Published On:12 March 2013
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

There’s more to Bangladesh than manpower

By Tariq A. Al-Maeena

There are positive indications that the Kingdom will resume the recruitment of Bangladeshi workers after the recent establishment of a special committee to study all the issues related to the workforce from that country. Among them has been the sensitive issue of a few cases of criminal activity by Bangladeshi workers in the past.

According to Dr. Ahmed Al-Fihaid, the foreign ministry’s undersecretary for international affairs, the committee has been tasked with reviewing and recommending all measures related to the resumption of recruitment. He added: “The committee will also recommend that the criminal records of Bangladeshi workers be probed to ensure that they are clean before reopening the doors for recruitment.”

A Saudi-Bangladeshi joint commission meeting the same week in Riyadh also focused on a number of political, security, commercial and legal issues between the two countries. The Kingdom was represented by several ministries including interior, foreign affairs, labor, health, and agriculture. During the meeting, it was agreed that the security agreements previously signed between both countries be revived which will include exchanging security data and addressing the problem of Bangladeshi over-stayers in the Kingdom.

There were also demands and pledges undertaken by both sides. The Saudi team requested Bangladesh to free its market so as to allow major petrochemical giants, such as the Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC), to market products there.

On the Bangladeshi side, there were pledges backed by their government to protect Saudi citizens in Bangladesh and top priority was given to this duty. This was in response to the killing of a Saudi diplomat in Dhaka a year ago. The five perpetrators were eventually caught and jailed and are currently facing the death sentence. The Bangladeshis also asked that investment opportunities be granted to their businessmen, with both sides agreeing to increase "cooperation in food security, combating trade fraud, facilitating trade exchange and other areas."

These are encouraging steps indeed. I have long advocated that we should not place collective guilt on a specific nationality based on the crimes of a few. We should not automatically categorize Bangladeshis by the criminal activities of some guest workers. If we are to consider the number of Bangladeshi workers in the Kingdom, and the number of crimes at the hands of some of their nationals, the percentage would be very low. To generalize in such a sweeping and derogatory manner against an entire people is disgraceful and un-Islamic.

The Bangladeshis are a very hardworking and earnest people. I do not write this without substance. I have been there and spent some time among their people. I have witnessed their professional ethics in all stages of industry. I have seen with my own eyes a country that is moving ahead in spite of limitations, such as land and some other resources. Through their industrious activity, they are one of the few countries in the world that is almost totally self-reliant in terms of food. Bangladesh should not be looked at as simply a source of cheap labor. The country also offers attractive investment opportunities that GCC businessmen should sit up and take notice of.

With a population of 152 million, and with almost 60 percent under the age of 25, the country has produced consistent economic growth for the past decade. This has resulted in a burgeoning middle class with increased purchasing power and economic clout. The country boasts of a well-educated, highly adaptive and industrious workforce with the lowest wages and salaries in the region. English is widely spoken, and ongoing government programs are continually developing and upgrading the skills of the workforce.

One of the sidelights of my trip was that unlike India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka where a tourist may be surrounded by alms seekers, I did not experience any of that during my visit to the country. It is a tribute to those who may be poor but do not seek charity as the easy way out. They will accept any job, pitiful as the wages may be and try to get on with their lives.

The political climate is by and large positive to foreign investment with broad bipartisan support. The legal and policy framework for business is conducive to foreign investment.
Bangladesh also enjoys tariff-free access to the EU, Canada and Japan. In Europe alone, Bangladesh is the top manufacturing exporter among 50 less developed countries. With the South Asian Free Trade Area (SAFTA) agreement coming into force, foreign investors to the country will benefit from duty-free access to India, the EU, Japan and the US markets.

Bangladesh is developing industrial enclaves with infrastructural facilities and logistic support to attract foreign investors. The country is also developing its core infrastructure, including roads, highways, surface transport and port facilities for a better business environment.

Potential investment sectors include IT technology, textiles, electronics, ship-building, leather products, agro-based industries, pharmaceuticals and tourism among a host of others. The competitive edge the country offers in these sectors can guarantee exceptional returns to investment.

It is time we looked at Bangladesh not simply as a source of cheap manual labor. Instead we must recognize the country as one in which the value and potential of our direct investment can be driven toward a prosperous future.

[The author can be reached at talmaeena@aol.com. Follow him on Twitter @talmaeena]

(Courtesy: Saudi Gazette)

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on March 12, 2013. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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