By Shamsul Alam | January 28, 2020 | The Financial Express
In a fractured and divided world, building partnership within and across nations is increasingly becoming more and more vital. Achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires effective partnership between the governments, private sectors, development partners, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academicians and professional bodies. SDG17 articulates the need for multi-stakeholder partnership for mobilising resources, transferring technology, sharing knowledge to fully materialise the agenda 2030. Initially, implementation of SDGs depends on how effectively it is integrated into national policy cycle (Okitasari, Dahiya, & Takemoto, 2018). Bangladesh well integrated Agenda 2030 into the national development plan at the early stage firstly, because SDGs period coincided with the starting period of 7th five-year-plan and secondly, political leaders were passionate about SDGs, underpinned by the success in MDGs (Millennium Development Goals). The implementation period of the 7th plan is about to terminate by June 2020 and the new 8th plan will start from July 2020. The 8th plan will take the second Perspective Plan 2021-2041 and the election manifesto of the ruling Awami League as the guiding principles while the SDGs will remain the integral part.
Given the backdrop, the Perspective Plan 2021-2041 has come at a time when Bangladesh has made significant stride in economic and social dimensions. Over the last decade, Bangladesh was one of the fastest growing economies with an average growth rate of 6.75 per cent reflecting its prospect of becoming an upper middle income economy by 2030. A milestone that has been attained with much celebration across the country is the eligibility of graduation from LDC (least developed country) status to developing country. The other strategic goals that are of critical importance include eradicating extreme poverty, cutting moderate poverty down to single digit by 2030, industrialisation with export-oriented manufacturing, efficient energy and infrastructure to support rapid and sustained growth, and building a resilient nation. The challenges ahead seem to be daunting and the country has to undergo a massive transformation from institutional reforms to improving productivity to business competitiveness over the next two decades. It is surmised that the transformation will not be easy. To overcome the challenges, the first and foremost requisite is political commitment and macroeconomic stability.
The present government under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has laid the foundation for future prosperity. During this period, the poverty rate came down to 20.5 per cent in 2019 from 31.5 per cent in 2010, extreme poverty to 10.5 per cent from 17.6 in 2010. The improvement in social sector has been remarkable. Along with continued and scaled-up investment in social sector, the government is now set to drive the economy at a new level by investing heavily on mega infrastructure and establishing economic zones for foreign direct investment (FDI). Mega projects that include the construction of the Padma Bridge, Dhaka Mass Transit, Payra Deep Sea Port, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, Matarbari power plant, Chattogram-Cox’s Bazar Rail Link will be transformational and are expected to boost the economy by at least two per cent.
Bangladesh now looks into moving forward beyond SDGs. The first phase of implementation of the vision 2041 will be made through the 8th Five-Year Plan. The plan will broadly take into account two things – firstly, graduation from LDC status by 2024 and secondly, achieving Agenda 2030.
The core theme of the eighth plan is proposed as “Promoting Prosperity Fostering Inclusiveness”. The ultimate objective of the Father of Nation was to make Bangladesh a happy and prosperous nation – a welfare state where everyone can have a decent standard of living and enjoy the social, economic, political, cultural and human rights. The major vision and objectives of the eight plan include building infrastructure of similar level of upper middle-income economy, reducing moderate poverty to 12.17 per cent and extreme poverty to 5.28 per cent, graduation from LDC to developing country by 2024 and achievement in major targets of SDGs – particularly that entail leaving no one behind. To achieve the development vision by the five year period, the government must resort to the collective action where private sector will play the lead role. A large part of underlying partnership will come through in the form of investment and trade by North-South, South-South, regional and international cooperation. Such investment is expected to have spillover effect in the areas of science, technology and innovation. There are two parts of implementing the plan – one is hard part, that is investment in infrastructure, education, health, poverty reduction-those generally entail sizable cost, and the other is soft part which is basically capacity of institutions, reforms in the functionality of administrative, legal, judicial, social, economic and political institutions, which requires relatively small cost but can make huge impact on development.
RAPID RURAL TRANSFORMATION: One of the major themes of the election manifesto of the ruling party was ‘My Village – My Town’, i.e., extension of modern civic amenities to every village. The next decade will be marked by rapid and massive transformation in rural Bangladesh in terms of information, communication and technology, transport facilities, modernisation of agriculture, health care and education facilities, infrastructure, financial inclusion, entrepreneurship, domestic consumption, training and capacity building.
To bring about a radical transformation in rural areas, measures will be undertaken in promoting modern agriculture practice as base of commercial agriculture, provision of rural electrification, improving education and health services, encouraging development of micro, small and medium enterprises and other industries. The plan will highlight the efforts to provide every village with facilities of modern town, including developed infrastructure, safe and improved drinking water and sanitation, electricity supply, establishing growth centres with modern amenities, agriculture product storage facilities, access to loans, training to rural youths. Partnership will be needed between the government and private sector in entrepreneurship development, between government and NGOs, development partners in investing in human capital – health, education, sanitation, women empowerment, poverty reduction, microfinance, and even between different government agencies – in synergising impact of government intervention.
UPCOMING 8TH PLAN: The 8th plan is expected to be drafted by February for which background papers and inputs from Ministries are being compiled. The following are the proposed strategies for the upcoming 8th plan, stated in the concept note.
Boasting saving investment: While public investment surpassed the target in consecutive years, private investment fell behind, which downsized overall investment as compared to GDP (gross domestic product). The target of double digit growth is largely dependent on the amount of private investment. The country has considerable scope in improving ease of doing business, enabling environment for investment, enhancing business competitiveness. Estimates say overall investment of 77,418 billion BDT will be required during the plan period, of which the private sector will contribute 75 per cent and the rest by the government.
Harnessing the potential of young generation: The prosperity of Bangladesh will rely heavily on the youth. They must be well-equipped with standard education, skill and employment, good physical and mental health. One of the major challenges will be to create employment opportunities for them, to provide training and skills that match the market demand and most importantly, building entrepreneurship which will have multiple impacts on employment and growth.
Cooperation will be needed between government and the private sector such that the government creates a conducive environment that will provide incentives to the private sector in generating large-scale employment.
Consolidating effort for revenue mobilisation: 40 per cent investment of GDP will require a massive drive to enhance revenue base. In the seventh plan period, despite reform measures, the progress is below satisfactory level. More generally, the investment in health, education and social protection largely rely upon the size of the government revenue. The Eighth plan will put more emphasis to reform measures to address the gap between the actual result and target.
Big push for rapid implementation of mega infrastructure: The pace of implementation of mega projects will be accelerated during the eighth plan period. They are supposed to speed up the economic activity and economic zones will be instrumental in attracting foreign investment. The country still needs sizable level of investment in infrastructure. PPP (public-private partnership) can play a critical role in financing large infrastructure projects apart from soft loan from multilateral organizations.
Supporting SME development: Recognising the fact that Bangladesh is one of the labour-surplus countries, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have a greater scope in terms of employment and growth. According to the World Bank Survey, in emerging markets, formal SME contributes up to 45 per cent of total employment and, up to 33 per cent of GDP. The contribution of SME to employment in lower middle-income economy is estimated to be around 68 per cent (Edinburgh Group, 2012).
The Eighth Plan will seek to drive SME sector through supportive environment and policy incentive to private sector and through effective partnership with it.
Eradicating poverty and reducing regional disparity: Bangladesh has recorded big success in reducing poverty. Now it is time to look more at micro level, i.e., poverty pockets from disaggregated data. As per commitment in SDGs, the government intends to focus on multidimensional poverty measure which has become a trend across developing countries. The Eighth plan will continue the renewed emphasis on minimising regional disparity through not just social safety net but scaling up investment in health, education, physical infrastructure, establishing economic zones in lagging regions.
Promoting modern and sustainable agriculture for nutrition for all: Agriculture still comprises 40 per cent of total employment despite its diminishing contribution to GDP. Bangladesh achieved self-sufficiency in rice and fish production. The challenges in the coming years will be to ensure food security, food safety, nutrition and the sustainability of agricultural production in the midst of climatic risks.
Focusing quality education: Achieving SDGs requires more focus on quality rather than quantity. On education sector, our achievement is literally limited to gender parity in primary and secondary education, adult literacy rate in the seventh plan period. A number of measures and reforms will be explored to enhance quality education apart from the continuing strategy undertaken in the seventh plan.
Ensuring power and energy security: Energy will be the driving force for future Bangladesh. The government has undertaken major steps in ensuring uninterrupted supply of power to households, agriculture and industry sectors. These measures include increased installed generation capacity, expanded transmission and distribution network, reduced system loss, increased coverage of electricity and renewable energy share, initiation of cross-border trade among Bangladesh India Nepal (BIN) network. The Eighth plan will take further steps to ensure energy security through construction of transmission line, exploration of oil and gas in the Bay of Bengal, establishing energy hubs in Maheshkhali and Payra, distribution of LNG (liquefied natural gas) gas, cross-border pipeline, prudent use of coal resource etc.
Ensuring quality health care: The government has pledged to ensure basic health care and sufficient nutrition services to all for better quality life. Although, life expectancy has reached 72.3 years, other health indicators like maternal mortality, skilled birth attendant, neonatal mortality rate seem to raise considerable concern in recent times. Despite continued increase in health expenditure in national budget, per capita health expenditure and out of the pocket expenditure is comparatively high. The eighth plan will seek to strengthen the effort of the government in making health and nutrition services availble for all, health services free of cost for person below one year and above 65, introduction of modern technology, increasing the number of doctors, improving the quality of health services, ensuring availability of medical persons in the rural areas. Partnership between the government and NGOs will be enhanced in the area of primary health care services, raising awareness, vaccination, preventing both communicable and non-communicable diseases.
Empowering ethnic minorities, the marginalized and the disabilities: The goal of SDGs – “leave no one behind” – will become a reality, if the government can empower the most disadvantaged. With regard to children from small ethnic communities, Dalits and disabilities, quota and facilities in education and job will be maintained in the coming periods.
Encouraging women empowerment: Bangladesh has gained global acclaim for advancing women empowerment. However, women are still subject to sexual violence inside and outside home. The government will follow zero tolerance policy against rape, sexual harassment, abuse, human trafficking. Creating suitable environment for women at workplace to encourage female labour participation will be promoted (women’s participation in labour force is 36.3 per cent).
Managing urban transformation: The strategy for urbanisation in the 8th plan will focus on polycentric decentralised development, better utilisation of land resources, mitigating increased demand for housing and urban services, protecting, preserving and improving the urban environment, particularly those of the water bodies, involving public and private agencies, strengthening coordination among urban service providers.
Tackling climate change, managing disaster and protecting environment: Climate Change is already taking a toll on the millions of people in Bangladesh by affecting their livelihood, agriculture, and infrastructure. In the eighth plan, in compliance to Bangladesh Delta Plan 2100, fund will be mobilised to undertake more programmes in climate change adaptation and mitigation. While the government will provide regulatory framework, the private sector will be required to comply with the regulations.
Eradicating corruption, making accountable administration, and ensuring good governance: The government has adopted a zero tolerance policy against corruption. Besides, political, social and institutional improvement, collaboration will be developed on both the supply side (government agencies) and demand side (citizen). The vision of developed country will be realised when citizens get whatever services they need in easy, efficient and timely manner. Essentially, ICT (information and communications technology) will be instrumental to ensuring transparency and accountability in the delivery of service by public servants and law-enforcing agencies.
Empowering local government and decentralisation: The Eighth plan will underscore the process of decentralisation with the theme of “My village-My Town”, in which the role of the local government will be pivotal in transforming the lives of rural people. Union Parishad, Upazila Parishad, Zilla Parishad, Municipalities and City Corporation will further be strengthened.
Building partnership for achieving SDGs: Since the adoption of the SDGs, the government has been reviewing the progress and engaging stakeholders including the private sector, development partners and NGOs to accelerate the pace of action. The government estimated almost 928 billion US$ additional resources would be required to implement the SDGs by 2030, an amount which cannot be entirely sourced domestically (GED, 2017).
One of the targets of the SDG 17 is to provide 0.7 per cent of ODA/GNI to developing countries and 0.15 to 0.20 per cent of ODA/GNI to least developed countries. ODA gained momentum in the last two fiscal years largely due to influx of Rohinga refugees, which is expected to decline gradually after graduation from LDC status. In recent times, private investment did not go the way it was expected. To boost private investment, the government plans to facilitate single digit interest rate for all loans from April 2020. Not only this, the government now aims to attract large chunk of FDI through improving competitiveness, establishing one stop service for business, tax incentives and special economic zones.
Both ODA and FDI surged in the last couple of years, which is supposed to continue if macroeconomic stability prevails.
To achieve double digit growth, FDI will be used as a tool for which the government has a plan to establish 100 economic zones to attract investment both from developed and developing countries.
ROLE OF PRIVATE SECTOR: Private sector, which comprises almost 77 per cent of total plan investment, is considered as the engine of growth. But, as far as sustainability is concerned, globally, the emergence of ‘smart business’ has become a phenomenon; that is how business can be made for societal and environmental benefit while keeping the profit motif intact. Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (2019) identified five principles to promote ownership of private sector engagement (PSE): (1) inclusive country ownership, (2) results and targeted impact, (3) inclusive partnership, (4) transparency and accountability, (5) leave no one behind.
ROLE OF DEVELOPMENT PARTNERS: Although the role of role of development partners (DPs) in the development process has been shrinking over time, they are still considered a major player as far as socio-economic development is concerned.
Revisiting the role of NGOs: NGOs can play a significant role in implementing the 8th plan and SDGs at the grassroots level by operating in the remote areas and helping people to combat the adverse effects of climate change.
(This is an abridged version of the Keynote Paper which is scheduled to be presented today (January 29, 2020) at the Plenary Session of Bangladesh Development Forum at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre, Dhaka).
Dr. Shamsul Alam is Member (Senior Secretary), General Economics Division Bangladesh Planning Commission.