arsenic poisoning in Bangladesh/India




The present industrial or agricultural policy ignores environmental protection, as a result a technology transfer of polluted industries and chemicaly based agriculture from the first world is imported into the developing countries.

fashion show by high society in Bangladesh majority of population majority populationmajority of population - no safety!high society

The International Technical Assistance Programme of the Government of the Netherlands (1978) comments:

Concentration on economic growth only benefited small groups in these societies, such as landlords, owners, managers in modernised industry and trade, and professional people and high officials in private and government circles. The contention that benefits of such a policy would automatically trickle down to large majorities proved to be untenable. On the contrary, it became clear that such policies widened still further the extremely large differences in the levels of living.

The donor countries comprehensively knew the facts but continued their policies that did not bring any basic change. City base polluted industries supply unsustainable products to the rural areas, where as in the past, rural area used to supply sustainable products to the cities. Dhaka city population within three decades increased from less than one million to more than 12 million and become worlds most polluted city.

For example Frederick Temple, the World Bank,reports " payment of bribes to secure public services that are supposed to be free; education being increasingly inequitable to the poor as opposed to the rich; slum dwellers pay more for water and electricity than people who live in posh residential areas; pervasiveness of poor governance in Bangladesh etc"

The World Bank have played a major role in industrial plantation in Bangladesh. Its involvement in industrial plantation has taken form in mainly two projects: the Second Forestry Project and the Forest Resource Management Project. The projects resulted in "massive deforestation and replaced natural forests with alien species in Chittagong, Cox's bazaar, the CHT and some other places." Monoculture is basically the practice of raising a single species of trees, generally of the same age, in a plantation as opposed to the large number of species of trees found in a native forest or in a mixed plantation. The irony is that monoculture plantation is a sad example of bad ecological strategy and acts as an agriculture crop, to be chopped down later for commercial purpose. Needless to say, biodiversity is being chopped to its very core.

These forests (which do not exist now) are rich in bio-diversity, and were once home to countless species of medicinal plants, exotic fruit trees and vegetables, herbs and creepers. In a century when the world is finally waking up to man's responsibility for global warming.

Purchasing power eroding

People's purchasing power constantly eroding, the ruling food price is eating up most of the household income.

The hungry and undernourished are an overwhelming number: Those who earn less than a dollar, equivalent of Taka 69, per day, are 40 percent of the population i.e. six crore, according to World Bank estimate. The minimum price of coarse rice in Dhaka is Taka 34 per kilogram while that outside Dhaka is Taka 32. This is enough of a statistic to illustrate abysmally low food or calorie intake. Even the middle class families are being affected (Daily Star, July 19, 2008).

"Collapse" of the jute industry - The golden fibre

For Bangladeshis, jute is not just a plant that produces fibre; it is rather a national icon, linked to the adage: Sonar Bangla. It was also linked to our quest for economic emancipation. In mythical golden Bengal, around which much of our national lore is constructed, we have undulating rice fields together with a field of fibre, both golden.

In recent weeks much has been written about the "collapse" of the jute industry in Bangladesh, including heart-rending reports detailing the human tragedy in the jute mills in Khulna. This collapse relates to the financial non-viability and the eventual closure of the publicly owned jute mills. Writings have been published describing motley causes of this malaise, including one from the country director of the World Bank. While these writings have described the tragic and the unwarranted situation, nothing concrete has been written about how the jute industry can turn around except for a very gutsy but mysterious claim by the industries advisor that the jute industry will turn around in three years.

How people are responding to the jute debacle is dictated by their own background. Writers and social commentators are detailing the human trauma of the jute industry workers, left-wing intellectuals are blaming the World Bank for the malaise, and economists are seeking its salvation from the private sector. This adage has a justifiable history. In the early days of Pakistan due to the high demand of jute during the Korean war, jute obtained an instant international market, thus saving the fledgling state of Pakistan from economic ruin.

In those days Pakistan was involved in bitter dispute with India regarding the sharing of foreign currency reserve. Pakistan, with precipitous decline in foreign reserve, had found in jute a pathway to survival. And it was all due to the contribution of flood-drenched delta and its toiling masses who supplied this fibre. Quite rightly this issue became a pertinent slogan during Bangabandhu's question to Pakistanis: Sonar Bangla shoshan keno? or: Why is the golden Bengal now a graveyard? While it is interesting to ponder on these historic events, it is also important to ponder how indeed jute might turn around and how we can facilitate the change. Precious little has been written by people who know jute as an organism, commenting on its limitations and promise. Central to any future planning to turn the jute sector around should be an emphasis on the genetics of jute and an attempt to turn things around with the help of genomic technology.

Jute has a huge genome, at 1,200 megabases, roughly 3 times that of rice. But in recent years the cost of gene sequencing has come down, and at the current rate to have the jute genome sequenced with high precision will cost about $2 million dollars or roughly Taka 14 crores. While this amount is not small, it is a pittance compared to the amount that government is recovering from individuals who have amassed wealth through unfair means. It has been suggested that government should utilise these recovered wealth to build bridges, hospitals, etc. A far more pertinent and exciting use of a fraction of that money would be to have the genome of jute sequenced. The whole operation can be outsourced to an efficient international organisation and the people of Bangladesh can have the genomic information available to them.

How might such an information lead to new development? A major trait that needs to be manipulated for jute is its fibre length and fibre quality. A finer fibre, fibre of many colours and strength, fibre of various levels of strength are needed to extend the range of products that can be made with jute. A combination of the knowledge of the jute genomic sequences together with mutational analyses will pave a way towards this development. Such a modern research platform will also be highly sought after by other jute-producing nations such as India. This is an area in which Bangladesh can become a leader by investing very little.

Instead of bemoaning the current situation and blaming each other endlessly, we can take a solid stand and declare that in Bangladesh a genomic era of jute has begun. The current government can think of innovative ways of raising funds for the purpose including money to be made available from businessmen who might want to whiten their black money. I cannot think of a more exciting way of legalising dubious money. In this venture people of all sections, including the expatriates, can also join in order to pay tribute to a national symbol. Together we can raise enough money to have the jute genome sequenced. Afterwards and after due considerations of intellectual property the genomic information can be made available in the Internet to humanity on behalf of the people of Bangladesh. Many years ago, in all our pledges and aspirations we had congregated around a fibrous plant as one of the symbols of our national identity. Time has now come to redeem that pledge (A. Chowdhury, Daily Star, March 23, 2008)

  • Hans Rosling Have you heard about Miracle that has happened in Bangladesh over the last 30 years?
  • Talks Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen-2006
  • Talks Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you've ever seen- 2007

    Neglected Heroes

    Around 90,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers live and work in Bahrain, 10 per cent of the total population of that country. In the year 2006-07, these migrants sent $80 million in remittances home. But the recent murder of a Bahraini man by a Bangladeshi worker has sparked angry reactions from government officials and politicians. The Bahrain government has put an embargo on recruitment of any further 'unskilled' workers from Bangladesh. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia had already put restrictions on Bangladeshi labourers, sparked by earlier incidents. As often highlighted at conferences and seminars, foreign remittance is the second highest foreign currency earner for Bangladesh. But apathy from our embassies, corrupt middlemen, flawed immigration policies, lack of a robust government response and disparities in labour laws have placed hard-working men and women in international news headlines for the wrong reasons.

    On May 23, 37-year-old Bahraini Mohammad Jassim Dossary got into a heated argument with a 32-year-old Bangladeshi mechanic in a garage. At one point during the argument, the mechanic allegedly slit the throat of Dossary with a hacksaw. Dossary died before he could reach the hospital. The argument was apparently about payment for work done on his car. The Bangladeshi mechanic asked for 1.5 Bahraini Dinar for his work, but Dossary refused to pay more than 1 Dinar. Dossary was killed for the extra 500 fils (around Tk 90) he refused to pay. In 2002, Amnesty International heavily objected to the decision by the UAE government to the execution of three Bangladeshi nationals, which failed to meet international standards of fairness. Mohammad Zahar Abdul Sattar, Anwar al-Zamaan and Anwar Khan Mohammad were convicted of rape and murder of a Sri Lankan national. Yet their lawyers stated that while in detention all three men were repeatedly beaten, their legs were bound and the soles of their feet beaten bloody with batons. The lawyer also said that the accused did not understand the court proceedings because it was in Arabic.

    Human Rights Watch reported that suicides among construction workers were on the rise and said they were mostly stress related. Many workers cheated by their employers, unpaid for months, unable to pay back loans taken from home and trapped in a hostile country, opt to take their own lives. Psychiatrist Dr Shiv Prakash said in an interview with Construction Week (a Dubai-based weekly on the construction industry), “They know that they are in a bonded labour type of situation and are reacting to what they think is the biggest mistake in their life, an irreparable loss. It is the reaction to this loss which can lead to suicidal contemplation.”

    The Bangladesh government imposed a ban on women workers, aimed primarily at those leaving to be domestic workers in the Middle East, where most reports of physical and other abuses came from. Despite the ban, thousands of women kept leaving the country seeking work abroad. The ban was eventually lifted as it was impossible to implement. Rather than these bans, it is more important for the government to safeguard the rights and working conditions of Bangladeshi women workers abroad. The government should monitor how Bangladeshi domestic workers are treated by their foreign employers. Language training to help them communicate with law enforcement agencies would be more helpful than a ban.

    Bangladesh must look beyond stopgap measures, and look at empowering migrant workers before they leave the country and respond to their needs while they are overseas. Countries must ensure migrants have access to justice and support services, including full translation facilities. Bangladesh must aggressively regulate the manpower industry immediately. Agencies that have been found to abuse workers even once must have their entire licenses cancelled. Training on language and culture of host countries must be made compulsory for all migrants. Our current diplomatic mission capacity should be enhanced with the recruitment of professional graduates who can fully address the problems of the workers.

    An estimated 50 lakh Bangladeshis are working abroad around the globe. Of them, about 30 lakh living in the Middle East send approximately 70 percent of the total remittance received by Bangladesh. It is the toil of the hard-working men and women that is helping, not only to make our households financially sufficient, but also strengthening the economy of this country (Hana Shams Ahmed, Daily Star, June 20, 2007).

    Largest number of world's poor live in India

    It is official. India has the largest number of poor in the world - 456 million. That is 42 per cent of the population, down from 60 per cent in 1980. But in absolute terms, the number of poor in India has risen from 421 million 28 years ago, according to the World Bank (WB), which considers anyone making less than $1.25 (Rs 55) a day as poor.

    The WB also said the number of poor is continuing to rise and that "there is a large number of people living just above this line of deprivation and their numbers are not falling." That means the developmental burden on India is greater now than it was 30 years ago. While India's economic growth has helped alleviate poverty by 19 per cent between 1990 and 2005, globally poverty rates declined 38 per cent.

    In contrast, the Asian Development Bank's benchmark for poverty is anyone earning less than $1.35 a day on purchasing power parity. This puts 55 per cent of India's population (about 600 million) in the category of poor. As India's weekly Businessworld had earlier reported, ('A Place in The Sun', BW, 20 August 2007), a correlation of development between India, China and sub-Saharan Africa shows India is more similar to Africa than China.

    New Delhi implicitly refutes the above figures by insisting its measures of poverty, which are based on an estimation of caloric intake, show India has only 300 million poor.

    Maybe it is time India returned to seeing its population as a problem and stopped flaunting its 1.1 billion people as a 'huge market'. In fact, India's population, along with China's, is likely to be a huge economic and ecological strain on the globe in coming years. ( Businessworld, India, September 19, 2008).

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    2. Projects of Mass Destruction

    But nothing is done aginst it.

    NGOs are registered either by Joint Stock Companies under the Societies Act of 1868 or by the Ministry of Commerce or by the Social Welfare Ministry as non-profitable and non-political organisations. Because of their registration as non-profitable organisation, NGOs get subsidy that any ordinary businessman or business organisation does not get.

    There is a wide gap between precept and practice. The truth of this adage is very well illustrated in the claim of non-governmental organisations or NGOs to be non-profitable and charitable outfits. But some large NGOs of the country own marathon shopping complexes, dairies, private universities and even banks. That is not all. BRAC, one of the largest NGOs of the country, has started housing or real estate business and in doing so it is taking over hundreds of bighas of marshlands in the city’s suburbs including Uttara, Ashulia and Demra. It is deplorable that organisations like BRAC should be involved in such environment destroying activities (Editirial, The Independent, 5. 09. 03).

    NGOs claim to represent the voices of the people. Critics have objected that NGOs only force women's programmes in order to get a larger amount of foreign aid for example. However, it is somewhat dubious whetherNGOs really come up to the expectations of being the predominant agents of change.

    Revenue resources, spent to the extent of around 1, 4000 million Taka (60 Taka= 1 US dollar) for twenty-three poverty alleviation projects of government agencies, have not been optimally used for the targeted rural people. In such a context, people have right to ask for review reports on the performance of official and non-official agencies for poverty alleviation (The Bangladesh Observer, 4. 12. 02).

    It is now increasingly realised by development practitioners that the policies emanating from the so-called Washington Consensus are too much homogenous and have failed to allow adequately for regional, national and social differences to the nature of the economic challenges faced by various countries. In fact, Washington Consensus has to take a larger share of the blame for disappointing outcomes like repeated crises, lost growth and continuation of high poverty and increasing disparity between the incomes of the rich and the poor. Belatedly, IMF is also now admitting "that accelerating growth is a much more complex process than simply accumulating physical capital (plant, equipment, roads and bridges). Now-a-days, it is recognised that "soft factors" -- such as institutions and governance -- matter just as much -- probably a lot more. No matter how much capital is poured into an economy strong growth is impossible if individuals and companies do not enjoy meaningful property rights, reliable courts and other market institutions". (Kenneth Rogaff in Straight Talk published in IMF journal Finance and Development June 2003).

    The First World forgets that the reasons of our poverty are not corruption,superstition and ignorance, but the main reasons derive from the determination of the developed countries to pursue ever-rising living standards and from the logic of the global economic system that provides them with their affluence.

    First World's superior effective demand enables them to secure many of the resources produced in the developing countries and to ensure that the industries built their are the industries that will produce the things that First World want, rather than things that will produce things we need, and in many cases new markets are produced which are not necessarily needed in the developing countries.

    A city roundtable yesterday came down heavily on donors for excessive interference in policy matters and looked at aid-induced development effort with a grain of salt. It also said taxpayers contribute three times more than the donors to the GDP, but they have little or no role in decision making. The speakers at the roundtable also felt that the role of the World Bank, as the coordinator of the donors, has been too interfering. But the fact remains that donor assistance has decreased to three per cent of GDP from nine per cent 10 years back.

    Finance and Planning Minister M Saifur Rahman attended the roundtable on 'Foreign Aid Dependence and Self-reliance' as chief guest. It was organised by the Economic Relations Division at the National Economic Council building at the Planning Commission. Speaking at the roundtable, the finance minister said he is against seeking aid from donors and said it cannot be vouched for sure that the assistance received in the past 30 years did good to the country.

    He said donors talk tall, while aid flow is gradually declining. The country has to spend around Tk 8 lakh a day for a delegation to attend the Paris Club meeting to seek aid. "We could easily have made three schools with the daily expenditure on our delegation," he said.


    The developed countries have forced the poorer countries to dismantle their tariff walls and allow unrestricted entry of goods from developing countries. On pain of being denied aid many developing countries obliged, although this was a hard decision and it deadened any future possibility of their industrialisation. This increased the number of jobless in poor countries but when it came to free movement of workers the boot is in the other leg. The poor countries have been intensely pressurised to withdraw subsidy from their industries due to which their export of industrial goods becomes non-competitive. But the rich countries pay agricultural subsidies at the rate of six times they pay in aid to poor countries. Now, for most poor countries agricultural products are the only exports whose entry into Western market is barred through subsidising the farmers in rich countries. Thus the poor countries are being fleeced three times over. The just-concluded Cancun Conference epitomises a great resistance to institutionalised exploitation in the name of Globalisation (The Independent, 18. 09. 03).

    Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said the taxpayers' contribution to GDP is now 12 per cent while the donors have shrunk their share to around three per cent from nine per cent 10 years back. "But the taxpayers have no role in policy decisions. As a citizen, I resent this situation," he said. Debapriya said there is no instance that poverty alleviation programme supported by foreign aid had been successful. (Daily Star, 15. 11. 02)

    NGOs run on foreign funds: Their projects pander to the wishes of donors

    Transparency International Bangladesh chairman Prof Muzaffer Ahmad Saturday urged nongovernmental organisations not to take financial assistance from foreign donors to become self-reliant, reports

    "In our country, NGOs run on foreign funds. Their projects pander to the wishes of donors. The NGOs have to become self-reliant," Ahmad told a convention on "Institutional Good Governance of NGOs" at the LGED auditorium in the city. "During the Language Movement, students had raised funds by saving up from their pocket money. They raised funds from different sources for different movements, but did not receive foreign assistance." The TIB chairman claimed that there would be no welfare with foreign money.

    Pointing to NGO representatives present at the convention, Ahmad said: "You don't stand against the eviction of indigenous people from their ancestral lands, encroachment of rivers and land grabbing. You don't stand against pollution through industrial waste." "Where is your contribution in the field of agriculture? You are speaking of eliminating poverty but you are doing nothing for the betterment of farmers. Rather you are making them poorer by giving loans on high interest."

    The NGOs have been used politically, Ahmad alleged. "As a result, the job of NGOs is being hampered. Religion-based NGOs are emerging. Money comes from abroad in the name of religious schools." On the operations of microcredit by NGOs, he said: "Many NGOs have disappeared into thin air after taking money meant for microcredit. Big corporate NGOs are involved with other businesses." (Independent. June 29, 2008)

    Micro Credits

    Bio-fuel to threaten food security

    Development activists and experts have warned the government against entering into any deal with multinationals on promotion and production of bio-fuel, which, they fear, will put pressure on agriculture and make food further costlier in the country.

    They referred to a recent meeting between industries adviser Geeteara Safiya Chowdhury and a delegation of Japanese Honda company on possible production of fuel from sugarcane as part of some rich countries’ campaign to replace fossil fuel by agro-fuel. Such a venture will completely destroy the soil fertility in the project areas, they cautioned at a discussion on bio-fuel in the city Friday. It will not only make the farmers dependent on genetically processed seeds, but also reduce food production from the country’s scarce land, the participants said.

    Founder of Ubinig, Farhad Mazhar said bio-fuel is directly linked to food security and emerging as a new area of political conflict.

    He warned that the proposed deal for bringing Japanese investment for development of sugarcane cultivation will ultimately be disastrous for the country as it will reduce production of things like molasses and seriously damage the soil due to use of genetically processed seeds and excessive application of fertilisers and pesticides. In this regard, he mentioned that the promotion of high yielding maize varieties by some NGOs in the northern districts will not be beneficial for the country as it will be used for poultry feed and not for human consumption.

    They criticised the successive governments for ignoring the railway and instead, focusing much on constructing roads which blocked natural flow of water and caused water-logging in many parts of the country. Wrong decisions have pushed the public sector enterprises in jute sector towards ruination and the sugarcane sector will see the same consequence if international companies are allowed to bring in genetically advanced seeds in the name of promoting bio-fuel, they said (New Age, September 15, 21007).

    50 Garments Workers commit Suicide within only Five months (2004)

    garment workerMany have expressed doubt about Bangladesh's ability to absorb the shock as the international, particularly the US, garments market becomes open and competitive.The workers are dispensable. Is that how the government and the BGMEA want to meet the threat from an open and competitive international garments market? In any civilised country, this would have made the most shocking news of a given time. But here things are different. Or how else does it explain that more than 50 suicidal deaths in the narrow manufacturing belt of Gazipur have taken so much time to come to light? In all societies money speak but since money here is in a few hands and not clean, it has the loudest voice of all. Reportedly, there was some manipulation at work to suppress the first mass suicidal cases in our garments industry. When the quota reservation for our garments products goes after a few months, the tragedy may hit even harder.

    Political Elites

    Yes, India is progressing well with agriculture but, growingly, farmers have been committing suicide in large numbers. How long your research will last sir(s)? We want clear guidelines from you. We, the farmers, are responsive to markets, technology and modern inputs. You advise us not to use pesticides for side effects but you gentlemen swallow antibiotics knowing fully well that they have side effects too. We want more outputs even at some costs. Finally, don't think farmers are fools. Now a days they can change chief ministers and the recent elections are a point towards that".
    Chenglala Reddy, Honorary Chairman of the Federation of Farmers' Association, Andhra Pradesh, India

    "Political elites and their cronies continue to take kickbacks at every opportunity. Hand in glove with corrupt business people, they are trapping whole nations in poverty and hampering sustainable development. Corruption is perceived to be dangerously high in poor parts of the world, but also in many countries whose firms invest in developing nations," said Peter Eigen, Chairman of Transparency International, speaking today on the launch of the Corruption Perceptions Index 2002 (CPI).

    Tunku Abdul Aziz, TI Vice-Chairman, speaking in Malaysia on the launch of the CPI 2002, said: "The CPI has once again confirmed that corruption is a malady afflicting not only the developing countries, but also the developed world. Corruption is neutral. It is no respecter of nations, big or small, rich or poor. It is all the more critical, therefore, that both the North and the South buckle down to confront corruption much more vigorously and decisively."

    "Developed countries have a special humanitarian responsibility," he continued, "given the resources at their disposal, to investigate and prosecute the companies within their jurisdictions that are bribing. Their bribes and incentives to corrupt public officials and politicians are subverting the orderly development of poor nations, already trapped, as they are, in a vicious circle of crippling poverty, hunger and disease."

    Tunku Abdul Aziz said: "Corruption continues to deny the poor, the marginalised, and the least educated members of every society the social, economic and political benefits that should properly accrue to them, benefits that are taken for granted in societies that have managed to shake off the yoke of corruption." (Transparency International, Berlin, 28 August 2002).

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    Moyur has turned into a stagnant water body due to Khulna city protection dam (1982-83)

    Moyur has turned into a stagnant water body after the Khulna city protection dam was built in 1982-83 years and the river gradually filled by throwing household wastes and pathological wastes. The wastes from the KCC slaughterhouse and tannery, and open latrines are further polluting the water of the river and the adjoining environment.

    The statement demanded cleaning and dredging of the river, checking of wastes disposal in the river, eviction of the open latrines, regular opening of the sluice gate for flushing out water, shifting of the tannery and slaughterhouse, eviction of the encroachers from the river banks and releasing of fish during then raining season. Meanwhile, the Khulna district administration has started eviction of illegal structures from the river banks. After removal of five illegal structures on Tuesday, the Khulna deputy commissioner, SM Firoz Alam told New Age that the administration will continue the eviction drive until the river banks are free from the encroachers.

    Green activists call for saving River Moyur . The committee to save rivers at a press conference at the Khulna Press Club on Wednesday put forward their 10-point charter of demands to save the River Moyur that flows by the western side of the city (The Independent, March 14, 2008).

    BMap of Khulna

    Kumar River, FaridpurNote: All cities of Bangladesh are facing the same probleme. At Faridpur Sadar, the flood protection embankment project have made made Kumar River dry or stagnant water for millions of people. Acute water and arsenic problems have made the life of millions of population a disastorous situation.


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    3. The World Bank

    In 1964, a 20-year master plan for water resources development was initiated, and after independence, the government endorsed this approach quite uncritically and took steps to carry the programme further. More than 8,200 kms of embankments were constructed under these projects. In addition, more than 4,700 kms of irrigation canals, 3,400 kms of drainage channels, more than 9,000 hydraulic structures (such as sluice gates and regulators), 4,300 bridges and culverts, 96 pump houses and two barrages were built.

    In 1972, the World Bank seemed critical about some of the projects that had been started in the 60s. It termed many of the projects as "poorly conceived" and "ill-suited" to the particular needs of the country. It categorically named one, the Ganges-Kobadak irrigation and flood control project as "an example of a poorly selected and prepared project."

    But by then $132 million had been spent on it. According to the Bank, "after 16 years of construction, redesign, and reconstruction, the project failed to perform at even 50 percent of the original design standard." Nevertheless, the same institution kept itself busy continuing similar old big projects and formulating similar new ones.

    Repeatedly, the Bank and other "development" missions have noted the great potential for using ground water for domestic and agricultural needs and therefore advocated for its more intensive use. Many water projects, such as Brahmaputra right bank embankment project, Pabna project, Dakatia and Halda project, Barisal project, Ganges-Kobadak Kushtia project, Chenchuri and the Barnal, Salinpur-Bashukhali projects in the Khulna area, Surma-Baulai Haor and the Knowai River projects in Northeast region, River training, Chandpur riverbed stabilization project, Chilmari project, and Kurigram project came into being

    After nearly thirty years of "successful" and intensive tapping of groundwater, nearly 35 million people in Bangladesh are now facing deadly threat from arsenic poisoning. Experts opine that arsenic in the groundwater has links with indiscriminate use of groundwater. Now, again, the Bank has taken the lead in conducting million dollar projects related to "managing" the arsenic problem.

    Hugh Brammer, associated with water sector projects in Bangladesh for a long time, wrote in 2002, that he witnessed an incident "where a chief engineer simply crossed out the word 'not' from the recommendation that certain soils were 'not suitable for irrigation' in the draft report on a detailed soil survey of a proposed irrigation project area. The authority was successful in obtaining funds from the donor to implement the project -- which was a disaster." He also observed that, "Bangladeshi consultants hired to carry out such surveys (and also project appraisals) were aware that 'happiness reports' were more likely to ensure their future business than strictly objective reports on their findings (Prof.Anu Muhammad ,Jahangirnagar University,27 July, 2004).

    Bangladesh dubbed as one of poorest countries in the world does not tell the whole story and solve the problems. Bangladesh showed tremendous progress in all sectors of the economy. People look at the per capita income and presume a dismal picture. It cannot be denied that more than 80 percent of the people live in poverty. Ten percent of the population enjoys the quality of life of countries having per capita income of more than $40,000 and 80 percent live with income less than $600 a year.

    The failure of the economy to bring the benefit to the poor is due to inefficient and ineffective government and incongruent external influence:

  • For example, IMF on the one hand pressures the government to relax import controls and on the other asks to raise the diesel price. Unrestricted imports drain foreign exchange reserves for non-valued added luxuries and raising diesel price will increase the cost of agricultural production and reduce the firm income. World Bank and IMF are acting as double edged swords. We should work for market economy and not hurt the rural economy
  • In August 2003, the World Bank Group in Bangladesh has identified five key areas to reduce poverty and invigorate social development: 1) pro-poor economic growth, 2) human development through education, 3) women's advancement, 4) social safety net for the poor, and 5) participatory governance. On paper this looks very good, but in 2006 things remain where they were three years ago in terms reducing the poverty level of the poor.
  • The economy instead of becoming pro-poor is increasingly becoming pro-rich.

    The World Bank, itself mired in governance scandal, in a recently-released report has placed Bangladesh among the nations who have regressed in combating corruption. Among the backsliders are Bangladesh, Poland, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, and Pakistan. The countries which have made significant gains [progress] in their anti-graft drives are Indonesia, Colombia, Turkey, and Afghanistan. The survey, conducted in 200 countries, said corruption in America was proliferating.

    The report begins to challenge the long-held popular notion that the rich world has reached nirvana in governance, the New York Times quoted Daniel Kauffman, co-author of the report, as saying. The countries are rightly questioning the WB, What right you have of rating the world when you first ave to rate yourselves. It has to start at home, Kauffman emphasised. The report, Governance Matters, 2007: and Governance Indicators 1996-2006, was co-authored by Kauffman, Aart Krasy, and Massimo Mastruzzi. The survey took into account corruption, electoral democracy, civil liberties, press freedom, human rights, and transparency in governance (Holiday July 12, 2007).

    The Conditioned Assistance Leads to More Poverty and Discrimination in Society

    Asking the government for reducing dependency on donors' conditional aid, speakers at a roundtable in Dhaka made an observation that the conditioned assistance leads to more poverty and discrimination in society. The roundtable on World Bank and IMF in Bangladesh: Declining Foreign Aid, Rising Policy Dependence was organised by the weekly Ekota at its office.

    The speakers came down heavily on the present government for accepting donors' conditional aid like its predecessor political government. They also thought that the conditional aid contributed to the surge in inflation over the year. Economist Abu Ahmed said the inflation rate was 4.5percent in 2005, which now reached over 7 percent because of following the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank prescriptions. He also felt it urgent to halt the IMF intervention in the country's monetary policy.

    Ahmed also criticised the central bank's recent monetary policy and said although governor of the bank claimed the policy as cautious, but there is no term in economy like cautious monetary policy. "A monetary policy could either be tightening or relaxed. There is no option between these criteria," he said.

    Abu Ahmed, also a professor of Economics at the Dhaka University, suggested that Bangladesh should learn something from India, which sustained strong economic growth without following any diktat on monetary policy from the two multilateral lending agencies.

    Prof M M Akash of Dhaka University presented a keynote paper on IMF and World's Bank activities in Bangladesh. In his presentation, he said World Bank's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) and IMF's Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) are not viable for poverty reduction in Bangladesh.

    These two donors imposed such strategies to make the country an open market of the developed nations, he said, adding that poverty reduction ratio is yet to be significant after following their prescriptions. Quoting from an article written by the present finance adviser in 2003, he said the adviser himself admitted that dependency on donors' aid had reduced significantly after 1990s. When the adviser was cautious about aid inflow, how he now allows huge conditions for getting donors' aid, he questioned (Daily Star, August 23, 2007).

    The Globalizer Who Came In From the Cold

    Joseph Stiglitz: 'Have Given Global Poverty New Prominence'

    A Buddha-ful mind: Joseph Stiglitz, economic visionaryThough they wrote nearly 3,000 years ago, the Hebrew prophets railed against pretty much the sort of thing that angers Joseph Stiglitz about our globalised world - high taxes on the poor, trade rules rigged in favour of the rich, the exploitation of unfair and unsustainable debts, and laws which discriminate against the poor. Those are Mr Stiglitz's themes still - as is the hypocrisy of leaders who present themselves as righteous, who abide the letter of their promises rather than the spirit, who pretend to be fair but are biased against the poor.

    But Joseph Stiglitz is not just some out-of-date leftie who the tide has left behind. He is a former chief economist at the World Bank. He was the chief economic adviser to the Clinton administration. And he won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2001 for ground-breaking work on what happens to the workings of the market when those involved have unequal access to information. "it's very clear now that the promises made at Doha [to redress the imbalances of previous trade rounds] have been reneged upon. "The way that the EU commissioner (Peter Mandelson) talks about the issue shows that," Mr Stiglitz says. "To a great fanfare we made an offer to open our markets to 97 per cent of products from developing countries. But that offer was worth zero. We're allowing countries like Bangladesh to export jet engines, aircraft and lots of other things they don't produce. But things they do produce, like textiles and apparel, we're going to keep out."

    But the Uruguay round of talks, which preceded Doha, produced something on trade which is useful to poor nations. Uruguay gave the World Trade Organisation the power to decree whether certain practices were legal or not. Over the past few years, the WTO has ruled against the trade practices of both Europe and the US.

    This procedure, Mr Stiglitz believes, could now be used to force the US to act on the only other issue he sees as being of the same magnitude as world poverty - climate change. A decade ago, Mr Stiglitz was a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Today, his concern about global warming has been turned into alarm. "Ten years back the theory was clear, as was the evidence of the increasing concentrations. But no one thought it would manifest itself as quickly, and in such a dramatic way." The high level of carbon emissions by the US is, he says, the elephant in the room on climate change. President Bush won't do anything beyond trying to find technological fixes. "It really is a cause for concern. We have reached an impasse. And the problem is too important for that."

    Mr Stiglitz offers two solutions. The first is to create incentives for developing countries to get involved in global warming reductions. Carbon trading initiatives offer a market-based solution. But there is need for more. "Kyoto offered financial rewards to Third World countries for planting new forests, but not for maintaining existing ones. So Papua New Guinea can get money if it chops down its forest and replants it but not if it just keeps its forest. That's silly."

    His second idea will prove more controversial. The US could be forced to take action on climate change using world trade laws, Mr Stiglitz says. The EU and others should apply to the WTO for a ruling which declares that America's refusal to participate in carbon curbs constitutes a de facto subsidy to US industry, which is illegal under trade rules.

    "Research shows that it is very difficult to buy good behaviour by imposing economic conditionality on poor countries. On the other hand selectivity does make a lot of sense - to give money to countries that are performing better. In particular it doesn't make sense to give money to countries that have high levels of corruption."(February 20, 2006 by the Independent / UK )

    In 1999 the World Bank fired Stiglitz. He was not allowed quiet retirement; US Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, I’m told, demanded a public excommunication for Stiglitz’ having expressed his first mild dissent from globalization World Bank style. Here in Washington we completed the last of several hours of exclusive interviews for The Observer and BBC TV’s Newsnight about the real, often hidden, workings of the IMF, World Bank, and the bank’s 51% owner, the US Treasury.

    And here, from sources unnamable (not Stiglitz), we obtained a cache of documents marked, “confidential,” “restricted,” and “not otherwise (to be) disclosed without World Bank authorization.” Stiglitz helped translate one from bureaucratise, a “Country Assistance Strategy.” There’s an Assistance Strategy for every poorer nation, designed, says the World Bank, after careful in-country investigation. But according to insider Stiglitz, the Bank’s staff ‘investigation’ consists of close inspection of a nation’s 5-star hotels. It concludes with the Bank staff meeting some begging, busted finance minister who is handed a ‘restructuring agreement’ pre-drafted for his ‘voluntary’ signature (I have a selection of these). Each nation’s economy is individually analyzed, then, says Stiglitz, the Bank hands every minister the same exact four-step program:

  • Step One is Privatization - which Stiglitz said could more accurately be called, ‘Briberization.’ Rather than object to the sell-offs of state industries, he said national leaders - using the World Bank’s demands to silence local critics - happily flogged their electricity and water companies. “You could see their eyes widen” at the prospect of 10% commissions paid to Swiss bank accounts for simply shaving a few billion off the sale price of national assets.
  • After briberization, Step Two of the IMF/World Bank one-size-fits-all rescue-your-economy plan is ‘Capital Market Liberalization.’ In theory, capital market deregulation allows investment capital to flow in and out. Unfortunately, as in Indonesia and Brazil, the money simply flowed out and out. Stiglitz calls this the “Hot Money” cycle. Cash comes in for speculation in real estate and currency, then flees at the first whiff of trouble. A nation’s reserves can drain in days, hours. And when that happens, to seduce speculators into returning a nation’s own capital funds, the IMF demands these nations raise interest rates to 30%, 50% and 80%.

    “The result was predictable,” said Stiglitz of the Hot Money tidal waves in Asia and Latin America. Higher interest rates demolished property values, savaged industrial production and drained national treasuries.

    At this point, the IMF drags the gasping nation to Step Three: Market-Based Pricing, a fancy term for raising prices on food, water and cooking gas. This leads, predictably, to Step-Three-and-a-Half: what Stiglitz calls, “The IMF riot.”

    The IMF riot is painfully predictable. When a nation is, “down and out, [the IMF] takes advantage and squeezes the last pound of blood out of them. They turn up the heat until, finally, the whole cauldron blows up,” as when the IMF eliminated food and fuel subsidies for the poor in Indonesia in 1998. Indonesia exploded into riots, but there are other examples - the Bolivian riots over water prices last year and this February, the riots in Ecuador over the rise in cooking gas prices imposed by the World Bank. You’d almost get the impression that the riot is written into the plan.

    The secret report notes that the plan to make the US dollar Ecuador’s currency has pushed 51% of the population below the poverty line. The World Bank “Assistance” plan simply calls for facing down civil strife and suffering with, “political resolve” - and still higher prices.

    The IMF riots (and by riots I mean peaceful demonstrations dispersed by bullets, tanks and teargas) cause new panicked flights of capital and government bankruptcies. This economic arson has it’s bright side - for foreign corporations, who can then pick off remaining assets, such as the odd mining concession or port, at fire sale prices.

    Stiglitz notes that the IMF and World Bank are not heartless adherents to market economics. At the same time the IMF stopped Indonesia ’subsidizing’ food purchases, “when the banks need a bail-out, intervention (in the market) is welcome.” The IMF scrounged up tens of billions of dollars to save Indonesia’s financiers and, by extension, the US and European banks from which they had borrowed.

    A pattern emerges. There are lots of losers in this system but one clear winner: the Western banks and US Treasury, making the big bucks off this crazy new international capital churn. Stiglitz told me about his unhappy meeting, early in his World Bank tenure, with Ethopia’s new president in the nation’s first democratic election. The World Bank and IMF had ordered Ethiopia to divert aid money to its reserve account at the US Treasury, which pays a pitiful 4% return, while the nation borrowed US dollars at 12% to feed its population. The new president begged Stiglitz to let him use the aid money to rebuild the nation. But no, the loot went straight off to the US Treasury’s vault in Washington. Now we arrive at Step Four of what the IMF and World Bank call their “poverty reduction strategy”: Free Trade. This is free trade by the rules of the World Trade Organization and World Bank, Stiglitz the insider likens free trade WTO-style to the Opium Wars. “That too was about opening markets,” he said. As in the 19th century, Europeans and Americans today are kicking down the barriers to sales in Asia, Latin American and Africa, while barricading our own markets against Third World agriculture.

    In the Opium Wars, the West used military blockades to force open markets for their unbalanced trade. Today, the World Bank can order a financial blockade just as effective - and sometimes just as deadly. Stiglitz is particularly emotional over the WTO’s intellectual property rights treaty (it goes by the acronym TRIPS, more on that in the next chapters). It is here, says the economist, that the new global order has “condemned people to death” by imposing impossible tariffs and tributes to pay to pharmaceutical companies for branded medicines. “They don’t care,” said the professor of the corporations and bank loans he worked with, “if people live or die.”

    By the way, don’t be confused by the mix in this discussion of the IMF, World Bank and WTO. They are interchangeable masks of a single governance system. They have locked themselves together by what are unpleasantly called, “triggers.” Taking a World Bank loan for a school ‘triggers’ a requirement to accept every ‘conditionality’ - they average 111 per nation - laid down by both the World Bank and IMF. In fact, said Stiglitz the IMF requires nations to accept trade policies more punitive than the official WTO rules.

    Stiglitz greatest concern is that World Bank plans, devised in secrecy and driven by an absolutist ideology, are never open for discourse or dissent. Despite the West’s push for elections throughout the developing world, the so-called Poverty Reduction Programs “undermine democracy.” And they don’t work. Black Africa’s productivity under the guiding hand of IMF structural “assistance” has gone to hell in a handbag. Did any nation avoid this fate? Yes, said Stiglitz, identifying Botswana. Their trick? “They told the IMF to go packing.”

  • Joseph Stiglitz is a leading economist, and worked at the World Bank. He talks about the World Bank, poverty and problems therein.
  • Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz speaks about his book, "Making Globalization Work." This event took place on October 13, 2006

  • WB wants VAT to extend its reach to small businesses
    Economists see ominous signs

    The World Bank has asked the government to extend the reach of value added tax to small businesses like hotels and tailoring shops — a step, which, economists believe, will make living costlier for the masses. Professionals like physician and lawyer, tourism and hospitality industry, classified advertisement, travel agency, insurance company and dental clinic are among the services and businesses which the global lender wants to come under extended VAT net, sources in the government have told New Age.

    Economics have warned that imposition of VAT on businesses like small hotels, restaurants and tailoring shops will affect small traders and poor consumers at a time when the economic activities show signs of slump.

    Zaid Bakht, research director, Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, said timing for imposing VAT on small hotels and restaurants was not suitable taking into consideration the present state of economy. He added that small hotels and restaurants are important elements of the economy and keeping them out of VAT purview ultimately benefits the poor customers. ‘Both small traders, poor consumers and the economy as a whole will be affected if VAT is imposed on them,’ Zaid said.

    Professor Anu Muhammad said the proposed measure would increase the cost of living of the masses, particularly the low-income group. He said the World Bank desires the expansion of VAT as it wants to make the country’s economy entirely an import-dependent one.

    ‘The very concept of VAT is to lessen the earnings from import duties and pave the way for unfettered access of cheap foreign goods to destroy the local economy,’ said Anu, who teaches economics at Jahangirnagar University.

    The so-called economic reforms made during the last two decades opened the floodgate of imports of foreign goods and ended up in raising the expenditures of the people. He called upon the government to come out from the mire of the multilateral lending agencies and stop thinking of extending VAT’s reach to small businesses, which will affect the life of poor consumers and small traders (New Age, October 8, 2007).

    Kistaiah reached for a packet of phorate, a pesticide used in despite its being listed as unsafe by the Food and Agriculture Organisation. He mixed a little with water and drank it.

    Across the planet, the world's poorest people are struggling to keep their heads above water. Farmers who are lucky enough to have access land find themselves caught between rising costs of inputs and a crop price that, in the main, has been downward. Prompted by the need to squeeze more out of their land, farmers do as they always have - they innovate.
    In a field outside Bangalore, this is what one farmer in Tamil Nadu, India - let's call him Kistaiah Masaya - did. To innovate, he needed money. The only place he could get some was from the local moneylender (and at exorbitant rates). He borrowed the money certain that he would be able to repay. He used the cash to hire a drill to bore a well, so that he could irrigate his crops. The well was dry. So he borrowed more and sunk another well. And another. And another. All were dry.

    One night, late in August, when the rains had failed to come, Kistaiah reached for a packet of phorate, a pesticide used in despite its being listed as unsafe by the Food and Agriculture Organisation. He mixed a little with water and drank it.

    The poison ran through his skin before it went through his stomach, paralysing his nervous system, choking his lungs and stopping his heart. Kistaiah can't have convulsed very hard: he died without waking his wife and two sons.

    Kistaiah's death is one among many - indeed, it is hard to open a newspaper in India and not find some reference to a farmer suicide. Full figures are hard to come by - no national database is kept - but summing over a series of studies, it's safe to put the death toll at tens of thousands every year.

    It has been suggested that the high risk of suicide among farmers may be related to the access they have to means of committing suicide - pesticides and firearms, for example - but it is the whys of farmer suicides that is arguably more important than the hows.

    Invariably, these suicides correlate with high levels of debt. S. S. Gill, an academic at the Punjabi Agricultural University, has studied the issue. 'Show me a farmer with 150,000 rupees (about ?1,800) in debt,' he says. 'I will say to you he is sure to commit suicide in the future.'
    The precise reason farmers topple into despair varies, from crop failure to injury or wedding costs, but the outcome is invariably bleak with high debts. Pesticide companies have been quick to capitalise on this despair. Many now trumpet their products as away out of poverty - in particular with genetically modified (GM) crops such as cotton. Far more expensive than their conventional counterparts, in some areas GM cotton seeds have done so badly that in one Indian state, according to the Associated Press, a federal regulator denied permission for Monsanto to sell three different varieties of GM cotton. The government was pressed into action precisely because of the high suicide rates of indebted GM cotton farmers.

    Of course, suicide isn't the only recourse for farmers. Those in Shingnapur, a village in the Amravati district of Maharashtra, have opened up a kidney sale centre, which they invited their local politicians to patronise, in order to help repay their loans.

    And this points to a key contradiction: as India's most important rural commentator, P. Sainath, has observed, we are troubled by how people die, but not by how they live - and the majority of India's rural poor are doing, very badly indeed. Those doing worst are not farmers, but farm labourers, among whom malnutrition has gone up to levels unseen since British rule. Unlike farmers who die by their own hand, many more farm labourers die from hunger. All this happens at the same time as another epidemic: because of spiking levels of processed food snacking, India will soon be home to the world's largest concentration of diabetics.

    The unravelling of the Indian government's commitment to its poorest citizens began in earnest in 1990, when Manmohan Singh, the current Indian prime minister, was finance minister. He introduced a suite of economic policies that led to a fall in government spending on agriculture and let into the country agro-food companies such as Coca?-Cola and Monsanto, together with their advertising dollars and their genetically modified seeds. The net result has been a steep increase in landless households, from around 35% in 1987-88 to more than 40% in 1999-2000. The net effect of this policy has been to drive the poor out of agriculture.

    It is an economic policy that will soon be blessed by the World Bank and foisted on more impoverished farmers, not just in Asia, but worldwide. In its forthcoming World Development Report on Agriculture, the World Bank gives the green light to the shifting of poor agricultural workers to 'more efficient' sectors. Of course, an increased pool of unskilled rural labour does nothing but drives down wage rates. The countries that have implemented the Bank's suggestions most vigorously have also seen steep rises in urban poverty rates; yet the Bank's remedy to rural despair is to sigh and tell poor farmers that they're not destined to be on the land, and usher them on to menial work off the farm. This rural crisis is one that is being vigorously challenged by farmer groups such as Via Campesina. The odds are steep, especially given the bank's international power, but we can only hope they succeed in stopping these kinds of economic savagery. And not just for the sake of farmers in India, but for farmers worldwide. - Third World Network Features, Holiday 25.01.08

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    4. World Bank under fire for policy on medicine, anti-corruption drive

    In Bangladesh, for example, the World Bank has made lending conditional on privatisation.

    ‘Bangladesh, where over 50 per cent of the population live under the poverty line, faces direct conditions calling for privatisation of its banks, electricity and telcommunications, and additional reforms to the gas and petrol sector that will facilitate private sector involvement,’ said the British-based charity and pressure group, Oxfam. Britain has said it will withhold a 50-million-pound contribution in protest at the conditions attached to aid given to poor countries. The decision to hold back the money, equivalent to 74 million euros or 94 million dollars, reflects British concern that the world’s richest nations should not be telling poor countries how to run their economic affairs. The international development secretary, Hilary Benn, said conditions should be attached in areas such as tackling corruption and promoting good governance but it was ‘not right’ to impose them on economic policy choices. However, the World Bank president played down the row.

    ‘The World Bank in the past has been too full of prescriptions for countries about what they should do but I think we have learned a lot from experience,’ Wolfowitz said. ‘I understand the concern, I share the concern, but I think we’re dealing with it,’ he told reporters. British charity Christian Aid’s head of policy Charles Abugre has praised London’s decision but urged it to go further in withholding all its contributions to the World Bank. ‘This is a very welcome development and vindicates Christian Aid’s long-held belief that economic conditions imposed on poor countries by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund can be disastrous for poor countries. ‘But this is only a first step. We now urge Britain to go the extra mile and withhold all its monies.’

    The suspended amount is about 10 per cent of the 500 million pounds Britain is due to give the World Bank next year but it is a drop in the ocean compared to the Bank’s annual loans and grants of about 20 billion dollars. Governance watchdog Transparency International said Thursday the World Bank must undergo a cultural change and increasingly involve civil society groups if it wants to beat corruption.

    The group lauded the World Bank for recognising corruption as a serious issue and for drawing up a strategy to combat the problem, but said it needed to do more. ‘Now it has to start listening to civil society because the truth is that whilst we and many others have raised awareness about corruption, there is still an Everest to climb,’ said Frank Vogl, an official at the watchdog(Agence France-Presse . Singapore , Sept. 16, 2006).

    In 1972, about 5 crore people under poverty line -- rose to 7 crore in the year 2005

    Prof MM Akash speaks The projects, funded by the World Bank and other multinational donor agencies, have failed to achieve significant success in poverty reduction in the last 30 years in Bangladesh, speakers at roundtable observed yesterday. Terming all the World Bank projects in Bangladesh as 'mass destructive', they also said the bank should take the responsibility of the projects. They were speaking at the roundtable on 'World Bank in Bangladesh' held at the Jatiya Press Club in Dhaka. NGO Unnayan Onneshan organised the roundtable, moderated by Rashed Masud Titumir, chief of the NGO. The speakers also protested WB President Paul Wolfowitz's visit to Bangladesh. Wolfowitz is due in Dhaka today. They said the WB president would put pressure on the government to pass the immunity bill for WB-supported projects in the Jatiya Sansad (Daily Star,

    However, the WB is not the main problem in development, observed M M Akash, professor of Economics Department of Dhaka University. "Basically, we create problems by extending our hands to the WB's activities," he added. With the same WB-aided projects, which made Bangladesh to close down jute mills, the government of India established three jute mills in West Bengal, Akash cited an example. "It will be impossible as well to attain millenium development goals (MDGs) if we follow projects of the donors." Those projects are neither homegrown nor prepared assessing people's needs, he said.

    "However, we can avoid the donors' aids if we can stop making black money," said Abul Barakat, general secretary of Bangladesh Economic Association. In this country, some people are making around Tk 70,000 crore black money every year, he said (Daily Star, August 21, 2005).

    NGOs at a seminar in Dhaka yesterday observed that the country's poverty ratio increased in the last few years due to adoption of the World Bank and IMF prescriptions. They said in 1972, about 5 crore people were used to live under poverty line. But the figure rose to 7 crore in the year 2005, which resulted from adopting various suggestions made by these two international lending agencies, though aids from them increased by 63 percent during the same time. The observation came at a seminar on 'Interest of World Bank and International Monetary Fund: Policy Making, Condition and Sovereignty' organised by the Alliance for Economic Justice (AEJB), a platform of 36 organisations, including Campaign for Good Governance, at National Press Club.

    "The government has failed to monitor the domestic market by following WB and IMF prescriptions. As a result, poor people suffer more due to sky rocketing prices of commodities," said Mousumi Biswash of the Campaign for Good Governance. She said, "By adopting WB and IMF prescriptions, about 2 crore people fall under poverty line during the last few years." Abdullah Al Mamun of Karmojibi Nari said," As the national budget and other economic policies are usually formulated by following the WB and IMF suggestions, the ratio of poverty alleviation has come down".

    "If we continuously follow the donors' prescriptions instead of our own homegrown policy, it would not be possible to remove poverty from the country." Meanwhile, in protest against the intervention of WB and IMF, the AEJB has adopted some draft proposals, which would be publicised through a number of programmes. These programmes include seminars, submitting memoranda to deputy commissioners of 46 districts, lawmakers and finance minister, holding rally and forming human chain on September 16 in 46 districts, participating at Singapore summit and creating awareness through holding meeting there (Daily Star, September 12, 2006).

    Govt destroys jute, sugar industries at WB, IMF diktats, Sept. 2007

    The government has destroyed the country's jute and sugar industries by implementing the World Bank and IMF suggestions, former agriculture minister Motia Chowdhury said yesterday. "The finance and industries advisers are hell-bent on closing down jute and sugar factories one after another at the diktats of the multilateral donor agencies," Motia, also Awami League (AL) leader, said at a research finding dissemination programme in the capital where Finance Adviser Mirza Azizul Islam was also present.

    She also said farmers are now reluctant to cultivate jute and sugarcane, the two important cash crops, as they receive no policy support. Responding to the accusation, the finance adviser brushed aside the allegation, saying, "I swear in the name of God that neither the World Bank nor IMF even uttered a single word to close down any mill."

    The caretaker government recently closed down four state-run jute mills -- People's Jute Mills in Khulna, Karnaphuli Jute Mills and Forat-Karnaphuli Carpet Factory in Chittagong, and Kaomi Jute Mills in Sirajganj. The government found the SoEs non-viable to run.

    Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) launched its study report on 'Markets and Prices: Triangular Study of Producers, Traders and Consumers'. The study was conducted with the support from Katalyst, a project promoting small and medium enterprises. Economist Prof Wahiduddin Mahmud, Agriculture Adviser CS Karim, former agriculture minister and BNP leader MK Anwar, Executive Director of BRAC Mahabub Hossain, and Executive Chairman of PPRC Hossain Zillur Rahman also spoke (Daily Star, September 14, 2007).

    Increasing corruption in WB's $30b annual lending: NYT

    The World Bank (WB) which was enmeshed in deep troubles during the presidency of Paul Wolfowitz and was able to steer clear of a storm has again run into a rough weather over the question of combating ever expanding corruption in its $30 billion annual lending to the poor countries. An outside report had said that 40 per cent of bank's lending is dotted with corruption.

    Corruption has been widely acknowledged as a major problem in the operation of the bank. Weak management, mutual distrust, an internal resistance to combating fraud and graft have stalled the smooth operation of the bank, the New York Times reported recently. The crisis in the Bank has been heightened by the resignation of Ms Suzanne Rich Folsom, a Wolfowitz prot?, who led the anti-corruption unit of the Bank. Folsom has been blamed for being biased. She has been soft on Wolfowitz favourites and harsh with those who opposed him. Robert Zoellick who succeeded Paul Wolfowitz did not have cosy ties with Folsom but did not interfere with her work. Several of Folsom's colleagues are also leaving.

    The relations between Ms. Folsom and the bank had been far from congenial. There is a lot of bad blood in the bank, the NYT report quoted a bank official as saying. World Bank is allergic to efforts to cases of fraud and graft, another official said. Ms. Folsom said opposition to her work had made it difficult for her to function.

    The spokesman of the WB president Marwan Muasher denied speculation that Ms. Folsom was driven out and added the president had extended her his full support.

    Folsom had decided to leave the job earlier but was swayed by Zoellick to stay until the report of corruption in India was completed. The report has been released and it detected corruption in many lending programmes to India. The report on corruption in the WB aided projects in India were backed by pictures. Indian officials had pledged to find out the culprits but they backtracked. World Bank president Zoellick said 'Suzanne has done a tremendous amount to push the anti-corruption agenda forward and I am grateful to her', NYT reported. The WB president wants to 'install procedures on competitive bidding, inspections and disclosures that would prevent corruption instead of just prosecuting cases.' Ngozi Okonjo I weaala, former finance minister of Nigeria, now working with the WB has negotiated with India to set up ways to rid corruption. Paul Wolfowitz had suspended bank lending to India in 2005. This decision had enraged the bank's board members. Paul Volcker, former chairman US federal reserve, who headed the probe into multi-billion dollar scam in UN sponsored oil for food programme in Iraq also investigated corruption and graft in the World Bank.. Volcker praised Ms. Folsom but strongly suggested changes to prevent corruption in the bank. He also asked Folsom to quit to ease the 'toxic atmosphere' left by Paul Wolfowitz. Wolfowitz had appointed Folsom bypassing the candidate selected by the Bank's search committee. (Holiday, January 25, 2008)

    Thrust on the crippled jute sector

    IN 1947 when the subcontinent was partitioned, there was not a single jute mill in East Pakistan. Jute produced here was supplied to Calcutta jute mills and East Pakistan was classified as a hinterland of West Bengal. Then came the war in Korea and the demand for jute products went high. The war lasted for three years and in Bangladesh it was known as the ‘Korean war boom’. In 1951, in the face of a high demand for jute goods worldwide, a jute mill was set up here.

    After that in 1960 under the aegis of East Pakistan Industrial Development Corporation 27 more jute mills were set up. In 1969-70 the number of jute mills shot up to 53. Gradually, the number increased. When Bangladesh was born in 1971, the number of jute mills was 77 of which the public sector’s share was 40 and the private sector’s 37. At that time two lakh workers were employed in these mills and three lakh farmers were engaged in producing raw jute. Taken together, five lakh workers and farmers were beneficiaries of the growth in jute. The jute sector started facing competition from kenaf, a natural fibre produced in Thailand, and also synthetics. But jute continued to be the core sector of East Pakistan’s economy. Jute also became a centre of controversy in the politics of the East-West disparity. East Pakistan earned foreign exchange by exporting jute and jute goods while West Pakistan prospered by utilising this foreign exchange. In the 1960s jute was the focal point of how East Pakistan was squeezed.

    The greatest shock came to jute growers and mill owners when the Awami League government effected a wholesale nationalisation of jute mills. In all the abandoned and nationalised jute mills, the Awami League appointed administrators, who had no experience on jute and there was the worst kind of trade unionism in the mills. Ghost workers were enrolled. And for the just time jute mills began to incur losses. A newspaper at that time ran a story, headlined ‘Underproduction in overstaffed jute mills’. Jute exports also suffered a jolt. Adamjees, Bawanis and other such people were the mainstays of the jute sector. They had business contacts with different buyers of jute goods from East Pakistan jute goods. With their departure those contacts were lost. Moreover, the Awami League government made a serious blunder by dismissing Curium, then general manager of the Adamjee jute mills. He was a great expert on jute but he had no job. India’s talent hunters hired him with a fat salary. And he immensely contributed to India’s growth in jute industry.

    Gradually, Bangladesh started losing its traditional market in Britain, Europe and a number of African countries. The government of HM Ershad in 1982 started disinvesting the jute mills. No inventory was mad before the transfer of mills. But it was not a success story. Each government in the past 36 years has adopted a step-motherly attitude towards jute mills. To them it was a neglected sector as it was incurring losses year after year. While a crash programme was needed to salvage the industry which was 100 per cent value added, the governments went for massive inaction.

    Let us now come to the current situation. We do not like to say anything about closing down the Adamjee jute mills as arguments and counterarguments may be made about it. But one point haunts us. By a single stroke of the pen 40,000 workers were jobless. Everybody is aware that job creation is a very big thing in underdeveloped countries and the government’s emphasis on poverty reduction can only be done by creating jobs. The industries adviser to the interim government, Geeteara Safiya Chowdhury says the jute sector is burdened with enormous problems; even then the government is paying attention to it. A decision has been made to examine the issues pertaining to the jute industry. The government has started a crusade to revive the jute sector, she said.

    The biggest problem is that every jute mill is in debt. They cannot pay jute growers because they are not provided with the fund on time. Added to it is the problem of irregular power supply.
    According to another report, the industries adviser says the jute sector is in a horrible stage. There are a huge number of ghost workers in the public jute mills. All of them will be identified by a study. And then the government will decide how the jute sector will go further. A long-term plan for the development of the jute sector is being worked out, the advisor adds. One wonders why jute is losing ground despite a growing demand for it across the world. The public-sector jute mills have been suffering from supply constraints of raw jute, non-availability of electricity and huge amounts of outstanding bank loans.

    Buyers rush so neighbouring India as Bangladesh cannot provide them with adequate supply on time.
    The adviser says diversification of jute products will have to be made that would be able to satisfy consumers’ taste. The quality of jute fibre is deteriorating and there is often shortage of high-quality jute.

    A jute expert says jute bags and hessian are now in poor demand on the international market. Another natural fibre kenaf and verities of synthetic fibres and product have captured greater share of jute and jute products on the international market. Jute production in Bangladesh is continuously declining in conformity with the falling demand of jute products. India, to a great extent, is retaining its market by supplying diversified products of jute. Bangladesh has to do the same if it intends to recover at least a part of its market which was lost in the marketing wave of kenaf and synthetic products.

    Moreover, India has a big domestic market of jute goods. Bangladesh should also strive for a domestic market for jute goods. For the international market diversified products like carpet and curtain, vanity bag, etc should be produced. It needs aggressive entrepreneurship and salesmanship. A press report belies a note of optimism on jute. A newspaper writes that the government has decided to close down the losing jute mills, instead of selling them off to the public sector. Four Khulna jute mills are in the process of being closed down. Management inefficiency and corruption are the root causes of recurring losses in the public sector enterprises. Private sector mills which inherited the loans while in government ownership of them could not repay the loans.

    In the public sector jute mills, the government is providing subsidy worth Tk 150-200 crores. But only 7.5 per cent cash incentives are provided to private sector exports. While one jute mill after another is being closed down, by buying looms from these mills, the jute industry has started thriving in a small way in North Bengal. They machinery of the Adamjee jute mills and other shut-down enterprises have arrived in North Bengal.

    Even 50-year-old machinery and looms have not deterred local entrepreneurs who are making profit by selling jute products. A series of jute mills have come into being with 10 to 20 looms. They main buyers of the products are 400 rice mills, 50 cold storages, etc. Bankers have also come forward to these small-scale entrepreneurs, as they feel these are free of risks. When the jute sector is facing severe pressure from different quarters and donors, in seven months in 2006-07 period, $83,000 was earned from raw jute and $191.3 million from jute products (Achintya Sen, New Age, May 30, 2007) .

    Anu Muhammad, a professor of economics of Jahangirnagar University, in a paper titled ‘Jute, Jute Industry and Jute Land: An Artificially Created Crisis,’ pinpointed 11 specific reasons for chronic losses in the state-owned jute mills and doldrums in the industry.

    The reasons are discontinuation of subsidy for jute exports after independence, delay in disbursing budgetary money for jute purchase every year, lack of renovation of mills, power outage, lack of initiative to increase domestic use of jute goods, absence of adequate scheme to promote diversification of jute products, no drive for grasping market potentials or creating demand, compound interest rate for bank loans and accumulated loan burden on mills, misuse of workers’ working hours by successive ruling parties, government-patronised terrorism in the name of trade union and posting of corrupt people in the management of public sector mills.

    ‘Building national capacity should be the central point of development philosophy to tap immense potentials of jute industry and formulate required policies to create strong base of industries and strengthen the country’s position in the global economy,’ said Anu, also a member of People’s Commission on jute sector.

    Still, he mentioned Bangladesh’s eight comparative advantages in growing jute and manufacturing jute goods: suitable soil and environment, manpower of decades of experience, increasing demand of jute in global market, environment-friendly character of jute goods, 100 per cent value addition for jute exports, its complementarities to agriculture and industrial sectors, huge employment opportunities and a jute culture among the people.

    The economist made an analytical picture how the World Bank-prescribed programmes such as ‘Bangladesh: Restructuring Options for the Jute Manufacturing Industry’, carried out by successive governments, caused ruination of the jute sector at a time when it witnessed a revitalisation in neighbouring India. (New Age, August 11, 2007).

    Economic experts have already opposed IMF assistance with strings attached. They are highly critical of the closure of jute mills one after another at the behest of IMF and thus throwing thousands of workers unemployed. They are also critical of prescription for trade liberalisation that has affected the country's economy with heavy imports but fewer exports. The experts point out that our foreign exchange reserve, which now stands at around $5 billion, is quite good to meet the exigencies. Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies Research Director Dr. Zaid Bakht said, "The IMF provides loan to a country to address a balance of payment deficit, not for development activities. At this moment, Bangladesh enjoys healthy growth rates of export and foreign remittance inflow, and the foreign exchange reserve is also satisfactory. So, the country is not facing any crisis in foreign trade."

    IMF or the World Bank have not provided us loan for enhancing the capacity of power generation, which is our major problem. Nor have they provided assistance for creation of employment opportunities to face the rising unemployment problem. IMF assistance is not intended to rescue the economy but indirectly rescue the creditors from whom we have liberally imported goods but not been able to pay from our own export earnings. This means "you import everything including luxurious cars and toys, even affecting the domestic industry, we [IMF] are here to provide loans for footing the bills". Liberal trade policy adopted according to the prescriptions of the lending agencies has resulted in a tremendous increase in our imports and harmed the domestic industry.

    The reasons for poor countries going poorer taking money from the IMF/World Bank were attributed to too harsh and adverse conditions set by them that helped the multinational companies.

    No wonder the IMF has earned a bad name in the developing countries. IMF prescriptions have reportedly destroyed the agro-based infrastructure in Sri Lanka. Realising the perils wrought to its economy, Sri Lank withdrew from the IMF last month.

    Thailand declared its financial independence from the IMF after paying off its debts in 2003. Indonesia vowed to never take IMF money and decided to pay off all its debts by 2008. The Philippines has refrained from taking new loans from the Fund. Malaysia defied the IMF and refused its prescriptions to overcome the 1997-98 Asian financial slump.

    The policymakers of Bangladesh government should know all these sad experiences of borrowers of IMF/World Bank money, lest they do not go on borrowing from them. Follies of previous governments have brought the nation to a situation where the exchequer will have to pay more than Tk 10,000 crore, a large chunk of the national budget, in interests alone in the current fiscal year. (Holiday, September 7, 2007)

    World Bank a major cause of climate change

    The World Bank is a major contributor to climate change, through its projects and policies that cause Greenhouse Gas emissions in transport, energy, industrial livestock and deforestation, according to a well-known environmental scientist who previously spent 23 years working at the Bank.

    The devastating criticism was made even as the World Bank is striving to become the major source of global financing for programmes in developing countries to address climate change. It is attempting to establish climate-related funds worth a total of $5-10 billion, a move that is criticised by developing countries at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The G77 (Group of 77) and China is advocating that a multilateral climate fund be set up within the UNFCCC itself, rather than having most of the financing for climate-related programmes being diverted to the World Bank.

    The environmental scientist, Robert Goodland, characterised the Bank's policies and funding practices as being destructive to the environment. He said the Bank should be doing "almost the opposite of what it has been doing."

    Goodland served the Bank from 1978 to 2001 and was author of the Bank's environmental safeguard policies. He had also facilitated the establishment of the World Commission on Dams.

    In an interview published in Down to Earth, a leading environmental magazine in India, Goodland said even the Bank's own watchdog has criticised its policies. He said that the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) had published a devastating critique which showed "how the Bank is hurtling away from sustainability". Goodland remarked that one arm of the Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) "privatizes profits while spreading the costs of environmental damages" to society. On the other hand, the other arm of the Bank, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) tries to "internalize environmental costs."

    Goodland said, "by continuing to finance so much coal, so much livestock and so much deforestation, I can't see the World Bank helping in mitigating climate change."

    Regarding the Bank's energy policy, Goodland said that the Bank group "reversed its decade-long de facto moratorium against coal financing in 2003, as soon as an independent review recommended phasing out coal within five years."

    He cited a number of projects that the Bank finances in a number of developing countries including coal export units. The Bank has also promoted emissions through other means by financing three other top sources of GHG emissions: highways, deforestation and industrial livestock, added Goodland.

    Transport accounts for 25 per cent of global GHG emissions, and this is where the Bank funding is "most skewed." He pointed out the lopsided Bank funding of 75 per cent for highways, against 7 per cent for railways. Goodland was also candid about the Bank's "year-old but still secret Amazon strategy." It seems to be to replace the forest with agri-fuels and industrial livestock production. The IFC has recently invested in the area more than $2 billion in industrial livestock, a sector which is the second biggest emitter of GHG.

    The Bank has also not conducted assessments on some projects' emissions risks. It has financed methane emissions from cows and carbon emissions from jets which, he said, was "one of the most potent combinations of exacerbating the global food crisis and climate risks." Goodland alleged that the Bank had been reckless in supporting the production of agri-fuels, citing three examples: (1) financing of palm oil plantations in Southeast Asia, the leading driver of deforestation and a significant contributor to climate change; (2) two huge soy monocultures in the Amazon forest, despite a reprimand by its ombudsperson; much of the output is converted to agri-diesel; and (3) the March 2008 financing of sugar-ethanol in the Amazon, that has encouraged further private investments (Third World Network Features, October 11, 2008).

    Ignore WB suggestions

    Speakers at a discussion yesterday urged the government to revive jute sector and not to pay any attention to suggestions of the World Bank (WB) in this regard. "The World Bank is advising the government to shut down jute mills in the country," Salahuddin Ahmed, a former chairman of the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation, told the discussion. "When we are shutting down jute mills in our country, neighbouring India is increasing investment in jute industry sensing the high demand for environment-friendly jute goods in the global market in near future," he further told the discussion on 'importance of jute as eco-friendly agriculture and industrial product ', organised by Nagarik Sanghati, a non-governmental organisation.

    Transparency International Bangladesh Trustee Board Chairman Prof Muzaffer Ahmed said although jute-made products have high demand, there has been no major research to revive the sector in the country. “After the independence, people within the jute sector and policymakers were responsible for the destruction of the sector,” he said referring to the present poor state of jute sector.

    “As some 3.5 crore people are involved with the jute sector, the government should undertake realistic action plans to save the sector,” Ahmed said. He also called for reviving the sector before 2009 since the UN has declared the year as 'International Natural Fibre Year'.

    The caretaker government recently closed down four state-run jute mills -- People's Jute Mills in Khulna, Karnaphuli Jute Mills and Forat-Karnaphuli Carpet Factory in Chittagong, and Kaomi Jute Mills in Sirajganj. The government found the SoEs non-viable to run (Daily Star, September 16, 2007).

    The decision by the Bangladesh government and the visiting team of the International Monetary Fund not to negotiate a deal on the IMF's Policy Support Instrument is a step that will be welcomed by broad sections of people in Bangladesh. One reason for that is that both sides have taken clear note of public opinion about the PSI and have, therefore, acted in accordance with public sentiment. In the last several days, some leading economists as well as media experts have pointed out the probable negative fall-out of any Dhaka-IMF deal that might have been reached on the issue. Overall, therefore, this move by the government and the IMF to step back from the PSI issue has been a good instance of rethink on their part and will certainly go down well with the nation.

    We note here, of course, that earlier the adviser for finance had assured the country that no deal that ran contrary to national interests would be agreed to by the government, indeed that any deal, if reached, would be made public. It now appears that the government has indeed been circumspect in its move and has acted in its own wisdom. We will expect that in future, governments in Bangladesh will take cognisance of the hopes and aspirations of the nation and will therefore do nothing that may be seen as compromising autonomy in national policy making. In this connection, we might add that in recent years the perception has grown that there is a preponderance of the wishes of the Bretton Woods institutions in the shaping of Bangladesh's economic policies and programmes. One can hardly deny the consequences that such actions as an abrupt closure of jute mills and a privatisation of banks have caused in the social sector. In simple terms, the social costs resulting from policies adopted as a result of donor advice have been rather high considering our socio-economic realities (Daily Star, September 20, 2007).

    Over 40 per cent of the World Bank lending is tainted by fraud, bribes and bid-rigging. The Bank has an annual lending portfolio of $20 billion. The anti-graft drive of the World Bank remains hampered by weak management, internal distrust, and resistance to combating fraud by the employees, the New York Times said in a report.

    Prof Abu Ahmed is also against recognising the World Bank or the IMF as donor agencies beyond their role as credit sellers for their fund-givers. They give the money to the developing countries to promote sales of their products, technologies, and services. This is what is called IMF?s balance of payment support. The entire money goes back to its funding sources in consultant fees and procurement costs, he said, adding there was hardly any difference between the WB and IMF loans and supplier?s credit in a broader sense. Syed Abul Maksud observed that in the past only communists used to protest the WB and IMF activities, but now even the common people were doing that. Pointing to the presence of the IMF resident mission in the main building of Bangladesh Bank, another critic said the IMF move for the PSI agreement aimed at setting up yet another office at the National Board of Revenue building as a supra-agency regulating the nations revenue authority. It must not come true, he said (F. Ahmed. Holiday, September 21, 2007).

    World Bank failed to poverty allevation

    yunus and WB presidentCriticising the World Bank's existing policies for poverty alleviation, Yunus said, "They [WB] focused on growth-based development and thus invest in energy sectors, setting up ports and infrastructure. "I've suggested involvement of the poor in their efforts for sustainable development. I told them you have forgot the people, who should be the centre of any development programme."

    Alleviation of poverty is not possible without involving the people in the process, Yunus said. "Yes, infrastructure can also help in eradicating poverty. But it will be successful only when the poor have ownership in that infrastructure," he argued.

    Nobel laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus has asked for major reforms in the World Bank saying the multilateral development bank has not been successful in achieving its main goal of poverty alleviation. "The world has gone through so many changes over the last few decades, but the World Bank remains static since its establishment

    The Grameen Bank founder also criticised the WB for not lending adequate money for microcredit activities.

    Her said the WB lends $20 billion a year on average and only one percent of the amount is given for microcredit programmes. "The World Bank should lend at least 5 percent of its total lending money for micro credit programmes (Daily Star, November 5, 2007)."

    During his first visit to Bangladesh last week World Bank (WB) President Robert Bruce Zoellick remained highly occupied with comments on corruption and irregularities in the WB-funded projects. But, as he was told elsewhere, he was also advised here to reform the WB to free it from corruption and misuse of funds. The bank is equally engaged in irregularities and misuse of funds and power. WB was the most corrupt institution in the global scale and its officials remained instrumental in corrupting the government institutions and officials in the least developed and developing countries. So the WB should start cleaning up its own house first before trying to clean officials and institutions across the globe.

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    5. 41 more Expnsive Foreign Consultants for NCBs, SoEs, August, 2004

    41 more Expnsive Foreign Consultants for NCBs, SoEs, August, 2004

    The government plans to hire 90 consultants, including 41 from overseas, for a four-year project on reforms in nationalised commercial banks and state-owned enterprises, official sources said. The consultants will be paid Tk 301.13 crore, or about 12 per cent, of Tk 2,631.76 crore, earmarked for the enterprise growth and bank modernisation project, scheduled to be completed in July 2008.

    The World Bank-financed project was approved on August 14 at a high-level meeting at the commission. Economists and bankers have, meanwhile, opposed such a wholesale appointment of foreign consultants, claiming that most of them are “mediocre”. Appointment of so many consultants will jeopardise any effort to institutionalise the financial sector, they said.

    Local consultants are often better than their foreign counterparts, who appear to be mediocre in most cases,” Pubali Bank managing director Ibrahim Khalid, a former central bank deputy governor, has recently told New Age. Professor Muzaffer Ahmad fears that the current spree of appointment of foreign consultants will weaken the institutional base in the financial sector.

    “The highly-paid foreign consultants usually get a major share of their work done by local consultants as Bangladesh has many experts both at universities and in the financial sector to recommend measures that would strengthen the financial sector.” Insiders in the central bank and the finance ministry believe that the project is ambitious and that the government will fail to modernise the banking sector in the long run.

    “As soon as the foreign consulting firms leave the country on completion of the project, pace of modernisation in the financial sector will come to a halt, primarily due to lack of commitment within both the government and the banks,” said the managing director of a nationalised commercial bank. (New Age, August 24, 2004).

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    6. Projects given approval due to political pressure from donors

    Finance and Planning Minister M Saifur Rahman yesterday hit out at the development partners and donor agencies, saying they "frequently leap from one strategy to another". "In the 60s, the development partners prescribed one thing and again changed it in the 70s," the Minister told a seminar on "Economic growth and poverty reduction in Bangladesh." These development agencies retreated from the crucial power sector on the ground it was riddled with system loss and corruption, he said, venting his dissatisfaction over the frequent policy changes of the so-called donors.

    The minister expressed his dissatisfaction as some ministries are adopting wrong priorities while trying to remove the constraints of the development process. "Lots of money is being wasted every year due to emphasis on wrong projects," Saifur said in his speech as chief guest at a seminar on Economic Growth and Poverty Reduction in Bangladesh at a city hotel.

    In ECNEC there are many projects creating artificial barriers in the process of development, he said. "Most of these projects get approval due to political pressure." For instance, he said, while more emphasis has been given to increase agricultural growth, projects are being approved to make more rural roads, thus dangerously reducing the cultivable land area. He said that in the present context it is not necessary to build wider roads in the rural areas at the cost of arable land. "Money should go for rural development instead of roads."


    Donors and we

    Finance and Planning Minister M Saifur Rahman has a penchant for telling hard truths at times. Following the prescriptions of development partners in letter and spirit is costing this country dearly, yet the country has to toe the line mapped out by them because of what may be called its dependency syndrome. By following the exhortations of the aid givers the country does not benefit in every case and sometimes it has to invite risk and unpopularity in meeting the "conditionalities" but there is no choice. Subsidies have to be withdrawn, even those types of subsidy which directly benefit the poor, like subsidy in agricultural inputs. The unduly accelerated pace of privatisation under donors' pressure has led to mass unemployment. It was vain to argue with them that while the country is very much in favour of disinvestment, it should not outpace the ability of the private sector to absorb the army of the jobless. The rates of the utility services (except telecommunication) have had to be enhanced repeatedly in a single year. With what benefit no one knows.

    The aversion of donors to large-scale industrialisation in the recipient-countries is well known. In fact, industrialisation in so far as it means sophisticated industries has almost become a bad word in development parlance. The poor countries have to rest content with agro-based industries while forced dismantling of tariff walls must ensure entry of industrial goods from the rich countries. This economic pattern will make the North-South divide permanent even if economic condition in the poor countries improves - and there is no sign of its improving. The share of poor countries in world trade has shrunk over the last decade, a fact attested to by Kofi Annan. And the donors do not seem to mind the economic imbalance within the society created due to compliance of their advice. The harmonious growth of all economic strata does not lead to an explosion of the consumer class which unequal economic growth does. They need big consumers in poor countries and their policies are geared towards that end.

    All this is common knowledge. To add to this, as the Finance Minister has said, donors frequently change strategies. Their prescription changes emphasis creating great confusion among planners. In the McNamara era the emphasis was on infrastructure, later the emphasis switched to good governance and now again infrastructure is receiving prominence, whether the country needs more roads or not. However, it cannot be denied that road building is populist exercise and politicians' obeisance to the vote banks also helps to distort economic perspective (The Independent, December 9, 2003).

    Soft Drinks

    The industrialised world has not set standards for pesticide residues in its finished products, like soft drinks, because it has by and large cleaned up its agricultural produce and drinking water of contaminants. However, as large parts of the developing world faced the growing problem of pesticide contamination in food and water, it becomes imperative to finalise standards for processed food products. "These draft standards are the first in the world to set limits on pesticide residues in soft drinks and will hopefully become a model for other countries to emulate (CSI, 2004).

    The quantum of caffeine permitted in soft drinks has been reduced to 145 mg/litre from the current 200 ppm. "Globally, there is rising concern regarding the use of high amounts of caffeine in soft drinks, which is consumed by a vulnerable section of the society; therefore, it was important for us to set the global best standard for caffeine," says R Desikan, head of CONCERT, a leading consumer group.

    "Levels of knowledge can be raised, but may have little or no effect on behaviour."
    In Bangladesh, a one-year project with Dutch funding to raise awareness about arsenic in six district towns did not achieve its hoped-for breakthrough in behavioural change. Fifty per cent of families who knew their tubewells were contaminated by arsenic continued to drink the water, despite access to new or safe sources (Hanchett et al., 1999).

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    7. South Asian civil societies oppose immunity for ADB

    Thirteen civil society organisations and movements in the South Asian region have demanded that there should be no provision for the Asian Development Bank to be immune to any national laws, and the bank must timely disclose full and accurate information about policies and projects that shape and affect the lives of millions of people of the region. "The ADB enjoys immunity to national laws [for example as in Bangladesh]. We demand that there should be no such immunity to the disclosure policy [information] or to ADB as an institution," they said in a written statement on Wednesday.

    They called upon the bank to incorporate full and accurate information in its Public Communication and Information Disclosure Policy about its projects and policies. The signatories of the statement are the South Asian Solidarity for Rivers and Peoples (Nepal), Brahmaputra Barak Rivers Watch (India), Delhi Forum (India), BanglaPraxis (Bangladesh), Sri Lankan Working Group on Trade and IFIs (Sri Lanka), Advancing Public Interest Trust (Bangladesh), AOSED (Bangladesh), Focus on the Global South (India), Water and Energy Users' Federation (Nepal), Nepal Policy Institute (Nepal), Melamchi Local Concerns Group (Nepal), South Asia Network on Dams, Rivers and People (India), The Innovators (Bangladesh).

    "We believe that the ADB has failed in its duty to consistently provide timely, complete, accurate and accessible information to the public," they said.
    "As an institution that claims commitment towards the public good, the ADB has a responsibility and obligation to operate in a transparent and accountable manner," they added.
    They said the second draft of the ADB policy falls far short of the demands of citizens and civil society organisations in the South Asian region.
    "The draft is silent on how certain decisions and the changes made to the draft are arrived at; the policy should disclose the process and rationale behind the changes," they said.

    They demanded that the Public Communication Policy be renamed Public Communication and Information Disclosure Policy, and the duties and responsibilities of the ADB should be geared for disclosure. The disclosure should be more orientated towards project-affected people, communities and citizens, not towards industry, private sector and government, they said. They said that the policy should not make any distinction between public and private sector lending and projects. "The ADB is a public institution and should act as such, and not favour private sector interests," they said.

    They said that the policy must include recourse to an independent appeals body. "Such a body will interpret ADB's stated presumption in favour of disclosure and provide an independent review of the regime of exceptions." They demanded that any individual citizen or interested party, regardless of whether or not they are harmed by ADB's non-disclosure, should be eligible to lodge a disclosure-related appeal with the body (New Age, November 25, 2004).

    The right to know

    In Bangladesh, there is no law that directly ensures people’s right to information. Instead, certain clauses in the Official Secrets Act 1923, Evidence Act 1872, Rules of Business 1996, Government Servants (Conduct) Rules 1979, and the oath (affirmation) of secrecy under the constitution act as an impediment and barrier to getting access to information. While clause 5(1) of the Official Secrets Act has been designed to protect military and strategic secrets, on many occasions, it has been the most popular excuse of government officials to deny information. Section 123 of the 135-year old Evidence Act stipulates that only the head of the department of any government machinery holds power to disclose information. The more recent Rules of Business specifically bars government officials from disclosing information to members of the press. Crucially still, government servants are bound by both their oath and service rules to refrain from disclosing information.

    According to article 19 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, and article 19 (2) of the Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, both of which deal with freedom of expression and both of which Bangladesh has ratified, the right to seek, receive and impart information is an inalienable right of every individual. Bangladesh is further party to the Vienna Convention, the Limburg Declaration and the Bangalore Colloquium, which makes it a legal obligation of the state to introduce the right to information in domestic laws. Thus far, 75 countries in the world, including neighbouring India, have ensured the ‘right to information’ of its citizens through the enactment of laws under different titles.

    In 2002, the Bangladesh Law Commission drafted the ‘Proposed Right to Information Act’, which states in clause 4 (1): ‘Every citizen shall have a right to information and on request, be given access to information relating to decisions made, proceedings drawn, or acts performed or proposed to be performed by any Public Authority.’ Till date, the government has been sitting on it.

    The recent revelations of the extent of alleged corruption involving the highest seats of government have left many shocked. Many, now feel, that the ‘Right to Information Act’ can serve as a barrier to such disasters in the future.

    ‘Ninety per cent of corruption in our society will disappear if we introduce this law,’ says Khasru. ‘Public representatives and government officials will then have to serve under the direct scrutiny of the general populace.’

    ‘Government officials and politicians indulge in corrupt practices through the cover of official secrecy,’ says Menon. ‘If people had access to information about what was happening inside the government all this time, the extent of corruption could never have reached this level.’

    The economy, meanwhile, will have far-reaching benefits with more access to information, feel experts. ‘Over the years people have been kept in the dark about the economic policies pursued by the government and the direction the economy is taking,’ says Dr Anu Mohammed, a professor of economics at Jahangir Nagar University. ‘That we have signed the GATT and have become a part of global capital control is known and understood by few. Ordinary citizens, who had to pay for this through rising cost of living, did not have a say in it.’

    ‘In the future, all major contracts including that of oil, gas and coal and strategic papers such as the PRSP will come to the public domain hopefully through the right to information. People can then decide what is best for them and we can avoid events like those in Phulbari,’ adds Anu. At another level, access to information will help individual businessman, policymakers from different sectors and independent organisations and researchers to make more informed decisions.

    Experts, however, say that under a state of emergency with fundamental rights of people suspended, the enactment of a right to information may almost appear farcical and should be done by an elected government (Mubin S Khan, New Age, October 9, 2004).

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    8. Developmentalism

    Despite recent contrary reports from the World Bank, efforts to reduce global poverty are meeting with little success. The solemn pledge by the world’s leaders at the dawn of the millennium, to raise one billion people above the poverty line by 2015, will not be fulfilled. The misery in which around a third of the world’s population still lives confirms the failure of current policies.

    The suggestion that Dutch development cooperation is a favourable exception to this dismal picture and that it remains firmly focused on poverty reduction is equally misleading. This was clearly illustrated last year in an open letter from the field to the then state secretary for development cooperation. In the letter, 153 researchers, advisors and staff of a wide range of Dutch non-governmental organisations expressed their concern about the loss of credibility of Dutch development assistance. They regretted that poverty reduction was no longer the main objective, and were strongly critical of the government’s lack of vision and the unquestioning way in which it followed the policy of the World Bank.

    In the ongoing public debate on this issue, there are two clear sides. Against the background of appeals not to underestimate the achievements of development cooperation, there are increasingly vocal calls, especially from the political right, for the policy to be reversed. Assistance must be limited to debt relief and acute humanitarian crises. In the eyes of these ‘realists’, attempts to increase wealth and prosperity in any way, other than through the mechanism of the market fail to benefit the poor and are a waste of money. They are guided by a doctrine that sings the praises of free trade. But market fundamentalism, presented by these critical voices as the only remedy, has not been able to solve the problem. Many development experts agree that global and intra-country inequality is growing [for empirical substantiation see Milanovic 2003 and Wade 2001]. This view is backed up by a recent UN document (published by the World Commission on the Social Dimension of Globalisation) which reported that the process of economic globalisation has increased the gap between rich and poor countries and between the rich and poor within countries.

    My current research into the landless rural population in west India – following up on a study I started over 40 years ago [Breman 1974]1 – confirms this trend. On the one hand, those who were not underprivileged at the time of my initial fieldwork have taken a significant step forward, while those at the bottom continue to live in abject poverty, bordering on pauperisation.

    In a public speech delivered last year, the former Dutch minister for development cooperation Jan Pronk expressed reservations about the integrity and good intentions of the world leaders who signed the millennium pledge [Pronk 2003]. The fundamental changes required to fulfil the pledge – beginning with a redistribution of power and wealth – have not occurred. Pronk’s statement was significant, given his long experience of national and international policy. Abandoning poverty reduction as the core focus of development policy is a consequence of a radical shift in the way in which the international system is managed. The mandate for development – entrusted to the United Nations and its agencies half a century ago – has been taken away from them. How and why has this happened?

    After they shook off the yoke of foreign domination shortly after the middle of the last century, new nation states saw it as their primary task to free themselves from poverty. Early in the post-colonial period, in order to neutralise the threat posed by the second world, in the competition for global power, the prosperous first world countries accepted that they had a responsibility to make a genuine contribution to help the third world to put an end to its state of underdevelopment. The alliance that was forged transcended the boundaries of rich and poor and implied that the parties – which had until then had coexisted in a relationship between those who were in front and those who lagged behind – were now partners in a joint venture. The mission was clear and could only succeed if all those involved bore responsibility for the outcome.

    The United Nations monitored the implementation of development policy onwards from the end of the 1950s. Aid was replaced by cooperation and partnership, to show that the relationship was based on equality. However, the agenda drawn up and adjusted during the development decades had been radically changed long before the turn of the century. With hindsight, the pledge to ensure that all people had a reasonable standard of living within the near future was not as generous and binding as the development lobby at the time would have us believe. The advocates of the new gospel of transnational planning and action, which preached universal development (in a fashion similar to the ethical policies of the late-colonial era), held each other’s hands firmly and closed their eyes tightly as in a prayer meeting. Critical voices pointed out that the financial donations were insufficient to effectively reduce poverty and were not always used for that purpose, and that what was given with the left hand was more than taken away by the right.

    Yet it would be incorrect to see these flaws as the main cause of the growing dissatisfaction with the disappointing results of development aid. The fact that the whole development project had become a fiasco is attributed predominantly to the fact that many third world countries were either unwilling or unable or both to effect the social transformation that generated growth and prosperity a hundred years ago in the west and put an end to widespread poverty. Authoritarian and dictatorial regimes hampered the emergence of political democracy. The abuse of power and large-scale corruption allowed the elite to enrich themselves, with only sluggish improvement at the base of society.

    This is undoubtedly a one-sided portrayal, which skilfully ignores the fact that power abuse and bad governance have often served western interests. But it does not alter the fact that many third world countries must be held responsible for their failure to tackle poverty. It is not the scale of aid that is at fault, but how it is spent. The lesson to be learned from this observation is that many of the new nation states that emerged some 50 years ago do not have the capacity to develop under their own steam.

    As a result of this agonising reappraisal, the colonial era is now being seen in a more positive light. In the years following decolonisation, there was much talk of a multiple setback to the economy and society at large due to foreign (usually western) domination. More recently, however, the focus has shifted to the benign aspects of colonialism: law and order imposed by an effective and efficient administration, the building up of an infrastructure, and the beginnings of progress where stagnation had previously prevailed. This reading of the fruits of western expansion underpins the proposition that where things have really gone wrong, as in parts of Africa, colonialism did not last long enough to lay the foundations for development. This proposition also implies another: that underdevelopment was not so much the consequence of colonialism. In his book Empire – How Britain Made the Modern World, Niall Ferguson (2003) claims that British imperialism was the best thing that could have happened to the subaltern peoples in their progress towards development.

    The change in thinking on development is best expressed in the abandonment of the belief in autonomy and equality as the fundamental principles of the world order. The hierarchical structure, which was inherent in the process of globalisation from an early stage, and which acquired a clear racist tint in the colonial era, has continued – after a short interruption – in the post-colonial period. The term development cooperation is still used, but the egalitarianism that the concept implied has been replaced by a more pedantic, even punitive, tone. The idealism of an international political system aimed at incorporating the developing countries into a coordinated alliance of states and peoples has been replaced by a stratified order in which most nations realise that they remain dependent on – and therefore subordinate to – the west and subject to the discipline of the capitalist market. Countries that insist on following their own path towards the future and resisting the dictates of the western-dominated financial institutions are seen as malafide dissidents and run the risk of being subject to political and economic sanctions.

    This reconfiguration of power relations, as they really are, is accompanied by a shift in the aims of international policy. The idea of development is still at its centre. The main thrust, however, is no longer poverty reduction, but to defend the rights and entitlements of that part of the human race that possesses wealth and privilege. The richer people are, the more privilege they enjoy and, conversely, the poorer people are, the more underprivileged they are. An earlier notion that stark and massive deprivation could also risk the well-being of the non-poor is no longer the received wisdom. For many reasons, including the increased privatisation of violence – which used to be a state monopoly – the poor seem to have lost the nuisance power ascribed to them in the past [de Swaan 1988].3 A revolt among the wretched of the earth would seem doomed to failure in advance.

    Regimes in the third world – now expanded to include a large part of the former ‘second world’ – whose good intentions and loyalty are in doubt, are called to account for their shortcomings. If they do not toe the line, they may find themselves subject to military intervention, even to the point of their territory being occupied and their leaders being eliminated. This new geopolitical strategy is lauded as a benevolent or democratic variant of colonialism. It is seen as democratic because power is seized to allow the will of the people to triumph. Perhaps not immediately, but in the long term. The restructuring of the world according to the western model is justified with the same arguments as those used for colonial domination: to bring civilisation and progress from outside, where the capability to achieve them from within is lacking.

    Afghanistan and Iraq are harbingers of the new forcefulness with which the free west – or the ‘civilised world’ as it is now known – is establishing global hegemony in the common interest of mankind. With development policy now redefined as security policy, the US – which has always made a very limited contribution to the international aid effort – will suddenly prove to be one of the world’s most generous donors.

    The threat to western security and prosperity not only necessitates intervention beyond national borders. Too many migrants from the third world have taken advantage of the time during which the west lowered its guard to allow an influx from poor global hinterlands. The arrival of ‘economic refugees’, as they became labelled, is an illustration of the still widening prosperity gap between north and south. After all, the large majority of migrants do not come from the lowest strata back home. After a difficult and expensive journey, most of them remain on the bottom rungs of the social ladder. Yet despite this low status, and the discrimination that goes with it, they do not regret having decamped. No matter how vulnerable their new existence may be, it tends to be much better than that of the compatriots they left behind. And this enormous discrepancy in material conditions ensures that migration remains an attractive proposition.

    In addition, in the countries in which the migrants settle, there is a growing demand for an underclass of low or unskilled labour (cleaners, messengers, care givers, domestic helpers, etc) that is kept outside the reduced safety net of the welfare state. This is achieved by ensuring that the presence of these migrants is time-bound. Limiting the influx and extraditing superfluous or disruptive elements are increasingly funded from the development budget. Given that the focal point of the new development policy is to maximise the political security and prosperity of the haves, this is seen as a very rational and effective way of spending the public money set aside for it.

    Where development cooperation was originally characterised by solidarity and humanity in the name of poverty reduction, I detect in the new policy that the west is attempting to impose on the rest of the world a return to inequity and inequality as the organising principle of the new international order. A return to relations of domination and subordination – even in an ideological sense – and denying the idea of a common destiny confirms the inferiority of those who live in poverty. Excluding this vulnerable mass of people from a proportional share in the global system, and denying their right to participate in it, means that a substantial segment of humanity is without the dignity of a decent life, something to which we all aspire.

    Is this a pessimistic perspective? Only if we assume that the excluded nations do not have the resilience to counteract the persistent distortion in the global distribution of wealth. That would be a premature conclusion. Many countries – especially those endowed with their own resource base, a large land mass and voluminous populations – refuse to accept this exclusion. The growing importance of China, India and Brazil suggest a radical restructuring of the global balance of power and market domination in the foreseeable future. Is this a reason for hope? Only to a limited extent, because in third world countries where economic growth is accelerating, the fruits of progress are also unequally distributed. In China, the emergence of a prosperous middle class is more visible than the exclusion of those at the bottom of society. I have written extensively in recent years on the increased gap between the top and bottom of society in south Asia. Behind the felicitous reports of new wealth, the abject poverty in the cities and the countryside tends to remain hidden. But, as the results of the recent elections in India clearly show, when the poor are allowed to vote freely, they turn their backs en masse on policies that do nothing to improve their situation. If only we had a political system in which they could make their voices heard at a global level (Jan Breman, EPW, July 2004).

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    9. Danish accusations

    At first reading it would appear that when one of the least corrupt countries in the world publicly accuses the most corrupt the guilt should be obvious. The record of misappropriation of foreign government to government aid in Bangladesh is less than stellar. Then when I look at the Colonel's rejoinder, it appears that the Danes were dispensing foreign aid with the same hypocrisy, as do most of the donor countries.

    British Aid wants us to drive Land Rovers, the Swedes want us to buy Volvo garbage trucks and the Japanese want their own construction companies to carry out their projects and so on. In general foreign aid is in most, if not many, cases indirect subsidies to domestic firms. All this without any concerns neither to the maintenance or upkeep of these vehicles, machines, etc. or to any desire for technology transfer, thereby tying us down to everlasting and wasteful maintenance contracts for the life span of these projects. One of the reasons I suspect the Donors are channelling more of their funds to NGOs is because NGOs just want their funding without regard to the consequences.

    The more idealistic part of me wants to believe that the Colonel put his foot down on this form of inappropriate dispensation of Danish largesse. And when diplomats come out publicly to accuse a particular Minister, to quote the only other famous Dane - Hamlet, "there's something rotten in the state of Denmark" (Daily Star, April 16, 2002).

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    10. Homegrown projects better alternative to WB, IMF assistance

    Bangladesh Bank Governor Dr Salehuddin Ahmed here yesterday said homegrown development projects would be the better alternative to World Bank and IMF assistance for the country. "If we can take good projects, others would be interested to provide will come from bilateral donors," he told the news agency on the sidelines of the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund at Suntec Singapore. "They (Bretton Woods Institutions) should not give any policy prescription. They should support our own policies," he said.

    Salehuddin was critical of World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz for making "hue and cry" against corruption and governance, and stopping disbursements to Bangladesh under the criteria. "Well, we too want corruption in our country to go, but still we can question whether the World Bank has the mandate to do that," he said. His observation came amid rising voice of the developed countries against the World Bank and IMF at the plenary session, as the BWIs could not properly utilise the funds they contributed for poverty alleviation

    British Secretary of State for International Development Hilary Benn strongly criticised the BWIs and apprised that the British government would have to step back from funding the institutions unless it improves governance within themselves.Several members, including Britain, France and Germany, were worried for tagging restrictive conditions to development assistance. "The developed countries started raising their voice against... they (BWIs) will be pressurised," the central bank governor said.

    In her plenary address, Indonesian Finance Minister Mulyani Indrawati came down heavily on the BWIs and called for investigation into the BWIs to have a test in their governance status. She also asked for forming a joint investigation committee on corruption and called on the World Bank to be open and transparent. Indian Finance Minister Chidambaram also criticised the anti-corruption strategy of the BWIs saying, "The strategy is bound to hurt the development process in the countries that need the Bank's assistance... One-size-fits-all strategy will not be appropriate in improving governance." The Bangladesh Bank governor slammed the World Bank and IMF for the unpredictability in disbursement of loans and said the loans must be time-bound and predictable.

    African Development Bank President Kaberuka at a seminar here also laid emphasis on disbursement of loans in a long-term, time-bound and predictable manner if the BWIs really wants to alleviate poverty. About the IMF reform adopted at the meetings, the Bangladesh Bank governor sees hardly any hope for recent future, at least in the next two yeas, that Bangladesh would get its voice and vote raised. In the first phase of the reform resolution, the shares of four countriesChina, Korea, Mexico and Turkey have been increased, while measures would be taken in the next two years under the resolution to raise shares of the low-income countries, at least by double. "But the set criteria will not match Bangladesh to get the share raised," Salehuddin said.

    He felt, "It would have been better for Bangladesh if the criteria had been measured on the basis of purchasing power parity, growth potential, democracy, human development and equality." He said the country has advantage in these indicators but the criteria under the new resolution were set on the basis of mainly the GDP. "We've no immediate interest in this resolution. It should have been done in a comprehensive manner," he added. Some 23 member-countries have voted against the reform. At the plenary session, policymakers supported plans to root out corruption and promote sound governance in developing countries but cautioned its promoter, WB President Paul Wolfowitz, to keep his eyes on the real prizethe war on poverty.

    "We have to stay involved with governments and work with governments, not around them, as long as they are determined to take action against corruption," said Hilary Benn. "And even when this isn't the case, we should not turn our backs on poor people. After all, the behaviour of some officials or some politicians is not their fault," Benn told a session of the World Bank Development Committee. Wolfowitz's plan would link the WB's financial aid to commitments by beneficiary countries to good governance, such as transparency in public procurement and anti-corruption measures.

    The World Bank in recent months has frozen aid worth hundreds of millions of dollars destined for several countries, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a bid to prod them into cleaning up the management of their public finances. Wolfowitz said his aim was to attack poverty. "It's very clear and simple that the purpose of this is poverty reduction." (Daily Star, September 20, 2006)

    The finance and planning minister, M Saifur Rahman (Sept. 22, 2006), has blasted the World Bank for concentrating too much on the country’s corruption issue, instead of focusing its mandated poverty reduction initiatives. He said the multilateral agencies including WB should rather try to stop operation of a section of Swiss banks that breed corruption. ‘Stop the operation of Swiss bank and then talk about corruption,’ Saifur told newsmen on Thursday after a meeting of the cabinet committee on official purchase. ‘You people (WB and other global lenders) repeatedly point to the country’s corruption issue while keep quiet on immoral operation of Swiss banks where money earned through corruption is deposited.’

    ‘While we deeply appreciate the World Bank’s latest move about corruption and governance issues, I am afraid, the attention on them seems rather too much compared to its mandated focus on poverty reduction,’ reads the speech of Saifur, delivered at the Bank-Fund annual meeting on September 19 in Singapore.

    Venting his frustration, Saifur told newsmen that it is absolutely waste of money as WB sends 300 to 400 missions every year to Bangladesh despite it has a country office in Dhaka. ‘I mentioned at the annual meeting that it is unworthy that 300-400 missions visit here every year spending a lot of money.’

  • The God of Small Things cultural identity narrative that explores the individual's struggle in India to defy the constraints of the caste system. With excerpts from Arundhati Roy's Booker Prize Winner "The God of Small Things" and clips from "Swades."
  • We.. World's Poor Segment from the We documentary where Arundhati Roy talks about the growing gap between the rich and the poor. See the entire documentary at
  • Unauthorized Arundhati Roy - America & the world

  • "A lot of the atmosphere in "God of Small Things" is based on my experiences of what it was like to grow up in Kerala. Most interestingly, it was the only place in the world where religions coincide, there's Christianity, Hinduism, Marxism and Islam and they all live together and rub each other down. When I grew up it was the Marxism that was very strong, it was like the revolution was coming next week. I was aware of the different cultures when I was growing up and I'm still aware of them now. When you see all the competing beliefs against the same background you realise how they all wear each other down. To me, I couldn't think of a better location for a book about human beings."

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    Publications on Bangladesh by the World Bank and other agencies and organizations always say: "Bangladesh is one of the poorest countries in the world." (See World Bank reports on Bangladesh, IFAD Rural Poverty reports, National Geographic: MapMachine report, Agriculturists-Online, and UNCDF). But Bangladesh is not one of the poorest countries in the world as commonly characterized.

  • Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) First, let us look at GDP and PPP adjusted GDP for Bangladesh for 2005. PPP adjusted GDP for Bangladesh is $299.9 billion (estimated). World Factbook ranked 232 countries on PPP adjusted GDP where Bangladesh ranks 34th. Again, Bangladesh GDP in official exchange rate is $64.8 billion and it ranks 57th out of 232 countries. Either by PPP adjusted GDP or by official exchange rate GDP it is not justifiable to classify Bangladesh as one of the poorest countries in the world.
  • Economists consider land, labour, and capital as three factors of production. Let us take land and compare productivity of Bangladesh by the size of geographical area with other countries. For simplicity we took the size of geographic area as land. We computed GDP per sq. km for selected countries to compare the performance of Bangladesh. PPP adjusted GDP per sq. km are: Bangladesh $2.08m, India $1.1m, Pakistan $0.448m, Malaysia $0.755m and US $1.3m. Bangladesh without question shows a very high productivity rate for its land. We should focus on this high productivity rate of land and people and capitalize on our strengths which lie in the rural economy.
  • Bangladesh ranks 56th in public debt expressed as a percentage of GDP (higher rank means lower debt). While Singapore ranks 113th and has the lowest public debt as per percent of GDP (1.2 percent). Many advanced countries have much higher debt percentages than Bangladesh (46.1 percent). For example, US's public debt is 64 percent of GDP, Pakistan's 54 percent, and Indias 82 percent.
  • When we consider external debts, out of 207 countries US ranks second (first rank is given to the world as a whole) with $8.8 trillion, Pakistan ranks 44th with $39 billion, India ranks 30th with $119 billion and Bangladesh ranks 60th with $39 billion. It has been observed that, generally more developed countries have higher public and external debts. The economic expansions and political ambitions of developed countries beyond their means put the future of their children at risk who will eventually pay these debts. We should ask the same questions which are being asked in developed countries by concerned citizens before we plunge into more debt

    It is an efficient economic engine though it is beset with 1) corruption, 2) political mismanagement, and 3) misaligned economic emphases.
  • 82 percent of the people live on less than $2 a day

  • In spite of the rosy pictures , 82 percent of the people live on less than $2 a day. (At the current price, $3 a day per capita would be sufficiently subsistence level income for a rural family).
  • The literacy rate is 43 percent and which is 32 percent for the female population.
  • Sixty-three percent of the population is employed in agriculture and about 11 percent in industry (FY 05/06). This demographic data clearly indicates where our problems are and what we should emphasize.

  • Bangladesh dubbed as one of poorest countries in the world does not tell the whole story and solve the problems. Bangladesh showed tremendous progress in all sectors of the economy

  • It cannot be denied that more than 80 percent of the people live in poverty. Ten percent of the population enjoys the quality of life of countries having per capita income of more than $40,000.
  • 80 percent live with income less than $600 a year.
  • The failure of the economy to bring the benefit to the poor is due to inefficient and ineffective government and incongruent external influence .

    tagore 1938Rabindranath Tagore suggested to end poverty and privation as a matter of right of the poor. He emphasises on man to capacitate himself from within. Kindness and charity can not much change human condition. "Man will never accept any real benefit as a dole or as a debt. He accepts it only if he merits it." ("Lokehit" in Tagore's Collected Works, Joy Books International, Dhaka Vol. XII p. 148). To deserve what is due to them, they must be united. They should attain universal literacy. The change should be in the mind. Instead of petti fogging, they should have the inner capacity to quest for something big. That makes a nation great.

    He continues, "The sign of a prospering nation is that every department, every individual turns away from the pettiness. Every one is earning the right to human dignity. Man in that nation thinks on how everyone as individual can live a decent life, earn a quality education, have adequate food, clothing, medicare, and leisure" . The poor should be organised to realise equity oriented society and economy. The job of igniting their potentials should begin from within our tradition, our success should be our investment

  • Try to make education value added for the rural people. Education today does not support the rural economy. The British education systems we inherited are geared towards creating clerks and bureaucrats. It may be noted that 80 percent of the people live in villages and 60 percent of the labor force work in agriculture. To support agriculture and rural people at least at the primary and secondary level education should deal with subjects teaching the tools and techniques of improving agricultural yields and marketing the agricultural products. Now education at the rural level is not valued-added to develop agriculture.
  • Over-centralization and more focus on urbanization of the economy is hurting the pro-poor economic initiatives.
  • We should change our focus from urban culture to agriculture and decentralize economic activities and government ministries to different districts and even at rural levels.
  • Poor people from rural areas need not have to come to Dhaka for jobs and livelihood. True, it will increase the cost of doing business for certain services and industries. We cannot continue to compete on low input costs we must also compete on high quality. Wages for Bangladeshi workers need not have to be one of the lowest. Export prices for Bangladeshi raw materials and wages are among the lowest in the world. The exportable raw materials are produced by the rural poor and the labor comes from the same source. If the input price is not adjusted to competitive prices the lots of rural poor will never get better. Free market policy will not help advance the economic condition of the rural poor.
  • Don't guide the planning efforts taking Bangladesh as one of the poorest countries in the world and pump money in the hands of the rich.
  • Foreign exchange earned by the rural people (expatriate earnings) should be spent for their benefit. By that the government does not have to restrict imports. To import luxury items the parties must earn their foreign exchange. Similarly, multinational corporations, like mobile phone companies, should not take foreign currency out unless they earn foreign currency.
  • Political, economic and social corruption must be addressed at all levels. We need pragmatic and agriculture oriented plans and interventions introduced systematically and implemented earnestly. Otherwise, the poor continuously become poorer and the rich richer, with increasing debt burden and perpetuating poverty. Our 35 years of history does not tell a different story.

    Inequality deepens
    Rich-poor gap in villages widens, though poverty declines in 5 yrs

    Poverty has significantly reduced in five years since 2000 by 8.9 percentage points to 40 percent, but the rich-poor gap has widened further, according to the latest Household Expenditure Survey (HES), posing a new challenge to policymakers to close the gap. The Income Gini Co-efficient, a measure to assess income inequality, shows an increase from 0.451 in 2000 to 0.467 in 2005, mostly because of increasing rural inequality. A higher Gini Co-efficient reflects a worsening situation for poverty. Rural Gini Co-efficient increased from 0.393 in 2000 to 0.428 in 2005. Although the urban inequality did not get worse, neither did it improve. The urban Gini Co-efficient remained static at 0.497 in the five years.

    A joint study on chronic poverty in Bangladesh by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and Chronic Poverty Research Centre released Sunday has observed: "It appears that there is a growth-inequality-poverty trade-off. The way out of this situation does not lie in undermining the growth of the dis-equalising activities, but in ensuring that poor people can effectively participate in them. The sources of rising inequality are linked with the uneven spread of economic and social opportunities, unequal distribution of assets, specially in respect of human capital and financial capital, growing disparity between rural and urban areas as well as between developed and underdeveloped areas. "

    The widening income disparity in Bangladesh is explained most convincingly when we compare the income shares of top and bottom quintiles of the population," a CPD report says. "Between 1999 and 2004, national income attributable to the poorest 10 percent of Bangladesh population declined from the miniscule proportion of 1.7 percent to 1.5 percent. Conversely, the control on the national income by the richest 10 percent of the population increased from 33.9 percent in 1999 to 36.5 percent in 2004."

    In other words, the income difference between the poorest and the richest increased from 20 times in 1999 to 24.5 times in 2004. Not only this, urban-rural income difference also continually increased up to the mid-1990s, and this trend was only reversed in the later half of the 1990s with strong agricultural growth.

    Another report reveals that the widening income disparity in Bangladesh is explained most convincingly when we compare the income shares of top and bottom quintiles of the population. It also adds that between 1999 and 2004, national income attributable to the poorest 10 percent of Bangladesh population declined from the miniscule proportion of 1.7 percent to 1.5 percent. Besides, the income difference between the poorest and the richest increased from 20 times in 1999 to 24.5 times in 2004.

    Experts also complain that the policies taken by successive Bangladesh governments to eradicate poverty remain grossly "anti-poorest." In fact, poverty as an agenda receives only seasonal attention in Bangladesh. It rarely occupies the centre stage of national discourses. Regrettably, poverty alleviation figures either during election time or in the budget-making season. Even the political party manifestoes are not sharply focused on poverty reduction except for making false promises. From the lackadaisical approach of the successive governments to eradicate poverty, the proposition comes to the fore that the political leaders have a vested interest in the continuation of poverty. The rationale is simple: as long as there will be poor people, the crooked politicians will be able to manipulate them with even scanty allurements.

    In fact, poverty of a section of people is also a boon for the affluent section of the society, as it provides them with an opportunity to show off their wealth. Don't we notice thousands of poor people thronging the gates of the rich people who announce their zakat in advance to the poor? Don't we also hear of human casualties at stampedes almost every year during these zakat events? What a joke at the cost of the lives of poor people! What a loss of precious lives for a saree or lungi!

    (Sources: Selected Works of Rabinranath Tagore (in bengali),World Bank reports on Bangladesh, IFAD Rural Poverty reports, National Geographic: MapMachine report, Agriculturists-Online, and UNCDF, Daily Newspapers- Prathom Alo, New Age, New Nation, Weekly EPW (India) and Rahman, M.,The Daily Star , March 16, 2006), Inam Ahmed and Rejaul Karim Byron, The Daily Star, October 10, 2006., Kazi SM Khasrul Alam Quddusi, Daily Star, October 17, 2006. .
  • BANGLADESH: A Million Mutinies Now

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    12. ARTICLES


    3. Forest without Forest Dwellers
    4. Bangladesh buys for 271 million US dollar in 2001 - Toxic Waste
    5. Former Ofwat boss attacks "excess profits" in South
    6. Questioning the success of the Green Revolution
    7.Char (Island) dwellers and mega programmes: Department for International Development (UK)
    8. Give Farmers A Respite From Jotedars (Big Land Owners)
    9. Harmful exotic tree planting still going on
    10. Whither Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper
    11. Plantations (replacing native species) Are Not Forests
    12. How developed is development model?

    14. Agro-imperialism: Green Revolution to Biotechnology
    15. Projects of Mass Destruction
    16. Tragedy in the Himalays and Ganges-Brahmaputra Plain - Flood, drought, earthquake and cyclone
    17. Over 2000 die of rabies in Bangladesh yearly
    18. MICRO CREDIT - Organisations get Money from Abroad in the Name of Poverty Alleviation
    19. BANNING RICKSHAW: Rich Blaming Rickshaws for Traffic Congestion: The World Bank for Withdraw of Rickshaw
    20. People in Third World die of curable diseases as Western drug companies create ‘lifestyle drugs’
    21. BANGLADESH: A Million Mutinies Now
    22. WTO deadlock: Double standards
    Rich countries want the cake and eat it too!

    23. "Wherever the forest department is, there is no forest"
    This is the story of how the Asian Development Bank and its evil twin the World Bank is financing projects of mass destruction in the name of development, destroying acre after acre of sal forest

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  • (Last Modified: October 11, 2008)

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