Published:  02:56 AM, 13 April 2019

Look before you leap

Warnings sounded about debt trap

Look before you leap BM Mozammel Haque, organizing secretary of the Awami League, speaking at the seminar, titled 'Debt Trap Diplomacy and Regional Threat', organized by The Asian Age yesterday. -AA

Bangladesh's economy has outperformed its fastest growing neighbors and others around the world. It is a refreshing reality check against the false image that so many people have of Bangladesh as a perennially depressed country and permanently distressed people. But Bangladesh should think twice before taking big foreign loans, according to Dr Richard L Benkin, a noted US scholar and human rights activist.

He was delivering the keynote address at a seminar, titled "Debt Trap Diplomacy & Regional Threat', organized by The Asian Age at a city hotel yesterday.

Dr Benkin stated, "Bangladesh saw a jaw-dropping 7.86 percent GDP growth last year and it is expected that GDP will grow a record-setting 8.13 percent this fiscal year. It will soon graduate from Least Developed Country (LDC) status. But the country should be careful about getting involved with ambitious mega projects like China's One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative as it may ultimately become a trap."

Terming Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as a skilled and sharp stateswoman, he said, "It will be unwise to think that anyone can beat China, which has been engaged with Bangladesh's economic development in the last seven years, at its own game."

Syed Badrul Ahsan, Editor-in-Charge of The Asian Age, delivered the welcome speech at the program, which was moderated by The Asian Age Advisory Editor Major General (Retd) M Shamim Chowdhury.  In his remarks on the occasion, Syed Marghub Murshed, Chairperson, Environment and Social Development Organization (ESDO) and former secretary, said third world countries like Bangladesh should be cautious about getting involved in such mega projects as OBOR.

Professor Ataur Rahman, Chairman, Centre for Governance Studies (CGC) and an academic, was however critical of the position spelt out in the keynote paper. He said Bangladesh is going through a transition.

"We need huge foreign investments in infrastructure sector," he noted and added that China's interest in investing in Bangladesh would help the country implement its development works. On the other hand, he said, the level of US investment in Bangladesh is little. "For this reason, we shouldn't avoid China. And of course we have to ensure a proper utilization of loans from our development partners," he asserted.

BM Mozammel Haque, organizing secretary of the ruling Awami League, in his comments said, "We need assistance from our development partners with a view to advancing our development activities. Though China opposed Bangladesh during the Liberation War in 1971, it is now providing assistance to Dhaka in the development of its infrastructure."

"We want to make a prosperous Bangladesh with assistance from all development partners," he further said.Among others who spoke at the seminar were Abdul Haque, Honorary Consul of Djibouti in Dhaka, Mahmudul Islam Chowdhury, former Mayor of Chittagong City Corporation, Faruk Ahmed, President, Bangladesh Journalists' Foundation for Consumers & Investors (BJFCI), Sanjida Farhana, Lecturer, Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP), and Rafia Rowshan Khan, Program Associate, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD). Present on the occasion were Abdul Mabud, Managing Editor, The Asian Age, and journalists from print and electronic media.

Delivering the vote of thanks, M Shoeb Chowdhury, Chairman of The Asian Age editorial board, said, "Today it is very clear that many countries are in deep economic crises by taking foreign loans. Bangladesh as an emerging developed country should be more conscious about it."  

Besides, democratic values and 1971 spirit should be upheld, he added.He stated, however, that Bangladesh needs to be wary about accepting big loans for mega projects from China given the experience of such countries as Sri Lanka, Pakistan or Malaysia.



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