The prices of most essentials have been on the rise during the major part of the tenure of the incumbent government and the ruling circle does not deny that except for a few over-zealous leaders who tend to justify it by drawing a link between the higher prices and the higher per capita income. The four-party ruling alliance that started with a 2.79 per cent rate of inflation in the fiscal 2001-02 is expected to complete its tenure with a rate more than 7.5 per cent of the same. That is not a welcome development so far as the voters are concerned since the higher cost of living hurts the majority of the population in this country.
It is true that the prices of fuel oils and other commodities, including rice, wheat, sugar, edible oils and construction materials have been rising unabatedly in the world market. The hike in oil prices does have a direct bearing on the price levels of other commodities, agricultural and non-agricultural. The competition among some developed as well as emerging economies to ensure their own energy security in the backdrop of the developments in Iraq, tension over Iran's nuclear programme and volatile situation in the Middle East has contributed to the build-up of an uncertain situation in the international oil market. There is no denying that the government does not have any control over the prices of commodities in the international market. But it is duty-bound to do the needful to address the situation arising out of a serious mismatch between the prices of imported commodities in the local market and that in the international market. The principles of market economy that the country has been pursuing since the early nineties should not deter the government from doing that job. When the prices of most essential started rising in the fiscal 2003-04, the government did not attach much importance to it. But the situation turned really bad following the devastating floods in the months of July and August of fiscal 2004-05. And since then there has been no let up in the price hike. The commerce ministers, past and present, have been more prone to holding meetings with traders, importers and chamber bodies with a view to finding a solution to the price problem and the Prime Minister have tried another formula-replacement of a couple of commerce ministers. But all these measures have failed to bring about any improvement in the situation.
It is generally believed that the government, deliberately or otherwise, has not taken actions where they are needed most. The media has been crying hoarse for sometime about the presence of 'syndicated trading' of certain essential commodities. The incumbent commerce minister had promised to take actions against such a network, "if there was any". There was an element of doubt in the minister's mind about the presence of such a syndicate. But a parliamentary sub-committee, according to a report published in this daily Friday last, has identified, at least, 10 leading business houses that are allegedly manipulating local commodity markets. The report has showed how a particular business house imported 100,000 metric tonnes of sugar at a cost price of Tk. 29.60 per kg in November last year and manipulated the market through syndication to push up the price of the same up to Tk. 70 a kg over a period of some months. Unfortunately, there is no law in the country to punish owners of such business houses and the worse is that the persons who are responsible for the sufferings of the common man do manage to remain beyond the reach of the long hand of the law because of their political connections. So, everything boils down to one particular point-good governance. And that can only be ensured by enlightened, efficient and honest leadership.