January 15, 2015
The overwhelming public support for the current Awami League government has been manifested in the recently conducted national opinion polls by leading English language daily Dhaka Tribune. The polls show that nearly 72% people consider the government to be very successful or successful. On the other hand, most consider Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) to be unsuccessful. 62% people feel that BNP has failed to project itself as a better alternative than the Awami League. Successive polls reveal that infrastructure development and education are considered to be the government’s main successes. Nearly a fourth of the people opined that the government has no major failures.
According to the latest report of the World Bank (WB) “Global Economic Prospects 2015”, released in Washington DC on Tuesday (early Wednesday in Bangladesh), Bangladesh's economy will expand steadily in the next three years, with the growth of the gross domestic product (GDP) rising to 7.0% in 2017. The Report projects that GDP growth in Bangladesh will be 6.2% this year, and it will maintain steady a pace to elevate to 6.5% in 2016 and 7.0% in 2017. The World Bank said the economic growth would be supported this year and afterwards by continued robust remittances and recovery in private consumption demand, but political stability would be vital to its sustainability.
The construction work of Padma Multipurpose Bridge is going on at full swing. About 16% of the infrastructure work of the project, including approach roads, rehabilitation and development of the project area, is already complete. Currently, soil testing is being carried out for the main bridge. The next step would be to conduct piling tests and after that the construction work of the bridge would begin. To speed up the construction work of the main bridge, 1,000 Chinese engineers would reach the site soon. The 6.15km-long two-tier Padma Bridge, with the provision for vehicles running above and trains below, would be built with concrete and steel. The pillars of the bridge would go the deepest of any bridge in the world. The project is expected to be complete in 4 years.
22 people have been killed so far in the 10 days of ongoing blockade enforced by Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in cohorts with their fundamentalist ally Jamaat E Islami. Of the 22, nine have been killed directly by petrol bombs or arson by BNP-Jamaat activists, while the rest perished as the unruly activists clashed with law enforcers in various parts of the country. At least 350 people have been injured so far in the last ten days of BNP-Jamaat terrorism. Burn Unit of the Dhaka Medical College Hospital is heavy with the cries of scores of burn victims. So far, BNP-Jamaat’s destruction has seen at least 429 vehicles torched and/or vandalized. There have also been at least 4 major incidents of sabotage on rail networks, resulting in the uprooting of trains and killing and injuring of passengers.
In recent times, two major lies by the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) have been exposed on the international arena. Firstly, BNP leaders claimed that India’s ruling party BJP chief Amit Shah had called on Khaleda Zia and discussions took place on recent political events. However, subsequently Amit Shah confirmed personally to several Bangladeshi media outlets that this was false and no such discussion took place. Secondly, it was claimed that certain US Congressmen had condemned recent actions of the government. However, it later transpired that the statement was in fact fraudulent, sent to the media by a senior aide to Tareque Rahman.
Infrastructure and Mega Projects
UK based research firm “HR Wallingford: Civil Engineering and Environmental Hydraulic” will draw the conceptual master plan and provide the technical support to implement the Paira Port Project at Ramnabad in Patuakhali. The Paira Port Authority (PPA) and HR Wallingford UK on Wednesday exchanged an agreement at the Ministry of Shipping conference room. Chairman of Chittagong Port Authority Rear Admiral Mohammad Nizamuddin Ahmed and HR Wallingford leader Tim Chaser signed the deal Tuesday on behalf of PPA and HR Wallingford at PPA office in Dhaka. The consulting firm will prepare a complete conceptual master plan for the Paira port project by next nine months that will cost around US$ 2.4 million.
On Wednesday, the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) approved the "Term Sheet Agreement" signed with Singapore-based Astra Oil and Excelerate Energy Consortium for constructing the floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal with a daily capacity of 500 MMCF at Maheshkhali to meet the country's energy demand. As per the term sheet agreement signed between Singapore-based Astra Oil and state-run Petrobangla, the former will set up the LNG terminal and operate it. It has to complete the construction work by 16 months from the date of final agreement targeting a tentative commission date of the project in 2017. Promoting use of LNG is part of the government’s Power Sector Master Plan.
Growth and Development
On Saturday, at a press conference the Industries Minister Amir Hossain highlighted various advances made by the AL government in the industrial sector in 2014. Some of the highlights include: Shahjalal Fertilizer Factory, with a capacity of producing 5,80,000 metric tonnes of fertilizer annually, will go into production this year, as the construction is nearly complete. 93% work on renovation of Mongla Port is completed and the rest will be done by June to increase navigability and facilitate shipment of large machineries. Process of relocating tanneries to Savar from Dhaka is in full swing. More than US$ 215 million were invested in small and cottage industries across the country creating more than 89,000 jobs. Last fiscal year also saw record production of salt with 1.74 million tonnes.
According to the ranking of 100 busiest ports in the world by Lloyd’s Register, Chittagong Port’s container handling capacity has improved substantially, as it has ranked 86 in 2014, up from 90 in 2013. The port can now offer berth to bigger ships of 9.5 metres draft and 190 metres in length. This would allow the port to offer better services to businesses by handling export and import cargo quicker and in greater volume. The port ranked 90 in 2013 and 98 in 2009, showing the continuous improvement in its working since Awami League government came to power. Currently, the government has targeted to improve the container handling capacity of the port to 3 million TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) by 2019.
The government has decided to expand its successful solar home systems (SHS) project to install six million SHSs in the country and thus generating 220-megawatt (mw) electricity from renewable energy by 2017. Some 3.5 million SHSs were set up across the country generating 135 mw of electricity till 2014 with the financial support from government’s Infrastructure Development Company Limited (IDCOL). Thanks to the SHS programme people in the remote off-grid zones, particularly in the coastal districts, are being benefited with remarkable change in their socio-economic status. More than 15 million people are under the solar power grid network now with 65,000 SHSs being installed per month at an average growth rate of 60% on year on year basis.
Bangladesh on the International Stage
In another international laurel for the country under Awami League leadership, Bangladesh is now Vice-Chair of the Executive Council of UN Women. This group works for the uplift of women and ensure gender equality across the globe. Besides Bangladesh, three other countries have been elected vice-chair from Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe. The UN Women committee's terms are for three years. According to Bangladesh’s Permanent Representative to UN, AKM Momen, this is another recognition of the dynamic leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in taking forward the cause of female empowerment and education in Bangladesh. UN Women came into existence in July 2010 following a decision in the UN General Assembly.
Bangladesh will host the regional consultation of “Secretary General’s High-Level Independent Panel on UN Peace Operations” from January 20-22 in Dhaka. Representatives from 31 countries and 20 panel members will take part in the meeting, which will be arranged as part of Bangladesh’s broader peacekeeping operations. Bangladesh was the top contributor to UN Peacekeeping missions worldwide in 2014. Currently, 9,400 Bangladeshi peacekeepers are deployed in 10 different missions around the world. Bangladesh has so far contributed to 54 peacekeeping operations in 39 countries around the world, where more than 127,000 peacekeepers have participated.
Digital Bangladesh
Silicon-valley based venture capital firm Fenox VC and Founder Institute have partnered up to fund Bangladesh’s next generation of IT entrepreneurs, helping them transform new ideas into funded startups. The two companies will fund startups through the entire process of developing high-growth technology businesses in sectors such as mobile applications, digital health and enterprise software. Under a partnership with the Bangladeshi chapter of Founder Institute, Fenox VC would offer startups US$ 15,000 upon graduating from an intensive programme. Fenox VC has announced a fund of $200 million recently to invest in potential IT enterprises in Bangladesh, as it sees immense potential in Bangladesh’s large youth population and rapidly transforming digitization scheme of the government.
The government is providing free ICT training to thousands of youths so that they can earn from home using technological tools and eventually go on to become entrepreneurs. Since 2013, about 26,000 youths have received IT training. In the next two years, the ICT Division will train another 55,000 youths. The programme, which is run in 64 districts, involves both basic and advanced levels of learning. The ministry also provides online training and consultancy to freelancers. So far, 13,184 youth have registered online to attend five courses including freelancing business and business management courses. Almost 60% of the graduates from the training programme are now working as freelancers.
The government’s National web Portal has brought together 25,000 government offices through separate links, allowing people to access information or file complaints easily online. The government has connected almost all the Upazilas through optical fiber cable networks, which will connect 18,132 public offices under the same network. Computer laboratories have been set up in 3,500 schools. The Korean government is set to help Bangladesh develop an ICT master plan. All Union Parishads will be brought under broadband connectivity to achieve government’s target of reaching 70% Internet penetration in next four years, a big-data analytics laboratory will set up, 10 software technology parks are being created and a Digital University is being established.
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