During the recent years we have become well acquainted with the word ‘mega project’ but what it means in reality remains a big question. A mega project is normally known as an extremely large-scale investment-based project. According to the Oxford Handbook of Mega project Management, such projects are large-scale, complex ventures that may cost billions of dollars, take many years to build, involve multiple public and private stakeholders and impact millions of people. However, budget may vary from one country to another. A mega project with huge investment may leave a long-lasting impact on economy, environment and society.
To be specific, seven mega projects are under way in full swing in Bangladesh which are: the Padma Bridge, Padma Bridge Railway Link, Dhaka Mass Rapid Transit Line-6 i.e. Metro Rail, Chattogram-Cox’s Bazar Railway Link, Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant, Matarbari 1,200 MW Coal-fired Power Plant and the Payra Deep Seaport. Some experts think that implementation of these projects would increase the prestige of Bangladesh among the world community, enhance development and boost economy to a great extent. Side by side, some others think that only implementation of mega projects is not enough to recover the distressed economy.
In this connection M M Akash, Professor of Economics of Dhaka University, said that recovery of economy is to be analysed in details. According to government information, the rate of growth was 7 per cent earlier but now it is 5 per cent. If statistics of government is correct then it is to be accepted that corona could not severely affect the overall economy of Bangladesh. We are better off than many other countries. So, it may be assumed that economy has recovered to some extent with some ifs and buts.
During the pandemic period there have been cases where rich people have become richer and the poor have become poorer. The rate of poverty was 20 per cent but now it is much more. Inclusive growth decreased but it is increasing again. As a result, the average looks fair but theory of average is always complicated. For example, if 50 per cent of the body is in a frying pan and 50 per cent in a deep fridge then it is tolerable temperate according to average formula but is it at all comfortable? This observation is very much justified. Such a situation is simply terrible.
As a result of international recovery, the RMG sector is now doing better because new orders have started to come in. What is worrying is the fact that no fresh investment is coming from the private sector. Even the opportunity of legalising undisclosed money has not brought any changes because that money has not been invested but stored. If it was invested the growth graph would have been higher.
The question naturally arises, from where the growth comes? In fact, it is comes from agriculture, remittance and the garments sector. Service sector is the worst affected one. Hotel, restaurant, transport, tourism, parlour and everything else remained closed for a long time.
Dhaka is in a better position but business in districts are in very bad shape. SME sector could have been better but it did not happen that way. Tk. 10,000 crore allotted for this sector has not yet been disbursed because there is no credit guarantee and as a result of which banks are not coming forward. Comparatively, the government employees are in a better position but the private sector, especially day labourers and toiling masses are passing their days in distress.
Regarding implementation of mega projects, Prof. Akash said a large number of foreigners are working in the Padma Bridge and the Metro Rail projects. But local peoples’ opportunity to work there is limited. So, employment generation in these projects, as claimed, did not happen. However, after completion of these projects some benefits may be achieved but that is still a long way ahead. So, only mega projects will not help the economy to bounce back. Prevention of corruption, irregularity and procrastination are also important factors here.
About the projected growth of 7.2 per cent he said that it would be difficult to achieve the target. Actually it would be much less than that. In the earlier years it was 5 per cent against projected 8 per cent. A similar situation will prevail this year but there may be a dispute regarding this issue. Huge deficit budget may be problematic for the government if it is tackled through printing currency notes. Taking a loan from a bank and sanchaypatra may be a good idea.
Regarding the problem of procuring vaccine he informed that this is a consequence of poor planning and to some extent corruption in the health sector. Instead of depending on a single company it could be given to other manufacturers. In that case they
could try to collect vaccines from places like Russia, Europe and America. As placed in a single basket the idea did not materialize successfully. However, the government has handled the situation quickly.
Regarding corruption in official purchase he said that corruption exists in every sector including government officials. To destroy the racket of corruption proper trial and punishment is required. It will send a message to the corrupt elements.
Zero tolerance, as asserted by the prime minister, has to reflect in action. If that can be done, the rate of corruption will automatically reduce and the process of recovery of the economy will run on a fast track.
The writer is a former Commissioner of Taxes