptical how much of the government’s wish list will be implemented if these issues are not addressed,” he added.  

As the main tool for removing inequality, Dr Debapriya suggested ensuring quality education, especially for general families. “Otherwise they won’t get a proper place in what we say new Bangladesh.”

Now, Bangladesh has four national ambitions-- post-2021 covid recovery, LDC graduation by 2026, SDGs delivery by 2030 and achieving high-income status by 2041.

Achieving the targets will require an overlapping policy framework and all the targeted goals are going to happen in an overlapping period, according to Dr Debapriya.

“Equal participation of men and women has to be ensured in the development process. Then the country will be able to get inclusive graduation free of inequality,” he stated.

“Bangladesh has achievements, but we’ve to come out of denial of challenges and proper steps have to be taken to face the challenges,” he further said.

He also criticized government plans, saying that the government has many plans but it is not clear how coordination will be established among them.  

“The published books sometimes don’t reflect the reality. Accountability has to be ensured for implementing those plans,” he remarked.

The noted economists cited rising inflation as the most important macroeconomic stress for the country now in its efforts to get rid of the Covid crisis.

For Covid recovery, curbing price spiral for essential commodities, the continuation of support measures, increased allocation on health and education, steps for recouping learning losses, and creating a database of the affected people will be required, economic analysts said. 

For facing LDC graduation challenges, the country has to explore the regional market, sign FTA or PTAs and establish links to value chain and production network in the next five years.

It has to diversify its manufacturing base through skills upgradation and labour productivity so that it remains competitive both in exports and imports.

At the same time, it has to intensify domestic resource mobilisation, while maintaining access to concessional external financing for the country’s debt sustainability.

Institutional and regulatory reforms and capacity development of public agencies aligned with the demand of non-LDC countries will also be required.

For SDGs delivery by 2030, the government has to include and implement in all its policy deliveries the core commitment of SDGs--leave no one behind.

Besides removing inequalities, mainstreaming the disengaged youth in the development process, strong local institutions, ensuring digital equality, scrapping of obsolete laws and introduction of universal social protection schemes like pension, health and minimum income will be required for that.

Increasing private investment, including FDI, will be the key to achieving high-income status by 2041 as private investment plunged during the Covid period, economists said.  For this, Bangladesh economy has to go through structural change “We see signs but industrial sector, especially domestic market-oriented industrial sector and its productivity has to be increased. The environment should be protected. This will enhance Job and consumption,” Dr Debapriya said. 

Dr Zahid Hussain suggested resolving the issue of dysfunctional cities, which he said, is eating up 2 per cent of GDP. He also suggested removing gender disparity.

Prof Wahiduddin Mahmud said during the crisis some already problematic issues were exposed.