Bangladesh Industrial Technical Assistance Centre (Bitac) was established to enhance technical skills through training, innovation of technology and its transfer through research and development, and manufacturing and repairing of equipment to ensure uninterrupted industrial production. It could have become an incubation centre for entrepreneurs as well as a guide for the local industries.
Unfortunately, the age-old organisation, has played little to no role in aiding the industrial sector of the country. The Business Standard recently talked to Dr Md Mafizur Rahman, former director general of Bitac, who discussed its major drawbacks.
On February 27, 2018, Mafizur was appointed as the Bitac director general. On August 31 this year, he went into leave preparatory to retirement.
TBS: Bitac is among the oldest wings of the Bangladesh government. What are its mandated functions and how has it performed? What are its drawbacks?
MR: Bitac was born even before the independence of Bangladesh, back in 1962. During its inception, its main objectives were giving technical training, producing import substitute machine parts, and supporting industries.
However, 58 years after its establishment, the Bitac law was passed in the parliament on November 14 last year. According to the new act, the strategic objectives of Bitac are to develop skilled manpower through training, to produce and repair import substitute machine parts, and to do research and innovation to increase productivity.
I should say Bitac is doing very well in technical training as well as spare parts production. However, it has drawbacks regarding research and innovation. I assume Bitac officials, particularly the engineers, are not happy working there because there are not many comparative advantages. For example, the scope for promotion is very limited, the salary scale is lower than that of other similar organisations, very few foreign training opportunities, no pension after retirement, etc. They also have an image crisis because Bitac is not very well-known in society.
Another drawback of the institute is the existence of very old and outdated machinery and equipment through which competitive advantage cannot be achieved in training or spare parts production. Moreover, the technical staff are not always open and accommodating towards accepting new and advanced technologies. The enthusiasm or thirst to achieve something new, to acquire specific goals, and to solve industrial problems is very much absent among Bitac officials, which may be due to the reasons I mentioned earlier. Therefore, Bitac is not in a very good and sound position to attract more government support either by resource allocation or through development projects.
TBS: Technological development in the industrial sector is a prerequisite for less developed countries. How do you assess the position of Bangladesh in this context?
MR: It is impossible for a country's industries to survive without utilising advanced technologies. Additionally, financing is a major factor in industrial production. To gradually become a developed country, improving the technical aspect of industrialisation is one of the major requirements. However, technical development in the industrial sector does not have to be the primary factor of improvement. Examples of this include Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Qatar, Brunei, etc. Most of these countries have become developed primarily through improvement in business and service sectors as well as utilising mineral resources. However, technical development is also a key factor in their industries.
TBS: The food processing industry, like some others, is still dependent on foreign technologies. Can Bitac lead collaboration among the industry and the local universities teaching food engineering?
MR: Bitac is mainly a mechanical engineering organisation. It is playing a role in developing human resources, particularly for the industrial sector through technical training as well as producing spare parts for machinery. Numerous companies in almost every industry of Bangladesh depend on assistance from Bitac for repair and maintenance of their technologies as well as machinery. The food processing industry is also included in this list.
In the past, Bitac had almost no association or professional contact with educational institutions that are stakeholders in the industrial sector. However, it is recently working with many universities like Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Military Institute of Science and Technology, Ahsanullah University of Science and Technology, etc.
TBS: A significant number of foreign nationals are providing technical support to our industries, particularly the readymade garment (RMG) sector. How can we bring more local experts to technical positions?
MR: A huge number of foreign nationals are working in Bangladesh in RMG as well as some other sectors. I believe that this is due to us not being able to develop proper mid- and high-level executives for these sectors. The responsibility lies equally with private and public sectors.
Another aspect where we have big shortcomings compared to foreign nationals is our inability to professionally communicate on a written and verbal basis as well as our inability to negotiate agreements that are more beneficial to us. Therefore, the business sector is hiring foreign nationals.
The only solution is to train local executives through proper education and experience.
TBS: Every year, government officials and private entrepreneurs visit foreign factories to gather experience. To reduce costs, can Bitac help with the exchange of technical knowledge between foreign and local parties?
MR: It is a fact that every year, many officials and experts participate in many foreign trainings under many development projects. But unfortunately, I think in most cases, they view such trainings as pleasure trips. I have also participated in some training programmes and it is my observation that the participants are very reluctant to learn and use the knowledge once they return to Bangladesh. Hence, the outcome of such foreign training programmes is very low but there are exceptions.
For many years, Bitac did not have the latest machinery and equipment. Recently, during my tenure, I procured some latest machines, including the Computer Numeric Control (CNC) machine. Moreover, in the Tool and Technology Institute (TTI) project which is yet to be completed, Bitac has procured many latest machineries and equipment, including 3D printers. Therefore, when TTI will operate in full swing, Bitac certainly can help with the exchange of technical knowledge between our local industries and foreign parties.
TBS: Where do you want to see Bitac in future?
MR: It is my vision that Bitac will dedicatedly support the industrial sector in many ways. I have prepared a visionary master plan 2030 for Bitac to transform it into a modern and improved institution under which a training centre of international standard and recognition will be established at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib industrial city in Mirsharai. This will help Bangladesh keep up with the fourth industrial revolution.