Will for­eigner killings hurt Bangladesh econ­omy?

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY DR. FAH­MIDA KHATUN

Fol­low­ing the killing of an in­no­cent Ital­ian citizen on Sept. 28 in Dhaka, ten­sions have been en­gulf­ing us on all sides.

Diplo­matic mis­sions, quite nat­u­rally, alerted their cit­i­zens to stay safe and take pre­cau­tions while mov­ing around the city.

Bangladeshis were up­set and sur­prised by high se­cu­rity alerts is­sued by some coun­tries to their cit­i­zens and also by the news in the Western media.

Many thought that the re­ac­tion to the killing was prob­a­bly out of pro­por­tion, even though they were also shocked and baf­fled by this sud­den mur­der, some­thing that has rarely hap­pened in Bangladesh be­fore.

This is also alarm­ing, since Gul­shan and Barid­hara are sup­pos­edly the safest ar­eas of Dhaka city where diplo­mats and for­eign com­mu­ni­ties re­side.

We see many for­eign­ers jog­ging on the roads and parks, walk­ing with gro­ceries to their homes, cy­cling to their of­fices and even send­ing their chil­dren to in­ter­na­tional schools in rick­shaws which many of us, be­ing Bangladeshis, don’t feel com­fort­able do­ing.

But our for­eign friends faced no prob­lem un­til this killing. Bangladeshis have al­ways shown their hos­pi­tal­ity and warmth to for­eign­ers.

Ex­cept for one or two petty in­ci­dents of mug­ging, mis­cre­ants gen­er­ally never tar­get them. So the mur­der of a for­eigner on a street of Gul­shan was be­yond the wildest imag­i­na­tion of any­one.

Po­lit­i­cal Im­pli­ca­tions and Eco­nomic

Reper­cus­sion

But within five days into the killing of the Ital­ian citizen, the sec­ond mur­der of a for­eigner, a Ja­panese man work­ing in a vil­lage in a north­ern dis­trict of Rang­pur, brought new waves of ap­pre­hen­sion re­gard­ing the ques­tion of safety of for­eign­ers in the coun­try.

Po­lit­i­cal im­pli­ca­tions of such killings can­not be ig­nored. There could be eco­nomic reper­cus­sions too.

Even with im­pres­sive eco­nomic growth of about 6 per­cent dur­ing the last decade, Bangladesh has been strug­gling to at­tract for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment (FDI) to en­hance its growth mo­men­tum and re­duce poverty through higher em­ploy­ment gen­er­a­tion.

How­ever, pri­vate in­vest­ment — both for­eign and do­mes­tic — is not pick­ing up not only due to the lack of in­fras­truc­tural bot­tle­necks, but also ow­ing to poor gov­er­nance and lack of po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity.

Ex­port growth, in­clud­ing ex­ports of ready-made gar­ments ( RMG), did not meet the tar­get in the 2015 fi­nan­cial year. Po­lit­i­cal volatil­ity dur­ing ear­lier months of 2015 has been one of the rea­sons, in ad­di­tion to com­pli­ance is­sues in case of lower RMG ex­ports.

As the global eco­nomic out­look for 2015 and 2016 is not promis­ing, the com­ing days for Bangladesh will not be easy ei­ther.

The In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF) in July this year pro­jected global eco­nomic growth to be 3.3 per­cent, which is lower than 2014.

In its up­com­ing global eco­nomic out­look, IMF is go­ing to down­grade its growth pro­jec­tions, as large economies such as China face weaker growth than ex­pected.

The Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment has also low­ered its fore­casts for global eco­nomic growth in mid-Septem­ber.

The World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion in­di­cates only a slight in­crease of global trade, from 2.8 per­cent in 2014 to 3.3 per­cent in 2015 and to 4 per­cent in 2016.

ADB’s eco­nomic out­look for Asia in Septem­ber re­veals that Asian economies will have lower growth from 6.2 per­cent in 2014 to 5.8 per­cent in 2015 and only a slight in­crease to 6 per­cent in 2016.

Hur­dles Re­main Amid Hope

For Eco­nomic Growth

As for Bangladesh, growth pro­jec­tions are re­vised slightly up­ward in the hope that ex­ports will grow, re­mit­tances will boost con­sump­tion de­mand, in­vest­ment will pick up and spend­ing on an­nual de­vel­op­ment pro­gram will in­crease.

How­ever, the re­cent Global Com­pet­i­tive­ness Re­port (GCR) of the World Eco­nomic Fo­rum in­di­cates that hur­dles re­main in a num­ber of ar­eas, in­clud­ing in­sti­tu­tions, de­spite a slight im­prove­ment in the GCR rank­ing, from 109th po­si­tion in 2014 to 107th in 2015.

As al­most 60 per­cent of the Bangladesh econ­omy is in­te­grated with the global econ­omy through trade, FDI, for­eign aid and re­mit­tances, clouds in the global econ­omy will also loom over Bangladesh.

Con­cerns, such as the mur­ders of for­eign­ers in the coun­try, can only make mat­ters worse, since im­age also plays an im­por­tant role in the case of eco­nomic de­ci­sions.

Some of us tried to com­pare the killings of for­eign­ers in Bangladesh with the shoot­ing of peo­ple in de­vel­oped coun­tries, par­tic­u­larly the U.S., where gun mas­sacres are ran­dom and have be­come a day-to-day af­fair.

Life there is un­pre­dictable for in­no­cent cit­i­zens, even for very young chil­dren. The dif­fer­ence be­tween killings in ad­vanced coun­tries and Bangladesh is that it does not stop peo­ple from go­ing to those coun­tries to live there, spend their money there and in­vest there.

Those are de­vel­oped economies, whereas Bangladesh has just grad­u­ated from a low in­come to a lower-mid­dle in­come coun­try with a per capita in­come of only US$1,314 where in­vest­ment is merely 30 per­cent of the gross do­mes­tic prod­uct (GDP). There­fore, it can­not af­ford any slight mis­take in its jour­ney to­ward fur­ther pro­gres­sion.

But brand­ing Bangladesh as an un­safe coun­try for for­eign­ers would be fa­tal, as much as it would be wrong to por­tray to­day’s Bangladesh as a place for re­li­gious ex­trem­ism.

Bangladeshis have al­ways been pro­gres­sive in their thoughts with re­li­gious val­ues in­stilled in their hearts. De­spite be­ing a pre­dom­i­nantly Mus­lim coun­try, Bangladesh has al­ways up­held com­mu­nal har­mony and demon­strated tol­er­ance to­ward peo­ple from other re­li­gious be­liefs.

The present gov­ern­ment of Bangladesh has shown a strong com­mit­ment to­ward com­bat­ing ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism. In the same spirit, the gov­ern­ment should ex­hibit its strength to take mea­sures for jus­tice and pro­tect for­eign­ers liv­ing in the coun­try. The writer is re­search di­rec­tor at the Cen­tre for Pol­icy Di­a­logue, cur­rently a vis­it­ing scholar at the Cen­tre for Study of Science, Tech­nol­ogy and Pol­icy, In­dia.

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