The Financial Express

Unseen developments in growth story

| Updated: February 17, 2021 08:55:50

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Unseen developments in growth story

Bangladesh has never had any colony nor have the Bangladeshis pirated in the Bay of Bengal for capturing resources of others unlike some European 'civilised' nations. This country has made progress paying certain prices - blood, hard labour, working abroad, struggle for ending poverty, endurance and resilience.

Yet, fruits of development in the post-colonial era are cleverly hijacked by a powerful group. They mean to argue it's only natural that economic advancement would be accompanied by corruption and inequality, two most disturbing issues for Bangladesh's growth journey.

Whether accumulation of resources by a dominant class without having redistributive mechanism like higher taxes and massive welfare spending can be considered 'national development' remains a question that should be answered politically.

Obviously, growth in gross domestic product or GDP growth has been established as a very useful statistical instrument to demonstrate how the country is moving ahead. Bangladesh's recorded growth to the tune of 6.0 per cent, 7.0 per cent or 8.0 per cent has sometimes presented a puzzle to all those who can't calculate GDP. Whose growth is it?

An ordinary person knows what is required to draw dues from a government office. Traffic congestion is a reality of metropolitan life. Thick dusts in the air, visible here and there, are part of the nature of development.

The migrant workers' journey through the Mediterranean or their destination in refugee camps in the Balkan region indicates the state of domestic job market. Freelancers capture some outsourced assignments with little or no institutional support. Microcredit, which once brought social changes, is struggling to cope with new market challenges.

The development propaganda has, in the meantime, turned into a banal tune as people are repeatedly lectured about the same thing, but seldom offered a scope to participate in the governance process. The masses are introduced to the digital space, more as clients, less as productive forces.

Professor Rehman Sobhan has observed that a business class which was once patronised by the state has later benefitted from bank finance coming from millions of small depositors, a process which ensured transfer of resources to big capitalists. "In the 21st century, the autonomous capitalist forces have sufficiently been powerful to bring about state capture," he said earlier this week about turning points of the Bangladesh economy.

Also, the attempts to attain legitimacy through talks of development have created obsession to such an extent that intangible things like quality of education and institution building do not appear to be policy priority.

Protagonists of project-centric development fail to notice that complacency may lead to anti-historic questions:What could have happened in the growth story, had the country been able to achieve the potential growth in the past 2-3 decades or not wasted resources in embezzlement and siphoning off money?

However, history shows the decades of 1990s and 2010s heralded a journey of development towards opposite directions. The former was marked by growth acceleration efforts with a pluralist approach while the latter was dictated by a favoured group. "Eventually, the entrepreneurial capital has been sidelined by the crony capital," notes economist Hossain Zillur Rahman.

Not only is the ownership of prosperity a key concern, but also engagement of the 'silent majority' is a core issue that cannot be neglected for the country's next level of growth.

Now, inequality has become the main barrier to higher growth, says Dr Binayak Sen, adding, "Unless the fortunate ones are adequately taxed, where will the money come from to spend on social protection, quality education and healthcare services?"

There is no change either in the development approach to redistribution of resources for establishing an egalitarian society. In the trend of seeing physical structures as immortal achievements, the 'man behind machine' has lost the required attention. The issue of human development mainly refers to the UNDP's annual report nowadays.

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