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The Financial Express

OPINION

Solving half the problem

Khawaza Main Uddin | Published: February 11, 2020 21:17:15


Solving half the problem

A year after assumption of office by the finance minister, AHM Mustafa Kamal's admission that the national economy is not in a good shape and that the banking sector is not faring well, is a notable exception in the country's dominant political culture of denial.

Facts are facts even if you hate to acknowledge that exports and imports show downtrend and share market has a bearish trend, default loan surges, revenue earning falls short of target and unemployment problem heightens. If around 8.0 per cent growth rate indicates anything about the economy, why shouldn't other indicators be taken into consideration for correction?

Finance minister, Mustafa Kamal, who happens to be a chartered accountant, has perhaps looked at the figures that present a picture. As old saying goes that a problem defined is half-solved, he has taken the first step before taking on the remaining part of the problem of the economy.

However, more admissions may be required to properly diagnose why the economy is in a shambles despite policy and regime continuity for more than a decade. The finance minister expects an improvement in the 'actual' state of the 'real' economy at the yearend, so it's expected that there will be a certain remedy for corruption, poor service delivery, job shortage, revenue shortfall, market volatility, flight of capital and overall financial sector management crisis.

At the very least, the minister would need to implement what he himself promised the people, like single digit interest rate scheduled to come into effect from April 01, 2020, as per understanding with the bankers.

No matter who supported or opposed this initiative, if enforced, the interest rate cut would give a right signal about maintaining contract sanctity and of course reduce cost of doing business. In a changed interest rate regime, if demand for investible loans increases, more jobs would be created.

A commission for streamlining the banking sector, plagued by a series of loan forgery scams, can be a right step for proving sincerity to bring positive changes in the ailing sector. Reports of the committees headed by former Bangladesh Bank governor Mohammad Farashudddin and ex-deputy governor Khondoker Ibrahim Khaled - one constituted following the 2016 cyber heist of US$81 million and other after the 2010-11 share market debacle - should be made public for restoring their confidence in official measures to remedy the situation.

A special jobs programme, in the form of employment guarantee scheme by training manpower with required skills for jobs at home and overseas, may be considered, besides encouraging private investment. The finance minister can in the first place stop high bank borrowing, and misuse of public funds.

For attaining long-term goals, steps may be initiated to solve the problem of quality of education and healthcare, eliminate food adulteration, address pollution, raise national productivity and many such issues.

While presence of a large number of beggars in public places contrasts high growth rate, ill health of the financial sector does not bode well for the 'world's best finance minister'.

When Bangladesh's Under-19 cricket team emerged as world champions, the expectations of the Bangladesh youth transcend cricket - the country should be champion in education, innovation, social development, pluralist democracy and all that. Since the demographic dividend is yet to be drawn, the finance minister may use his good offices to take massive programmes for the youth.

Mustafa Kamal is undoubtedly in the best position to understand what he should do to improve the financial sector governance and maximise public welfare by spending taxpayers' money. He just needs to act as required after he shows the courage to admit problems of the economy.

khawaza@gmail.com

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