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Bangladesh defies odds stacked against it


Bangladesh defies odds stacked against it

The world broadly misses a simple truth --- Bangladesh has 170 million population, the 8th largest one, to take care of! Its people proved their resilience and it's a nation of youth bulge. What was once described as a burden is now being lauded as a blessing, at least for global supply chain.

Some intelligent people of international stature had surprisingly failed to foresee that this impoverished country with about 56,000-square-mile-area would grow some day.

Bangladesh, after achieving independence in 1971, was dubbed a test case of development, apart from having the basket case tag. Fighting against all odds, the people here made bold strides to change their conditions and their efforts paid off.

However, as it is about to enter the next stage of development, the issue of the country's vulnerability to debt serving liabilities has been raised. It's being equated with Sri Lanka, a 25,000-square-mile island country with 22 million population, which is facing a disastrous loan repayment crisis.

This, in some respect, is an unfair comparison that hampers a fair assessment of the genuine challenges Bangladesh may face in the coming days.

It's still not in a debt crisis, statistically, and the use of the term 'debt trap' may either lower national confidence or instigate denial syndrome domestically. None helps Bangladesh's cause and thus the country is asked to secure external certificate as proof for sustainability.

The World Bank has meanwhile stated that Bangladesh won't face a crisis like the one in Sri Lanka given the country's foreign debt-GDP ratio at 17 per cent at present. In comparison, Sri Lanka's external debt ratio has exceeded 100 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP).

Such analysis assures policymakers and stakeholders alike but can't be clear to the ordinary people who have contributed to steady growth of the Bangladesh economy over the three decades or so.

They are not properly aware of how much of the taxpayers' money should be spent for repaying the external loans later or sooner. There is scarcely any mechanism to inform the people before receiving foreign loans, be it on hard or soft terms.

Comparing Bangladesh with Sri Lanka is disgraceful for both the nations, diplomatically. Naming a sovereign country on ill purposes, and sometimes by policymakers of another country even for the sake of defensive argument, doesn't bode well for sound relations between them. The case of each of them is unique.

The issue of Sri Lanka's debt crisis and Bangladesh's future in that area can be publicly discussed, mainly by development thinkers, not so decently by public officials.

It's a tricky situation where outright rejection of the risks of debt crisis would mean complacency on the part of the authorities and may lead to wrong policy directions.

Whatever may be the consequence or prospects of loans and liabilities, it's Bangladesh which would have to deal with the situation in the years ahead. Bangladesh is not comparable to any other country, including Sri Lanka and Pakistan with their own strengths otherwise.

Bangladesh's true strengths and weaknesses aren't always recognised while we try to attain development goals.

If quadrupling food production, apparel industry growth, remittance earning, microcredit distribution and freelancing by Bangladeshis are the outcomes of experimenting with development, these success stories weren't scripted in advance. On the other hand, bureaucratic impetus for promoting, say, tourism, the blue economy and investment in economic zones is yet to prove to be game-changers for the nation.

Bangladesh's 'amazing' growth has come not in a well-planned manner but through people's enterprising attitude. The way the average Bangladeshis take three meals a day, use clothing, seek medicare and send children to schools, is a miraculous case, if anyone closely observes the progress.

Nonetheless, the failure to improve quality of education and healthcare services, build healthy cities, protect natural environment and make functional institutions can't be denied.

Bangladesh is quite capable of correcting some of its policy and governance flaws and can turn itself into a high achiever of economic and social development on the global scene.

Here the working people's feet are on the ground: The farmers and industrial workers neither deny realities nor are they resigned to scary pictures painted before them.

 

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