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'Growth with equity' a must to the path of LDC graduation

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10th-Apr-2018       
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Shazzad Khan :
Once termed as 'basket case' by the Western boasters, Bangladesh has got into the highway of graduating from LDC category just recently. Whoever says what, I feel proud of it. And I have reasons to say this.
Before and after the declaration from the CDP (Committee for Development Policy) of the United Nations on last 17th March, which also coincided Bangabandhu's 98th birth anniversary, I saw a number of articles and views on risks and opportunities of Bangladesh's LDC graduation. Most of them were written by the economists or academics. As my specialisation is human rights as development worker, I would express some concerns (or challenges) from the perspective of equity and justice. Before that I would like to talk about gradual upward transformation of Bangladesh.
As a war-ravaged, breakaway country Bangladesh started its journey as one of the poorest nations with per capita income of only over $100 in 1971. Initially the time was too difficult. Unfortunately, as a double blow the country was hit by a severe famine in 1974. I saw how starving people fell over on the streets with their bellies shrunk towards pelvises. I saw 1 kg (Sher) of rice was sold at 10 Taka when the price of rice was only 0.75 Taka. Many people had passed a day apprehending how they would pass the next day with what food. At this time around we had often to hear the stigma of basket case from the Western nations.
The country's poverty was such that it had not been unusual to share an omelette of 2-3 eggs in a family; drinking a bottle of Coke would happen only in big events; watching a shining car passing by was a rare occasion; having more than two shirts and two pairs of pants would have raised the eyebrows of others…
However, things started getting changed very slowly but steadily. Martial law government was another blow in the 80's when corruption and mal-governance got institutionalised by the then autocratic government. It was during this time some powerful corrupt people learnt and spread how to amass wealth by generating black money and to lauder huge amount in the foreign banks and its saga still goes on. It was during this time disparity index Gini Coefficient started its galloping move from 0.24.
However, in the 90's Bangladesh saw for the first time the multiparty democracy ushering in and it consistently went ahead, although there had been ups and downs on its way. The democratic practice and culture, albeit fragile in nature, gave Bangladesh steady rise in the growth rate and eventually it reached 6 plus at the beginning of new millennium. Gradually the country improved in a number of basic development indexes and once the 'basket case' Bangladesh baled out of its stigma of being denoting as one of the poorest countries.
Very encouragingly in its first decade of the millennium Bangladesh portrayed remarkable progress in poverty alleviation, income generation, local and foreign investment, remittance collection and foreign exchange reserve. In a number of areas Bangladesh superseded those of India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Bangladesh is now the 31st largest economy in the world in terms of purchase power parity (PPP) and will become the 28th by 2030. It is expected that Bangladesh will be the 23rd largest economy in the world by 2050 as a developed nation.
At the moment Bangladesh's per capita income is US$ 1610 which is in PPP US$ 4207. Bangladesh's growth rate hit 7.24% last year (2017)! Many of us are having lavish life now and the wretched poverty is gone. People do not die owing to want of food any more. We are now called 'emerging economy' instead of 'basket case'.
In terms of three basic criteria - Gross National Income (GNI $1272) per capita, Human Assets Index (HAI 72.8) and Economic Vulnerability Index (EVI 25) - Bangladesh is well above LDC graduation threshold, and as a result, has achieved the recognition of eligibility to be out of LDC category and to become a member of developing nations. However, to achieve this developing nation status permanently, Bangladesh has to wait 6 more years to portray that it could maintain the basic criteria sustainably during this time period. It seems and the government is confident that Bangladesh could make it comfortably.
However, as development worker I want to express some concerns from rights-based perspective. It is no doubt that we are going through a stunning growth, but this growth progression may become meaningless if it is proved at the end of the day that we have turned out to be a country having growth without equity. If as a country we want to prove that Bangladesh is imbued by the basic philosophy of liberation war, where equity had been its cornerstone, then we have to address the growing disparity in the first place. Even though we have envious growth at the moment the disparity is alarmingly high in the measure of Gini Coefficient. This stands now at 0.48 which was during Bangabandhu's time only 0.24. The higher the point is, the higher the disparity is. At Bangabandhu's time we had less national asset but more equality, but we now have more national asset but less equality.
Currently the upper 10% of the economic ladder hold more than 45% of the total asset of the country as oppose to only about 1.5% by the lower 10% of the population. Although we have achieved to reduce poverty to 24.3% and extreme poverty to 12.9%, the status of poverty situation is still vulnerable given the fact that we have a number of vulnerability and shock factors. Apart from climatic and economic vulnerability and shocks, there is political vulnerability as well, which may pull down many people who have graduated from poverty in the recent past. Almost all these people who constitute about 50% of the population are engaged in income generating activities (either producing products or services or both), which are the sources of our stunning GDP. If this segment of population belonging to lower economic ladder is hindered by vulnerability and shocks the production of GDP will be hindered as well, and we might fail to achieve LDC graduation test eventually.
To conclude I want to say that to ensure 'growth with equity' in Bangladesh the government should look into and address issues like structural causes of poverty, mal-governance, freedom of expression, expanded social safety-net, productive capability enhancement, income augmenting employment, effective regularity regime, pro-poor policy implementation, constitutional obligations, democratic practices, population dividend harnessing and climate change. Only by means of 'growth with equity' approach can Bangladesh become a country of impartial justice, fair treatment, high productivity, less disparity and sustainable development.
 [The writer is development worker, working at Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF); Email: Shazzad@manusher.org]

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