Today (Monday) is the 48th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations between Bangladesh and Japan. Since independence in 1971, Bangladesh has consistently maintained good relations with Japan and the people of Bangladesh have a strong affinity towards Japan. Dhaka-Tokyo relations have special meaning and deserve unique coinage to define, especially in comparison to relations between Bangladesh and some other countries considered important.
In fact, Bangladesh's relations with other countries and regions have changed dramatically depending on international politics and fluctuating economic relations, which were closely linked to politics that determines national interests. In contrast, Japan has consistently maintained stable, friendly relations with Bangladesh and actively supported the country's development pursuits ever since Japan's recognition of an independent Bangladesh despite all changes in domestic politics and diplomatic stance.
Japan has used its knowledge and experience of having contributed to socioeconomic development of developing countries in East Asian region, in providing assistance to Bangladesh in infrastructure building, social development and human resources development, as one of major donor countries.
While formulating the Country Assistance Programme (CAP), Japan has identified its priority areas as follows: (1) agriculture, rural development and improvement of agricultural productivity, (2) improvement in the social sector (basic human needs, human resource development), (3) basic infrastructure for investment and export promotion, and (4) disaster management. Accordingly, Japan has provided assistance for agricultural infrastructure development, participatory agricultural development, maternal and child health, polio eradication, science and mathematics education, bridge construction and cyclone shelter construction, among other things.
The challenges of development in the days to come will be to enhance development effectiveness of projects and ensure sustainability through strengthened ownership and self-help efforts of Bangladesh. As supporting self-help efforts of developing countries forms the basis for Japan's assistance, Japan intends to continue respecting Bangladesh's own initiatives to the greatest possible extent through close policy dialogues with the country, and providing support and cooperation for capacity development as a basis for enhanced ownership.
In implementing assistance, Japan is further strengthening partnerships with a wide range of institutions of the government of Bangladesh, NGOs (Japanese NGOs, local NGOs and international NGOs) and research organisations to maximise synergitic and complementary effects. Japan continues to contribute to enhancing collaboration between the government and development partners, under SDG framework and strengthening LCG (Local Consultative Group) mechanism. As for overall development assistance strategy including formulating and implementing the CAP, Japan closely coordinates in particular with major donor countries and lending agencies, namely, the World Bank, thr Asian Development Bank (ADB) and DFID (Department for International Development), the UK, in order to maximise development efforts.
Japan has always given full consideration to crosscutting issues such as gender and environment, and in the long run made an effort to comprehensively introduce a gender perspective into each programme and project and tried to ensure that it contributes to environmental conservation. Japan gives due consideration to make sure that its assistance does not give rise to further economic, social and regional disparities, and rather provides assistance with a view to eliminating disparities, in the medium to longer terms, that might have resulted from the past process of development and social transformation.
Japan stresses that sustained economic growth is a prerequisite for poverty reduction, and Japan will provide assistance for poverty reduction through economic growth as one of its goals. More specifically, Japan assists Bangladesh's efforts to accelerate economic growth With respect to specific assistance, priority is placed on private sector development (including information and communications technology or ICT and tourism), transport, electric power, agriculture and rural development. To develop the private sector, expected to drive economic growth, it is essential to improve investment climate relating to both regulatory framework and physical infrastructure. Japan believes it is vital to improve various social indicators through assistance to social development, in order to reduce poverty for promoting human security.
Japan also believes assistance in specific sectors -- education, health and environment -- are essential. Education enhances capacity of people while the health sector is crucial since it is directly related to life and death in addition to accidents and sickness that threaten daily life. Environmental issues and disaster management are also important. Water scarcity among the urban poor and sanitation are also important issues.
According to Japan, improving governance is indispensable for effective economic growth and social development. It stresses on improvements in human rights, democracy, law and order and the judicial system that form foundations for peace and stability of a society.
Japan's local ODA (official development assistance) Taskforce is working in Bangladesh in collaboration with development parties such as the Embassy of Japan, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) and Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO).
Recent Japanese studies have found that following challenges remain for private sector development in Bangladesh: (1) Removing business impediments in relation to government policy, regulations and procedures; (2) developing business infrastructure in areas of both capacity building and physical infrastructure; and (3) increasing competitiveness of private companies.
Japan is also actively working to (1) improve trade and investment climate, in coordination with the government, and thus eliminate business impediments, (2) provide assistance for economic infrastructure, which is one of Japan's comparative advantages, and (3) offer assistance for human resource development for private companies.
And in so doing, Japan pays particular attention to three areas: (1) implementing assistance in collaboration with the private sector (reflecting the needs of Japanese private sector companies and promoting investment and trade between Bangladesh and Japan; (2) coordination with other donor countries and agencies; and (3) development of Chattogram region (including special economic zones and its surroundings).
To tackle transport sector-related challenges, Japan focuses on roads and bridges sub-sector in which it has accumulated its experiences and achievements, particularly in (1) development and maintenance of a network of main roads and bridges having a large impact on economic growth; (2) development and maintenance of a network of rural roads and bridges contributing to poverty reduction; and (3) capacity development of relevant governmental institutions.
To provide assistance for the policies of the government of Bangladesh, Japan emphasises making use of knowledge it has gained from the past experience, and continues to offer assistance primarily in maternal and child healthcare and infectious diseases control with the aim of providing assistance to achieve the global goals. Japan will also contribute to tackling the issue of sector governance, including the government's financial system and human resource issues, which are one of the fundamental causes of ineffective service provision.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Mazid is a former Secretary of the fovernment and Chairman of National Board od Revenue (NBR)
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