It’s been three years today that this blog started.* Over this time, we have seen some major events unfold at home and abroad, including: the unravelling of the 1/11 regime and the Awami League’s landslide victory; Pilkhana and the aftermath; the global recession.
It’s a good idea to mark such anniversary moments with a bit of introspection. Over the fold, I note couple of things I got wrong over this time. Of course I am going to talk about public matters — private mistakes are none of your business. 🙂
Mistake one: election 2008.
I was aware that BNP’s victory in 2001 was much closer than the seat count suggested — Awami League increased its voter share between 1996 and 2001. I alsoe knew that BNP would lose if only a relatively small portion of those who voted dhaner sheesh in 2001 stayed home. And I had heard a lot of anecdotal evidence of the post-1970s generation heavily rejecting BNP.
All these pointed to an AL landslide. And every non-pundit I talked to in Dhaka pointed to an AL landslide.
And yet, I was predicting a close election — perhaps even a hung parliament (here).
In my defence, I wasn’t alone: pundits like Nayeemul Islam Khan, Asif Nazrul, Farhad Mazhar or Nazim Kamran Chowdhury said the same thing. We all saw the crowd in Mrs Zia’s rallies, heard BNP’s unabashed anti-India / Islam-in-danger demagoguery (with dismay or joy depends on one’s preference — definitely dismay for me), and reasoned that kids from anti-AL families would vote like their parents and siblings.
In the event, the proverbial ‘man on the street’ was a better guide than the pundits (except my friends Rumi Ahmed and Zafar Sobhan, who both told me that a two-thirds majority by the Grand Alliance was very much on the card).
I wish I listened to them.
Mistake two: the impact of the recession.
When the global recession hit, in late 2008 and early 2009, I wrote about the impact on Bangladesh here. In the event, Bangladeshi economy performed remarkably well, and my fears proved unfounded.
I thought remittances would tumble. They haven’t. Naeem Mohaiemen and I do ‘after the fact’ rationalisations here — but I am glad that I was wrong on the headline issue.
I also thought global commodity prices tumble, we would have had a respite from the food price inflation — this indeed happened for a while in 2009. But I didn’t expect that food price inflation would return so quickly, and I didn’t expect the government to squander the opportunity of falling prices to rationalise subsidies.
Mistake three: optimism about the AL’s economic reform agenda.
This brings me to my third semi-public mistake. I say semi because I don’t recall making a public call about it. But in private conversations and correspondence, I noted my belief that the incoming AL government would take a few tough economic decisions very early on.
I believed that the government would rationalise various subsidies. I also believed that there would be major private sector investment in infrastructure and power sectors. Further, I expected some serious tax reforms. And finally, I expected lot of recommendations of Better Business Forum and Regulatory Reform Commission would be instituted.
My friend Syeed Ahamed put it thus: politics to the left, economy to the right. And I agreed with him.
I am sad to say I got almost all of it wrong. While there has been improvements in tax collection and implementation of the development budget, a lot remains to be done if the ambitious medium term agenda is to be achieved. And the micro governance reform agenda has been completely junked.
With two years gone, I don’t believe the government will be able to meet its commitments. This was the strongest government politically in a generation. It has made some tough calls in the foreign and education policy domains. But as far as the economy is concerned, it has wasted a golden opportunity.
I hope I am proved wrong in that last belief three years down the track.
*Earlier posts are imported from UV and A-A-A.