The two ideas mentioned below popped up while a few of my colleagues were discussing contemporary issues at random. Lest some enthusiastic political leaders or a powerful group of actors find the ideas useful, I dare to put those in prints.
On external borrowing for stability: Lately, various options are being thrust upon us that are perceived to be bringing confidence in the economy by stalling the erosion of foreign exchange reserve and/or replenishing the reduced reserve situation with the Bangladesh Bank. Getting tied to International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditionality may be the last option for the present political authority, more so, because of potential hazards associated with conditionality and 'strategic instability'.
The second option of backups with the Indian Rupee, a quasi-import-financing arrangement, may restrict future import choices. More importantly, with less explicitly defined transit clauses, the obligation may not remain confined to straight repayment with an acceptable foreign currency. I do however refrain from discussing the pros and cons of the two options, and instead, propose a third one.
We are told by the global research agencies and by the national media that many persons of Bangladesh origin and (possibly) holding Bangladeshi citizenship have huge deposits in foreign (offshore) banks and other financial institutions. Many of them may feel less secure with their deposits (due to post-Ukraine/Russia war) and may be keen on bringing parts of those back to Bangladesh. It is common knowledge that for many, such accumulation of riches was possible due to support from the state. As a defender of the state, the government in power may persuade many to bring back part of their offshore deposits, even if it be for a limited period. Denominated in a given currency, interest rates can be zero with a sovereign guarantee to pay back in that currency. With the right intent, a country can always pull in its resources during bad years - a lesson that our local/rural communities teach on a regular basis.
On meeting public 'non-transport' needs from Poddya bridge: Beyond connectivity through transportation of cargo and passengers, events over the last month revealed that there is a huge demand for walking on the bridge and viewing the river by standing on the bridge. In retrospect, it appears that provisioning for expanding the scope to meet multi-purpose consumer needs could possibly be met. All may not however be closed. The authority may choose certain hours (say, four hours during less or no sun heat) on a given day in a week when the bridge (or parts of it on both ends) will be available only for walkers/joggers - of course at a price. When the time is officially declared, the movements of motor vehicles will automatically adjust if the ban on their movement over the bridge is enforced.
Such offers may encourage people to experience ownership of national properties, and revenue from such 'walk-tickets' (levied on an hour-basis) will be 'additional' since total transport volume in a week is unlikely to be adversely affected. While such demands may gradually fizzle out, who knows, there may soon be a time when we shall be organizing regular marathons (the Poddya Marathon) over the bridge on one or more of the winter days!
Dr Sajjad Zohir is Executive Director, Economic Research Group (ERG). [email protected]