Perspective Bangladesh on concurrent pandemic through the eyes of political economist, education reformer & investor banker of Bangladesh.
Love yourself Bangladesh; this is a voice of Omar Yasser Mallick, Chief Editor of Eastern News Agency.
Today we are at a special location at Khulshi Imperial House to meet Professor Syed Ahsanul Alam, a political economist, education reformer and also investor banker of Bangladesh.
We have a very special topic today to share idea in a conversation, and before I introduce the background of our eminent personality, I should say about the topic:
“Perspective Bangladesh on concurrent pandemic through the eyes of political economist of Bangladesh.
Here we have a special Guest Professor Syed Ahsanul Alam .
Eastern News Agency (ENA): How are you Sir and How is everything?
Professor: Fine, thank you and you?
Eastern News Agency (ENA): Before I start my question to you, I would like to present a view to our observers about your professional background.
Eastern News Agency (ENA): What are your views about Bangladesh since the lockdown period started from March 26th 2020 until December 2nd,2020, the concurrent pandemic prevailing – How do you see it?
Professor: Thank you very much, first of all, I would like to convey my best wishes to you & through you to your all viewers. I think you want to know as the Covid 19 spread from the March till now; I don’t perceive the question you ask from March 26th to December, and I will cover answer of your question about the whole December 2020 as well.
As you see pandemic: took lives, millions of lives, anybody can understand this situation, pandemic or anything that limits the global economy, related to the movement, limits the transportation of goods, limits the consumption of services, definitely it will come back to normal. The whole world, especially the United States, UK, Italy, Brazil, the European Union and all before-mentioned countries have experienced a big tragedy to the lives of their citizens as well as their Government’s. Thank God, Bangladesh has a very special section node. Though Agriculture which is still our backbone, and it covers 32 per cent of the consumptions, the economy survived. Mainly earnings in Bangladesh come from one major export sector. So what is going to happen in 2021 is not under your question but what I see as a student of economics that is that both our export and import earnings reduced because we are not importing vehicles, furniture’s, cosmetics, luxury items that are fallen to odds. The Government was bound to pay the import bills and also came down, but still, there is balance in our economy. By drawing out a conclusion to your question; all I see is the lower middle class or the working class which are not able to keep up with this situation in the urban areas.
Nevertheless, they are all way have their farms in the villages, and many of them have an agro and agro-based related profession like poultry, fisheries, etc. So a whole Bangladesh economy is not very hurt, you have to remember our inflow remittance is as high as last year, so the result after so much economic error the country should have a 3-month reserve to pay import bills, we have 9-month & we are going one year ahead. Hence, as fast as Bangladesh macroeconomy concept is concerned, I think we are in a good position.
Eastern News Agency (ENA): How do you evaluate the Government handling the concurrent pandemic situation?
Professor: Gentleman, I am a Bangladeshi, so definitely I may be a bit biased. To keep me free from any bias, may I draw your kind attention. How Mr Trump manages to deal with Covid-19 in the USA? You see many reports saying he was reckless and so much devastation. The situation happened in New York and so on with the British Prime Minister. Here in Bangladesh, people were very conscious, and our leadership with Sheikh Hasina was very mindful too. Still, at the same time, should be mentioned; we have no experience. Therefore, what my Government did with the directions of our country leader Sheikh Hasina were almost troubleshooting. Nothing was well planned; there were no consistent programs.
Consequently, it’s all that we have taken out from Covid-19 past wave in a trial and error manner. Our social systems, social psyche, the national mind was not very healthy because we were also scared. You know pandemics took away lives, took away livings as well pandemic created panic. So we are all devastated to such disaster. And here we are now, crossed pandemic, now we have an experience, now we are thinking about vaccines, Government has managed, we are also thinking about managing or controlling the devastation effect of the second wave if it arrives at this country, so I believe Government did well, except that limitation of multiple things before it did not go to the planned destination with supply chain to playground due to corruption in the different level of the field, so far we think that we have crossed the challenge of trial & error method.
Eastern News Agency (ENA): What is your point of view regarding trial & Error method that the country has faced what did Bangladesh learned from that Trial & Error method to go forward with a stable attitude, how do you see that?
Professor : Thank you, this question is very intellectual and as well bureaucratic so the governments, ministers and secretaries will be the right person to answer your questions. As a Political Economist, What I want to tell you is the truth, hard truth. So how much bureaucrats or others they learned, I don’t know. Still, what I learned and other intellectual learned, the civil society learned as well the thoughtful part of the Government learned is that pandemics can not face all like a bulldozer will bulldoze if you don’t move around and don’t take a diversion. Hence, pandemics hit the healthcare system, so we have to learn that we cannot face it like the last time, that even professionals don’t have a mask, sanitary gloves and protective dress. So this time we learn that healthcare people have to be well updated, more protective in situation number one. Number two pandemic always delimit movement of people, the mass transportation of people & services. Pandemic definitely will slower down hotel & tourism industry the furniture industries so the big malls will see much lower states so definitely we have to devise a network in economies like arterial blood vessels so that funds are injected to the places where people in need. A bit of you know to take a breathe so they don’t get suffocated economically so money flow should go to the lower middle class working for poor class and also to the rural economy where pandemic cannot do anything the farming is going on, the cow feeding is going on, the goat feeding is going on the fish cultivation is going on, the agriculture is doing well, and our Agri product is doing well. So I think the banks and policymakers should understand rather than giving the fund to the urban economy should apply it to them.
Eastern News Agency (ENA): What is the responsibility of the political people of Bangladesh while a global pandemic is going on what message they should be conveying the message they should take as social responsibility? Through your political opinion, what can you say about it?
Professor: You see when an area is in crisis if there is an earthquake if the forest is in the fire, it is an isolated place, of course. The politician, the police the bureaucrats they play a role individually. When a pandemic comes like this, it hits the whole population. For the pandemic the Mp’s had to die, the ministers had to die, students had to die, politicians had to die, poor had to die, wealthy had to die so as the non-politicians had to die. So in this pandemic situation generally we don’t wait for the politicians to come as your saviour. I think the politicians should create awareness through the future meetings that you have to wear the mask you have to sanitize; you have to wear gloves in your hands and doing all these tine little things you safe 98% risk factors. A person could be unaware so briefing awareness should be the political data and critical level of political activities.
Eastern News Agency (ENA): As you know that all over the educational institution of Bangladesh is affected from primary level, secondary level to tertiary all levels. The high school graduates are at a standstill at the moment. Bangladesh Government had offered auto-promotion, and we get to know that the result will be out in December and there is 85 thousand students also are stranded. Those are intending student to fly abroad to all part of the world to continue higher studies. As an education reformer, what do you think the Government should take the initiative to safeguard the student lifecycles?
Professor: This is a fundamental question at this time. To give you an answer, I will first depict that if you want to kill a nation kill their education system. The education system is the soul, the spirit of the nation, we all know that, but from my place to say education for one month, three month or six months is not the right condemnation. So our Bangladesh Government Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina tried to address the economic aspects of the arousal. Now it is high time that we realize that a nation or global nations cannot render education for one year. So, what is the way out? Again and again in Bangladesh high school, primary school, English schools all are devastated. Private universities tried to survive with limited scopes of e-learning. They are using the zoom to convey one-way traffic education where the teacher gives lectures, comments and questions arise after that its ignored. That his what the private universities have done so far. Also, 1.2 Million students are going to get their HSC result at the end of this year. This is a vital question, and I revealed a solution. I tried to grab the attention of our Education Minister Mrs Dipu Moni that she should think to ease the gateway to send these students abroad. For example, suppose our Government negotiate with other countries. In that case, those countries can give more subsidies, reducing the tuition fees and offering scholarships easing the quarantine laws so those few things will minimize the traffic jam of students this year to eliminate. But what we are talking about is a section of maybe 400,000 approximately will go abroad out of 1.2 Million and also other groups would be willing to go. So what we can do about this? The solution has already appeared on the table. So dear Minister, you see, you have been trying very hard to popularize the online education, and we use the zoom. Your ministry had tried very hard to enable student can have the phone you are trying to give a free package for the universities to provide open admissions. You even said that the Government would consider lowering prices of the wifi of the MB packages for the students. Now one thing what I can propose for at least one year, two years, three years, honourable Minister you can understand that I can foresee it. We will find very difficult for the Government to open the degrees of all the pre-school, high school and the private universities because if we try to open the break of covid-19 may happen, we all know. The USA and European countries opened up too soon, and we all know that pandemic broke away there and they had to shut down all levels of schools again. So here what I suggest that I think the Ministry of Education can arrange a digital platform for this point of education. It is the Campus Management System. One thousand schools should not use 1000 different methods/platforms. If we use one of two software as the national platform of education, one or two or three software can be monitored by your ministry, Honorable Education Minister. So after the measuring, if the ministry says everything is as it is and Government sets it in schools, they can use this as a unified system or software and platform for centralized education so independent education can restart. Honourable Minister, I am sure you know if you want I can send you both. Nowadays, we have software that is not edu-key solutions; it is only taking a class on zoom; it is not taking assignment through zoom. However, with these software solutions, everything that can be done. Teachers could place out marks for the students, mark-sheet so when after the semester is finished mark-sheet are also published all in the website.
Eastern News Agency (ENA): Does that mean honourable Professor that this software what you are trying to say is a one-stop service solution and a fully integrated software which if it landmarks in Bangladesh in a significantly wider manner student’s lifecycle will be very secure and unaffected during this pandemic?
Professor: You know except that it will work as a one-stop solution this is a tool by which education minister will a have full control over it. Because the Minister knows private universities, Government universities which will use this digital platform, and Minister can see how it is running; the private universities, the public universities and private schools, would feel the joy of this high tech because the management of education is so simple processing from one central platform for all teachers. From any part of the world, even the honourable Minister can lecture Chittagong university through the software. These resources from all over the country can be used in one place. It is such a simple technology that the throat-cutting prices can be controlled by the ministry, which in terms nowadays is becoming a headache.
This is a problem that the education sector is facing and we are concerned. I think this will be a footpath for our education minister to ensure a bright path.
Eastern News Agency (ENA) : I am sure honourable Professor whatever you said to the concerned matter it will be brought into the power of priority. My next question to you will be a general question for your profession because you are an investment banker. You are contributing to our banks & Industries for decades, so the next question is: what is the present GDP growth of Bangladesh at this concurrent pandemic situation in comparison to the other Asian countries, and as per recent news, it stated that Bangladesh is ahead of India in compare to GDP growth, what is your macroeconomic view?
Professor: First of all, I reject the idea of comparing Bangladesh with India. When we talk about a percentage of India’s population, India’s geography and if we have, for example, one million USD for any source, our earnings may jump tremendously. Suppose India gets one million USD for earning source. In that case, it will not move its meter because it was a population of 1.2 billion when world bank or other bodies projected that our GDP would be 4.5% to somewhere our Government projected it to be 8.2%. The national institutions estimate that if it is somewhere between 7.1% -8.2% whereas India is almost half. What is going to happen this year is not you have to take into consideration. So will Bangladesh be anywhere near to 8.2%? No, it is because the consumption has dropped, it is because the export has fallen and is also because of the “excellent” news that import has fallen. So well the GDP is delimited by the pandemic. So this year will be an even more challenging year than last year as that is why I say we should focus in the areas in the productions and in the productive centres where the pandemic has not shown much to any devastation. That is the micro-entrepreneurs, and that is the poor man’s efforts of becoming productive like opening small shops, mobile balance recharge centres, selling fish or vegetables, so we have to focus there in the remote areas of the economy.
Eastern News Agency (ENA) : What are your current views regarding the private Bank of Bangladesh and other institution, and what role they should play for the mass communities ??
Professor : In general, as a whole, everybody knows our banks have different experiences like our NPL, non-performing loan ratio is very high. Many loan borrowers tend not to pay back because they are tied up in losses, yes, I am not talking not giving analysis on banks and advice which they can do. So, you know, nowadays keeping this in mind, later, I will say that the banks are in good shape, they are helping the Government by executing the government financing private entrepreneurs. What the bank could now do, they have to forget the 80:20 rule that is doing business with 20% people who are the 50%, and they have no idea what they are should be doing.
So, I will appeal to the authority with your last one to execute performance on the micro medium and in the sense of a situation the domestic market, the domestic money circulation will all be kept alive by the micro and the middle level, in whichever form of generalized loans that can be disbursed.
Well, the administration has come forward with a historical proposition, the bank that is on top of insurance is being a liquid development that this bank will give loans in the rural areas, like people who are cultivating fish in their pond. These people are doing poultries, etc., they should be given loan and also giving them more case giving, a reverse mortgage by third party guarantee, and that is insurance protection, and also there is access. So the banks may come forward helping the rural economies and keep it alive.
Eastern News Agency (ENA) : Seems Bangladesh, in your view, will be prospective and progressive. Anyway, we are coming out of time. And my last question from the whole interview. How do you see Bangladesh Politics today before the global platform, what rate and standard politics is emphasizing by the politicians? What is your view?
Professor : First of all, definitely I want to say, I understand politics, less than economics. You see, when I came out here now, I have a little bit of knowledge, and I see everything in between. Suppose I put on tinted glass and see a red-black. So, when anybody asks about politics, I see things. Politics for the people, and so I don’t care which party is in power. First, a or b is in control, if A or B is preferably the second are the people. I don’t waste my time backing democracy which put the budget in favour of the rich. Still, the gap between the rich and poor is increasing. So I think, to be always in politics, they cannot have the politics for the rich and the political powers only; instead, it has to be often in favour of people. We are waiting for a day to come where politics will become more pro-people, and we should have equal distribution but not socialism. We are talking about and welcome enlightened capitalism.
Eastern News Agency (ENA) : Thank you for the interview. Professor Syed Ahsanul Alam has conveyed and summarized message covering all aspects for Bangladesh perspective at global principles. We will come up with more guest in the upcoming year until then me Omar Mallick of Eastern News Agency is signing off. See you in Dhaka.