A study paper presented by two World Bank economists at the annual development conference of the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) has found that the economic models and policies followed so far have lost their relevance by this time. Now is the time for Bangladesh to go for reforms in order to sustain the momentum of growth. Titled, ‘Adjusting Bangladesh’s Growth Model to Sustain Progress’, the paper has a number of recommendations for maintaining the growth momentum. Better urbanisation and connectivity, more diversified and competitive exports, trade liberalisation, stronger financial sector and increased foreign direct investment are key to achieving higher growth when the economic innovations of the 1990s have proved to be a spent engine of wealth creation. The two economists have also stressed the need for exploiting benefits of digital technology and addressing the issues of climate change.
In fact, all such issues have come up for discussion in the past either separately or together. What the economists have done here is to point out why and how the economic theories and policies have gradually reached their peak points and subsequently undergone a process of gradual change for deceleration. Moreover, the preeminent consideration for better urbanisation —-by which it is construed that well planned cities and towns have been meant — is undoubtedly a refreshing addition to the recipe package. So far as connectivity is concerned, there is a clear attempt to improve road communications but this has not been complemented by the railways which as a mode of transportation is cheaper and comfortable. The railways should have received priority where long distance mass transportation is involved. Even in mega cities metro rails are a better option by all counts. But these fundamental considerations have been ignored by politicians for reasons better known to them. There has been a policy shift on the positive side only lately.
If the urban conundrum is still in the making, it is more a result of wilful neglect and some quarters’ ulterior motive to make things messy to serve their narrow interests. What has happened with the Dhaka Area Plan (DAP) over the decades is an example of how good plans can be sabotaged by influential lobbies within the corridor of power. Much as study after study can come up with the loss of time and money in economic terms to the tune of Tk15-20 million per day due to traffic jams on the capital city’s roads, there is no serious effort to get over the anarchy. Apart from the direct economic loss, its indirect losses translate into an adverse impact on the country’s economic growth.
Diversification of the export basket has time and again been stressed upon in order to meet the future challenges, particularly when the country graduates to a developing country. The protective export regime will no longer be there and hence the handful of items will face stiff competition in the international market. The silver lining is that the country’s manpower is still overwhelmingly in the most productive age group and it can be utilised under a well devised demographic plan depending on proper education and training.