Donors renew pledge to stand by Bangladesh

Development partners have pledged to further support Bangladesh, enabling the country to boost economic growth and shrink poverty in its graduation from a least developed country.
They expressed their willingness to deepen their engagement in the country's development process throughout the two-day Bangladesh Development Forum (BDF) meeting that concluded yesterday.
“The development partners as a group stand ready to support the Bangladesh government in its efforts to work on the sustainable development goals, the seventh five-year plan and the strive to achieve the prime minister's Vision of 2021,” said Janina Jaruzelski, head of USAID Bangladesh, at a media briefing at Bangabandhu International Conference Centre in Dhaka.
Representing the development partners, she said several issues were discussed at the meeting, but the overriding message is that the agenda for Vision 2021 is an ambitious one.
“It requires work, but if the right choices and hard efforts are made by everyone in partnership and collaboration, that Vision 2021 is achievable. It is a worthy goal and the right goal to strive for.”
The government has set a target to turn Bangladesh into a middle-income nation by 2021.From the development partners' perspective, four areas were emphasised -- skills development and education, climate change, malnutrition and stunting and active participation of women and girls in society, Jaruzelski said.
Investing in the youth to attain quality education would not only meet the needs of the private sector but will meet the needs of the world economy going forward, she said.
Eliminating malnutrition and stunting in children is important as they cost Bangladesh $1 billion a year in lost productivity and many other costs, she added.
The USAID official said there had been a lot of talks on the sectors and spheres in Bangladesh that are affected by climate change.
“It is not purely an environmental issue. It relates to diseases and agriculture and the need to build infrastructure that can weather the effects of climate change.”
It is important for women and girls to have full participation in all aspects of not just the economy but also the society in order to achieve the Vision 2021, she said.
A communiqué, which was distributed at the press conference, said the government and development partners would digest and reflect on the discussions at the BDF in the coming weeks.
It said the development partners will also work with the government in the coming months to develop the Joint Cooperation Strategy.
“The Joint Cooperation Strategy will lay out in more detail how the government of Bangladesh and the development partners will work together, and with other partners such as the civil society and the private sector, to support poverty reduction in Bangladesh and to foster a society where all people -- both women and men -- can achieve their full potential,” it said.
The communiqué talked about six broad areas where Bangladesh has to work on to graduate from an LDC. These include creating decent jobs, tackling the barriers to growth by improving the enabling environment for the private sector, building a skills base, and strengthening regional connectivity.
Building human capital is a prerequisite for growth and poverty reduction, by improving the equity, quality and efficiency of health and education services and by emphasising improvements in nutrition outcomes, it said.
It called for efforts to strengthen the social protection provision for the extreme poor, the marginalised and the most vulnerable through fewer but larger, better targeted and more efficient social protection programmes.
Strengthening governance, the rule of law, accountability and transparency; bringing reforms to the justice sector; implementing the National Integrity Strategy and the Right to Information Act; building public sector capacity in terms of administration and financial management are some other areas that the communiqué stated.
Speaking at the press conference, Finance Minister AMA Muhith said even though the development partners termed it ambitious, they have endorsed the seventh five-year plan.
The government has received assurance from the development partners in the area of infrastructure development as the country is facing a major deficit in the area, he said.
Development partners such as the Asian Development Bank and the newly established Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) have expressed interests to improve infrastructure in Bangladesh, he added.
“We have called upon the development partners to support us in these areas like what the ADB and the DFID are doing now. They have also said that they will come forward.”
Addressing Jaruzelski, Muhith said the US can do a great service to Bangladesh by allowing it duty-free access to all exports.
In response, she said she would pass the message to the US ambassador in Dhaka.
Mohammad Mejbahuddin, senior secretary of Economic Relations Division, said the BDF also prioritised regional connectivity to further trade and investment in the region.
The development partners have also shown interests in the government's emphasis on expanding the social safety nets, he added.
The development partners have endorsed the National Integrity Strategy and the measures the government has taken to implement it, he said. They also appreciated the government's agreements with the ministries and divisions that are aimed at improving performance and accountability, he said.
Monowar Ahmed, chief coordinator of the BDF, and Mohammad Asif-uz-Zaman, additional secretary of ERD, were also present.
The forum brought together ministers, top government officials, representatives of development partners and civil society leaders to find the areas to strengthen partnership for the country's development.

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