The present government has been making its tireless efforts for last several years with a view to building Bangladesh as a developed and resourceful country and it is trying to go forward with various plans with this end in view. The government has kept the year 2041 in special consideration with the firm resolve to build Bangladesh as Sonar Bangla (Bengal of gold) as was dreamt during the war of liberation. Already the Government’s long-term development plan called Vision- 2041 has been approved by the National Economic Council (NEC). The Planning Commission of Bangladesh on February 25, 2020 approved it at a meeting of the Commission entitled: Translating the ‘Vision-2041’ into reality.
We have already stepped into the year 2021, but so far no significant discussion was held on this gigantic plan during the last one year. This important issue remained unobserved to all mainly due to the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Ample discussions, seminar, symposium, workshop and so on will certainly follow on the issue in future through which this gigantic plan will go through thorough changes and revisions. Its strengths, weaknesses and potentials will be highlighted through presentation of new information and insights. We, too, however, make attempts to understand the trends of Bangladesh’s economy and we can also through discussion try to realise the 198-page planning document and its contents: what is there in it and how those have been presented in it.
Two main themes have been laid at the foundation of the Vision-2041 as its corner stones: first, Bangladesh will be a developed country with more than $12,500 per capita income and, second, Bangladesh will become the Bengal of Gold where poverty will be a forgotten history, a long past memory. On the way to translating these dreams into reality, there will be a lot of changes during the forthcoming two decades in the style and working pattern in agriculture, industry, trade and commerce, education, health, transportation and communication and so on. It has been emphasised that benefits of these changes taking place serially will be distributed among all strata of the society. The first chapter of the Vision- 2041 contains a title: “Towards a high income economy. In the Chapter I the title: Beginning with Enthusiasm, denotes how to build a poverty- and hunger-free, corruption and exploitation-free rich country which was the dream of the Father of the Nation throughout his life as the target to begin with. In order to translate this dream into reality, the target to be achieved for average growth of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country has been fixed at the rate of 9.02 per cent per annum over the coming two decades. As a result of growth at this rate, Bangladesh will become an upper middle income country by 2031 with national per capita income of $3,271. The population of Bangladesh in 2041 will be 210.3 million (21 crore 3 lakh) with an annual per capita income of $12,500. The population in extreme poverty with a $ 2.16 daily income will be reduced to only 0.68 per cent. On the other hand, the poor population with a $3.20 income per day will be only 2.59 per cent. This may be described as an incident which is like making the impossible possible. In order to achieve this target, commitment has been expressed to work on strategic activities including developing export-oriented industrialisation, increasing agricultural productivity, expansion of urbanisation, skilled petroleum and infrastructure management, skilled manpower development and so on.
Chapter II of the Vision-2041 includes commitment for ensuring institutional foundation and good governance. This plan is dependent upon four fundamental pillars including: good governance, democratization, decentralisation and capacity building. Improving the qualitative standard of the political institutions is being looked after with care. In the Vision-2041, a firm resolve has been expressed to develop financial institutions just as is there in the much-talked-about book entitled: Why Nations Fail where the need for inclusive financial institutions has been mentioned repeatedly. In regard to judicial system, it has been said that one has to carry out one’s duties independently with honesty and competence, adding that only then it will be possible to establish good governance and bring about development without discrimination in the country.
Chapter III has been entitled: Structure of collective economy for accelerating inclusive growth towards a high income economy. In this chapter, specific year-wise targets have been fixed for achieving over the coming two decades in view of collective economy-related issues and factors including real sectors (such as financial sectors like GDP, inflation, investment, population); financial sectors (revenue collection, development expenditure); debt-related (internal and foreign debt flow); external economy (remittance flow, import-export, exchange rate, current account balance); currency-related (broad money, net asset). For instance, it can be said that at present contribution of direct tax to revenue income is 30 per cent only which will hit 50 per cent by 2041. It has been mentioned that digital technology-based revenue administration will be developed. Investment profile will be 46.88 per cent, which is currently 32.76 per cent only. By the year 2041, export income will increase to as high as $300 billion from the present level of $50 billion per annum. In an interview Dr. Akbar Ali khan said over the last 49 years, ‘Many an indicator of poverty has been missing from Bangladesh’.
In continuity of this trend, a resolution has been expressed towards building a poverty-free Bangladesh by the year 2041 in Chapter IV of Vision-2041. The SDG principles have been taken as a source of inspiration, not as a means to overtake others. We have to understand that tomorrow’s labour market will be skill-based. That’s why to ensure access of the poor community to the future changing labour market, they will be developed as skilled manpower. With a view to reducing income discrimination/gap in the society, one of the future state machinery’s important jobs will be to improve debt market, ensure equitable distribution of wealth/ resource, and expansion of social security belt for the poor community.
According to UNDP’s Report 2019, with a human development indicator score at 0.614, Bangladesh’s position is 135th in the world. Needless to say, it’s an urgent and important task to bring about improvement in this indicator.
In Chapter V entitled: ‘Earning human development and geometric dividend through quality education’ the work plan for establishment of knowledge-based economic structure has been discussed. Decisions have been taken to increase expenditure in health and education sectors for expansion of universal healthcare services, technical and vocational education, etc. In education and health sectors, the amount of expenditure in the public sector had been 2.0 per cent and 0.75 per cent of GDP only in 2019 respectively which will be increased to 4.0 per cent and 2.0 per cent respectively.
In the developed countries of the world, the contribution of the services sector does comprise usually 70-80 per cent of GDP, but in our country contribution of services sector was 51.82 per cent only in 2019. On the way to development, the transformation of our economy will take place: from agriculture to industrial sector. This will necessitate, among others, coordinated application of interrelated trade and industrial policies.
To this end, in Chapter VII entitled: ‘Industrialization, export diversification and employment generation in the world order’ commitment has been made toward elimination of infrastructural barriers, improvement of skill standard of the labour force, conducting innovative research at every stage of production, improving trade environment, financing through public-private-partnership (PPP), and ensuring climate resilience. At present, power and petroleum sectors have marked considerable improvement. From 5,823-megawatt power generation in 2010 the capacity reached 18,961 megawatts in 2019. In the coming years demand for power and petroleum will no doubt increase considerably. By the year 2041, demand for power in Bangladesh is likely to increase to 51,000 megawatts.
The Chapter VIII entitled: ‘Sustainable Power and petroleum for a high income country’ explains how Bangladesh will gain the capacity to produce 56,734-megawatt power by 2041, according to strategies detailed in this chapter. During this period, nuclear technology will add to the power sector. In 2041, arrangement for fuel will be like: gas 35 per cent, coal 35 per cent, nuclear 12 per cent, liquid oil 1 per cent, vapour 1 per cent while the remaining 16 per cent will have to be imported. In this chapter, a plan has been drawn up to create an innovative economy for Bangladesh through nourishing ICT and scientific research by 2041. It has been committed in this chapter that the existing 35.7 per cent ICT accessibility of the people will rise to 85 per cent in 2041, thus enabling Bangladesh to acquire 20th position in the world.
The Chapter X has been entitled: ‘Construction of transport and communication infrastructure for continued speedy growth’. In this chapter, slow pace of project implementation has been identified as the biggest challenge. In the coming days, to enrich export storehouses, import of heavy machinery and required raw materials will be needed. Speedy and timely inflow of products as well as external communication will also be necessary for Bangladesh. Other needed actions will include: MRT and metro rail connection, inter-city communication, increasing the existing 25-30 km/h speed in highway corridors to 80-100 km/h, upgrading all rail lines to the broad gauze system and setting up modern traffic signal systems, upgrading shipping anchor day and gang shift, upgrading navigability by improving dredging, river training and construction of embankment; setting up additional runway and taxi way at the airports, gradually realizing levies/service charge, etc. from the users of the highways in coming two decades.
Urbanisation and development are very deeply and positively related to each other. Due to high density economy the urban areas will function as the main driving force of growth. Like the developed countries, 80 per cent of Bangladesh’s total population will live in urban areas by 2041. That’s why the chapter XI contains this matter under title: ‘System of urban changeability in a high income economy’. Already the government is advancing with “My village my Town” policy under which work is going on to expand all urban facilities to the villages. Commitment has been expressed to carry on with urban development plans centering round each district in place of Dhaka-centric development. Large-scale public and private investment will be increased to improve urban air quality, public transport, and sewer and drainage systems.
In chapter XII, efforts for addressing the climate resilience issue have been detailed under the title: ‘Uncovering a dynamic lively deltaic land, ensuring sustainable environment development and development of a climate resilient nation and the potentials of a Suneel orthoneeti (Blue/Ocean economy)’. It has been mentioned that swelling of tidal surge, salinity, flooding, river erosion, and sea tidal surges have been the order of the day in Bangladesh for long, which are a barrier for our development. Under the formulated Delta Plan-2100, priority has been given to accumulation of blue ocean economic resources (fish, sea-weed, mineral resources, etc) in this Vision-2041.
Context Planning is undoubtedly a well-written ambitious development document. Maybe, to the conscious mind, some incompatibilities might be found as well. Twenty years from today, some hopes and aspirations might remain unachieved. Honorable economists will, probably, come forward with some criticisms, questions and even self-criticisms in various ways. In the limited scope of this article I don’t want to deal with such issues. On the contrary, let us be self-confident, especially by viewing the past success stories, especially, the Padma Bridge, Metro rail, Karnaphuli tunnel, and nuclear power that boost our self-confidence to a great extent.
The Context Planning 2021-2041 is basically a strategic statement of development vision, objectives and goals of the government toward building an enriched and prosperous Bangladesh within a period of two decades only and these will serve as a guide/pathway blueprint to implement the same. And following this guideline, we will gain a developed, enriched and prosperous Bangladesh by the year 2041.
Abul Quasem Haider is Author; Founder Chairman, Eastern University, Former Senate Member, University of Dhaka