Sarwar Md. Saifullah Khaled
Bangladesh should now shift its focus from Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth to human development for inclusive and sustainable progress of the economy because a large part of the country's population is young and its economic growth currently is on a good track. Traditional focus on GDP growth is not very fruitful to alleviate poverty, remove inequalities, empower women, strengthen the social safety net and establish good governance.
The economic experts are of the opinion that the government should now concentrate on the "stubborn" pockets of poverty like riverbank erosion-prone areas, haor areas, cyclone affected areas, remote hilly areas in Chittagong, and chronic poor, dalits, hijras, street children, female agricultural workers, beggers and physically-challenged people to increase their income by turning them into human resources through giving them various supports, including training. They also stress on the need to ensure all-round good governance, remove inequalities, enhance education quality, private investment and institutional capacity to further accelerate the country's economic growth.
The GDP growth has become a fashionable feature in Bangladesh with high focus on it by the government and all other stakeholders, even by the media. Now a days almost all concerned, be it within the government or outside, there is a widespread concern about GDP growth. Even international development agencies such as World Bank (WB) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) also join in. Economists also hold the view that the conventional focus on GDP is not very useful from the point of view of inclusive development. Though growth in income is necessary, but its distribution is crucial for inclusive and sustainable socio-economic development. From this point of view, it is more useful and necessary to focus on human beings - the citizens of the country.
If the country's people at large are assisted through, for example, skill training, facilitation of access to resources and markets to improve their economic lot in terms of circumstances and living conditions, their incomes will increase and poverty will gradually be reduced. At the same time expansion of their productive activities will lead to a decline in the prevailing widespread income disparity and increase in GDP also. Bangladesh has before it a huge demographic dividend to realise as a large part of its population is young. These dividends mean that the huge young population should be educated and trained and enabled to participate effectively in the socio-economic transformation processes.
Accordingly the government should give more focus on ensuring good governance and extending the social safety net for sustainable development. If the government fails to address a number of issues such as tax policy, financial sector policy, good governance and corruption, people would not be able to get the benefits of high GDP growth. They say that the country's GDP growth rate is positive, but various economic indicators show that this growth is not inclusive. Income inequality is a key indicator which demonstrates that the country's GDP growth is not inclusive. The fact is that there is a huge inequality in income across the country. Surprisingly, it has been found that the net income of the people of Dhaka city is much higher than that of other regions of the country.
There is also widespread educational inequality prevailing in the country. Only a small section of the country's people is getting high quality education in or outside the country, while the majority of the people are being deprived of it, especially within the country. To make the GDP growth inclusive the government needs to reassess the country's economic development strategy by taking a separate approach for every sector of the economy, ensure all-inclusive good governance, strengthen institutional capacity and check the prevailing culture of widespread corruption. Although it is true that high GDP growth is needed for Bangladesh, but it is also equally true that the growth in income is not distributed equitably among the citizens of the country.
For the equitable distribution of income, the need is to strengthen social safety net programmes for a short-term. In addition, the character of GDP growth will have to be more labour-intensive and distribution-friendly. It is also necessary to ensure the access of the poor to the global service market for inclusive development. As reports have it, the government has a plan to set up technical training centres (TTCs) at each Upazila to build skilled workers for overseas employment facilities. Presently there are technical training centres at the district headquarters only. Setting up of such centres at Upazila level will enable the poor people at the grass-roots level to equip themselves with the skills that will help them get jobs at home and abroad. The training will help increase their salary as well as reputation of Bangladesh at home and abroad.
The opportunity to get government jobs at home is very limited in the country now. After completing education hundreds of thousands of youths are crowding the job market every year. But a few of them are lucky to get the an employment. In fact, unemployment problem has taken an acute turn in the country though the country's GDP growth is steady. Extremely frustrated, many youths are going abroad spending huge sums of money in search of greener pastures. But many of them lack adequate technical education and skills. Hence the lives of these youths in foreign lands are full of grim struggle. Unfortunately, many of them lead the lives of slaves in foreign countries.
Besides, corruption has spread to the extent that many ill-fated ones desperate to go abroad for jobs return home from the midway being cheated by unscrupulous manpower agents and human traffickers. In most of the cases they are literally pauperized; many of them meet watery graves in the turbulent seas on their way abroad in search of fortune. Had they been adequately trained and educated, they would not have faced such ordeals. But why should they desperately want to leave the country while the country's GDP is growing laudably? There are immense possibilities for the youths of the country to become self-reliant by engaging themselves in various income-generating activities at home. They can do it by gaining education and skills from the technical training centres.
Consequently, the government should allocate adequate fund and take care so that the proposed technical training centres should be well-equipped with teachers and other logistic supports. To avail of this opportunity the cost of studying at these centres should also be within the financial abilities of the poor people living in rural areas. Having quality training from these centres the enterprising youths can go abroad or stay within the country with suitable jobs to add to the country's GDP. Those who are not willing to go abroad can set up projects like dairy and poultry farms, pisciculture and nurseries on their own by taking bank loans on easy terms and the government should see so that they get it.
Side by side the country's educational institutions should also be well equipped and politically trouble-free for quality, including moral and ethical, education. These educated, trained, morally and ethically developed human beings of the country can earn, achieve solvency and remarkably improve the economic conditions of their families and the country. These are also ways how income can be equitably distributed among the citizens of the country to bring down the prevailing income disparity and at the same time improve the country's GDP growth further.
The writer is a retired Professor of Economics, BCS General Education Cadre.