November 27, 2014
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has called upon member states of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) to set aside their mutual differences and work together for the shared prosperity of the region’s people. She made the call while addressing the inaugural session of the 18th SAARC Summit at Kathmandu, Nepal on Wednesday. She stated that more practical efforts should be employed in the region for a peaceful, progressive, connected and knowledge-based South Asia. She expressed her hope that despite the slow speed of progress in realizing its visions, SAARC can be made an immensely successful regional integration with the right mindset. The Bangladesh PM underscored the need for increased cooperation in areas like health, agriculture, food, climate-change, regional connectivity, power and energy cooperation and implementation of the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).
Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina has received this year’s 'South-South Cooperation Visionary' award for her government’s efforts to eradicate poverty and raising standards of living, health services and social safety nets across Bangladesh. PM’s ICT Adviser Sajeeb Wazed received the award on her behalf from UN Secretary General's Special Envoy Yiping Zhou in Washington last Friday. Organization of American States and UN's South-South Cooperation has been jointly organizing this award as part of the Global South-South Development Expo held each year since 2008. South-South Cooperation is a broad framework for collaboration among countries of the South in various sectors.
Digital Bangladesh
Silicon Valley based venture capital firm Fenox VC has undertaken an initiative to put together a $200 million fund for helping local and global entities to invest in IT startups emerging from Bangladesh. This will be the first time a Silicon Valley based VC firm actively invests in Bangladesh. Fenox VC has commented, “Bangladesh is ready to start tackling challenges to create a rich startup ecosystem.” Apart from the funding, Fenox intends to come down to the ground and “nurture, develop, and grow Bangladeshi companies while connecting them to the right strategic players.”
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will attend two videoconferences with district officials after cabinet meeting every month from now onwards. The Cabinet Division will arrange the conference with help from Access to Information (a21) project under Prime Minister's Office (PMO). This initiative has been taken to build better communication with district officials and give directives directly to them for stimulating development of the district. Under the initiative, the PM has already attended videoconferences with high ranking civil and police officials of Rajshahi and Sylhet, and the district development committees of Moulvibazar and Pabna.
According to a report by Mobiforge, an international mobile research and development body, Bangladesh tops the list of mobile users in South Asia followed by Pakistan and India. The report further states that for the first time Bangladesh has been included in the 100 million users' club of fourteen countries. Around 75% of Bangladesh’s total population use or own one or more of this powerful communication device. Apart from use for exchange of information and data related to marketing, agriculture, health and education, mobile has also served as an important tool for banking and financial transactions. According to The Economist, around $32.3 million is transacted daily via mobile phones in Bangladesh today.
Growth and Development
According to the latest Competitive Industrial Performance (CPI) Index released by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the World Economic Forum (WEF), Bangladesh has advanced 25 notches up to rank 77th. Its position in the 1990 CIP was 102nd. The CIP index is a composite index that measures the ability of countries to produce and export manufactured goods competitively, using several individual indicators to proxy various dimensions of industrial performance. Apart from Bangladesh, only Poland and China showed such phenomenal growth.
Bangladesh’s first private sector Special Economic Zone (SEZ) will be built by AK Khan Company over 200 acres of land in Narshingdi district. The work for the SEZ will start in January, and once completed, will create about 100,000 new jobs. Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority handed over the pre-qualification licence to the local conglomerate at a programme at Dhaka on Wednesday. International and joint venture enterprises operating in the following sectors will get priority in the SEZ: IT, electronics, telecommunication, health, digital machines, agro-based industries and plastic.
Bangladesh’s largest public hospital, BSMMU, has received a major revamping of facilities under a $64.5 million project funded by the government. Around 60% of the project has already been completed which includes construction of outdoor buildings, medical convocation center, building for radiology and oncology, and dormitory for physicians among others. Addition of 2 new outdoor buildings, 24 intensive care units (ICUs), 27 operation theatres, and 16 high dependency units (HDUs) makes this the most advanced hospital in Bangladesh currently. The revamping also increases the patient handling capacity from 3000 to 5000 per day.
Power and Energy
Prime Minister’s Energy Affairs Advisor Tawfiq-e-Elahi Chowdhury has stated that around $24 billion investment in Bangladesh's power sector is in the pipeline. He added that $2 billion was invested in the power projects completed in the past five years. $8.5 billion have been invested in those currently being implemented and another $24 billion will be invested in projects that are in pipeline. According to the State Minister for Power and Energy Nasrul Hamid, half the amount would come from foreign investment. Increasing power generation to 24,000 MW by 2021 is part of the AL government’s Vision 2021.
US energy giant Chevron will invest a further $650 million in oil and gas exploration activities in Bangladesh. According to Chevron Bangladesh President Geoffrey Strong, after recently investing $500 million in Bibiyana gas field’s extension project, Chevron has now submitted proposals to state-run Petro Bangla for installing two compression stations in Bibiyana and drilling more wells in Jalalabad gas field. In the past decade, Chevron has invested over $1.5 billion in Bangladesh’s energy sector.
The government has initiated a move to formulate an Energy Efficiency and Conversation Master Plan (EECMP) to improve the overall efficiency of energy use in the country. Focused areas of the plan for energy efficiency have already been identified and works on formulating it will start soon. According to a Bangladesh Power Division Study, with efficient management, the government can save around 2640 mega-watts of power. In a related development, the government is also formulating a plan for the natural gas resources of the country. This master plan would aim to bring the gas sector under efficient management to reduce waste of valuable natural resources.
International and Regional Cooperation
Sweden will provide Bangladesh with $214.5 million in development assistance in the next seven years. The pledged amount is part of Sweden’s development strategy for Bangladesh for the years 2014 to 2020. The aim of the strategy is to: alleviate poverty; strengthen democracy, respect for human rights and gender equality; and contribute to sustainable development. According to the Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation, Isabella Lövin, the strategy takes into account the aim of the government to transform Bangladesh into a middle-income country by 2021.
The Cabinet on Monday approved two instruments for signing with Malaysia for enhancing cooperation between the two countries in the areas of tourism, culture, arts and heritage. The MoUs are likely to be signed during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's upcoming coming visit to Malaysia in the first week of December. The MoU on tourism cooperation would enhance cooperation in the field of research and development, training and human resource development, and promotional activities for boosting tourism. Under the MoU on cooperation in the field of culture, arts and heritage, both the governments will exchange research and publications and mutual visits of officials and experts in cultural sectors for promoting cultural cooperation.
Bangladesh Awami League