TV24: Fifty years of Bangladesh. The then US Security Adviser Henry Kissinger, who had once compared Bangladesh to a bottomless basket and hinted at an uncertain future is now a country of development surprise. Eminent economist Austin Robinson in his book `Economic Prospectus of Bangladesh’ expressed doubts about the survival of Bangladesh. That country becomes a middle-income country in 2015 as per World Bank’s estimate. Immediately after our independence, earned through the nine months long bloody war, Bangladesh did not have any infrastructure or resources. Bangladesh was a war-ravaged country. There were signs of ruins everywhere. Bangladesh was the poorest country not only in South Asia but also in was one of the top ten poorest countries in the world. Around 88 percent of the population in Bangladesh was poor and the dependence on foreign aid was also 88 percent. That Bangladesh is now ranked 41st in global economies. Center for Economic and Business Research (CEBR), a British economic research organization has forecasted that Bangladesh will become the 25th largest economy in the world by 2035 if the current trend in economic growth continues. Bangladesh is now being introduced as a role model of development in the world. But the journey towards reaching such a stage in 50 years was not so easy. The military autocratic and pseudo democratic rulers in connivance with anti-liberation fundamentalist forces ruled the country just opposite to the trend of development and progress. But what is the magic that takes the country to a unique height in 50 year’s. If anyone goes through the deeper analysis, he or she will find that three leadership qualities of Sheikh Hasina play a role to take Bangladesh to a new height. These are her honesty, courage and vision.
First, I would like to discuss here about her honesty. There are lots of instances that made her one of the honest statesmen in the globe. In the case of the Padma Bridge Project, her bold stance against the World Bank’s allegation of corruption has added to build her crystal-clear image in the international arena. Challenging WB’s allegation of corruption and decision to cancel the loan for implementing Padma Bridge Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina categorically said not a single farthing has been embezzled from Padma Bridge Project. Immediately after the cancellation of loan, she told in a parliament session that Bangladesh would build Padma Bridge from its own resources. Finally, it was proved that Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s stance was correct. Even the Canadian Superior Court justice dismissed an international bribery case linked to the Padma Bridge Project. The verdict proved that the government was right. All credits go to the farsightedness of the prime minister because she had taken a bold stance. Her stance brightened the image of Bangladesh. What is the present reality? The dream project the Padma is visible now. Bangladesh has built it from its own resources. It should not be wise to see it as a mere bridge. It should be considered as a symbol of the honesty of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s second magic is her courage. We all know about the two stigmatic events of history – one is war crimes in 1971 and the other is the assassination of Bangabandhu on 15 August 1975. BNP and the anti-liberation fundamentalist forces that were in power over a long period of time did not take any initiative to erase this stigma. Rather the governments of General Zia, General Ershad and Begum Khaleda Zia introduced a culture of impunity by rehabilitating and making co-sharer of powers both the war criminals and killers of Bangabandhu. General Zia blocked the way to try the killers of Bangabandhu by legalizing the indemnity ordinance. It is Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who after coming to power in 1996 and then in 2009 established the rule of law by holding trials of both war criminals and killers of Bangabandhu despite heavy pressure from the international community. It is because of her courage the nation has been freed from stigma.
Prime Minister’s third magic is her vision or far-sightedness. Digital Bangladesh is the outcome of her visionary thinking and dream. It emerged as the main element of Vision 2021, the charter for change on 12 December 2008 at the initiative of noted ICT expert Mr. Sajeeb Wazed Joy who also designed to implement Digital Bangladesh. After the elapse of 13 years, the visionary thinking of the Prime Minister has been proved to be worthy with the implementation of Digital Bangladesh. The ICT-based solution is being used in almost every sector. The size of the digital economy is now at $1.3 billion. The government has made people’s easy access to public services by digitizing its services. The capacity to adapt and use ICT by people including rural people has been increased contributing to the reduction of the digital divide between villages and urban and paving the way for building an equitable society as dreamt by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. In fact, Digital Bangladesh is being called a modern version of Bangabandhu’s Golden Bengal (Shonar Bangla).
I would like to draw the attention of the readers about the initiatives undertaken by the prudent and visionary leader Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to build Golden Bengal (Shonar Bangla). After returning home from the Pakistani jail on 10 January 1972, Bangabandhu embarked on the most difficult task of rebuilding the country from the war-ravaged. Considering the importance of planned economic activities, Bangabandhu formulated the first five-year plan (1973-1978). In the first five-year plan, poverty reduction was determined as the priority goal. The target was set at average GDP growth of 5.5 percent per annum. It’s a matter of surprise that in the second year of the plan, in 1974-1975, the highest GDP growth of 9.59 percent was achieved against the target of 5.5 percent. But the conspirators of both local and international stopped the trend of this development. They killed Bangabandhu on the fateful night of August 15, 1975 and Bangladesh’s economy sank into a spell of deep darkness and the process of building a happy and prosperous golden Bengal initiated by the Father of the Nation came to a halt. The country was ruled by military autocrats and pseudo democrats for long 21 years.
After a six-year exile, the blood heir of Bangabandhu and torchbearer of golden Bengal and popular leader Sheikh Hasina return home in 1981. She launched a vigorous movement against the autocratic regime. The people kept trust in her and took to the street to oust the autocratic governments. The people voted her to power in the election held in 1996. The new journey began to build the country under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. During her rule (1996-2001) the average GDP growth was 5.5 percent and inflation was 4.4 percent. But the economic progress and development came to a halt again after BNP-Jamaat was installed into power through the election in October 2001.
We are fortunate enough that the Awami League Chief Sheikh Hasina again came to power in 2009 and she has been ruling the country since then. The country witnessed magnificent development in all sectors during the last 13 years. The average growth of GDP was 6.6 percent which was above 7 percent in FY2017-2018, 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 and exceeded 8 percent in FY2018-2019. Price inflation was at a tolerable level. In FY2005-2006, our per capita income was US$ 543, which is now US$ 2,254. At that time, the poverty rate was 41.5 percent. At present, the poverty rate has come down to 20.5 percent. The size of GDP has increased from Tk. 4,82,337 crore to Tk. 28 lakh crore. Foreign exchange reserves stood at just US$ 0.744 billion in FY2005-2006, or less than US$1 billion, which has now crossed over US$44 billion. The size of the budget in FY2005-2006 was Tk. 61,000 crore which has now increased ten times in the current fiscal year. The average life expectancy has increased from 59 years in FY2005-2006 to 72.6 years in FY2019-2020. The infant mortality rate has come down from 84 to 28 per thousand and the maternal mortality rate from 370 to 185 per lakh. Allocation for the social security sector was Tk.2,505 crore in FY2005-06. Tk. 95,574 crore is allocated in the current fiscal year. Production of granular grains in FY2005-2006 was 1 crore 60 lakh tons. It has now increased to 4 crore 53 lakh 44 thousand metric tons. Power generation capacity has increased from 4,900 MW to 25,227 MW.
We are now celebrating the birth centenary of Bangabandhu and Golden Jubilee independence. In this great moment, Bangladesh is now a surprise of development in the world. We have achieved middle-income country status in 2015. Bangladesh has got the final recommendation from the UN for graduation from LDC status. If everything goes well, we will be a developing nation by 2026 and a developed nation by 2041.
-(Writer: Zunaid Ahmed Palak, MP, State Minister for ICT)