World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim's choice of Bangladesh to mark the End Poverty Day last Monday was a very imaginative and innovative idea with which he came and endeared himself to his hosts. The country most qualified to be the venue for the launch of a world-wide poverty eradication drive had to be Bangladesh. For the own estimates of the World Bank (BK) showed that Bangladesh has had 20.5 million of her people escape poverty between 1990/91 and 2010.
The WB president reckoned that while this success story needed to be celebrated with the people of Bangladesh, they still had 28 million poor people in 2010 to care for, going by household surveys. There remains the task, therefore, for the government, private sector and development partners to join hands to address it, albeit with residual figures to measure up to, if we are to be poverty- free by 2030 .
Bangladesh's journey from a test case through progressive self-reliance to being a socio-economic model of growth in spite of stunning odds is an amazing development story. The classical economists find it difficult to explain it by recourse to conventional economic theories.
The WB Group president has, however, offered his explanations: Contraceptive delivery at door-steps since 80's triggered fall of births from 6.9 per woman in 1971 to 2.3 births today; female secondary school stipend programme helped achieve gender parity in secondary education; BRAC and Grameen micro-financed female-owned small businesses, etc. In terms of infant mortality, access to sanitation and immunisation and number of years spent in schooling we fare better than neighbouring countries. In short, human capital investments have spurred economic growth.
The private sector is playing a big role in the country's progress. It has employed 7.0 million to 17 million women in the decade between 2003 and 2013.
Bangladesh is a recognised forerunner in having developed disaster-coping mechanisms.
We have had a current account surplus with an all-time high foreign exchange reserve topping $31 billion. The chronic dependence on International Monetary Fund (IMF) for balance of payments support has been consigned to oblivion for a long time.
What could be a better tribute to our profile than to hear Dr Jim Yong Kim say that, Bangladesh is walking fast on development path and that its dynamism reminds him of the South Korean example.
So the World Bank Group is coming in a big way to finance Bangladesh's development. To begin with, it is interesting to note that the scrapped Padma Bridge funds have been diverted to other projects. In the main, $4.36 billion worth of funds have been earmarked for Bangladesh under the on-going IDA-17 package available between FY2015 and 2017.
The chief attraction of IDA credit is its highly concessional rate of interest which is 0.75 per cent with 36 years of maturity. As an add-on, the WB is going to raise its non-concessional aid package by nearly 50 per cent for the next three years. The Bank has already announced $1.0 billion worth of assistance for helping us combat child malnutrition.
There is talk of WB-financed Dhaka-Chitagong Growth Belt with a plethora of complementary navigability and connectivity projects.
What stands out, however, is the World Bank chief's latest gesture of committing a fund worth $2.0 billion over next three years to Bangladesh to help it tackle and adapt to the negative impacts of climate change.
The World Bank president's showcasing, celebrative and lesson-absorbing exercises in the case of Bangladesh coincided with the end of the 9th South Asian Economic Summit in Dhaka on Sunday. One could have discerned a certain symbiotic relationship between the two; one had to do with MDGs while the other emphasised revving up of regional cooperation aimed at building 'an inclusive, just and peaceful society in South Asia and attaining the UN-sponsored Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) .
Professor Rehman Sobhan, the founding chairman of The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) was of the view that 'the issue of poverty reduction got included in the policies of all governments in South Asia but less attention was given to the inequality factor.'
With the largesse, as it were, in prospect from different directions, overhauling the project implementation machinery is indispensable if we are to ensure quality of public spending.