DHAKA: Bangladesh’s booming economy has been hit by the onslaught of COVID-19 pandemic and it now needs to rebound as early as possible, but that demands the immediate reopening of all related government offices and organisations, according to experts.
Most such offices are still not fully operational or shut hurting the country’s trade, commerce and all economic activities.
Soon after first detection of Covid-19 in the country in March, the government closed all public and private offices along with factories to ensure social distancing in a bid to contain the spike of the virus.
Although the government has allowed commercial and industrial activities to run in restricted manner, but full operational is hampered as many related departments and offices are shut.
In such a situation, the experts and stakeholders have made a demand for immediate reopening of the important offices.
The government has to take initiative to open all financial services related government, semi government and private offices, they opined.
Although the government opened a limited number of offices and courts in the last week of past month, many important ministries and offices have not yet opened. No one knows when the secretariat will reopen.
The activities of the sectors from which the government's revenue comes are closed till now. The ports are not yet operational. Land revenue collection is also closed. Although some offices have been opened, not much work is being done in them.
Although huge revenue has come from the contractors for development activities, that sector is also closed now.
In this situation, when will the Bangladesh Secretariat, the heart of the administration, fully open, or when the important departments will be active in their work - this is what is being discussed in various quarters.
The government offices have an interlink with private office and different government offices also, so to restate the economic activities of the country all government offices should open on priority basis with maintaining social distance and other health related safety measure, experts said.
Former government bureaucrats, concerned persons and experts say that since the government has taken risks, opened offices on a limited scale, opened trade and industry, it should also open the offices related to revenue including the secretariat, the focal point of administration.
Economist and former finance adviser of a caretaker government Dr. ABM Mirza Azizul Islam said government offices should keep open to fulfill different government declared incentive packages among the root-level people.
“Opening informal sector may increase the risk of infection in the urban areas whereas involving people in different economic activities in rural areas will help to make the village economy stronger,” he added.
At the same time, in order to overcome the loss of about two months, it is now necessary to set up control rooms in these offices and run 24/7.
Former Bangladesh Bank governor Dr Atiur Rahman proposed that the government offices can reopen with a rotation routine and maintain the health safety measures.
“The impact of coronavirus is huge in local and global perspectives, but we have to survive ourselves, the economy, the agriculture, fisheries, crops productions and many other sectors fight against the coronavirus,” he said.
On March 23, fifteen days after the first coronavirus patient was identified in the country, the government declared a general holiday, effective from March 26. The government took this holiday measure to prevent coronavirus infection. This holiday has been gradually extended till May 16.
After the announcement of the general holiday, the government's Cabinet Division, Ministry of Public Administration, Health, Disaster Management and Relief, Prime Minister's Office and other departments involved in coronavirus prevention were kept open with a very limited number of staff.
With the extension of the holiday period in stages, a limited number of offices have been opened across the country from April 26 on the instructions of the highest level of government. Even businesses, shops, shopping malls have been opened ahead of Eid.
The government has been implementing social safety-net program such as providing allowances for old ages people, widows and disable people, shut downing government office may hampered the service which will make ultimate impact on local livelihood, he said.
In this context, a former secretary of the cabinet department said the biggest revenue sector of the government is import duty. The government generates huge revenue, especially from the country's sea and land ports.
Since many offices have been opened, shopping malls, shops and almost everything has been opened, every sea and land port needs to be made operational, he added.
He also said the sea and land ports should reopen to help unload goods and delivery of unloaded goods from one place to another. “Only then will the wheel of revenue start turning.”
The former secretary suggested to have a 24-hour control room open for railway ministry. Because now it is urgent to carry freight parcel trains, which are delivering daily necessities from one part of the country to another. It is important to constantly monitor whether the trains are running properly.
He also said the government does not get too much revenue from land. However, this office also needs to be opened for land records. Many people’s work is stuck.
“Coronavirus is going to change the way we do things in our society, from handshake to how we behave in public places. The social distancing, physical distancing to be accurate, is likely to stay until we find a cure for coronavirus,” said Dr AK Enamul Haque, a professor of economics at East West University.
“All these will have a significant impact on how we engage in our economic activities to remain safe and free from the coronavirus. If we can reorganize our economic activities with proper planning, Bangladesh should get back to normalcy within six months,” he said with optimism.
“Most retails should move to online and use home delivery system using apps or phone and those unable to do so have to ensure distance between clients at their own costs,” he opined.
He said “Counter based services like banks, ticketing and retail shops should use both online or mobile systems and a limited face-to-face system where distance must be maintained.”
Dr Haque, also director of Asian Centre for Development, opined that if relocation of schools, push knowledge-based activities to home and online and enhance retail trade to online, then public transport will face less crowd.
“Number of seats should be half on buses, water transports, and trains,” he suggested.
The researcher also pointed out that agricultural works can continue as is because there is no crowding issue in agriculture fields.
“However, wholesale markets in rural areas must move to open fields to disperse crowds and open-air retailers should move to open fields instead of standing around roads and highways,” he added.
Dr Haque favoured turning all financial transactions mobile-based by discouraging notes and coins.
“It will increase transparency of transactions, reduce bribes as electronic transactions can be traced. It will also reduce leakages in collection of tax and Value Added Tax (VAT),” he explained.
The academic also argued that the government should let the working population go back to work quickly.
“The urban poor are in a bigger trouble because they have to pay for food, housing, education, health, fuel, water, and electricity regularly,” he explained. “With the economy on hold, it will disastrous.”
Meanwhile, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) has already directed its customs stations to facilitate clearance of all export and import consignments, moving away from its previous position to process documents for only essentials, industrial raw materials and emergency medical products.
The revenue authority has decided to keep customs houses and stations open so that a normal supply of essential goods, medical equipment, and security materials is maintained.
In the directive, the revenue authority asked customs houses and customs stations to allow Indian officials to enter Bangladesh, after examining their passports, so that trade between the two countries continues as usual.
An NBR official said despite the central announcement for the holidays, there was already an announcement to limit operations at customs houses. The new directive asked for the usual activities to be run with the minimum amount of workforce.
According to NBR sources, currently there are six customs houses: Chattogram, Dhaka, Mongla, Inland Container Depot Kamalapur, Benapole, and Pangaon. Additionally, there are two Customs Bond Commissionerate offices in Dhaka and Chattogram. There are also Customs Intelligence and Investigation Directorate and Customs Valuation and Internal Audit Commissionerate offices in Dhaka.
Further, there are customs stations at 14 land ports at different points beside the border with India, which operate under the Customs, Excise & VAT Commissionerate offices.
Source: daily sun
BDST: 1306 HRS, MAY 12, 2020