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Hartals to slow down pace of economic growth
Business leaders decry confrontational politics
AZM Anas

          Chamber leaders and economists Sunday voiced concern over the confrontational politics ahead of the general elections.
They said the recurrent shutdown programmes would affect the country's business competitiveness, thereby inflicting a "severe blow to the economy".
If the opposition continues to pursue "nasty politics", Bangladesh can experience yet another period of economic slowdown leaving the poor to bear the brunt, they observed.
The business leaders and economists also reiterated their suggestion that the political parties should search for an alternative to hartal, widely viewed as a destructive means to vent political anger.
Critics term the Sunday's nationwide hartal called by the 14-party alliance led by the main opposition Awami League "meaningless", with no tangible political purposes.
"We are now at a crossroads following the abolition of textile and clothing quotas. The economy can ill-afford to bear the losses on account of hartals," President of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) Mir Nasir Hossain said Sunday.
"The economy is already under pressure, due to record oil price spiral, power crisis and the depreciation of local currency. We feel that hartals are detrimental to the economy. The country braces for an economic slowdown if this type of programme continues," President of the country's apex trade body told the FE.
He said the country incurs huge economic losses between Tk 450 million and Tk 500 million a day, alone, because of the discontinuation of loading and unloading of goods at Chittagong Port, Bangladesh's prime sea port.
"The total economic losses will inevitably be colossal because of hartal," Mir Nasir said, stressing on carrying out a study to measure the losses.
Another business leader, MA Momen, echoed the similar concerns, saying hartals are delivering a concussive blow to the economy, which is at a take-off stage.
"I'm worried about hartals. An economic disaster is looming as the confrontational politics may compound the economic woes, notably power crisis and oil price hike," President of Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) added.
"The economy is poised to grow by 6.0 per cent this year, sustained by higher exports and steady flow of remittances. But this growth is coming under increasing risk because of confrontational politics," the chamber leader said.
He wondered as to why the two major political parties could not come out of the political impasse through dialogue, as both of them were pursuing identical economic polices on free market and trade liberalisation.
Economists also remain deeply disturbed at the way politics is taking a toll on the economy.
"The people are held hostage to the political leaders who love to pursue this destructive political programme," Professor of Economics of Dhaka University Abu Ahmed said.
Ahmed said the political leaders are "robbing the people's properties" through undertaking such destructive political programmes.
"I see a depressing scenario before the general elections. Already, stock markets are in dire straits. And the lives of the very poor will be miserable if an economic slowdown occurs due to nasty politics," the economist feared.
He also underscored the need for enactment of a law banning hartal as did the neighbouring India.
Ahmed said the politicians, who do not have any known source of income, often take recourse to devastating political programmes, such as hartal.
Vice President of the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI) AKM Rafiqul Islam said the trade and business activities came to an almost halt due to a five-day programme, including the latest hartal.
He called upon both the government and the opposition to resolve the standoff over the reform in electoral process through dialogue, not by confrontational politics.
Mir Nasir seemed to be worried about the sustenance of the country's competitiveness.
"If production gets disrupted, how can we maintain our competitiveness in the global market?" the chamber leader asked.
He appealed to the opposition parties to go for constructive political activities that do not hamper the economy.
Hartals virtually cripple the wholesale market in the city, while disrupting transportation of goods to and from the capital.
Talking to the FE, an executive member of Moulvibazar Baboshaee Samity Abul Hashem said that sales in the city's wholesale hub were suspended Sunday as commercial banks remained closed.
"Businessmen want a secure environment for doing business. Each wholesaler here transacts Tk 10 million a day. We cannot dare transact during hartal days. So, you can imagine the losses we incur due to hartals," the aggrieved wholesaler said.
He said hartals are crippling the wholesale business at Moulvibazar.


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