When a government comes to power through democratic means or otherwise, it obviously has certain priorities in its mind. However, priorities may change over time.
For a democratically elected government, its priorities are chosen in line with its electoral promises. And it remains accountable to the electorates for its actions -- good and bad. The electorates decide the fate of a government in general elections looking at its scorecard after a certain period. In the case of Bangladesh, it is five years.
There may be a long list of priorities for a government. But there are certain priorities pertaining to the basic necessities of the people and the economic development that need to be attended through meticulous planning and actions.
Looking at what is going around now in the country, one may wonder whether the incumbent government has been serious about setting its priorities so far as the production of enough power and gas and the price situation are concerned.
Inadequate supply of gas and power and unabated increase in the prices of both essentials and not-so-essentials (not luxury items) have stirred serious resentment among the people who are otherwise very much appreciative of the government's achievements in many areas, including law and order, control of terrorism, road communications, education and other social sectors.
The power situation is terrible with load-shedding, at times, reaching 1500 MW. All types of subscribers -- domestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural -- are paying a heavy price for, what can be described, the inability on the part of the government to include generation of enough power on the list of its priorities.
For instance, according to a report published in this daily Sunday last, the cost of production of the export-oriented industries has gone up by about 30 per cent due to power shortage. The increase in the cost of production is attributed to the use of diesel-run power generators at the factory premises to keep the plants operational and meet the buyers' deadlines. This is also true for other industrial and commercial operations. At least, for six to eight hours a day, the industrial and commercial subscribers have to depend on their own generators for power supply. This raises their cost of production and also of operation, which is passed on to the general consumers.
Nobody knows for sure the total capacity of the power generators that are now in use at industrial and commercial installations and the quantity of fuels those consume daily. About six years back, the generation capacity of captive power plants was estimated to be 600 megawatt (MW). By now that capacity might have tripled.
A section of the government leaders are now trying to give a lame excuse in support of the present power situation. They argue that the demand for power from the industrial users has grown several times more than the projections made earlier. By this argument they are also trying to convey the message that under the present government, investment has picked up in the industrial sector greatly. But the success in one area cannot or should not compensate for the failure in another area. The power ministry should have worked overtime to set up new power plants to meet the growing need for electricity. But unfortunately, the ministry could neither set up new power plants nor take necessary steps for the proper maintenance and overhauling of the existing ones in the public sector. But why did the power ministry fail?
There were a lot of stories about proposals to set up new power plants in both public and private sectors and also about their unnatural death. A report published in a Bengali daily Tuesday said though the country is now experiencing a severe power crisis, the minister of state for power is spending most of his time in his parliamentary constituency. The report claimed that the minister did not take any interest in his office work since some top notches in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) have been deciding everything about power sector. If the content of the story is true, it should be considered as yet another problem of having too many power pockets.
The origin of the problem relating to inadequate supply of gas is almost identical to that of power sector. There have been very inadequate steps to beef up supply from the existing gas fields to the national grid. Rather, the administration spoiled valuable time by engaging itself in a debate over gas export. The net outcome of the indifference on the part of the energy and mineral resources division is that the power plants and industrial units are now starved of gas.
The price situation, no doubt, is a sore point for the incumbent government. The prices of most essentials have been increasing unabatedly for many months. The reason that the administration has been trying to sell is that the hike in the prices of petroleum fuel oils and other commodities in the international markets has contributed to the rise in the prices of essentials and non-essentials in the local markets. But this argument does not hold much water if the rate of inflation in Bangladesh in recent months is compared with that of neighbouring India. The current rate of inflation in Bangladesh is estimated to be 7.0 per cent or more while the same in India is below 2.0 per cent in spite of the fact the fuel prices in India are much higher than that of Bangladesh.
In addition to the problems mentioned above, the persistent volatility in forex and money markets and downturn in share market do indicate something ominously wrong with the management of the state of affairs.