The Financial Express

Removing inequalities vital for BD: Norway

Published: February 23, 2018 16:34:44 | Updated: February 24, 2018 17:05:45

Sidsel Bleken, Norwegian Ambassador to Bangladesh Sidsel Bleken, Norwegian Ambassador to Bangladesh

Norway has said Bangladesh needs to make sure that the benefits of economic growth continue to reach the poor to remove inequalities in the country. 

"It's important to keep up the focus on poor people, not just in rural areas but also in cities, including in Dhaka," Norwegian Ambassador in Dhaka Sidsel Bleken told UNB in an interview at her office at the Nordic Embassy on Friday. 

She said statistics are showing that social inequalities are increasing in the country and the poor people are getting poorer. 

A recent study by the Centre for Policy Dialogue has showed the underbelly of the development scenario in Bangladesh in which the rising GDP growth and rising income and wealth inequalities walk hand in hand. 

The Norwegian Ambassador said employment creation is the most important of all to reach the development goals. "It's also important to bring more women into the labour market giving female workers an opportunity to have their own income." 

Emphasising stability and security, Ambassador Bleken said they hope that there will be no political violence as the next national election is approaching.

Fair Polls: 

Norway wants to see a non-violent election in Bangladesh and hoped that both the political parties and law enforcement agencies will work towards that end to maintain peace. 

"We hope it'll be free, fair and participatory," she said giving importance to equal opportunities for peaceful election campaign before election. 

Ambassador Bleken said there are challenges but all parties will have to keep up the dialogue on importance of free and fair election.

Responding to a question, she said, "I absolutely think that BNP should concentrate on elections. I think it's important that they participate. This is the only chance to become a real force in politics." 

As part of the international community, the Ambassador says, they will keep supporting democratic process in Bangladesh. "We're not supporting any particular party or other parties. We're very much supporting the process that will be free and fair."

Digital Security: 

The Norwegian Ambassador said cyber security is of course important. "I think any country needs to have a legislation that takes care of cyber security." 

Ambassador Bleken, however, said it seems that the some of the provisions of the Cabinet-approved draft of the Digital Security Act-2018 might create scope for shrinking the space for freedom of speech. "It's very worrying." 

As Bangladesh is getting closer to its national election, there are chances to limit critical voices and hampering investigative journalism, she said. 

"In a free democratic society, journalists should be free to write and publish their findings," Bleken said. 

Investment Climate:

The Ambassador said it will be very good if the Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) manages to work on one-stop service as their experience says it is rather "bureaucratic" and takes "long time" to be able to make investment here. "I think still more needs to be done."

She said the land issue is a particular challenge as there is such a scarcity of land in Bangladesh. "The Economic Zones and the Export Processing Zones are probably good steps. But they need to be developed for companies to make investment there." 

Ambassador Bleken said the Telenor that owns a 55.8 percent stake in Grameenphone, is the biggest Norwegian investor in Bangladesh.

"We don't have other companies of the same size (to invest here) but we have couple of companies that are looking for investment with focus on renewable energy and solar power plant," she said. 

Maritime Resources:

Ambassador Bleken said Norway is willing to help Bangladesh quantify and identify the maritime resources as the government of Bangladesh is also giving much importance to exploring maritime resources. 

There is a Norwegian-funded project and a brand new research survey vessel will come to the Bay of Bengal in August this year.

The government has already asked the country's businessmen to take steps to explore the huge marine resources. 

Foreign Tourists:

The Norwegian Ambassador sought steps from the government and private sector to further develop the tourism industry providing required facilities for foreign tourists. 

"You have some very luxurious hotels but there's nothing more. Tourists are not looking for hotels only. They're looking for many other things," she said. 

Bleken said Bangladesh has beautiful handicraft and Jamdani Saree. "This is something you can promote." 

She expressed satisfaction over the security measures taken by the government for foreigners. "The situation is much, much better that what it was in the past."

The Norwegian Ambassador said the people of Bangladesh are very "friendly and welcoming".

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