More Inclusive Efforts Needed for Achieving SDGs
People are the main focus of the development of a country. Development can never be beneficial unless effective measures are taken for the balanced development of those people. For real development, we need to focus on good governance to achieve development in a sustainable way. Without sustainable development, a country’s development activities can never be sustainable. Those involved in economic policy-making and management think about macroeconomic indicators, GDP, the balance of payments and currency values. But they have no worries about whether the benefits of the achieved development can reach everyone on the basis of fairness.
During the tenure of the present government, the infrastructural development in the country has been extensive. There is no area where paved roads have not been constructed. Or the communication system has not been modernized. But infrastructural development is not the only factor in increasing national production. If we cannot increase production by utilizing infrastructural development, that infrastructural development will not be of any use in the long run.
Bangladesh is going through a demographic dividend situation; many are not aware of it. Bangladesh’s demographic dividend situation will end between 2035-2040. Then the number of senior citizens will increase. Human resources are the most important tool for the economic development of a country. But our human resources are not competitive at all internationally.
The two main sources of foreign exchange earnings in the economy of Bangladesh are the export of goods and services and the export of manpower. But these two sectors stand on weak and fragile foundations. At least 35 to 40 percent of the huge amount of money that Bangladesh earns annually from the export of goods and services goes abroad for the import of raw materials and capital machinery. The rate of value addition of this sector in the national economy is relatively low.
Leave No One Behind (LNOB), is the central, transformative promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The main motto of SDGs involves all governments, the private sector, civil society organizations, multinational development institutions, and all parts of the UN system and offers equal opportunities and equitable distribution of benefits. The concept proposed three basic factors- social, ecological, and economic-which have been continuously developed until today. Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) mean context that the development must include all people in the development process.
Bangladesh progress report 2020 claims that despite various challenges Bangladesh is on track to achieving SDGs. Bangladesh is performing well in various aspects including poverty reduction, gender equality, electricity, sanitation and annual GDP growth. The first three SDGs pertain to ending poverty, and hunger and improving public health Bangladesh has made good progress on all three and is on track to achieve the targets. Of the 17 targets under the three SDGs, four have already been met, six are on track and five need more attention.
But some challenges have been so far identified, one major challenge is the lack of proper data. Bangladesh has data for only 70 indicators out of the 232 prescribed by the UN to assess the progress of SDGs. Bangladesh’s government also highlights the need for improved international cooperation and support to meet national priority targets39+1 out of the 169 targets that fall within the 17 SDGs.
Even though the government’s official report is pretty much hopeful to achieve almost all the SDGs within the expected timeline, there are some challenges that will be hard to overcome. Along with the lack of proper data, the quality of already collected data is also another concern. There are also some issues that are not getting proper focus in the development discourse of Bangladesh. Inequality among the rich and poor, urban and rural people is pretty much evident, but it is not getting proper attention. Illicit finance flow is eating a huge chunk of Bangladesh’spotential, which is once again an issue that concerns people who are reluctant to discuss more. Unemployment of the youth population is also another big hurdle for Bangladesh which is hard to address.
Bangladesh must continue to promote a transformative policy regime to make its inclusive development journey sustainable. Therefore, it should continue to focus on high growth and inclusiveness, prioritizing domestic consumption and demand along with global collaboration to promote exports. Respect our own culture and openness and promote innovation.
Development is a process. In other words, development means the implementation of big projects and the achievement of high GDP. But they are not considering the many other important indicators of development.Thus, development is confined to a single index. In order to improve the development index, various issues like health, education, air pollution, removal of distribution inequalities, provision of food for the poor, provision of adequate employment for deserving people, etc. need to be addressed. We also need to pay close attention to the establishment of social justice.
On the other hand, the country’s foreign trade is highly dependent on a limited number of countries and a few products. About 90 percent of the huge amount of money that Bangladesh earns annually by exporting goods comes from 28 countries of the European Union and the United States. Bangladesh exports very little to neighboring India and China. However, Bangladesh imports the most amount of goods from these two countries.
That means we have no consistency in international trade. Bangladesh is heavily dependent on garment exports. Over-reliance on one or two products is by no means a sign of healthy trade. Manpower is the second largest foreign exchange earning sector in the country. But the problem in this sector is that most of those who go abroad for employment are unskilled and untrained workers. They can’t go abroad and speak the local language well.
Can’t demonstrate efficiency. As a result, they receive a much lower salary than workers in other countries. In the last financial year, Bangladesh has earned USD 2,468 million as remittances. At the same time, migrant workers working in Bangladesh have taken at least 600 million. But if the provision of skilled manpower in the local production process could be ensured, this amount of money would not have gone abroad.
If we do not keep the economy flowing in the right direction, serious problems could arise at any time in the future. So, we have to focus on balanced development now. But despite all the adversities, Bangladesh has been doing exceedingly well in maintaining its robust growth rate.
The daily income of an agricultural worker is not less than Tk. 500. They can now afford nutritious food, education, and healthcare for their children with this wage income. Garment workers are also sending money to their families regularly. As a result, the nutritional value, height, and weight of five-year-old children have been increasing along with the decline in infant mortality. All in all, Bangladesh has achieved a satisfactory score on the Global Hunger Index this year. It is 19.5 compared to 28.5 in 2011. The lesser means better in this score.
Keeping this in mind, Bangladesh aspires to become a developed country by 2041, according to its latest Perspective Plan. By then it’s per capita income will be 12 thousand US dollars plus. Its average growth rate will be 9 percent during this period. Inflation will be slightly below 5 percent. The population growth rate will be 1.03 percent; the savings ratio 37.75 percent of GDP; investment ratio 40.87 percent; private sector investment 31.23 percent; foreign direct investment 2.82 percent; the export growth rate of 11.2 percent; imports 10.7 percent, and expatriate income 4.67 percent. Bangladesh will have foreign exchange reserves to cover 6.34 months of import costs.
However, we still need to do a lot more if we want to reach those goals. On average, we need to increase the growth by another 2 percent. With this in mind, the government has undertaken many mega infrastructure projects. Padma bridge alone will add more than 1 percent growth. The mega projects can be game changers for Bangladesh’s economy as these are both growth and employment multipliers. Special economic zones, including Bangabandhu Industrial City, will take Bangladesh to new heights. However, the biggest challenge is to implement these planned infrastructure projects on time.
Good governance is still a substantial challenge for our institutions. Therefore, the need for improving transparency in our implementing organizations is a must. Bangladesh has shown sufficient capacity in ensuring electricity and fuel supplies.
The private sector also needs to contribute to research and development, of course, with greater policy support. This will certainly require more resources. Not only we must collect revenue from within the country, but also need to raise international financial support from abroad. And in this case, smart economic diplomacy is imperative. If we can tell the success stories of Bangladesh’s development smartly it will be much easier to attract foreign direct investment which remains quite low.
We should more focus on agriculture, industry, education, and population control is now paying us well. The challenge now is to maintain that policy consistency with the participation of all the stakeholders, particularly the private sector. The support for modernization and mechanization of agriculture must continue.
To build a developed countryat least 4 percent of GDP should be invested in the education sector. That education must be linked with the industry by promoting productivity of the skilled human capital. Also, this must be humane, climate-friendly, and broad-based. As demonstrated by COVID-19, we must develop the emergency health system and increase the number of suitable doctors, nurses, health partners and research opportunities for the future of Bangladesh. The National Social Security Strategy (NSSS) is already in place. Focusing on the implementation and financing of this policy is also a crucial part of human investment.
Skill development is the most vital tool to increase the productivity of our workforce. In this era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the government and the private sector need to take apt initiatives to strengthen the training of workers to make the education system technology supportive to take advantage of artificial intelligence, robotics, the internet of things, biotechnology and big data management in industries and businesses.
In addition to the apparel sector, other sectors need to increase export diversification and dynamism with equal policies and financial incentives. with the regional and global supply chains.Both domestic and international tourism has been increasing in the post-COVID world. There is a lot of potential for recovery in this sector.
Food production, the development of the food processing industry and digital marketing of food products are crucial for food security. Within the country, many new e-commerce entrepreneurs have sprung up around food products. These small and medium entrepreneurs need easy access to small loans and incentives, including start-up capital. If needed, policy reforms can be undertaken to make this sector FDI-friendly and connect it with the global value chain.
Bangladesh, realizing that the future will be all about digitization, has been providing ample incentives to the information and communication technology (ICT) sector. Several high-tech parks have been already built. Fiscal incentives including tax holidays and skill development support are being given to the sector. Huge potential for the growth of the ICT sector is there if funding and branding can be further strengthened.
Two-thirds of our industry and trade have been developed in the vicinity of Dhaka and Chattogram. As a result, there remains a continuous crisis in workers’ accommodation, waste management, housing, and transportation. Our urbanization will be sustainable if special industrial zones are fast developed and green divisional and district cities like Rajshahi are developed.The potential for Bangladesh to emerge as a regional trade and aviation hub to connect South and South East Asia must be fully realized.Tax-GDP ratio must be raised to 20 percent by further digitization and institutional pruning with incentivization for the private sector to promote the ‘Made in Bangladesh’ campaign as a success.
SDGs responsibility for achieving this goal has been assigned to all the countries of the United Nations including Bangladesh. We need to develop an inclusive society in achieving any goal. The people’s participation plays a key role in achieving the SDGs. Bangladesh will have to face many challenges in achieving these goals. Because the people of our country are not aware of themselves, we need more focus on the issue.
Hiren Pandit is a
researcher and columnist