Bangladesh development : Getting back on track


Prof. Dr. Zahurul Alam :
While Bangladesh's 'Vision 2021' is perhaps now an efficacious reality, the country has to go a long way to attain a successful 'Vision 2041' that envisages elevation of the country to the group of developed nations. This uplift is a matter of ensuring economic emancipation coupled with highest level of qualitative changes in the lives and livelihoods of millions of people: improved service delivery, enhanced quality of life, ensured rights and sustained democratic system. Good governance, peace, security, rule of law and responsive and efficient government are the essential preconditions and pre-requisites for expected elevation. Undoubtedly the people of this country would be able to attain successes in all these areas on condition that they are provided with ample opportunities under a vigorous arrangement that can be ensured by a devoted and patriotic political leadership. The socio-political conflicts, contradictions and irregularities that emerged after the assassination of the Leader of Independence and Father of the Nation reversed the normal development of the newborn state, and that reversal continued for long decades. Democracy was substituted for autocracy, secularism for fundamentalism, peace for conflicts and growth for backwardness. Simply to stick to power a section of ruthless people destroyed all democratic institutions, norms and values, making good governance and democracy dispelled aspirations.
After the fall of autocratic regimes the country started its voyage anew to salvage the incurred losses. Bangladesh's recent economic and social achievements are demonstrative of the triumphant expedition of the people to the expected destination. Following discussion is an attempt to reveal the manner of refurbishing and putting on track the derailed wagon.    
Modern economics defines development combining together the economic and social indicators. Amartya Sen suggested that the capability of the people to function is crucial in measuring development. Thus development encompasses economic growth indicators coupled with socio-political indicators for materialization of people's aspirations and freedom of choice. Opposed to the conventional theories of statistical benchmarks and economic models that suggest numerous numbers and methods of measuring different trends and indicators, modern theories of development suggest that those (statistical indicators) would remain useless unless indicators that focus on people's comfort are considered as the vital developmental indicators.
Thus, economic growth is an essential but not sufficient pre-requisite for development. Socio-political factors that determine man's position in the society and make a person more inclusive in the socio-economic and political life of the society are important ingredients in measuring development. An economy may not provide enough physical or material resources in a given period, but the society that relies on that economy may happen to be much more powerful than the others with more resources, if the human capital of that society appears to be more knowledgeable, healthy and capable of using in a judicious manner the scarce resources that they have in their possession.
At the backdrop of the above discussion let us try to understand the current developmental scenario of Bangladesh. The country, undoubtedly has achieved remarkable progress during the last decade. Continued political power and comparatively peaceful environment that the ruling party has been able to ensure for the decade has changed the developmental scenario of this nation. In many cases the social indicators of Bangladesh have reached unprecedented levels both in qualitative and quantitative terms. The real economic indicators surpassed conservative World Bank, ADB and IMF prognoses. This is demonstrative of appropriate policy initiatives and improved implementation modality. Both are related to improved participation of the people in decision making and planning.
 Growth rate
The war ravaged Bangladesh attained a modest growth rate of 3.33 percent in 1972-73, which increased to 9.59 percent in the following year. After the assassination of Bangabandhu the military junta could not sustain the growth rate which decreased to 2.67 in 1976-77. In the following years of military rule a stable growth trend could not be attained due to the lack of long-term professional planning and lack of accountable system that impacted negatively on the implementation status. The military rulers were more involved in consolidating their illegally captured power by means that were not in conformity with the aspirations of the people and far from people's participation in the developmental process. Equity, justice and other mainstreaming contributors were severely neglected. This trend of uneven developmental continued till the mid-nineties. The growth rates shuttled between 2.5 to 5 percent. It was only after 2005 that the country continued to sustain a 5+ percent growth rate that from 2011 sustainably remained at more than 6 percent. In 2016 the growth rate exceeded 7 percent and continued to improve further in the following year to 7.28 percent. The projected 2018 growth rate is 7.65.
Table 1: Bangladesh economic growth (%)
Source: i) World Bank; ii) GOB
The World Bank has a much conservative projection of around 6 percent, The IMF and ADB projections are lower as well. While the projected 2018 growth rate is yet debated, undoubtedly the growth rates achieved by the country during the last decade are inspiring. These high benchmarks the country achieved despite numerous attempts to destabilize the socio-political and economic environment at different points of time. Most importantly, over six percent growth rate is prevailing in this country for more than a decade despite global economic depressions that affected many large and apparently stable economies.
As is seen from the Table below both industry and agriculture reportedly has recorded so far positive growth this year compared to the previous, while service sector recorded negative growth rate. Thus the former two constitute the catalysts of current growth projection. The situation at the year-end would produce final level of development of all sectors, which may provide a different picture for the service sector. The service sector should be given appropriate whim to be able to contribute more to GDP growth as that happens in other countries.
Table 2: Sectoral growth rates
Source: BBC
Investment continues to remain as the most important pre-requisite for accelerated growth. This is for the second time in Bangladesh that investment accounts for more than 30 percent