Expo 2020 Dubai: A golden opportunity to showcase our inner strength, says Bangladesh’s Minister
The Minister for Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment recounts the South Asian nation’s incredible growth story
Bangladesh is on a path to buck the global trend of widespread economic devastation because of the raging Covid-19 pandemic for the second successive year.
Khaleej Times caught up with Imran Ahmed, who has been Bangladesh's Minister for Expatriates’ Welfare and Overseas Employment since 2019, during his visit to the UAE for Expo 2020 Dubai, the Arab world’s showpiece event that started on October 1.
Edited excerpts from an exclusive interview:
Over 10 million NRBs are scattered across the globe. How much foreign remittances do Bangladesh get from these NRBs annually?
Data showed that remittances sent by 12 million non-resident Bangladeshis (NRBs) jumped 36 per cent to $24.77 (Dh90.99) billion in 2020-21 — at a time when lots of expatriates lost jobs and their income declined due the contagion — from $18.2 (Dh66.85) billion in 2019-20. The surge makes for a compelling case study.
Bangladesh’s financial year is from July 1 to June 30.
Surprisingly, the biggest jump in remittances occurred during the pandemic — between July 1, 2020, and June 30, 2020.
The economic realities are inextricably linked to the social fabric.
For instance, the family bondage in Bangladesh is much stronger than most parts of the world. A person can even give up his/her life or family welfare.
So, when the pandemic struck, the NRBs started sending more money to support their families, despite the fact that many of them were out of work.
A sense of insecurity and uncertainty unites our people. They feel strongly to support their loved ones and as a result, they remitted more money.
The policy outreach eliminated the relative advantages of remitting money via informal channels.
Many NRBs have stitched from informal to formal banking mechanisms, whose results are all too evident.
No wonder, when most countries reported a decline in remittances, we’ve seen a reverse trend and a spike of 36 per cent.
The annual remittance figure appears to be proportionally higher than both India and Pakistan. Where do NRBs stand as far as contribution to the economy is concerned?
Over 80 per cent of the remittances are used for family welfare, maintaining day-to-day expenses, weddings, etc. However, a large chunk is also spent in housing – be it building a home or an apartment, etc. Many NRBs invest in saving schemes, Wage Earner’s Development Bond, Deposit Pension Scheme, Defence Savings Certificate, equity market, etc.
However, many NRBs invest in developing businesses, financing businesses, start-ups, as part of their future relocation plan. So, there is productive use of the money that goes into wealth creation and also incurring household expenditures.
A growing number of educated and skilled Bangaldeshis are seeking employment abroad or migrating to other developed nations.
These NRBs remittances are being used as investment instruments and wealth creation.
This trend, which gives a rosy economic outlook, appears here to stay.
Bangladesh unemployment rate for 2020 was 5.30 per cent, a 1.08% per cent increase from 2019. What's the latest figure on this front?
We expect the figure to decline, as economic activities have resumed after the second Covid-19 wave between April and July.
Also, as the borders reopen, they are going to be absorbed in the labour market either at home or abroad.
A recent survey conducted by an autonomous research organisation, Bangladesh Institute for Development Studies (BIDS), revealed that 66 per cent of the students who graduated from the colleges affiliated with the National University are unemployed. This appears to be alarming statistics. How are you trying to overcome this?
I’m not sure if someone has mixed things up. In fact, many youth are working as software engineers, coders and outsourcing partners. They work from home, and they do not have proper employment records. However, data shows that their annual earnings are over $1 (Dh3.67) billion in foreign exchange.
During the lockdown we all remained at home. So, the timing of the survey appears to be a misnomer. We’re creating jobs.
Bangladesh is developing 100 Special Economic Zones (SEZs) and 39 Hi-Tech Parks, which are attracting massive foreign investments and will absorb the surplus workforce.
They will also absorb those youth who are slated to enter the job market over the next 15-20 years.
More Bangladeshis are tipped to get job offers from countries in the Middle East, the Far East and Europe in the coming months.
How can you tackle the growing youth unemployment?
This is what brings me to Dubai. Perhaps, this is my fifth or sixth visit to the UAE — a large destination for Bangladeshi professionals and entrepreneurs. We’ll start deploying skilled manpower in those places where the demand is picking up following the easing of Covid-19-related travel restrictions.
What schemes have your ministry undertaken for NRBs' welfare?
Several initiatives have been launched. We’re incentivising the legal remittances with 2 per cent cash back to the beneficiary.
Several welfare schemes have been introduced through our Bureau of Manpower, Employment and Training (BMET) including offering legal aid, career counselling, professional training, and a one-time payment of Dh12,863 by our government to the immediate family member of any NRB, who dies in a foreign country.
There are many savings instruments and investment schemes for NRBs. Besides, seats are reserved for their children in educational institutes, preferential treatment in accessing public services. A help desk has been opened to attend to their needs, quotas for new initial public offerings (IPOs), etc.
Our Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is relentlessly working to realise the dreams of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the Father of the Nation, who had envisioned an exploitation and hunger-free society.
A part of that dream has been realised. Bangladesh is no longer afflicted with extreme poverty, as everyone gets to enjoy two square meals a day, have shelter and can dream of a better life.
NRBs have played a stellar role in helping our economy. The Dh90.99 billion remittance that they have sent to Bangladesh through the banking channel during the pandemic, not only helped boost our foreign currency reserves to a record high, but also helped people survive and navigate out of the most challenging health care emergency.
How can Expo 2020 Dubai be an opportunity for Bangladesh to generate more white-collar jobs for its workforce in the UAE even after the showpiece event gets over on March 31, 2022?
Expo 2020 Dubai is a golden opportunity to demonstrate the inherent strength of Bangladesh — and show the world our own growth story – such as our resilience to overcome hunger and poverty, illiteracy, lack of sanitation and medicine, infrastructure inadequacies, sundry challenges related to energy, power, and climate.
We’re a climate victim nation. Every year, we lose vast agricultural land that disappears into rivers and the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of farmers are routinely affected.
Earlier, our country used to hit headlines more often due to natural calamities such as flood and cyclones and man-made disasters such as political and social movements, murders, and other criminal activities such as theft, mugging and robbery.
The Expo is a good meeting ground to showcase the inner strength of our people, their capacity to fight back and rise like the proverbial Phoenix from the ashes.
I believe other nations will take a cue from our story.
The branding for our homegrown products such as handicraft, leather goods, arts, culture, craftsmanship, bicycle parts made out of jute has caught global imagination.
The wow factor may be missing in our pavilion at the Expo site, but our socio-economic progress made in the last 50 years is breathtaking. It’s our rich human resources that’s making a telling difference.
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