Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hard economic facts are too bitter for the common people

"AMRA ato kichu bujhi tujhi na! Amago dorkar kom damer mota chal ar dal." (We do not understand much. What we need are cheap coarse rice and pulse). This is not a demand. It is an urgent appeal to the government from our common people. They can't wait long for buying commodities under open market sales (OMS). Otherwise, they have to leave their work or will have to keep themselves waiting in the OMS line, whenever the circumstances demand that. Is our government concerned about it?

Our poor and lower middle class people don't know whether there is an increase of price in the world market. The UN Secretary General has demonstrated his keenness to set a task force to examine the reasons behind price-hike all over the world and to find its remedy as soon as possible. Besides, several social organisations have already started to discuss about it but still now no effective outcome is seen.

About 40 per cent of the country's population are now categorised as poor, according to official statistics. The rate of poverty has gone up and a larger section is starving as prices of essentials have increased by 150 to 200 per cent and their income rose only by 5.0 per cent.

Interestingly, the prices of essentials that are mainly consumed by the poor, increased more. Therefore, measures must be taken to help lower the prices of the essentials because there is no possibility of quick wage-hike. It is really difficult to tackle poverty-related problems unless we are able to reduce the growing disparity between the rich and the poor. According to our point of view based on the observation of the current situation, it is a nightmare experience for us to satisfy our demand practically. One cannot do good work on the basis of such information.

The complexity and intensity of the problems are not actually presented before the nation. Then how, we, the general people will appreciate the real state of affairs relating to the latest situation concerning our economy. As far as we are concerned, agricultural production and the use of land and water are among the biggest challenges for Bangladesh. But still we are at a long distance from really meeting this challenge.

The government should formulate a comprehensive land use policy and a water management plan and check population growth. It also should take the issues of climate change and food security very seriously and act accordingly. The government should take measures to stop arbitrary use of land for constructing houses, structures or roads and seek out ways to increase agricultural production with reduced use of fertilisers.

The development projects, therefore, must be socially acceptable, economically efficient and environmentally sustainable. Land degradation in the country has become a very important issue because excessive use of chemical fertilisers is causing serious degradation of land. We must make ourselves aware of the technologies and the up-to-date knowledge on the system of production.

The common properties of the country are heavily misused and the practice must be stopped for future production. Recently, this writer kept his eyes on a private television channel and found that a ceramic manufacturing company is capturing the agricultural land to enhance its production. The rivers which flow beside those ceramic factories are also polluted. It is a matter of shame that once upon a time Bangladesh was known to be a country of rivers but nowadays rivers are drastically polluted and we as well as our government are acting as a blind-folded authority. Our rivers are seriously polluted and the problem demands immediate attention of the authorities.

We may ignore river pollution or environmental pollution problem here. But we should not forget that everything is inter-linked in an overlapping manner. We feel ourselves ashamed when we see that our government is presenting absurd reports and inconsistent statistics to the people of Bangladesh. Youth unemployment rate is much more than 13 per cent as claimed by the government. The statistics showing only one out of 1,000 people in urban areas drinking polluted water is also not correct. Despite the central bank's tight monetary policy, inflation rate has continued to increase. The government has missed both the inflation targets set under the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) and also by the Bangladesh Bank (BB). The PRSP envisaged 6.0 per cent inflation rate while the BB set it at 7.0 per cent. But the actual rate of inflation was higher during the last two fiscal years and still continues to remain at a high level. Depreciation of taka against dollar, fuel price-hike and increase in government borrowing resulted in the non-food inflation hike.

We think that the government should work hard for smooth agricultural production to halt further rise of inflation rates. The credit control mechanism did not work for curbing inflation as both public and private sector credits increased. The Bangladesh Bank in its monetary policy statement released a few months ago said external trade is steadily drawing domestic consumer prices closer to global prices. Growing export of perishable goods such as vegetables and fish is pitching their domestic prices towards the higher export prices. It is also said that higher import prices of major production inputs have cumulated to a sustained upward pressure on domestic consumer prices, despite partial shielding of pass-through of higher oil prices.

Our common people are unable to realise what the actual change in domestic inflation rate is or what the related global prices are. They want to live their life as best as they can afford. But everything that is happening in front of our open eyes is largely against the interest of the poor and common people of our country. A Bangladesh Bank official had earlier said that demand for, and supply of, essential commodities had faced a setback earlier due to the joint forces' indiscriminate drives against hoarding, resulting in continuous hike of food prices. Such unsystematic drives may cause shortage of commodities resulting in commodity price-hike. During the last one year, prices of wheat, soyabean oil, onion etc., were particularly under severe upward pressures, hitting the poor and the common people below the belt.

We are now in the depth of an uncertainty about the state of our future economy. Sources in banking sector say there is at present no scarcity in production of commodities in the country and imports are also adequate. However, the market realities are still different for most of us. And the predictions by various quarters about the overall economic situation are different and, at times, conflicting, too.

Our government is apparently trying its best to address the economic problems. It had earlier introduced fair price shops. That partly helped lower the prices of essentials, except that of edible oil. Does the government know, how many such shops were providing lower quality foods such as rice, oils, onions etc.. It was seen that one of our ex-Food Ministers was standing in a queue in front of a fair price shop in the capital city and she then complained that it was quite unfair for the poor people to experience the odds in such shops.

The sky-rocketing food prices all over the world was earlier an alarming development for countries like Bangladesh. The repeated strikes of natural calamities also destroyed our farm products. This interim government, due to its relative inexperience, did not address the urgent issues in time or it spent its energy and resources on unnecessary agendas. Suggestions came from different quarters for encouraging our people to eat potatoes because of bumper production. But we think that if 150 million people start eating potatoes three times a day, then our potatoes will be out of stock within a week. We must be practical in our approach to addressing the problems that vitally affect the interests of the common people. We must not plead for impractical things.

Bangladesh desperately needs to devise sustainable means to tackle its food security needs to build a buffer stock of agro-essentials and fertilisers. The vulnerable group food assistance programme must be strengthened; food for work, VGF programs must also be continued. The government, now or in the future, will have to follow a pragmatic policy that should be framed on the basis of "open-minded" discussions with all the stakeholders. Energy, food and other issues of critical importance are too serious matters that cannot be dealt with, in a casual manner. It is not easy to manage the pressing socio-economic issues of Bangladesh in an amateurish way.

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