December 11, 2014
This week saw Bhutanese Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay visiting Bangladesh at the invitation of his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina. During the official meeting between the two premiers, the two leaders agreed to further intensify the already warm relations between the two countries in such sectors as hydro-power, water resources management, trade and commerce, connectivity, climate change, tourism, culture, education, agriculture, health and human resources development. Two deals were also signed between the two countries on trade and diplomacy during the three-day official visit.
US Assistant Secretary for Narcotics and Law Enforcement William Brownfield has applauded Bangladesh’s counter-terrorist financing measures, saying it has emerged as a regional leader in this regard. The Assistant Secretary made the comments when attending a regional conference at Dhaka on counter terrorist financing measures. In a related development, the Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, while accepting credentials of Bangladesh’s newly sent envoy to India on Tuesday, praised Bangladesh PM Sheikh Hasina for eliminating terrorism from the region.
The European Parliament (Europarl) has reiterated its calls to Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to leave its alliance with the fundamentalists Jamaat E Islami. Europarl’s MEP and Chair of Delegation for relations with South Asia, Jean Lambert made the call on Wednesday. Previously, on January 16 of this year, the Europarl in a resolution urged the BNP to ‘unequivocally’ distance itself from radicals like Jamaat and Hefazate Islam. Jamaat as a party is not only habituated to extremism and violence (its student wing Shibir was listed by IHS Janes as the 3rd most active non state armed group in the world in 2013), but also actively opposed the country’s independence and continues to harbor known war criminals in its top ranks.
Growth and Development
Works are going on in full swing at Bangladesh’s largest infrastructural project till date, the Padma Bridge. About 14% of the project, including approach roads, rehabilitation and development of the project area, has been completed and now the main construction work of the bridge will begin. Work is progressing with plans for road vehicles and trains to ply simultaneously along the bridge in 2018. Padma Bridge is one of the six mega-projects of the AL government under fast track implementation, directly supervised by the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The government plans to launch Bangladesh’s first satellitie, Bangabandhu-1, into space by middle of 2017. To this end, the government has decided to procure 119.2-east longitude orbital slot from Russian company Intersputnik. The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs on Sunday approved the proposal to acquire the slot at a cost of $28 million. The deal would allow Bangladesh to launch three satellites in a line from the slot and it will be possible to provide many planned quality services to Bangladesh and other countries in the region through it.
The government is preparing a new power system master plan (PSMP) for the next 20 years, with key focus on importing coal and LNG for power generation. The plan is part of an initiative to set up several large coal-based power plants across Bangladesh. This week also saw ECNEC approve a project for new electricity connections for 400,000 homes in 11 districts. Additionally, the government has announced its plan to open a mega plant in Chittagong to bottle, supply and market LPG . On the energy scene, giants ConocoPhillips and Statoil ASA have been entrusted with energy exploration in two deep-sea blocks of Bay of Bengal.
AL government wishes to see a technologically advanced Digital Bangladesh. To that end, the ICT Division of the government recently organized the National Hackathon 2014. A total of 1,675 young developers, freelancers, students and mobile application developers participated in the event to find solutions to 10 social and national problems. Further in this week, in order to assimilate women in digital revolution, an initiative has been undertaken by the government to develop women freelancers and entrepreneurs. Digitization of public services is also going on at full throttle. This week saw the government unveil plans to manage microcredit and collect VAT payments online.
Social Justice and Equity
According to the World Bank’s latest Gini Index, Bangladesh has fared considerably better than many of its South Asian neighbours in tackling inequality in distribution of income and expenditure. The report titled ‘Addressing Inequality in South Asia’, which was presented by World Bank’s Chief Economist for South Asia Martin Rama on Monday in Dhaka, places Bangladesh as third among the eight countries of the region in the inequality index. The Index measures inequality among values of a frequency distribution like levels of income, with zero representing ‘perfect equality’. Bangladesh’s score was 0.31.
The fact that Bangladesh has made significant progress in improving working conditions and ensuring safety for factory workers is getting acknowledgment from the international stakeholders. In its latest report, the International Labour Organization (ILO) has commented that since April 2013, Bangladesh has shown ‘dynamism’ in improving workplace safety and increasing wages through a combination of national and international efforts. By the same token, the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety, a group of North American retailers, has also applauded Bangladesh for its progress in improving working conditions in garment factories.
Trade and Investment
The government has announced plans to float four new tax-free bonds for expatriate Bangladeshis to encourage them to invest their remittances in various sectors of the country. Investors in these new bonds will enjoy tax exemption on invested amount and interest income therefrom. Increasing domestic and foreign investment being crucial to the AL government’s aim of boosting economic growth beyond 7% and elevating country to middle-income status, special incentives and benefits have also been announced under a package this week for investors in the five new special economic zones. Benefits would include, inter alia, tax holiday for investors and their employees and duty-free import of vehicles.
Bangladesh’s exports earnings stood at about US$ 2.42 billion in November this year, registering a 24% growth from the previous month of October and 9% more than last November. In a bid to boost exports, and in particular to realize the AL government’s target of earning $50 billion from exporting garments by the year 2021, six new commercial counselors will be appointed abroad to facilitate such target. The six new offices will be set up in Seoul, Geneva, Kunming, Istanbul, Singapore City and Pretoria to give advice on achieving export targets.
Bangladesh Awami League