May 28, 2015
Chinese Vice-Premier Liu Yandong this week came to Bangladesh on a three-day official visit which saw bilateral relations between the two countries being elevated to newer heights. During her visit, the Vice Premier oversaw the signing of six instruments between the two countries in the fields of education, media and trade. Ms. Yandong also assured her country’s full support to help realize Awami League government’s Vision 2021 and 2041. She was hopeful that China could learn from Bangladesh’s successful policies in tackling social and economic challenges.
Access to Information (a2i) programme of the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has won the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) award for the second consecutive year. National Web Portal project of the a2i secured the award under "Access to Information and Knowledge” category. Bangladesh's National Web Portal is one of the biggest government web portals of the world, with links of 25,000 websites, and incorporation of 42,000 government offices. Services on offer in the portal range from registration of various amenities to paying taxes and utility bills.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $120 million loan for a 6-year long government-led programme to improve the quality of primary education in Bangladesh. Further funding will come from European Union, the Global Partnership for Education, the UN Children’s Fund, and the World Bank. The project, to be implemented by 2017, aims to deliver an efficient, inclusive, child-friendly and equitable primary education system. It also aims to reduce disparities in access to education and improve planning and programming in the sector.
In its ongoing and continuing fight against violent extremists, terrorist and militants, the Awami League led government banned another outfit, calling itself “Ansarullah Bangla Team”. The outfit, believed to have links to the global terror network Al Qaeda, was outlawed on Monday by the Home Ministry through an official gazette notification, having been under the scanner of law enforcement and intelligence agencies for quite some time. So far, Bangladesh has banned 6 such groups, 3 of which were outlawed after Awami League government came to office in 2009.
Infrastructure and Mega Projects
The government has decided to construct a railway bridge over Jamuna River by 2020, aimed at meeting regional traffic growth and improving the flow of goods and passengers. Funded by the Asian Development Bank, the feasibility study of the proposed dual gauge double-track bridge to establish link between the east and west of the country has already been completed. The new bridge would be constructed parallel to the Bangabandhu Multipurpose Bridge. The project, with funding from Japan, would begin in 2016 and expected to be completed by 2020.
Officials of Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) project hope they can start operation of the dream project partially by the end of 2019. With soil testing almost done, they plan to launch the service initially on the 10km stretch between Uttara and Agargaon. Contractors for the job have already been hired. The consortium of consultants has already submitted the basic design and is now working on the details. The $2.5 billion mega project is aimed at easing traffic congestion in the capital city through a faster, comfortable and time-bound public transportation service.
Growth and Development
The World Bank is going to forge a new Country Partnership Framework (CPF) with Bangladesh for the period of 2016-20 as part of its new country engagement process to address Bangladesh's development needs and support efforts to end poverty. The new plan would be adopted after the current Country Assistance Strategy expires in June next. The two step process would involve, firstly, preparing a Systematic Country Diagnostic (SCD), and secondly, developing a Country Partnership Framework (CPF), underpinned by the SCD.
Bangladesh government is offering around 1,000 acres of land on Maheshkhali Island in the Bay of Bengal to Kuwait Petroleum International (KPI) to construct a crude oil refinery with 10 million tonnes per year capacity at a cost of US$ 6 billion. The precise location of the land has already been identified by the government and would be handed over to KPI as soon as all formalities of the deal have been finalized. Apart from land, Bangladesh will provide other infrastructural supports like electricity, water, roads and communication to the project site.
Bangladesh and Netherlands governments are working together to formulate a long term plan for management of the Bangladesh delta. Known as the Bangladesh Delta Plan (BDP) 2100, the project, having started in 2014, is being led by the General Economics Division (GED) of the Bangladesh Planning Commission. The project is expected to complete in September 2016. Such a plan is significant given that Bangladesh is the largest delta of the world with rivers and floodplains constituting 80% of the country, and supports life, livelihoods and the economy.
Social Justice and Equity
The government has undertaken a new project which aims to help extremely poor women in rural areas graduate out of poverty. Under the $110 million project, a woman will get daily wage of TK 200 for work from which she could save TK 25,000 in one and a half years for taking an initiative to create self-employment. The UNDP would finance 75% of the project cost as a grant. The government has undertaken the project to provide social protection to the ultra-poor women by creating part-time job opportunity for them in seasons without work in the rural areas.
The government will adopt an action plan for ensuring health and occupational safety in five industrial sectors. The sectors to be included initially are readymade garments (RMG), leather, textiles, shrimp, shipbuilding and breaking and chemicals. Gradually, other sectors would be included in the plan. The decision was taken Tuesday at the first meeting of a committee that was formed by 'National Industrial Health and Safety Council', to set common standards to ensure occupational health and safety for all the industrial sectors of the country.
Trade and Investment
Bangladesh Accreditation Board (BAB) has got approval from two major international certification agencies, the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC) and Asia Pacific Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (APLAC). These recognitions will help widen the country's export basket and increase foreign exchange earnings. In particular, food products from Bangladesh will be benefited as they will be able to enter at least 100 overseas markets without the need for any further tests being done on them.
A study by Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) and the Institute of Developing Economies (IDE) has listed 11 sectors in Bangladesh which could offer rewarding business opportunities for big Japanese companies. Among the sectors jute, textile and apparel have been particularly identified as lucrative for foreign investment given the established reputation. The report states that overseas trade privileges, a big and affordable workforce and a large consumer base offers “promising” advantages for businesses in Japan to invest.
Climate Change and Environment
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) will provide Bangladesh with US$ 8.75 million to save the country's coastal areas from adverse impacts of climate change under three separate projects. The projects are part of the Bangladesh National Programme of United Nations' collaborative initiative on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD). To this end, UNDP, Economic Relations Division (ERD) and Ministry of Environment and Forests on Wednesday signed the respective agreements at Dhaka.
From the next financial year, the government will allow import of refurbished hybrid automobiles. A directive will be issued in this regard in the upcoming budget session. Till now, the government allowed import of 2500cc hybrid new vehicles only from 2009 with import tax waiver facility, but it did not allow the import of hybrid re-conditioned or refurbished cars. Hybrid cars are environmentally friendly and their battery lifetime is 10 years than conventional cars. In Japan for instance, a total of 40% car production is now made of hybrid technology.
Digital Bangladesh
In the upcoming budget, the government is likely to extend the tax exemption benefits for software development and information technology-enabled services (ITES) by another five years to further encourage investment in the sector. Under the proposal, the government will extend tax waiver on income from software and ITES to June 30, 2019, in line with the government's Digital Bangladesh vision. This is consistent with the aim of the government to earn $1 billion from IT exports by 2021, as stated by PM’s IT Adviser Sajeeb Wazed in March.
The government plans to set up 12 IT parks in the country for realizing the vision of a Digital Bangladesh with financial support from the proposed Indian second line of credit. ICT Division will implement the proposed project, which has already been sent to the Planning Ministry for approval from next ECNEC meeting. The parks are proposed to be established in 12 separate districts:Jamalpur, Natore, Thakurgaon, Comilla, Mymensingh, Keraniganj (Dhaka), Barisal, Rangpur, Rajshahi, Sylhet, Khulna and Chittagong, with an estimated cost of US$ 201 million.
Prime Minister’s Corner
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has once again made it to the list of the world’s most powerful women by the US-based business publication Forbes. She was also featured in the same list last year. The list, which ranks Sheikh Hasina as the 59th most powerful woman, was published on Tuesday. Sheikh Hasina is the only politician from South Asia to be included in the list by the US-based magazine. Sheikh Hasina has been elected the Premier of Bangladesh for three terms, starting in 1996, then in 2009 and most recently in 2014.
Excerpt from Op-Ed by Anis Ahmed in the Observer: Hasina is one stateswoman who dares to break out of hesitation, avoids delay and most importantly uses her best intelligence, acumen and understanding of a prevailing situation and the need of the hour. Hasina's straightforwardness is evidenced in facing challenges often thrown by her opponents, especially BNP and Khaleda Zia, with diligence, firmness but at the same time showing no signs of worries. She is cruising the troubled boat named Bangladesh quite well through turbulent seas.
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