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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


Update No: 068 - (26/11/13)

This year was politically and economically turbulent for Bangladesh and the scenario only worsened in November. Poll-bound Bangladesh recently installed an “all-party” interim government headed by PM Sheikh Hasina to oversee upcoming elections despite boycott by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which termed the move as “farce” (since it was no such thing), heightening tension in the country. The possibility of political violence remains very real and high if the situation is not resolved soon. As a reaction to the worsening crisis in Bangladesh, the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the US Congress, held a hearing on the prevailing political turmoil over the next general election. The US is also in talks with India, Bangladesh’s immediate neighbour, who are concerned about the current political deadlock and its security fallout for the region.

Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus blasted the Bangladesh government after it passed a law he said, that would pave the way for the “ultimate destruction” of Grameen Bank, the pioneering micro-lending institution he founded. The bill passed by the Parliament this month tightens the government's grip on the bank set up to fight poverty, and brings it under ever closer control of the central bank. Moreover, in a vituperative attack against the Nobel Laureate FM Muhith said that the former’s speeches – referring to his speech made in Chittagong last month – sound like those of a “terrorist”. On a slightly positive note, and more so for India than Bangladesh, the latter has agreed to hand over Anup Chetia, former General Secretary of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), militant secessionist group in Northeast Indian state of Assam – reflecting growing bonhomie between Dhaka and New Delhi. Finally, in an interesting development tied to the economic woes of Bangladesh, Wal-Mart recently said that about 10 of more than six-dozen Bangladeshi garment factories failed safety checks in audits it commissioned. Compensation is not being paid, causing immense hardship, although it was expected from those western retail chains who use Bangladeshi factories to make clothing.

All-party interim government installed
Poll-bound Bangladesh recently installed an “all-party” interim government headed by PM Sheikh Hasina to oversee upcoming elections despite boycott by the main opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) which termed the move as “farce”, heightening tension in the country. Six ministers and two state ministers took oath to join an election-time Cabinet. President Abdul Hamid administered the oath at the presidential palace. In an apparent snub to the Opposition, all the new ministers are from the constituents of the AL-led grand alliance. These include Amir Hossain Amu and Tofail Ahmed (Awami League), Rashed Khan Menon (Workers Party), and Anisul Islam Mahmud, Ruhul Amin Hawlader and Rawshan Ershad (Jatiya Party). The state ministers are: Mujibul Haque Chunnu and Salma Islam (Jatiya Party).
The BNP and its 18-party alliance have repeatedly rejected PM Hasina’s call to join the all-party government, saying elections would not be credible under her leadership.

The Opposition has long been demanding restoration of a non-party caretaker government, a constitutional provision which was annulled in June 2011.
The formation of an ‘all-party’ government headed by PM Hasina has pitted the ruling Awami League against the BNP, raising fear of violence ahead of the elections due to be held by January 25. PM Hasina called on the President on the evening of 17 November and explained her idea about the all-party government. Hasina’s meeting with the president came hours after the former Cabinet held an emergency meeting. The ministers had handed their resignation letters to Hasina to pave the way for constituting the all-party government. Given the fact that all the parties within the ruling grand alliance have already been enjoying power, the idea of an interim authority before elections constituting the same political forces might undermine Awami League’s already battered legitimacy.

Bangladesh deadlock: US holds Congressional Hearing
As a reaction to the worsening crisis in Bangladesh, the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific of the US Congress held a hearing on the prevailing political turmoil over the next general elections. The hearing titled ‘Bangladesh in Turmoil: A Nation on the Brink?’ was held at the House Rayburn Office Building Washington, according to the United States House of Representatives. Prof Ali Riaz, a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Maj Gen (retd) AMN Muniruzzaman, president of Bangladesh Institute of Peace and Security Studies, and John Stifton, Asia Advocacy Director of Human Rights Watch, participated in the hearing as witnesses. US Congressional hearings are considered highly important as the US Representative Steve Chabot, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific, who visited Bangladesh on November 5-6, shared his experience during the visit.

The decision and recommendations of the sub-committee are crucial as it has a wide range of jurisdiction from politics to foreign aid, loans and security matters. During his visit to Bangladesh, Steve Chabot met with PM Sheikh Hasina, opposition leader Khaleda Zia, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, leaders of Jamaat and other political parties, civil society representatives and media, and discussed political turbulence, upcoming election and ongoing war crimes trials and overall security situation in Bangladesh.The 14-member subcommittee headed by Steve Chabot will discuss the entire range of US-Bangladesh bilateral issues, including the US role in resolving the current political challenges in Bangladesh, as well as holding a free, fair, transparent, credible and inclusive general election. Moreover, US is also in talks with India, Bangladesh’s immediate neighbour, who is concerned about the current political deadlock and its security fallout for the region.

Yunus flays government, FM Muhith calls his speeches ‘terrorist-like’
Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus blasted the Bangladesh government after it passed a law he said would pave the way for the “ultimate destruction” of Grameen Bank, the pioneering micro-lending institution he founded. The bill passed by the Parliament this month tightens the government's grip on the bank set up to fight poverty, and brings it under ever closer control of the central bank. Yunus, who was ousted from the lender in 2011 in what was seen as a politically engineered move, condemned the new law and said it “created the opportunity for the government to take 100 per cent control of the bank”, with which he shared the Nobel. “Grameen Bank was created as a bank owned by poor women, and managed by poor women. Its legal structure did not allow any government interference of any kind, except for regulatory oversight,” he said in a statement.

These amendments fundamentally change the character of the bank. “I feel extremely sorry that the nation has to go through the unnecessary traumatic experience of seeing a great global iconic institution, created by this nation, be brutally harmed by a group of irresponsible and thoughtless people,” he added. On the other hand, however, Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith defended the new law, saying it was a constitutional requirement because the original ordinance that created the bank in 1983 during military rule must be passed by parliament. “The Supreme Court has outlawed all ordinances that were enacted by the military regime," he said. The new law replaced the Grameen Bank Ordinance but also made some amendments, bringing its finances under close supervision of the central bank and raising its authorised capital level.

From now on the bank's new branches must be approved by the central bank and it cannot run any business beyond its mandated area of lending to landless entrepreneurs (usually village women) in rural areas. This will lead to wonderful opportunities for corruption for ministers, civil servants, etc; already infamous for using their positions for personal profit, because Grameen founded what became a very large mobile telephone operation, again primarily for village women who cannot afford the commercial deals offered by international phone companies, as well as other spinoffs co-operatively owned like the bank itself, which can now also expect to be raped.

The government has progressively moved to control the bank, raising its stake to 25 per cent from around three per cent. The Supreme Court of Bangladesh has ruled that Grameen is a state-owned bank no matter what the government's stake is. It ordered a commission on the future status of the bank and has launched a tax probe against Yunus, who has been at odds with PM Sheikh Hasina since 2007 when he made a brief foray into politics. The 73-year-old economist, who won a Nobel prize in 2006, was branded a “bloodsucker” by PM Hasina (who is unlikely herself ever to be considered for a Nobel prize), and has recently been the subject of a hate campaign by state-funded Islamic clerics who clearly hate to see this advancement of women.

Moreover, in a vituperative attack against the Nobel Laureate FM Muhith said that the former’s speeches – referring to his speech made in Chittagong last month – sound like those of a “terrorist”. Yunus’ had lambasted the government for it’s ‘intent to grab’ the Grameen Bank.

Bangladesh to handover militant to India
Reflecting growing bonhomie between New Delhi and Dhaka, Bangladesh has agreed to hand over Anup Chetia, former General Secretary of the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), militant secessionist group in Northeast Indian state of Assam. Chetia, currently lodged in a jail in Bangladesh, will be extradited after completion of judicial formalities, said Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir. Chetia had sought political asylum in Bangladesh three times in 2005, 2008 and 2011 after being arrested in Dhaka in 1997. He is in jail on charges of illegally entering Bangladesh using a forged passport and for possessing illegal foreign currency and illegal arms. His jail term ended in 2003. The two countries had recently signed an extradition treaty as their relationship warmed under the leadership of Indian PM Manmohan Singh and Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina.

Walmart finds safety issues at Bangladesh factories
In an interesting development tied to the economic woes of Bangladesh, Wal-Mart recently said that about 10 of more than six-dozen Bangladeshi garment factories failed safety checks in audits it commissioned. The retailer hired Bureau Veritas to check some 200 factories it uses in Bangladesh, after the April collapse of the Rana Plaza building that killed more than 1,100 people and highlighted the often-grim conditions in the country's garment industry. About 75 factories have been audited so far and Wal-Mart says it will release results for other factories as the inspections are completed. In the aftermath of the Rana Plaza disaster, major European clothing retailers signed up to a system of factory inspections in conjunction with labor and activist groups. North American retailers set up a separate alliance and established a fund that could be tapped for factory improvements. Bangladesh emerged as a major supplier to global clothing brands because of wages that are among the lowest in the world. Bangladeshi garment makers employ millions of people, mostly women, but safety has been an afterthought amid pressure to fill orders, while enforcement of labor rights and building safety codes is compromised by corruption and thin government resources. This month garment factory owners agreed to a 77 per cent increase in the minimum wage for new unskilled garment workers to 5,300 takas (approx. US$66) per month after PM Hasina stepped in to resolve four days of violent clashes over wages. The worker’s safety issue has added to the anti-government narrative that is in vogue in Bangladesh.
 

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