Bangladesh Development; Narratives and Counter-Narratives

Written by: Jawad Shams

The story of the development of Bangladesh has been a part of the popular narrative throughout the last decade. Since the Awami League government came into power in the year 2009, the story of development has accelerated. The standard of living has increased, the per capita income has also increased significantly, and the number of people in extreme poverty has also significantly decreased in the last decade. All the indicators, including the country’s foreign reserve shows how the economic policies of the country are on track to be considered one of the most promising economies in the 21st century.

But at times, it is also necessary to observe and evaluate the development of a nation from various perspectives to prevent future shock and unexpected outcomes. Youth Policy Forum has been vigilant in policy discussion and the development of the country by arranging different discussions, conferences and dialogues. In the latest discussion of Youth Policy forum, tilted Bangladesh Development: Narratives and Counter-Narratives held on the 18th of March, 2022 with the discussion of panelist Zia Hassan, writer and development researcher and Mr KAS Murshid, Former Director General, BIDS and moderated by Ashfaqul Haq Chowdhury Country Economist, International Growth Center.

The session focused on a re-evaluation of the development journey of Bangladesh from 2009 till date. Zia Hassan, writer of the book Unnoyon Bivrom, focused on presenting a different narrative to the development story of the country, contradictory to the presently established hypothesis. By analyzing the data from the year 2009, he analyzed different bubbles that were seen in the economy of the country and how the lives of the people were affected after the bubbles shrunk. He pointed out the lack of the quality data produced in the country due to the fall of the statistical capacity and methodology assessment. In his analysis he pointed out that although the per capita income of the people has steadily increased, the disposable income of the people actually declined if we adjust it to inflation. Besides, he also attributed the increasing size of our national reserve to the low import quantity of our country contrary to popular belief. The low energy consumption of the country also was a key point to his argument as the energy consumption rate is not increasing when compared to the GDP of the country, alongside the real wages of the unskilled labor force of the country has also declined. 

One of the major revelations of Zia Hassan’s presentation, was how the medium sized industries of the country have shrunk in the last decade compared to the figures of 2012, when medium sized industries constituted 25% of the overall industry, in the year 2019 it has come down to 4%. Finally he mentioned how he collected data from multiple sources rather than a single source as he believed that there is a lack of quality data about various sectors and only the sectors which ensure the quality of data can be relied upon the most.

KAS Murshid in his statement to the hypothesis provided by Zia Hassan mentioned that, the data collection procedure in our country is indeed problematic thus we have to be very critical about the inputs when we work with any such data. He also mentioned that as a nation we are very critical about poverty and development, he mentioned even in the 80s when the poverty rate was significantly higher there were criticisms about rising inequality. But if we are to study the development of a nation, then we have to study ample amounts of data before coming to any fruitful conclusion. The data of the last 10-15 years might paint a picture which provides an answer but if we analyze further, then we will be able to see the whole picture. The reason the development of Bangladesh seems like a paradox to many critics is because we do not truly believe in the development process besides the structure and revolutionary changes that took place in Bangladesh have been taking place for a long time thus analyzing the data of a given timeframe might not reflect the full picture. Answering to the question raised by Zia Hassan about the decline of the medium industry, KAS Murshid mentioned that after the Rana Plaza incident many factories have to shut down as they could not keep up with the new regulations and guidelines, at the same time other of the country such as electronics industry lead by Walton is changing the face of Export scenario of the country.

In the discussion session, questions were raised on the lack of research literature related to the sharemarket crisis of Bangladesh, which left many people in desperation while others lost their life’s savings. KAS Murshid opined that with proper governance and increased funding to such fields we can increase the amount of research literature in these key areas. Besides, he outlined that doing specific research in the stock market scenario is really tough and would require the help of both governance and funding. Zia Hassan, in his concluding statement, brought up two more datasets which he found interesting during his research. Primarily he stated that although people are consuming low calorie food, they are also opting for expensive foods like fish and meat over affordable choices like milk or egg, which shows that consumers are intaking expensive foods which bring less calories for the price. Finally he opined that, we should look forward to bringing changes to some of the duty structure so that we can facilitate the production of the electrical industries and making the accessories more affordable for the local consumers so that the industries can sustain alongside export.

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