Monday, 6 February, 2023

Fourteen Years of Awami League Rule

Capt. Hussain Imam

The Awami League, under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina as Prime Minister of the country, has been in power for the last 14 years at a stretch. By the end of the year 2023, the party will complete its 3rd consecutive term in office requiring a fresh mandate from the electorates to run the country for another term. Whether they will get the mandate or not will all depend how the electorates assess the performance of the party in the last 15 years and what they promise them in their election manifesto for the next general election; more importantly, how much can they trust the election manifesto.

In the last 14 years, the Awami League, as the ruling party, has certainly played a vital role in the development process for which the country is now considered by many at home and abroad a role model of development for the developing countries. The country is set to graduate from the least developed to developing country status by 2026.

When the ruling party, the Awami League to be specific, took over the helm of affairs of the country in 2007, the country’s electricity generation capacity was hardly 3,000 megawatt. Now it is 24,000 megawatt. Another 3,500 megawatt is likely to be added to the national grid by the end of the year when the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant and the Matarbari Thermal Power Plant will go into operation. This is no less significant a feat for a poor country like Bangladesh.

The country’s per capita income was only 558 US dollar in 2007. It is now 2,824 US dollar. The country’s annual GDP growth of about 6 percent on average in the last one decade or so has been highly appreciated by our development partners.  Even after so much of economic crisis following the corona pandemic and the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, the country’s GDP growth will be, as predicted by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), 5.2 this fiscal year.

Thanks to the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in spite of all the ups and downs, the country has gone through all these years. Bangladesh, with a population as high as 170 million people living in 148000 square kilometres area, has emerged as one of the fastest growing economies in the world. 

The country is now more or less self-sufficient in food despite the fact that even in the early years of the current century, we had to import 30 to 40 lakh tons of food grain every year. Nowadays it is a rare occasion when the country is required to import food grains, rice in particular, to meet the local demand.

Bangladesh is now the world’s 3rd largest sweet water fish producer. Coastal and deep sea fishing bring the country a huge quantity of sea fish including prawn every year. Our farmers have learnt diversification of agriculture. They have learnt how to grow fruits and vegetables on a commercial basis. No wonder we see our fish markets abundant in fish, markets flooded with plenty of fruits and vegetables.

However, there is no denying the fact that prices of almost every household item of daily necessity have gone up beyond the reach of the common people. Record high inflation, abnormal devaluation of local currency against dollar, decline in real income of people - all these adverse economic factors have forced the people, the middle and lower income group people in particular, to lead a miserable life. Whether it is due to the inefficiency of the party in power or global economic recession or both that the people are going through such an unbearable economic hardship is a matter serious debate.

 Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government can rightly claim credit for their excellent effort in developing the agricultural sector of the country. Her government has also made remarkable progress in infrastructural development. Construction of a number of flyovers in and around Dhaka and other big cities and a number of 4 to 6 lanes highways and bridges across the country might as well go to her government’s credit list.

The Padma Bridge, one of the longest bridges in the world, built on self finance at a cost of Tk. 33,000 crore, may be considered a milestone in the development process of the country. The bridge will directly benefit at least 35 million people of the southern and western region of the country socially as well as economically. The people of this region will have now access to trade, business, education and cultural activities with the rest of the country.

Karnaphuli underwater tunnel, Dhaka metro rail, expansion of Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport, Moheshkhali Deep Seaport, Payra Seaport, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, to name a few of the 12 megaprojects that have been completed or are nearing completion, will surely contribute heavily to the economy of the country and help improve the standard of living of the people.

 About the human development index, Bangladesh is in a much better position than many other countries around us. The country’s literacy rate is now 74 percent as per Population Housing Census 2022. It was less than 18 percent at the time of our independence in 1971. Enrolment in primary stage education is 98 percent. As is projected by the UN, infant mortality rate for Bangladesh in 2023 is 26 .5 deaths per 1000 live birth. The figure was 160.5 in 1971. Compared to India with 26.7 and Pakistan 54.0, Bangladesh with 26.5 can be proud of being at the lowest rung as far as infant mortality is concerned.

Despite remarkable improvements in the literacy rate, enrolment in primary education and mortality rate, there is no room to be complacent about it. One must not lose sight of the fact that still 26 percent i.e. 4.4 crore people of the country are illiterate. Mind it, by literacy we mean capability of a person to just read and write. And we cannot call it education that does not enable a citizen greater participation in labour markets and reduce poverty.

The stark reality is that our education system has never found a right direction befitting the country’s requirement as an independent country and for that matter the Awami League that has been ruling the country for the last 14 years at a stretch cannot disown the responsibility. What has happened over the years in the name of education is one after another experiment on trial and error method using the students as guinea pigs.

Vested quarters have, in the name of education, made fortunes by running coaching centres and printing guide book. Quality education has remained a day-dream. Corruption has taken over the entire episode of the country’s education. A good education system that is so badly needed for sustainable development of a country has remained a far cry.

Health service is a sector that has been a constant enigma for the common people. A vast majority of people are deprived of their basic right to free medical care.  Corruption in the country is widespread and unbridled. It has in fact become institutionalized. Misappropriation of public fund, bribery, money laundering and transfer of fund in hundreds and thousands crores of taka are seen more often than not as newspaper headlines without much repulsion from either the public or the government.

The last but not the least we can discuss is democracy, one of the four fundamental principles of our Constitution. It is more than 51 years since Bangladesh got independence in 1971 after a bloody liberation war with an aim to establish a society free of exploitation, where democracy will rule the roost. Unfortunately, that democracy is still limping like an infant.

In spite of the Awami League being the ardent advocate of democracy, It has done very little to give democracy a true shape even after 14 years in power at a stretch. In other words, a true democracy- ‘government of the people, by the people and for the people’ as defined by Abraham Lincoln is still out of sight.


The writer is a retired Merchant Mariner. Email: [email protected]