Long term planning focusing on the development of infrastructures, transportation system, power supply, and creating skilled manpower can make Chattogram more business and investment friendly to propel the industrialisation of the port city to a greater extent, says Mahbubul Alam, president of Chattogram Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI). In an interview with The Business Standard, he also shares his outlook on the overall economic progress of the country. The interview was taken by The Business Standard's Staff Reporter Shahenoor Akter Urmi.
TBS: What kind of industries are likely to develop in Chattogram? How many local entrepreneurs have been able to use that potential?
Mahbubul Alam: Various industries have been established in the port city of Chattogram for more than hundred years. The lion's share of the country's total heavy industries including steel, cement, urea, textile, cable, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, power plant, shipbreaking, shipbuilding, dry dock, refinery are located in this region. Many factories have been set up in the CEPZ, Karnaphuli EPZ and Korean EPZ here. Chattogram is especially suitable for industrialisation due to the seaport and the communication infrastructure especially the transportation of industrial raw materials, finished goods etc by road, sea and rail.
The local and foreign entrepreneurs have created employment opportunities for millions of people utilising these facilities. The government has taken various measures for the development of infrastructure which has created more opportunities for industrialisation in the region. It will enable the entrepreneurs to set up more factories which will play an important role in the economic development of the country.
TBS: What are the facilities and resources, like manpower, raw materials, infrastructures etc, in the region that are conducive to industrial investment?
Mahbubul Alam: More than 60 lakh people live in Chattogram. Besides, people from different parts of the country are coming here for employment. As a result, there has been enough manpower for the industries. Entrepreneurs can import raw materials through the Chattogram port to produce different goods which meet the domestic demand and are exported too. However, there is a gas crisis in Chattogram for a long time. For many years, the factories here operated with almost half of the demand for gas due to this crisis. However, the government has taken steps to address the issue by importing LNG. But, the crisis is not over yet.
Although the power situation has improved considerably, there is still room for further improvement. At the same time, repeated price hikes of electricity are hurting the industrial sector. In this case, all kinds of system losses should be controlled by increasing the managerial capacity of the government. At the same time, productivity will be further enhanced if industrialisation is facilitated by moving away from the irrational decision making. We need long term plans in this issue.
The Dhaka-Chattogram highway is the lifeline of the country's economy which needs to be upgraded to eight lanes. We believe that it is possible to bring about a groundbreaking change in the transportation sector by taking effective measures to solve the existing problems in rail communication and shipping. The purchasing capacity of the people of the country increased in 2018-19, but it decreased later due to the Covid-19 pandemic. At present, the overall economy of the country is going through a fragile situation. Once the Covid-19 outbreak is completely vanished, domestic demand may increase again.
TBS: What are the barriers to business investment in Bangladesh? What is your advice on overcoming these barriers?
Mahbubul Alam: At present, there is a very positive environment for trade and investment in Bangladesh. Extensive work is being carried out as the government has prioritised infrastructure development. Many mega projects are being implemented to attract investment. However, it is important to complete these projects in time. Government agencies are slowly advancing in providing online services. However, there are still complications in some cases. Making different business-related services 100% online would further improve the investment environment of the country.
TBS: The government has announced the construction of 100 economic zones across the country. Which industries in the region do you think need specialised economic zones?
Mahbubul Alam: There has been adequate industrialisation in Chattogram. However, there are opportunities for more. As part of the government's plan, Bangabandhu Industrial City is being set up on about 30,000 acres of land in Mirsarai. At present, the infrastructure development work of this economic zone is progressing rapidly. Some industrial plants have already started production.
The government has formed Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) to attract domestic and foreign investment. The organisation is implementing a one-stop service platform and is working with Bangladesh Economic Zone Authority (BEZA) to increase investment. We hope that if the Covid-19 pandemic situation improves, huge domestic and foreign investments will come in this economic zone.
However, in this economic zone, infrastructure development, gas, electricity, water etc utility facilities need to be ensured expeditiously.
TBS: The small and medium industries are the lifeblood of an economy. Employment is also the highest here. What is the role of BSCIC in the development of these industries? What kind of help is needed?
Mahbubul Alam: SME sector is the driving force of economic development. While this sector plays a role in alleviating poverty, it also contributes immensely to the GDP by reducing import dependence and increasing domestic production. In Chattogram, there are many industrial factories in BSCIC industrial cities in Sagarika Road, Nasirabad, Sitakunda, Patia, Kalurghat etc. The communication system in these industrial cities is not developed in many cases.
Broken roads cause problems in transportation of goods. During the monsoon season, the communication system suffers severe damage due to waterlogging. The situation is dire due to underdeveloped sewers and drainage system. In many industrial cities, raw materials and manufactured goods are stolen due to lack of boundary walls and proper security measures. Therefore, government planning and special allocation is essential for the development of the overall environment of these industrial cities.
TBS: There is a lack of skilled manpower in the country. The productivity of workers is also lower in Bangladesh than in other countries. What kind of skilled manpower do you think Bangladesh may need in future?
Mahbubul Alam: The lion's share of our total population is working manpower. But it is vital to transform this manpower into skilled manpower. Many technical training centers have been officially set up in our country. However, there is strong reluctance among the youth to receive training from these centers. In this case, creating awareness can play an important role. At the same time training needs to be more industry related.
For example, the garment sector, the largest export industry in Bangladesh, needs millions of skilled workers. But we do not have enough training centers to develop the skill of the workers in this industry.
Similarly, there is a huge demand for skilled manpower in other potential industries such as jute, leather, light engineering, handicrafts etc. To meet this demand, industry-based technical training centers should be set up and employment of trained people should also be ensured. It will meet the demand of the industry and develop the economic condition of the country through employment. In order to realise the dream of building a better Bangladesh by 2041, priority should be given to industrial based technical education.
TBS: The conflict between environment and industrialisaiton is increasing. The pressure of setting up environment friendly industries is also increasing. What is your advice on this issue?
Mahbubul Alam: Climate change is one of the major problems in the world today. The sea level is rising due to global warming. As a result, coastal countries like Bangladesh are facing serious risks. Natural disasters like floods, tidal surges, droughts, cyclones, etc are increasing. To improve this situation, clearance from the Department of Environment has been made mandatory for setting up industrial factories. The government is also imposing various conditions to prevent environmental catastrophe.
As a result, industrialists are now much more aware of the environment. Various opportunities are being provided for green industry all over the world including Bangladesh. To protect the environment, setting up of ETP (effluent treatment plant) has been made mandatory. However, since this method is very expensive, it is necessary to increase government support in this case. At the same time, the scope of incentive assistance can be extended to eco-friendly factories. It will motivate the entrepreneurs to follow environmental rules.