What the papers say

Business Confidence Is Lowest, Says SANEM

A weekly round up of articles about employment, the labour market, skills training and workforce development. This week’s round up is drawn from The Daily Star. Here is the news for the week ending 6th May 2021.

This Week in the Bangladesh English News…

…Structural transformation of the economy went backwards, says one economist. Export numbers are relatively good, but business confidence is bad. Cash assistance is coming, says the government and “What if we tax cigarettes more?” asks a revenue expert.

Education and Labour Market

The education ministry has drafted an act which would bring significant changes to the “shadow education” industry. The act bans teachers from printing, publishing or marketing notebooks and guidebooks, with a maximum imprisonment of three years of a maximum fine of Tk 5 lakh, or both. The draft act does, however, stipulate that publication of supplementary books is possible after approval from the authorities. Furthermore, it bans teachers from giving private tuitions to students of their own institutions. The act must go through committee and the cabinet before becoming official policy.

New primary and secondary curriculum has been postponed again. It was first scheduled for release January 2021, but the release date is now January 2023. The release requires that the manuscripts for new books are finished and sent to the printer. “But we could not finish the new books,” said a member of the National Curriculum and Textbook Board (NCTB). The last time the curriculum was updated was 2012. In addition, the NCTB is proposing dissolving the science, humanities and business tracks in secondary education and giving students a two-day weekend, rather than just one day.

People are working again, but working hours have decreased according to the results of a survey by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) in association with Oxfam Bangladesh. Among survey participants from some 2,600 households in 16 districts, 60 percent lost their jobs between April and May 2020. By February 2021, almost all had found new work. Most of the new employment was in the agriculture sector (18 percent). “Given the nature of economic recovery, it is likely that structural transformation went backwards,” said Towfiqul Islam Khan, a senior research fellow at the CPD.

Financial Services

The government announced a second round of cash assistance to poor and jobless people. Some 3.5 million families will each get Tk 2,500 (about $30), said a statement. The $100 million fund will be dispersed through direct payments to beneficiaries bank accounts or mobile bank accounts. The families set to receive the funds are the same families who received Tk 2,500 cash assistance last year.

Mobile financial services (MFS) are popular, but users and analysts complain that the cash-out fees are high; users pay between Tk 14 and 18.5 per every Tk 1,000 they withdraw. Reducing fees or implementing a ceiling would help the poor who most use the service, reports The Daily Star. “The central bank should impose such ceiling,” said Fahmida Khatun, executive director of the Centre for Policy Dialogue. Besides, Khatun said, due to the increasing popularity the cost of doing business has declined. Md Serajul Islam, spokesperson and an executive director of the Bangladesh Bank, said the central bank will look into the matter.

Business, Investments, Trade and Growth

Totaling $3.13 billion, exports in April fetched six times more than the same month a year ago. In April last year, export earnings, at just $0.52 billion, were the lowest ever in the history of Bangladesh. Moreover, the recovery is not evenly distributed across industries. In the garment sector, for example, demand for leisure knitwear clothing is up some 15 percent, while woven exports, such as formal shirts and pants, have declined more than 10 percent.

Business confidence in Bangladesh is at a low point, according to a survey of 503 firms in April by the South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (Sanem). It reached a 41.39 points, the first time its measures below 50 since SANEM began the Business Confidence Index (BCI) in July 2020. In general, below 50 points indicates the expectation of deterioration, and above 50 indicates improvement in regards to profitability, investment, employment, wage, business cost, and sales/exports.

In fiscal year 2021-22, Bangladesh should collect more revenue and reduce diseases through a tax increase on “low-tier” cigarettes, argued the former chairman of the National Board of Revenue (NBR), Nasiruddin Ahmed. Between 2010 and 2020 NBR data shows the market for low-tier cigarettes swelled from 57 percent to 72 percent. And about 35 percent of adults in Bangladesh consume tobacco, according to the 2017 Global Adult Tobacco Survey. Taxes and price measures can “reduce demand and save lives while increasing domestic resources for development,” said Ahmed.

Farmers and Agriculture

A two month ban on fishing hilsa, to give the fish time to repopulate in six areas, was lifted. To encourage compliance with the ban, registered fishermen were to be given 40 kg of rice per month, from February to May. But many fishermen were not about to register in their divisions, according to multiple reports. Moreover, among those that were registered, not all received the aid.

Other News

Bangladesh does not have enough to Covid-19 vaccines to administer second doses for some 1.3 million people due to a ban on vaccine exports in India. With the change in fortune, the Government of Bangladesh is inquiring about acquiring doses from all possible sources, including China, India, Russia and the United States. Meanwhile, The Daily Star asked, “Can we implement a “mix and match” strategy? Can people who already received a first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine get a second dose of Russia’s Sputnik-V or China’s Sinopharm?” The Daily Star weighs the known and unknown factors here.

Solar-lighting solutions will be installed in the Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar announced Beyond2020, a UAE-driven humanitarian initiative. The lighting aims to benefit some 4,500 refugee residents and provide more security and opportunity for community activities after dark, said a press release. The installation work will be done with Electricians Without Borders, a France-based non-profit, which already assisted with the installation of 240 solar home systems and 640 solar lamps.

Three Bangladeshi researchers were included in this year’s Asian Scientist 100 list published by Asian Scientist, a Singapore-based magazine. The three researchers are Dr. Firdausi Qadri of icddr,b, Dr. Salma Sultana of the Model Livestock Advancement Foundation and Professor Samia Subrina of Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology. All three also received prestigious international awards within the last year.