Despite significant economic growth and socioeconomic development, Bangladesh has serious shortcomings in institutional capacity and good governance, economists and experts said at an event on Monday.
They said Bangladesh had made substantial progress with low cost awareness campaigns and with significant roles of non-governmental organisations.
They were addressing the opening session of Bangla Bhashay Amartya Sen Pathchakra at the Senate Bhaban of Dhaka University. Nobel laureate Indian economist Professor Dr Amartya Sen opened the event – organised by Banglar Pathshala Foundation – via Skype.
Professor Sen spoke highly of the growing contribution of women to the progress of Bangladesh.
"Women's contribution in Bangladesh has increased tremendously, not compared alone with India or West Bengal," he said.
The chairman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, Professor Dr Rehman Sobhan, who chaired the event, said investment in human development is very low in Bangladesh which seriously hampers getting good results in human development indicators.
He said there are serious problems in quality service delivery, particularly in education and in various parts of the health sector.
The government should prioritise human development allocations that provide more democratic access for people, said Professor Sobhan.
"Despite development in several sectors, Bangladesh's economy is facing problems with growing regional inequality which has reduced economic opportunity for development in the next stage," he added.
Dr Wahiduddin Mahmud, who presented the keynote paper, said Bangladesh has achieved economic growth that is similar to that of India, but with lower per capita income and higher development in socioeconomic indicators.
He said Bangladesh has achieved higher development in the social sector neither with higher economic growth nor with higher investment, but by building awareness at a lower cost.
"The government and the non-governmental organisations provide saline, vaccination, birth control equipment and universal stipend, and maintain the food for education programme. They also made campaigns about female education, child marriage and female employment which require low investment.
"Bangladesh has achieved massive development despite high poverty, lower investment, and mismanagement of public service delivery," the economist said.
Wahiduddin called on the authorities to increase allocation for social development to maintain the development that has been achieved recently.
He said, "In a country where there is democracy, there is no shortage of food as the mass media and representatives of civil society can raise their voice."
There is no significant improvement in institutional capacity regarding good governance despite development in several sectors, said the economist.
"The structure of multiparty competitive electoral democracy is being converted to a single party dominant democracy system," he said, expressing concern about the sustainability of development.
"Single party dominant democracy may go towards good development or evil," he said, and suggested the government introduce talks with civil society and the media.
Dr Moshiur Rahman, economic advisor to the prime minister, said private sector entrepreneurship is developing in some areas where the government should provide services.
"People are searching for quality service in the field of education and health, but the government is unable to meet the demand. In this case, the private sector is providing schools, colleges, universities, hospitals and diagnostic centres," he said.
Moshiur said not everyone in the country has the ability to pay for these services.
That is why education is creating further inequality, he remarked.
He said people can raise their voice to have their demands met in the presence of complete democracy, and the government also complies with the demands raised by the majority of the people.
"The present government is ensuring the voice of civil society and freedom of the press," Moshiur said.
He also said election is not the one and only criterion to measure democracy.
"A government with low level of democracy could be popular through its good deeds," he added.
Former finance minister M Sayeduzzaman spoke at the event among others.
Meanwhile, Professor Sen lauded the success of non-government organisations such as Brac and Grameen Bank, and their role in mainstreaming women in development activities.
"I want to ask a question: What was the mechanism that helped the non-government organisations work hand-in-hand with the government and see much bigger success than any other country?" the professor asked.
He referred to the improvement in communication networks between Dhaka and the rest of the country that propelled Bangladesh's economic growth.
Professor Sen said there have been some changes in Bangladesh, and asked what the well-thought-out policy of the government was that made Bangladesh different from India and Pakistan.
The Nobel laureate, who has childhood memories of Dhaka, tried to link Bangladesh's progressive attitude towards women development to the country's spirit of the liberation war, which, he said, was different from that of India and Pakistan.
"Recognition of the importance of women and respect for women leadership might have their roots in the nation's struggle for independence," he said.
The economist stressed that accountability should be blended with a sense of responsibility and humanism for further progress of a country, and this issue needs to be discussed prominently now.