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Bangladesh - Its Future and Possibilities


A Note From The Author

In the booklet, Bangladesh: Its Future and Possibilities, I have presented a mixed model as a strategy of development, namely, a "social-economy" taking into account social and geo-physical variables. This is more than an economic model because it is also socio-economic and geo-physical. Based on Arthur Lewis's theory of surplus labor (Economic development with unlimited surplus of labour, 1958) which fits into the Bangladesh scenario, I have integrated the concept of trade and globalization with the surplus labour model. It is being argued here that we can improve human capital through interaction and exchange of Non-Resident Bangladeshi (NRB) capital, goods and services across borders forming sub-regional economic zones.

The uniquess of this model which we shall refer to as Serajul Alam Khan (SAK) Model attempts to superimpose the economic variables on socio-geo-physical space resulting in the creation of the idea of sub-regional economic zones integrating homogenous geo-physical and geo-cultural areas.

A few years back I proposed a participatory democratic political mechanism by establishing Bi-cameral Parliament and Upazilla based Local Govt., National Economic Council (NEC), etc. in 14-Point Constitutional Proposal. I have put forward an economic development program which includes the establishment of Upazilla Industrial Zones at the Upazilla level. I have also proposed the formation of sub-regional economic zone with Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, 10 (ten) eastern provinces of India and if necessary extending the eastern sub-regional zone up to South East Asia.

In recent times (March 2002) the World Bank in an institutional review on 'Reforming Governance in Bangladesh' (TAMING LEVIATHAN) has proposed basic structural changes in the Bangladesh political mechanism. They have suggested a Bi-cameral Parliament, formation of 5 (five) provinces and strong local government. They have also suggested Federal Governmental Structure. Each province will have a 150-member elected assembly. The Central Government will deal with defense, foreign affairs, currency, macro-economic policy, national highways, railways and waterways, international trade and economic relations. Each provincial assembly will provide 10 (ten) delegates to the Upper House of the Bi-cameral Parliament. The Bi-cameral Parliament will consist of the Lower House and the Upper House. The Judiciary is to be independent and the ministers are to be accountable to the Parliamentary committees. The so-called 'floor crossing' system is to be introduced. The members of Parliament nominated by the parties are to be more responsible and accountable not to party leaders by to voters. The distribution of revenue (say 60% would be allocated directly to the provincial governments in proportion to their populations). Each provincial government would have a Chief minister with a small cabinet, say 7 (seven) ministers.

While suggesting these structural changes WB has mentioned countries like New Zealand and Australia's coming out of the British colonial brand of Parliamentary political mechanism.

According to the World Bank, Bi-cameral Parliament, formation of provinces with elected provincial assemblies, strong local government (Upazilla System-author), Independent judiciary, and Federal structure of Government would help dilute the heavily centralized system based in Dhaka. According to WB this would help bring government and state power closer to the people, facilitate accountability and create a more balanced sharing of political power.

The Bi-cameral Parliament with proportional representation (form professions, occupations, women, tribal people etc -- author) to be included in the Upper House and the Lower House to be elected from geographical constituencies nominated by the political parties.

At present Bangladesh is administered by the old model British colonial Parliamentary political mechanism and party polities. WB suggestions reminds me the old proverb 'Better late than never'.


The Present Situation

The following decade is crucial for the development of Bangladesh. This development is dependent on the establishment of proper political structures (political-technology); what is also necessary is planning for industrial and overall economic development.

Since independence, the growth rate of Bangladesh has been limited from 5%-6% annually.

The picture of steady development that has been visible can be attributed to no single person or party or agency. This has been possible through the funding and co-ordination along with policy directions by agencies like World Bank, IMF, ADB, UNDP and other donor agencies, the effective initiatives of NGO's and the good gesture of political parties in the country.

The private initiatives of individual entrepreneurs also played important role for these steady development in the country.

At present, the picture shows that we have taken great strides in the sectors of food production, in textile and leather products, in education, in transportation, in the spread of electricity and the use of radio and TV, as well as in the health sector. People in Bangladesh do not go hungry anymore. They are clothed and do not go barefoot. They do not die of diseases like cholera, small pox or malaria. Primary education is available to all and there are no obstacles to availing of this opportunity.

Personal income level and occupational patterns have also changed markedly. The most unskilled workers employed in agriculture or industry or any other sector earns an average daily income of TK. 70. This fetches him 2.5 Kg of rice. 1 Kg of Dal, 1 Kg. of potato and his daily ration of oil, spices, salt and soap etc. Women in most households are also employed in either the government, private or NGO sectors and are involved in different income-earning projects.

The spread of the service industries, trade and commerce, sports, culture, media and information technology have given a new dimension to the lives of people in Bangladesh. People's attitudes towards life has changed and new horizons have opened for them.

The joint income of men and women in households has guaranteed that every one can eat three meals a day. Every one wears at least a slipper. Every one is found with clothes covering the body. Parents are much more involved and committed to their children's education. The rate of education, especially those of women, has remarkable gone up in the last few decades.

There has been improvement in the health sector also, Infant mortality rates has gone down. 97% people get their drinking water from tube wells, 58% people have low-cost sanitation facilities and toilets. Roads, electricity and gas have been reached to villages. These developments have been possible because of the establishment of the Upazilla system. Al governments have held on to this system to a greater or lesser degree.

The agricultural sector was hitherto responsible for 85% of our national GDP. Now, 47% of the GDP come from agriculture, 11% from industry and 42% from trade-commerce and service sectors. In a word, most people and involved in income-earning activities.

Only 5% of the populations is not engaged in income-earning activities. These are the young (students), the old or the disabled. This shows that both men and women are engaged in some form of work or professional activity. That is why today our identity is not based on agricultural or food production activities alone -- no longer are we identified as "rice & fish" producing and eating people. Now we are known by out work -- as workers, occupational and professionals. This is a new social identity for Bangalees. Beside Bangalees, the 10 lakh of other people who live here are Chakmas, Mags, Garos, Santals and so on, are also identified through their occupational-professional activities. Adult Bangalees and other people from Bangladesh living abroad (NRB) are also involved in different forms of work or professions. They earn much more than people working within the country.

This new economic and social foundation that has been laid for the people of Bangladesh shows us not only the way forward, but has also created for us an opportunity to make connections with the outside world, even with the most developing countries. This is a new awakening -- a renaissance for the hitherto lifeless, laid-back, effeminate people of Bangladesh. This 'renaissance' has been heralded by the creation of Bangladesh in 1971 -- a state based on Bangalee (Bangali) nationhood. And the other reason is our enthusiasm for Information Technology (IT).

Hence the questions arises - why is this flow of development constantly hampered! What are the barriers to our development!

One of the main reasons is our political system (political-technology), which is based on old colonial models, and has not changed beyond the 1940s and '50s British Parliamentary model. On the other hand, the whole population of Bangladesh is involved in some kind of socio-economic activities which suits them for 20th and 21st century.

One other important factor is mentionable here Despite attaining independence in 1971, no political government has changed the colonial law and rules. The exceptions are the 'University autonomy act' the annulment of the 'film and publication regulatory act' and the institutionalization of the 'Upazilla System'. But all political parties have stuck to the political models of the 1940s and '50s. This is the main political problem in Bangladesh. That is why, despite the presence of all requisite elements and factors, the development of Bangladesh is hindered, meets with barriers, lacks continuity and we are unable to leap forward into a new stage of overall economic and social development.

Many changes have occurred in the state and political power centers in Bangladesh since 1971. One political party has been replaced by another in the seat of government. But the system of governance have remained the same. Both in opposition and government our political parties are influenced by colonial attitudes, cultures and structured. This is the main contradiction between the new spirit and spurt of development among the people. This political inability to reflect the hopes and aspirations of the people has resulted in the slow and sporadic nature of development in Bangladesh.

The necessary steps to enable the proper development for the people of Bangladesh are the following:

  1. The establishment of an adequate political mechanism (political-technology).

  2. To plan for the setting up of 'industrial zones' at the Upazilla level and to actualize these plans.

  3. To establish a 'sub-regional economic zone' with the aegis of SAARC.


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