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Bangladesh Fund

May 11, 2017

I grew up as a kid hearing brand names like Islam Group, Rahim Afroj , Concord. It was the heyday of those companies. Products and services of these companies managed to reach overseas markets.

Soon I started to hear legends. A Bangladeshi construction company built an airport in Saudi Arabia. Another company built residential complexes in Iraq. In Libya, Bangladeshis built bridges, roads and set up utility facilities.

Those glorious days are bygone. Soon these success stories started to sound like myths. Now war-torn Libyan shores are occupied with hapless Bangladeshis, who are poised to  take a perilous boat ride to cross the Mediterranean sea in a bid to reach their dream destination.

On Nat Geo, I watch how the Indians are building the eye-dazzling mega-structures of Dubai. From design to construction of these engineering marvels, Indians dominate at every stage. As I am watching the Indians on TV, image of world’s one of the great structural engineers, F R Khan, struck my mind. He was a Bangladeshi-American who was behind the construction of several skyscrapers in USA.

Where are those F R Khans now?

At home, I see foreign companies are providing credits to finance our own infrastructure projects. Foreign companies are now even constructing flyover and highways. I have no issues with foreign companies and I am not against their presence. But what did happen to our construction companies? Cronyism and unfavorable business climate make it difficult for them to grab these opportunities at home. Moreover, their failure to tap foreign market partly stem from lack of govt support.

No wonder that corruption and cronyism hold them back at home and absence of government incentives clipped their wings from having a firm footing abroad. One may eventually ask what this incentive should look like that will ultimately stimulate them to explore overseas markets.

The solution is around us. Our development partners invented it. Now it is time to replicate their model.

Let us create a “Bangladesh Fund or Bangla Aid”, whose purpose  will be to help other aspiring economies to meet their developmental goals. With this fund, we can help them building infrastructures. And those infrastructure projects  will be implemented by our very own construction companies. Our engineers, planners, architects will get a chance to employ their skills and serve the people of our friendly countries. We produce all the quintessential ingredients needed for any infrastructure project.Production facilities for these ingredients, i.e. cement factories, are underutilized. A construction boom abroad will open new alleys for their export.

In addition, this fund can be used to boost RMG export abroad. Right now, RMG export is destined to only few countries.We have been striving hard to find new destination. But most of our effort is concentrated on the developed countries or the new economic miracles. We did little to evaluate the potential markets in Asia, Africa and South America.  This fund can be used to finance setting up malls in the less developed countries. The mall or shopping centers can meet the need of growing urban middle class by offering them Bangladeshi garments.

This fund can also help relocation of RMG factories or setting up joint ventures in those countries. We can easily provide assistance to Nepal or Laos or Sierra Leone to solve their infrastructural problems. At the same time, we can initiate a study to explore business potentials in those countries.

Bangladeshi RMG items, home appliances have huge demand in these countries.  Credit constraints often hold them back from importing Bangladeshi goods. We can provide them credit using this fund to import Bangladeshi goods.

The same argument can hold true for our pharmaceutical items. Bangladesh produces some cheapest medicines in the world taking full advantage of  WTO provisions about intellectual rights. African countries like Nigeria is flooded with counterfeit drugs. Relations between two countries thawed in recent years. Bangladeshi drugs can supplant these useless drugs from the shelves of Nigerian pharmacies. This fund can facilitate their distribution in African countries and can finance setting up medical centers, clinics , diagnostic centers in that region.

Now come to the crux of the matter: how the fund will be created?

Every year we witness part of our development expenditure remains unutilized or used in politically-motivated projects that yield little benefit to us. This money could be set aside for the creation of “Bangladesh Fund”. Initially, we can make do with a fund of $150-$200 millions as it aims to finance infrastructure projects and to promote exports to little-known destination. With the success of initial projects , the fund will pick up the steam and others will pitch in.

Prime minister’s relief fund could also be thought of as a potential source. We know that not every year natural calamity strikes Bangladesh. So one year’s unused relief fund could constitute Bangladesh Fund.

Bangladesh Fund

Bangladesh Fund

Bangladesh bank maintains a fund for new entrepreneurs. It is called Equity and Entrepreneurship Fund (EEF). Recently, scam marred the EEF. It was reported on the press that political thugs were misappropriating the fund creating fake companies. Like PM’s relief fund, the fund sometimes remains unutilized.  The unused fund can be diverted to create this “Bangladesh Fund”.

Association of Banks, BGMEA, Insurance companies and Export Promotion Bureau can also contribute to this fund as it will create new opportunities for them in future.

Now let us come to address another crucial issue regarding Bangladesh Fund. Who will manage the fund?  Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs can jointly manage the fund.  The bulk of the task will be done by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in consultation with stakeholders. PM’s office will have the final say on any policy decision.

Management of Bangladesh Fund

There has hardly been an instance when new ideas did not meet stiff resistance in this country. I expect the same kind of opposition as in this case too. Extreme caution should be exercised so that the “Bangladesh Fund” will not meet the fate of public banks. It should not be a digestive tube to nourish the party loyalists and the corrupts. Rather, it should be a bridge to connect countries by meeting their infrastructural and developmental challenges with Bangladeshi assistance.

 

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