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BANGLADESH


  
  



Key Economic Data 
 
  2004 2003 2002 Ranking(2004)
GDP
Millions of US $ 56,844 51,900 45,500 54
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 440 400 390 175
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Area (sq.km)
144,000

Population
144,319,628

Capital
Dhaka

Currency
taka (BDT)

President
Iajuddin Ahmed


Update No: 011 - (30/11/06)

POLITICAL TURMOIL CONTINUES
In the last few days, activists set fire to two election commission offices in Bangladesh as a 14-party alliance began a new campaign to force the ouster of top election officials. The commission had scheduled parliamentary elections for January 21, but the activists ridiculed calls by the Awami alliance to delay poll announcements until the commission was reorganized and the voters' list updated. The alliance accused the election commission of sacrificing its neutral approach by supporting their main rival Begum Khaleda Zia, who ended her five-year term as prime minister in October, and her Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Protesters scuffled with police, but security forces prevented them from reaching the headquarters. As a result of the political turmoil in Bangladesh, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, has sent one of his top aides to the country to ensure that the general elections are held in a peaceful and as transparent a manner as possible. Craig Jenness, director of the UN Electoral Assistance Division, will be in Bangladesh to meet with the Chief Advisor of the caretaker government Iajuddin Ahmed and other senior officials, election authorities, and various party and interest group leaders. What seems tragic in terms of Bangladesh's current political scenario is that while elections offer as democratic an opportunity for citizens to avail of, the political unrest and agitation caused by the opposition activists has compelled an outside third party such as the UN to intervene, to ensure that elections are held as peacefully as possible. This by itself questions the country's own ability to maintain a true democratic process. A neutral caretaker government is supposed to organize the general election in Bangladesh within 90 days after taking office. To reiterate the background to this political turmoil, the former ruling BNP-led 4-party government led by former prime minister Khaleda Zia ended its tenure on October 27, and handed over the power to the caretaker government led by President Iajuddin Ahmed on October 29. The former main opposition Awami League-led 14-party combine led by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had staged three rounds of countrywide blockade since October 28, demanding reconstitution of the Election Commission. 

BANGLADESH AND SOUTH KOREA
Bangladesh and South Korea seem to have come together by forging a new partnership in improving health services. The newly re-modeled Bangladesh-Korea Friendship Hospital (BKFH) has been inaugurated at Savar. Park Seong Ung, Korean Ambassador to Bangladesh, inaugurated the hospital at a simple ceremony. The hospital which was established with the Korean Government's grant in 1998 was recently renovated by the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) under a project: 'Remodeling of the Hospital' to provide better medical services. While addressing the ceremony, the Korean envoy reiterated his government's cooperation in the health sector which they consider a priority for Bangladesh. Park also expressed the hope that this hospital would provide more efficient and timely services to its patients. The Bangladesh-Korea partnership in the area of improving medical science is a good example that Dhaka should emulate especially because forging partnerships with other countries in South East Asia will enable the country to engage in further constructive relationships with other South East Asian countries. 

BANGLADESH AND PAKISTAN
Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz recently commented that Pakistan and Bangladesh have enjoyed a very deep relationship based on shared faith, common history, culture and heritage. Pakistan has applauded the conferment of the Nobel Prize for a Bangladeshi economist by stating that this is a source of joy and pride for Pakistan. The Prime Minister talked about regional, international, defense and security issues, the need to enhance regional cooperation, and the government's priorities in the social sectors. Pakistan is promoting regional cooperation to accelerate development and prosperity in the region and is keen on using SAARC as an important venue to promote regional cooperation, peace, prosperity and harmony in South Asia. Talking of the regional situation, the Prime Minister said that Pakistan, because of its geo-strategic location, is playing a pivotal role in maintaining peace and stability in a region, which is facing many challenges and wants resolution of all outstanding issues through dialogue. The South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation (SAARC) has allowed countries such as Pakistan and Bangladesh and even India to come together in the pursuit of common goals such as maintenance of security and stability in South Asia for the last two decades. And, Pakistan's support to Bangladesh should not appear to be something too novel as both countries were born of a common history. However, Pakistan's allegiance to Bangladesh and vice versa is significant from the point of view of their relations with India. It will be interesting to see in future years whether Pakistan tries to use Bangladesh's support to add pressure on India with regard to the Kashmir issue. Until that happens, Pakistan is content in securing America's attention on this issue. 

ECONOMY
According to a report in Bangladesh's Financial Times, national and international organizations, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the Asian Development bank (ADB), have lowered the projected gross development product (GDP) from an impressive 6.5 per cent to six. GDP growth is predicted to slump down to 6.0 per cent in FY 2007, mainly reflecting political uncertainty over investment and business decisions in the lead-up to the general elections in January 2007. It appears that Bangladesh's historical experience bears testimony to the fact that any major political upheaval prior to the conduct of elections has inevitably hurt the country's economy by downgrading its GDP rate. Since a caretaker government took office three weeks ago to prepare for the polls, Bangladesh has witnessed a political stalemate, violence that has killed 18 people, street demonstrations and blockade of ports and industrial establishments. A recent IMF report states that the main problem that political unrest poses is the following: political tensions pose a potential risk to macroeconomic management and implementation of structural reforms. Frequent demonstrations, work stoppages, and a highly contentious political environment are likely to continue till January 2007 elections which might impact different sectors of the economy, such as the power sector. Also, Bangladesh cannot afford to jeopardize its internal growth especially since, externally, it continues to be exposed to an increase in oil prices and intensified competition in world textile markets which represent the major risks to its economy. The UK-based Economist Intelligence Unit, in its country projection, said that political uncertainly would slow down the growth rate to 6.2 per cent in current fiscal year from last year's 6.7 per cent. 

TRAGEDY OF FRAUDULENT WORK PERMITS
In a separate issue concerning manpower, export of manpower is one of the main pillars that support the Bangladesh economy. Remittances sent by hard working Bangladeshis abroad form the major artery for its economy by paying substantially for import costs and giving vital support to the balance of payments of the country. But the manpower sector is also shot through with very great crimes, corruption and the consequent tragedies. The latest such incident was noted last week when 31 women from the village areas of Comilla and Narayanganj were found stranded at Zia airport after they failed to board an airplane to go to Lebanon. They had valid passports and visas but lacked genuine work permits. A fraudulent manpower recruiting agency had taken over Taka 50,000 from each of them. All of the victimized women live a life of penury and had persuaded parents or relatives in equally distressful conditions to sell assets like lands or borrowed the sums as loans to pay off the fraudulent recruiting agency. Now, they are in very hopeless and disheartened conditions and know not how they will clear their debts or maintain themselves. This incident is a symbolic one in the otherwise lucrative manpower trade. While four out of five may succeed in going abroad to take up employment, the fifth becomes the victim of fraud. This has been happening year after year when Bangladesh's competitors in manpower exports from neighboring India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been streamlining their manpower trade with great beneficial effects of the same for individuals and the national economies. Internally, these countries have developed conditions where committing of frauds in the manpower export sector has become very difficult. The foreign missions of these countries are also found to be reasonably active in ensuring the rights and interests of their expatriate workers abroad. Therefore, there is an urgent need to prepare policies and implement them sincerely, for Bangladesh to realize its great potential from manpower exports. The first task in order would be ensuring that unscrupulous manpower agencies cannot function in any form. All authorized agencies must be licensed and made to operate in as transparent a manner possible. Also, only government approved fees should be taken from different categories of workers. The Bangladeshi missions abroad need to be geared to play out their due role to fully meet the representational needs of the country's expatriate workers. Moreover, training opportunities for potential expatriate workers must increase with a view to create skilled manpower in different areas for overseas job markets. Finally, financial organizations should be encouraged to run schemes to extend easy loans for the overseas workers to help them in the payment of their fees to recruitment agencies and meet other costs.

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