One of the towering figures in the financial sector of Bangladesh, Allah Malik Kazemi passed away on June 26, aged 72. An erudite person, he had profound knowledge of public policy, monetary policy, foreign exchange policy, money and banking.
The former governor of Bangladesh Bank Atiur Rahman rightly called him a "running encyclopedia' on the financial sector.
After joining Bangladesh Bank (BB) as an assistant director in 1976, he continued to serve the central bank in different capacities, including the executive director, deputy governor, advisor to the governor, and change management advisor position.
He was considered the best central banker in the country.
During the Covid-19 crisis, he had been playing a vital role by advising the governor on the policy measures to combat the impacts of novel coronavirus on the economy of Bangladesh.
Just like the rest of the world, the financial sector of Bangladesh is also progressing towards complying with international norms, standards, and policies.
The eminent central banker, Kazemi sir heralded almost all the major policy breakthroughs in the Bangladesh financial sector.
He was involved with the drafting of the "Anti-Money Laundering Bill" that was passed in April 2002 (Source: WB), without which Bangladesh could have been blacklisted by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
In 2003, he delivered an insightful and visionary country presentation in the World Bank and IMF Global Dialogue Series.
He said that "Bangladesh is not and does not intend to be a host country for laundered money or terrorism finance" beside urging global action for strengthening anti-money laundering surveillance against hawala and hundi operators in countries that host Bangladeshi workers, paving the way for formal remittance inflow in Bangladesh and operationalisation of today's Bangladesh Financial Intelligence Unit (BFIU).
Kazemi had worked wholeheartedly to make a paradigm shift in major monetary and financial policies of Bangladesh to take the country to a new height.
After independence when the newborn country did not have amonetary policy, Kazemi, as the Deputy Director of Bangladesh Bank, arduously drafted a new monetary policy for the nation, focusing on sustainable GDP growth, stable inflation and exchange rate, and external balance.
Bangladesh reaped the benefits of his visionary policies with persistent GDP growth, moderate inflation and stable exchange rates.
In the last couple of years, it was very common to see him sit next to BB Governors—Dr Fakhruddin Ahmed, Dr Salehuddin Ahmed, Dr Atiur Rahman, Mr Fazle Kabir—while unveiling monetary policy statements.
The former governor Dr Atiur Rahman recalled his contribution in macro policy and said, "Bangladesh tackled the 2008 global financial crisis and its aftershock successfully by implementing different models framed by Kazemi."
He was such a prolific central banker that it would take pages to write down his contributions to Bangladesh financial sector development.
In different professional capacities, he played significant roles in formulating policies and strategies, including shifting to floating exchange rate regime, introducing liquidity management tools— such as the repo, special repo, special liquidity support, formulating financial inclusion and sustainable finance strategy, implementing Basel II and III, developing thematic BB strategic plan, negotiating foreign grants and loans, setting monetary targets, dealing with sovereign rating companies, facing IMF & World Bank missions.
Apart from Bangladesh, Kazemi had also left his footprint in the global arena. He was one of the founding members of the Global Standard Sub-Committee of the Association of Financial Inclusion (AFI).
In 2015, he was awarded the "Certificate of Recognition" by AFI for being a distinguished member of AFI Sub-Committee on Independence.
In the same year, he presented a highly acclaimed country paper in IMF-UKaid seminar on "Managing Capital Flows Conference: Lessons from Emerging Markets for Frontier Economies" before the top-level officials from the frontier and emerging markets, paving the way for more Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Bangladesh.
In that seminar, he disseminated the Bangladesh development saga to the international community saying "Bangladesh is on course for coming out of low income and least developed country categorisations soon; Dwindling concessional financing from development partners will then dry up altogether, needing substantial recourse to non-concessional financing from international markets".
He also got featured in a segment of an IMF documentary titled "Frontier Asia on the Rise".
Being a junior colleague of him, I am very fortunate to have had his companionship. After joining the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a lien, I surprisingly noticed that many of IMF's Asia and Pacific Department (APD) colleagues knew Allah Malik Kazemi beforehand.
In my orientation program, when my IMF colleagues got informed that I was from Bangladesh, they started asking about Kazemi and saying how good a person he was.
Many of us know him as a leading policymaker but only a few know him as a philosopher and a thinker. He had a good command over international geopolitics, philosophy, history, literature, science—no wonder he was a Physics graduate from DU securing first position, later he did another postgraduation in "Financial Economics" from the UK.
I found him as a voracious reader. Whenever I visited his office, most of the time I saw him reading. After joining Bangladesh Bank, I observed that everyone is citing his name as an example to be followed as a role model.
I saw his prudence while working together on "formation of sovereign wealth fund", his foresight while working on "Covid-19 stimulus packages", his versatile knowledge, while working on "Basel III policy; subordinated Debt policy", his candidness, while listening to his view on macro-fiscal policies.
On June 05, 2020, former BB Chief Economist texted me that we should stay safe and expressed his deep concern over Kazemi's health and wellbeing as well as probable Covid-19 risk.
Ironically, just after 21 days, we knew that our esteemed Kazemi sir is no more with us.
When Bangladesh needs him the most to combat the Covid-19 crisis, he left us keeping all his legacies.
It gives me eerie feeling knowing that I will never see our legend on the 4th floor of the central bank building. While we are deprived of bidding him farewell due to current Covid-19 situations, we will remember and revere him as a visionary leader, a changemaker, a mentor.
His name will be engraved in our financial sector development history as one of the great changemakers.
Md Shah Naoaj is Deputy Director, Bangladesh Bank and Former Economist, IMF. He can be reached at [email protected].