Speakers for converting Padma Bridge into an ‘economic corridor’

Publish: 8:13 PM, June 4, 2022 | Update: 8:13 PM, June 4, 2022

Speakers at a roundtable discussion today said that the much-hyped Padma Multipurpose Bridge is the symbol of ‘national desire’ and this Bridge should be converted into an ‘economic corridor’.

They also said that alongside using the bridge for transportation of goods and passenger vehicles, economic zones and industrial parks should also be established centering the bridge which would facilitate flourishing the economy and creating employment opportunities.

The speakers made the observations at a Roundtable Discussion on ‘Current State of the Macro Economy – Bangladesh Perspective’ held at the ICAB Council Room at CA Bhaban in the capital’s Kawran Bazar area.

The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Bangladesh (ICAB) and the Economic Reporters’ Forum (ERF) jointly organized the roundtable discussion.

Planning Minister MA Mannan spoke on the occasion as the chief guest while
Dr. Ahsan H. Mansur, Executive Director, Policy Research Institute, Bangladesh;
Dr. M. Masrur Reaz, Chairman, Policy Exchange Bangladesh; Professor Mustafizur Rahman, Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD); Dr. Binayak Sen, Director General, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies; Dr. M Abu Eusuf, Executive Director, RAPID; Shubhashish Bose, CEO, ICAB; Shafiqul Alam, Bureau Chief at AFP; Md. Saiful Islam, President, Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dhaka (MCCI); Abul Kasem Khan, Former President, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry (DCCI); and ERF general secretary SM Rashidul Islam spoke as distinguished panelists.

ICAB President Md Shahadat Hossain and ERF President Sharmeen Rinvy gave the welcome remarks. The programme moderated by ICAB former president Humayun Kabir.

Speaking on the occasion as the chief guest, Planning Minister MA Mannan said that the government should gradually come out of the culture of subsidy in agriculture since there have been massive changes in the rural areas.

He said that the rural houses have got a facelift while the children are also going to schools. “All are living a better life there, but the price of fertilizer is increasing globally,” he added.

The minister, however, said there is also a fear as agricultural subsidy is usually provided for gaining food security. “Sri Lanka persuaded organic farming, but unfortunately they failed. So, we always put priority on agriculture,” he added.

Turning to the issue of checking misuse of funds at all tiers, Mannan said, “We’re working tirelessly to check misuse of funds… we have a list of 1,800 projects and those would have to be reorganized on priority basis.”

Taking part in the discussion, Executive director of PRI Dr Ahsan H Mansur said that it is necessary to keep stable the exchange rate while there is also a need to enhance the value of Taka.

Citing an example, he said that Russia has made attractive its currency Ruble and Bangladesh would have to do the same thing.

Noting that the exchange rate of Taka against US dollar has long been hovering around Taka 82 to Taka 84, Mansur said there must be a reason for sudden hike in the exchange rate of dollar.

“There was no such problem during the pandemic period, but suddenly such problem emerged. We’ll have to sort it out and thus keep stable the exchange rate,” he added.

About the focus of the next national budget for FY23, Dr Mansur said that the size of the budget is around 14 percent of the GDP which is less compared to other countries of the world. Besides, a major chunk of the budget goes for meeting up the salaries and allowances of the public servants while the rest are earmarked as development expenditure. “It would be better, if the budget size could have been made 20% of GDP.”

The PRI executive director also suggested for taking development projects after proper scrutiny considering good returns. He said that a hefty amount is being allocated against the rail sector this time though there is no specific timeframe for getting the returns.

CPD distinguished fellow Dr Mustafizur Rahman said that the Padma Bridge is the symbol of national desire while this bridge should not be only used for goods transportation and passenger vehicles, but also as an economic corridor.

Mentioning that there was a plan to set up some 17 economic zones centering the Padma Bridge, he said those should have to be established and eventually those would contribute to national economy and creation of employments.

Referring to the issue of weaknesses in institutional capacity, Dr Mustafizur said that weaknesses in institutional capacity are a major barrier towards development.

“The NBR still lacks in revenue collection. Our per capita income is increasing, but the tax to GDP ratio is still low. Our institutions should have to be made suitable at first through making necessary investments. Investment is necessary for attaining growth and without investment, growth won’t be attained,” he added.

Director General of BIDS Dr Binayak Sen said that the four drivers of the country’s economy are in good shape and there is no apprehension of experiencing a Sri Lanka-like situation.

“Our agriculture sector is in good shape. Besides, the export income is also good as it gained a growth of 44% during the July-March period. The non-export and manufacturing sectors are also performing better. Bangladesh is now in a good condition compared to India and Pakistan. But, the inward remittance has slightly dropped, but the 3 out of 4 drivers are faring much better,” he added.

The renowned economists said that he does not see any pressure on the economy although the imports jumped to 60 percent within a short period of time due to the impacts of the pandemic.

MCCI President Md Saiful Islam proposed for raising the stimulus on sending remittance to Bangladesh.