CPD thinks that in proposed budget no mention of infrastructure lacking

Staff Correspondent, Barta24.com, Dhaka
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The Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD), a non-governmental think- tank, said the budget did not project the kind of infrastructure needed to deal with corona risk.
CPD fellow Dr. Mostafizur Rahman made the remarks on behalf of the organization in an immediate response to the post-budget review on Thursday (June 11) evening.

He said that conjecture has worked in formulating this budget. It does not reflect the real situation. The budget proposals that we have seen, the expenditure of resources from the mobilization of resources and the way in which the expenditure in various sectors have been determined, it seems that we will soon be freed from corona and the economy will recover.

Mostafizur Rahman said, it does not seem that we will get rid of Covid-19 so fast because of the health risks we are seeing now. We see the impact of this as a humanitarian risk in the health sector, in the social sector. There are economic risks also. The kind of budget structure needed to deal with that risk has not been met.

On Thursday (June 11) Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal presented a budget proposal of Tk. 5 lakh 68 thousand 190 crore for the fiscal year 2020-2021 in the Jatiyo Sangsad. This is his second budget as finance minister.

CPD executive director Dr. Fahmida Khatun at a virtual media briefing said they would give details about the budget tomorrow.


‘Increased money velocity can transform Tk1 into Tk10’

Ashraful Islam, Planning Editor, Barta24.com, Dhaka
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Renowned economist Dr Birupaksha Paul emphasised the need to break the monopoly in the mobile financial service (MFS) sector in order to enhance the circulation of money.

He acknowledged the transformative impact of MFS providers like bKash and Nagad on the economy of Bangladesh but stressed that their monopolistic practices, which contribute to their significant profits, must be dismantled to promote greater velocity of money.

Birupaksha Paul, a former Chief Economist of Bangladesh Bank and Economics Professor at the State University of New York in Courtland, recently shared these insights in an exclusive interview with Barta24.com, focusing on contemporary issues within Bangladesh's financial sector.

The discussion encompassed the potential of digital technology in financial services, digital financing, remittances, and the assessment of current trends. Ashraful Islam, Planning Editor of Barta24.com, facilitated the conversation.

Dr Paul suggested that the development of the mobile financial service sector should strive to reach the level that the remittance sector has seen through its portrayal as a matter of public interest. He believes that this advancement will enhance the velocity of money, allowing a one-taka note to generate value equivalent to Tk10.

He also advocates for increased competition for the development of the mobile financial sector.

The first part of the interview with Birupaksha Paul unfolds as follows:

Barta24.com: Despite some negative feedback regarding digital financing technologies, they undeniably contribute to diversifying financial services. What's your take on this?

Dr. Birupaksha Paul: Absolutely, technology has played a pivotal role. Back when I was a university student, I recall a gentleman who used to deliver money orders in the afternoons. He'd hand over a portion of the amount upfront, keeping some as gratuity. People eagerly awaited his arrival for news of their money orders.

Back then, digital technology wasn't as prevalent. Now, platforms like 'bkash' and 'Nagad' have revolutionised the process. I even discussed this in an interview with The Economist. Today, even a rickshaw puller can easily send money to their relatives and notify them. However, the transaction costs remain high, which needs addressing. Ideally, these costs should be brought down to zero, exploring alternative means to benefit the MFS service providers.

Institutions like 'bKash' already generate revenue through advertisements on their platforms. The government may consider exploring alternative revenue streams for them.

If a common man is charged Tk20 for a transaction of Tk1000, it poses a difficulty for him. With that Tk20, he could purchase another essential product. Every taka matters, especially to the common man.

During my tenure at the Bangladesh Bank, 'bkash' dominated 85% of the mobile financing landscape before other competitors emerged.

In Bangladesh, once a monopoly is established, it tends to persist for a prolonged period. Conversely, abroad, creating a monopoly often faces numerous challenges. High Court intervention can break a monopoly, and court scrutiny is involved in potential mergers to prevent monopolistic outcomes.

Unlike many countries with robust Anti-Competition Commissions, our Competition Commission lacks visibility and effectiveness. It is often led by retired bureaucrats, which contributes to institutional weaknesses in innovation index rankings.

Barta24.com: Why hasn't the system developed for remittance been replicated in internal mobile financing?

Dr. Birupaksha Paul: Unlike expats, who don't incur extra costs when sending remittances, internal mobile financing lacks similar efficiency. To facilitate easier access to funds domestically, substantial agency support is crucial. Increasing the circulation of money, as advocated in the Quantity Theory of Money, strengthens the economy. By boosting monetisation and velocity, consumers can meet immediate needs and enhance overall satisfaction and social welfare.

Personal experiences highlight the swift transfer of funds, exemplifying the convenience and benefits of efficient financial services. For individuals like rickshaw pullers, who rely on timely transactions to support their families, these services provide invaluable consumer surplus. Ensuring timely access to funds can prevent tragic consequences, promoting safety and well-being within society.

Beyond economic benefits, these financial services offer psychological and welfare advantages, underlining their significance in enhancing inclusion and overall societal welfare. It's imperative to delve deeper into these topics to fully understand their impact and potential.

Barta24.com: How crucial will digital technology be in achieving the macroeconomic goal of transforming into a developed country by 2041?

Dr. Birupaksha Paul: Technological advancement is imperative for progress. We must assess our position in the Global Technology Index to gauge our advancement. Mere increases in per capita income do not guarantee development, as evidenced by cases like Yemen and Somalia, where sudden resource discoveries did not translate to overall development due to underlying societal issues. Development requires a multifaceted approach, encompassing education, societal values, and governance.

Enhancing social safety, promoting justice, and fostering empathy are vital components of progress. Amartya Sen highlights the importance of a free media in preventing famines and fostering accountability. Furthermore, advancements in information economics contribute to rational decision-making and expectations. Thus, digital technology serves as a catalyst for comprehensive development and societal progress.

Barta24.com: We're witnessing a political aspiration to transition into a developed country. How do you assess its feasibility?

Dr. Birupaksha Paul: Our esteemed Prime Minister envisions a developed country by 2041, displaying remarkable foresight and determination. Despite skepticism from engineers, she pressed forward with projects like the subway, illustrating her resolve. However, many advisers surrounding the prime minister provide her with incorrect advice and misinformation.

From an economic standpoint, the timeline for achieving developed status seems ambitious. Economic realities demand more than just political enthusiasm. While GDP growth is a crucial metric, it's not the sole indicator of development. Social indicators and values, depicted eloquently in Satyajit Ray's film "Jalsaghar," are equally significant. 

Sudden wealth doesn't equate to nobility or progress. True development requires investments in mental and physical health, education, and social welfare. Bangladesh faces various challenges, including environmental degradation and health crises like Covid-19. Prioritizing holistic development over solely economic gains is essential.

Relying solely on GDP and per capita income metrics is shortsighted. Recent devaluation has affected per capita income, necessitating a broader perspective on development beyond monetary figures. Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive approach and a focus on sustainable growth, rather than quick fixes.

In striving for a better world, we must prioritize the beautification and strengthening of our institutions to foster trust and reliability. Whether it's visiting the passport office or dealing with agencies like Rajuk, the public should have confidence that their affairs will be handled efficiently and transparently. Despite progress, corruption remains a persistent issue, eroding our advancements and hindering growth.

Even amidst challenges like Covid-19, countries like the US have managed to sustain growth, demonstrating the importance of effective governance and institutional integrity. However, in Bangladesh, corruption has impeded our potential, leading to a decline in growth and enabling large-scale money laundering.

It's crucial to address institutional weaknesses and ensure consistency in policies to maximize the benefits of digitisation. Merely adopting technology without strengthening institutions risks empowering wrongdoers rather than benefiting society. We must focus on comprehensive reforms and prioritise the fight against corruption, shifting our focus from corruption indices to knowledge economy indices and innovation rankings.

These efforts will not only enhance financial inclusion but also empower the marginalised segments of society. Political rhetoric must be backed by sustained action, with a collective effort to address systemic issues. Just as in healthcare, where overall well-being is vital, a single weak link can compromise the entire system's performance. Therefore, holistic improvements across all sectors are imperative for sustainable progress and prosperity.

Barta24.com: How effectively have we harnessed the potential of digital technology in the financial services sector?

Dr. Birupaksha Paul: Access to capital is essential even for setting up small tea shops in villages. However, financial inclusion efforts have fallen short in providing access to credit, particularly for small businesses. Many NGOs attempt to address this gap, but challenges persist, including issues with fund allocation and financial architecture.

A critical aspect to consider is the balance between bonds and equity in financial institutions' balance sheets. Unfortunately, our financial regulations often hinder rather than facilitate inclusive practices. Diverse directorships in banks and financial institutions can bring valuable perspectives and ideas, yet we often lack diversity in leadership roles, which hampers innovation and inclusivity.

Contrary to international norms that value diversity, Bangladesh tends to favor homogeneity, whether in educational institutions or workplaces. This aversion to diversity undermines inclusion efforts and stifles creativity. Cultural biases and nepotism further exacerbate these challenges, hindering progress and effective decision-making.

Cultural shifts are necessary to embrace diversity and foster an environment of tolerance and acceptance. Without addressing these cultural barriers, achieving meaningful progress in financial inclusion and innovation will remain elusive. It's crucial to recognise and challenge these biases to create a more inclusive and dynamic financial sector.

While India has also seen the rise of wealthy individuals, their success is rooted in a corporate structure with contributions from various sectors, benefiting society at large. Recent achievements, such as the success of BATA, highlight the employment opportunities created by embracing diversity—whether cultural, religious, or gender-based.

The strength of America lies in its cultural and religious diversity, which fuels innovation and progress. Despite challenges, America's resilience stems from its knowledge-driven economy, as noted by economist David Romer. Unlike physical resources, knowledge yields endless possibilities, exemplified by the tech giants that consistently lift the country's economy.

However, progress must be genuine, not just rhetoric. True empowerment of the poor requires tangible actions, not just words. Sadly, our justice system often fails to hold the powerful accountable, allowing corruption to persist unchecked. The stark reality is that while small-time offenders face punishment, those responsible for massive financial crimes evade justice, further exacerbating inequality and injustice.

Edited by: Mahmood Menon, Editor-at-large, Barta24.com


Tug of war over Matarbari port

Serarjul Islam Siraj, Special Correspondent, Barta24.com, Dhaka
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The tug of war was going on for a long time, pulling towards everyone. But now it is known that pushing is going on, one side is pushing the other side. According to responsible sources, this is exactly what is going on with the Matarbari deep sea port. This push is going on between Coal Power Generation Company and Chattogram Port Authority.

The formal handover process of the seaport has been pending for several months, despite the agreement on paper under pressure. Chattogram Port Authority (CPA) is not responding despite repeated letters. As a result, there is no transfer. Responsible sources of the Power division of the Ministry of Power and Energy said this.

According to sources, a proposal was made earlier to make a channel for the Matarbari coal-based power project to facilitate the movement of coal-carrying lighter age ships. At that time, there was a tug of war between India and China over Sonadia deep sea port. The Prime Minister's Office was asked to propose the construction of a deep sea port against the proposal of the Coal Power Generation Company. In view of that, the navigability was increased to 18.5 meters.

Coal Power Generation Company completed the construction of channel and jetty as usual. It was informally inaugurated on 29 December 2020. The first deep sea port in Bangladesh started with the coal-carrying ship of Matarbari Power Plant. On November 16, 2022, a meeting was held for the transfer of Matarbari channel and dividend distribution under the chairmanship of the Principal Secretary of the Prime Minister's Office. In that meeting, it was decided to transfer by June last year (2023).

On paper, Matarbari Channel was handed over to Chattogram Port Authority on September 20, 2023. The Chattogram Port Authority did not accept the charge even though it was understood on paper. But CPA is taking the charge of using the port right.

At the time of acceptance on paper, it was said that the charge would be accepted after verifying the validity. A letter was sent to CPA on 22 January 2024 seeking a representative for the inspection. Even after a few weeks, CPA has not responded to that letter or sent a representative. On February 14, the demand letter was again issued by the Power Division. Still, there was no response from CPA.

The letter of the Power Division also said that the responsibility of the EPC contractor will end after the completion of the joint survey as per the contract. Later the EPC contractor will have to pay demurrage if asked for dredging or other works. It will waste a lot of money of the state and if proper maintenance is not done, the navigability will decrease due to sedimentation again.

A letter is issued to send a representative and take necessary measures to convey the proximity of the CPA for management and maintenance. The letter signed by the Joint Secretary Tahmina Begum was sent to the Senior Secretary of the Ministry of Shipping. Still there was no solution. Even though it has been a long time, the process of transfer of charges is hanging due to the negligence of the port authorities.

And this has become a burden on the Coal Power Generation Company. They have to be guarded by 20-30 security personnel. Again due to lack of regular maintenance, it is feared that silting will create a crisis. Dredging has already been done by spending several crores of money.

Chattogram Port Authority Secretary Md. Omar Farooq, when called, avoided saying that he was in a meeting. 


New record in gold price, Tk. 117573 bhari

Staff Correspondent, Barta24.com, Dhaka
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Ahead of the holy Eid-ul-Fitr, the price of gold in the country's market has increased yet again. The new price of 22 carat gold per bhari (11.664 grams) has been fixed at Tk. 1 lakh 17 thousand 573. This is the highest price of gold in the history of the country. The previous price of this quality gold was Tk. 1 lakh 15 thousand 823 taka.

Bangladesh Jewelers Association (BAJUS) announced the new prices in a press release on Monday (April 8). These prices will be effective from tomorrow, Tuesday (April 9).

According to the notification, the price of acid gold (pure gold) has increased in the local market. As a result, the new price of gold has been fixed considering the overall situation.

According to the new price, the price of 22 carat gold per bari (11.664 grams) will be Tk. 1 lakh 17 thousand 573. Apart from this, the price of gold has been set at Tk. 1 lakh 12 thousand 208 per bhari, 21 carat, Tk. 96 thousand 228 per bhari, 18 carat and Tk. 80 thousand 190 per bhari traditional method.

Earlier, on April 6, Bajus had fixed the price of one bhari of best quality 22 carat gold by Tk. 1,750 to Tk. 1,15,824. And the price of 21 carat gold is Tk. 1 lakh 10 thousand 575 per bhari, 18 carat gold is Tk. 94 thousand 770 taka and the price of traditional gold is Tk. 78 thousand 965 which came into force from 7th April.

Bajus adjusted the gold price 7 times this year. And in 2023, the price was adjusted 29 times.


Employees of weak banks cannot be retrenched for 3 years

Staff Correspondent, Barta24.com
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The existing officers and employees of the transferee bank-company or finance company shall not be retrenched by the transferee bank-company before completion of 3 years. However, after 3 years, the reorganized or transferee bank-company can take appropriate decisions after evaluating the performance of the said officers-employees.

These things have been said in the bank and financial institution merger policy issued by Bangladesh Bank on Thursday (March 4).

According to the policy, the Managing Director, Additional Managing Director and Deputy Managing Director of the defunct bank/finance company cannot be held in any position in the merged bank-company.

The board of directors of the merged bank-company may appoint any officer of the post of managing director, additional managing director and deputy managing director of the defunct company on a new contractual basis if it deems fit. However, if the transferring bank/finance company is a government-owned institution, then the government can retain/transfer the managing director, additional managing director and deputy managing director of the concerned bank/finance company to its other bank/financial institution.

Bangladesh Bank has informed that after the merger, no incumbent director of the transferee bank/finance company can be appointed as a director on the board of directors of the transferee bank-company. However, after the lapse of 5 years, the shareholders of the transferor bank in proportion to their shareholding, subject to the requisite qualifications and suitability may be included as directors on the board.

Further, in the case of those who were in charge as directors at the time of amalgamation, after 5 years as one of the qualifications for becoming a director, the condition of regular retention of those directors in the loan/investment bank/financial institution without any rescheduling/reorganization must be fulfilled within the period of 5 years.

According to the policy, the transferee bank/finance company shall generally give priority to the payment of deposits of the transferee bank/finance company to the payment of individual depositors or the activation of their accounts and banking transactions.

In the case of payment of institutional depositors, if a payment action plan is sent for the approval of Bangladesh Bank for the purpose of full payment at a specified time, Bangladesh Bank shall give approval to the proposed plan, with or without necessary modifications, for the trial implementation of the said action plan.