News Published: Sunday, Nov 09, 2014
Economists advise super ministry to boost economy
Chief Economics Correspondent, bdnews24.com
Published: 2014-11-09 02:25:34.0 BdST Updated: 2014-11-09 02:25:34.0 BdST
Prominent economists have agreed that the government should have a single coordinating body for improving Bangladesh’s economy.
They also advised Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to create a super ministry for effective coordination of bodies in charge of formulating economic policies.
The existing Planning Commission is failing to carry out any effective coordination, economist Nurul Islam said at an event in Dhaka on Saturday.
Policy Research Institute and Bangladesh Economist Forum organised the talk titled 'Policymaking in Bangladesh and the institutions' on the occasion of Islam’s visit to the country. Economists, bankers and researchers participated in the discussion.
Islam, the deputy chairman of the country's first Planning Commission, currently lives in the United States.
The senior economist said Malaysia and Indonesia were examples for Bangladesh in the coordination of development planning.
“It is crucial for Bangladesh to effectively coordinate the different policies introduced by bodies entrusted with taking the economy forward. The government should create a super ministry led by the Prime Minister in order to do this,” he said.
If not, the government should at least form a coordinating unit under the prime minister, he added.
Islam emphasised on taking into account everyone's views and perspectives in planning.
“In Indonesia under Suharto, there was a separate minister for planning and economic policy. His plans would be presented to public and debated over by citizens.”
Malaysia under Mahathir Muhammad also had an independent planning body.
“Policymakers should also be allowed to express their views openly,” he said.
Islam stressed the importance of keeping the Bureau of Statistics free of political influence, as well as the central bank.
He said the Reserve Bank of India worked more independently compared to Bangladesh Bank or Pakistan's central bank.
Economist Wahiduddin Mahmud agreed.
“Statistics is capital right now. It paints the right picture of a nation's economy and helps attract foreign investment,” he said.
“If you can't trust a country's statistics, how can you do business there?”
He pointed out the practice of tampering with BBS data for political interests.
“They can't publish inflation data unless the minister signs on it. But the minister takes three to four days to understand the methodology of calculating inflation,” he said.
Former central bank governor Salehuddin Ahmed shared a similar experience.
“When we used to submit BBS data on inflation, the minister would say, leave it with me, I want to check the data. I don't know if that happens now, though.”
Wahiduddin Mahmud spoke about the banking sector's weaknesses.
“Each government gives some political backing to some people. We have this sort of people in the banking sector as well,” he said.
“Each ruling party tells regulators to let their bad boys play a little, but comes down hard on the others,” he added.
“And that is a ticket for the regulators to do bad things.”
Former caretaker government adviser AB Mirza Azizul Islam said he always found gaps between planning and reality.
“We always fix higher targets than what we can achieve for political reasons,” he said.
Central bank Governor Atiur Rahman admitted that his policymaking faces political pressure.
“When Bangladesh Bank tried reforms after the stock market crash, we faced a lot of external pressure. We also felt pressure when issuing new bank licenses,” he said.
“I won't say the central bank has withstood all pressure, but we've tried.”
Mohiuddin Alamgir, former president of Bangladesh Economic Association, took part in the discussion. Planning Commission member Shamsul Alam, former secretary Zakir Ahmed, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) Director General Mustafa K Mujeri, researcher Binayak Sen, PRI Chairman Zaidi Sattar, Vice-Chairman Sadiq Ahmed, Executive Director Ahsan H Mansur also participated.