The government has allowed apparel factories to reopen amid lockdown. But, the SME sector that also is playing a very important role in poverty reduction in the country remains closed.
The problem is that it has been difficult to understand the government's policy and outlook.
Those who are close to the power circle have the ability to pressurise the government to meet their demands. The reopening of RMG factories is a phenomenon like that.
Why, then, will the local industries (SMEs) not be reopened? That is the number one question.
The most crucial thing that we need is a coordinated pandemic management policy. And four things are mandatory for that.
First, the vaccination programme should be implemented promptly. The way workers have returned to Dhaka from different parts of the country without any transport facility to join factories proves the ineptness of our policymakers. I think the BGMEA should take the responsibility to ensure inoculation of the workers of this sector.
The second issue is health. The pandemic has spread all across the country – both in urban areas and in villages – and there should be special actions to address this.
Third, we need a well-thought out policy for the reopening of the economy. We can say that the lockdown cannot be enforced effectively. But, I think some restrictions can be maintained such as social distancing or wearing masks etc.
Only keeping the RMG sector open, which is run by powerful people, will not help to move the wheel of the economy.
The government should also look after the local industries. Microcredit programmes are important to develop the SME sector. Currently, the government has taken a policy to start microcredit for SMEs. But the problem is the local administration in many places has taken a position against this.
The service sector shares 55% of our GDP and more than 30% of it comes from informal services. We have to understand that although they are small businesses in size, their contribution to the GDP is not less than that of the RMG.
The fourth thing is the social security that should be provided to those affected including the new poor. The government has taken some steps in this regard but that is not enough. We need to increase OMS support and cash support, especially in slum areas. The health awareness programme can be incorporated with these initiatives. Area-based health awareness programmes along with social security aids in urban areas can be an important step.
These four points are very important to tackle the present situation we are in.
The government is taking different steps but there is no coordination among the implementing agencies.
The Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) has launched a research project to understand the immediate coping mechanisms of low-income people.
The third round of our survey that was conducted in April found that a limited recovery of income and others happened in March this year when compared to the corresponding period a year earlier.
If we compare the situation of the June-July period of this year with that of last year, the picture is likely to be grimmer. We are going to conduct the fourth survey in August to understand this.
The prolonged effect of the pandemic this time could make the situation worse this year than the last one.
There are some more reasons behind this. Last year, the villages were like a shield as there were high inflows of remittance. The villages were also less affected by the virus last year.
But, this year the situation is different. We have seen that many expatriates are coming back home.
Considering all this, we are afraid the situation could turn worse this year. But, as a researcher I want to understand the situation after doing proper research. We hope we will release the research findings in September.
The finance minister has not acknowledged the number of the new poor yet. But they also have not released any new data concerning this.
This year vaccination is a matter of hope for us, which was not available last year.
But, we need a huge number of vaccines – to the tune of 25 crore. If we cannot start production of vaccines in the country, it would not be possible to collect those only from other countries. Now they want to open a new one in Gopalganj but it would take much time.
The government may activate the IPH (Institute of Public Health) at Mohakhali in the shortest possible time, which will be an intelligent step.
Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman
Executive Chairman, Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC)