Despite Bangladesh's remarkable economic development gains, the country's performance in some socio-economic indicators is far from ideal. While we have had public investment in development projects, the same priority needs to be shown towards education, healthcare and social protection. As a dialogue event by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) on Sunday pointed out, without ensuring adequate public investment in these areas, the benefits of our economic growth will remain unequally distributed.
That the idea of development includes more than just economic factors has been a fact acknowledged by economists for a long time. That quality education and health and wellbeing are as important has been reflected in, for example, the UNDP's Human Development Index and in the SDGs. But, as speakers in the event highlighted, Bangladesh is far from being able to offer quality healthcare to its citizens. Our literacy rate has increased, but the focus on quality of education has been missing. This has been borne out by studies which have found that a large section of students are exhibiting below-standard performance, especially when it comes to English and math. Cost overruns and delays characterise our big projects. Our social security programmes are inadequate and, in many cases, plagued by corruption. The benefits of our development have not been equally shared, income inequality is widening, and employment opportunities are not enough for the increasing workforce. And above all, a culture of denial and blame-shifting has taken root in our administration.
The ruling Awami League, in its third consecutive term in power, is in the unique position of being able to build on its successes and address its shortcomings. It needs to engage with all stakeholders and be open to policy recommendations from different organisations. To truly fulfil its developmental promises, the government must ensure quality public spending in these areas. Without that, our development will remain incomplete and unequal.