Reforming property laws

Md. Julker Naim | Published: December 24, 2015 22:20:55 | Updated: October 22, 2017 14:11:38

Having a GDP growth rate of 6.51 per cent is quite an achievement and the country should feel proud of its achievement. Given the political unrest and the havoc that regular people had to suffer in the past year, one needs to make a stock-taking to appreciate the enormity of the achievement. Given the way other countries treat us, being a citizen of Bangladesh is quite demoralising. But people should not give up hope. Many nations, which have been in a similar situation as Bangladesh, a country ravaged by war and internal strife for decades, have been able to break free from the yolk of poverty. It's better to learn from their stories and then implement those in Bangladesh.
One thing that is quite clear is that the GDP growth rate of Bangladesh has to reach 10 per cent or higher if we need to fulfill the goal of becoming a middle-income country. For that to happen, many things need to change. One of the most important things that need to happen is updating of the anachronistic land laws that still operate in Bangladesh.
Land is a very valuable asset in the country and the laws managing it are mind-boggling. Anyone who has ever tried to register land that he owns will have many horror stories to share. There have been instances where people have purchased land quite legally, but then they have to go through enormous troubles just to get it registered. The sad part is that even though one has the right to get his lands registered, one is treated like the scum of the earth if he does not pay bribes.
One of the most effective ways to reduce the mayhem with regard to property rights is to develop a robust system of inheritance law. The inheritance law of Bangladesh is a nightmare. There are multiple streams of laws that increase the risk of ownership which in turn raise the cost of doing business. If property laws are streamlined in such a way that there is one law that operates in distribution of property, then it will facilitate identification of owners and thus help them engage in economic transactions.
Changing the inheritance law may pose a huge challenge because the people of Bangladesh are still very much driven by religious fervour and emotions. They need to realise that the laws of inheritance under Islamic and Hindu laws were designed centuries ago and they have outlived their utility. In the modern world, time is money. Any law or rule that increases uncertainty imposes a cost.
Religious factions of Bangladesh could be appeased by proclaiming that the traditional rules of inheritance will be applicable if the person who owns the property explicitly states the laws along which his assets will be distributed. The key issue is that the people who own property should have the authority to dictate who will stand to benefit from their assets after their death.
Such an approach will do a great deal for the economic development of Bangladesh because it will ensure that assets are not unnecessarily mired in legal uncertainty and encourage orderly economic transactions. This will in turn take away a lot of inefficiencies of the economy.
The writer is a central banker and M.Phil Fellow, (Green Finance Researcher) Department of Business Administration, Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP), Dhaka.

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