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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)

Books on Bangladesh

REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km)
144,000

Population
144,319,628

Capital
Dhaka

Currency
taka (BDT)

President
Iajuddin Ahmed


Update No: 010 - (30/10/06)

Founder of Grameen Bank wins Nobel Peace Prize
Bangladesh witnessed a monumental achievement when Professor Muhammad Yunus, founder of the country's Grameen Bank, was declared to win the Nobel Peace Prize 2006 for pioneering the use of micro-credit to benefit the poor self-employed. Prof Yunus is the first Bangladeshi and also the third Bengalee after poet Rabindranath Tagore and economist Amartya Sen to win the Nobel Prize. Grameen Bank which was founded by Prof Yunus has offered loans to millions of poor Bangladeshis, many of them women, without any financial security, in improving their standard of living. The bank helped them to start up business by allowing them to borrow tiny sums of money. Prof. Yunus began his crusade against poverty during a 1974 famine in Bangladesh when he used US$27 loan out of his pocket to help 42 women buy weaving tools to save them from the clutches of the moneylenders. Yunus is the brain behind the concept of micro-credit, which gives poor entrepreneurs who cannot qualify for traditional bank loans very small sums to start up their own enterprises. Today the bank claims to have 6.6 million borrowers, 97 per cent of them women, and provides services in more than 70,000 villages in Bangladesh. Its model of micro-financing has inspired similar efforts around the world. "Micro-credit has proved to be an important liberating force in societies where women in particular have to struggle against repressive social and economic conditions," the Nobel Committee noted. Prof Yunus was jubilant on hearing the news and said that he would be very happy to accept the awards in Oslo on December 10. Prof Yunus and the bank will share in the US$1.4 million prize as well as a gold medal and diploma. Yunus's major contribution has been his effort at developing the economic baseline of Bangladesh and his cause is noteworthy for the advancement of democracy and human rights. Many institutions along the lines of the Grameen Bank have emerged in different parts of the world indicating a clear acceptance of the merits of the bank's approach. 

Quelling the Voice of Dissent?
While Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize and made headlines in addition to making Bangladeshi's proud, the country is still appalling in its approach to human rights and freedom of speech. A good example of this is when Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, editor and journalist of the Weekly Blitz was beaten by an angry mob of people who left the journalist injured. To understand the nature of this episode, one has to look back at November 2003, when Choudhury was arrested at Dhaka's International Airport as he was preparing to board a flight on his way to Israel, where he was due to deliver a speech on promoting mutual understanding between Muslims and Jews. Choudhury's visit to Israel would have been the first by a Bangladeshi journalist. However, the Bangladesh government does not recognize Israel's existence. As a result, upon his return to the country, Choudhury was held in prison for 17 months, where he was reportedly tortured and was finally released in April 2005. Yet, the journalist's ordeal did not stop here. Authorities in Bangladesh, which is ruled by a coalition government that includes Islamic extremists, decided to pursue charges of sedition and espionage against him for advocating ties with Israel. This is also the reason why he was recently attacked and beaten by a crowd in Bangladesh that allegedly included leading officials of the country's ruling party, The Jerusalem Post reported.
Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal has written a valuable piece on the right to freedom of speech in Bangladesh. Stephens sardonically points out that while the US State Department's Richard Boucher recently portrayed Bangladesh as "a traditionally moderate and tolerant country" that shares America's "commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law", reality seems to disprove Broucher's claim. According to Stephens, Bangladesh is a one of the world's most corrupt countries and is governed by a coalition, in addition to the ruling Bangladesh Nationalist Party of Prime Minister Khaleda Zia which includes two fundamentalist Islamic parties that advocate the imposition of Shariah law. There are an estimated 64,000 madrassas (religious schools) in Bangladesh. The U.S. Embassy in Dhaka has kept track of Mr. Choudhury and plans to send an observer to his trial. But mainly America's diplomats seem to have treated him as a nuisance. Even though Choudhury's intentions are remarkable to the extent of being self critical of the Muslim world, the US government seems reluctant to support the cause of one man. Stephen further argues that the Bush administration, which every year spends some $64 million on Bangladesh, has made a priority of identifying moderate Muslims and giving them the space and cover they need to spread their ideas but what is the administration doing right now? America needs to use this moment to tell Bangladesh what it feels about its moderate and tolerant friends. 

Political Turmoil
According to a Reuter's report, Bangladesh's ruling party has rejected an opposition demand to reconsider its choice of a caretaker administration to supervise elections next year, further exacerbating a long standing political row. The main opposition Awami League, leading a 14-party alliance, had long demanded the government to involve it in choosing the head of the interim authority to ensure that the elections are free and fair. Khaleda's Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) said that it would stick by its choice of former Supreme Court chief justice K.M. Hasan to head the caretaker administration, despite opposition charges that he had past links with the ruling party. "According to the constitution, we are going to appoint Justice Hasan to the post of caretaker chief. Awami League must accept it," BNP secretary-general Abdul Mannan Bhuiyan said. "If anyone wants to do it otherwise, I am afraid the entire election process may come to a halt in the country," Bhuiyan said. "This may plunge the country into a constitutional crisis," Bhuiyan said, adding that "there is no way we can accommodate the opposition's demand." Abdul Jalil, Awami's general secretary and main opposition negotiator, said: "The government has pushed the country into new uncertainties and a period of likely violence and chaos." 

Economy
The country's rules on Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) are beneficial and encouraging for investments as foreign companies are well accepted here based on a survey report by Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD). The report also said the business environment improved as the cost on common crime and violence reduced and the tax system was simplified in 2006 compared to the previous year. The country has made notable development in ease of access to cellular telephones and also made progress in internet access in the schools, government offices and buying or selling of goods, it added. The CPD's survey, titled, 'Bangladesh Business Environment Study (BBES) - 2006' deals with issues related to macroeconomic strategy, public institutions, infrastructure, technology, financial development and environmental situation. CPD Executive Director Dr Debapriya Bhattachariya presented the survey report to newspersons at a press conference at the CPD office. Dr. Debapriya said in the GCR-2006-07 that Bangladesh made a visible improvement in macro economic management, technological readiness and market efficiency from the previous year but no noticeable change was made in health and primary and higher education and the country recorded a marked deterioration in infrastructure, institutions, business sophistication and innovation." 

The cost of exporting and importing goods is higher in Bangladesh than other countries in South Asia as it entails an expenditure of about US$1,100 to bring a standard 20-foot container. As per an Asian Development Bank report, it costs less than US$400 in the People's Republic of China (PRC) and less than US$500 in Malaysia to bring a standard 20-foot container across the border. But it costs about US$1,100 in Bangladesh and US$800 in Sri Lanka to do the same. The lack of adequate physical infrastructure in South Asia is well documented, and is repeatedly highlighted as one of the major constraints to sustaining high economic growth in the region, particularly for the manufacturing sector. According to the report, electricity is the most critical bottleneck and within South Asia. Bangladesh experiences most problems in power supply and more than 70 per cent of firms view electricity problems as a major or very severe constraint to business. In Bangladesh, electrical outages occur 249 times a year and more than 70 per cent of firms have generators that supply 19 per cent of total electric consumption, the report said. Also, in India, electricity is viewed as a major or very severe constraint to business by more than 25 per cent of firms. About 64 per cent of firms have generators that also supply 19 per cent of total electric consumption, the report said. In South Asia, the time to obtain an electrical connection averages 55 days compared to only seven days in the Philippines or 10 days in the PRC. Around 63 per cent of firms in South Asia have installed costly generators compared to only 16 per cent in Thailand and 18 per cent in the PRC. While progress is being made in the infrastructure sector in South Asia as a result of a revolution in telecommunication policies making South Asia has one of the fastest growing mobile phone markets in the world, most South Asian countries have also increased public spending on infrastructure. However, in addition to increasing public investment, there is a need for better targeting of such investment and further improving sector policies and institutional environment.

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