Launching of UNCTAD’s The Least Developed Countries Report 2015 organised by Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) on Thursday 26 November 2015.

Published in The Financial Express on 29 November, 2015


probing eyes

Much ado, about something

Mahmudur Rahman

The devil that resides in the detail becomes twice as dangerous when embroiled in the fine print. Most detail is usually flawed and fine print is ignored or overlooked. And if that makes for audacious reading, that what emerges following the Centre for Policy Dialogue statement, last Thursday, must be beyond understanding.

Quoting from an analytical read of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD)’s report on the Least Developed Countries, we are informed by the CPD that Bangladesh will require another nine years before qualifying to be deregistered as a least developing country (LDC). The two outlining reasons are growth of per capita income from $926 (the average of the last three years) to an average of $ 1242 (average of 2015-17) and fulfilling the components of Human Asset Index.

The Human Asset Index can easily be achieved by 2018, according to CPD. But it is the per capita income that opens the Pandora’s Box. Just a few days ago, the Japanese government caused a stir when it politely informed Bangladesh that due to the per capita income having reached $ 1243, that is a dollar over the threshold differentiating an LDC and Lower Middle Income country, it wanted to raise the interest rate for its loans. This was based on Bangladesh’s own claims of per capita income. The Finance Minister immediately responded by saying he would take it up with the Japanese.

If what CPD is suggesting, quoting the UNCTAD report, the government has a dilemma before it. Does it deny its own statement, largely designed from political intent; or does it accept CPD’s rescue act for the greater good of enjoying facilities laid down for the LDCs by existing arrangement for international economic governance? There’s also another spanner in the works that requires extrication. The CPD has said the goal of becoming a higher middle income country by 2021 is highly ambitious as that would require a per capita income of $ 4125.

The age old maxim of walking before running would seem to have rediscovered meaning. For it could well be that encouraged by significant progress, excitement may have got the better of policy planners and the alike. And our venerable economists, who recently backed most of what the government said, may find the need to clarify their positions.

Of the 48 countries who are listed as LDCs, requiring transformative economic change to lift their people from poverty, most are in sub-Saharan Africa that enjoy the embrace of the economic powerhouses, with India the latest to join the group. This comes in the form of aid, low-interest loans and other concessionary privileges. This comes in spite of the ebbing and rising of accusations of mal-governance and corruption.

Only four, have so far come out of the listing, Botswana, Cape Verdi, the Maldives and Samoa with Equatorial Guinea and Vanuatu waiting to be delisted in 2017.Perhaps there’s learning, outside of traditional pastures for Bangladesh, emerging Tiger in a world of Lions.




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