Challenges and Opportunities

Interview with Dr. A.K. Abdul Momen, Chairman, Chittagong Stock Exchange, and Patron — British Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BBCCI)



What are the success factors behind Bangladesh’s economic miracle?

One of the key success factors has been and will continue to be demographics. We have a population of over 160 million, almost half of which is under 25, and our market is expanding because their purchasing power is fast increasing. Furthermore, Bangladeshi workers are skilled and hard working. Also, our cost of energy is lower than in most neighbouring countries such as India, Myanmar and Nepal.
International observers like Goldman Sachs and PwC concur in auguring a bright future for Bangladesh. We will become a trillion-dollar economy sooner rather than later.

Where do you see the greatest opportunities for growth and investment?

We have two main resources, manpower and water, and we need significant investment and technology to fully exploit them. There are plenty of investment opportunities in the energy sector, where we must increase power-generating capacity from 15,600MW to 24,000MW in a matter of years. And in the infrastructure sector, the government is already working
on a few master projects, including bridges and roads. There is also great potential in the agriculture and food industry. Although Bangladesh is the fourth-largest rice and vegetable-producing country in the world and the third for fishing, we lack warehousing facilities as well as players that focus on value addition. There are also many opportunities in the health sector: the government has created thousands of rural clinics, but we need more and better hospitals. Finally, there are huge opportunities in high-growth industries such as tourism, education and shipbuilding.

What challenges does Bangladesh face to reach its ambitious development goals?

I see three main challenges: infrastructure, both tangible and intangible, quality of education and administrative structure. Transport and energy infrastructure can be solved with sufficient investment. However, intangible infrastructure — the rules and processes that form our bureaucracy — won’t disappear with money. Our bureaucratic system, which we inherited from the British, is largely focused on generating revenue and controlling things, and many of our regulations are based on India Acts of the 1930s. We must update our regulations and processes and make them more service-oriented. Secondly, we must work to improve the quality of training and education because, today, education is increasingly becoming a business, and this is affecting its quality. Thirdly, our administration must be wholly based on principles of transparency and good governance.

How important are relations with the UK for Bangladesh?

The UK was one of our main allies together with India during the Liberation War. It also built the railway and established the bases of a civil system that we still use. The UK has played a very important role in the recent history of our country and I trust this will continue to be the case in the future.