BB driving with its eyes closed amidst the economic tempest | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, May 15, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 02:11 AM, May 15, 2020

BB driving with its eyes closed amidst the economic tempest

Without data, companies are deaf and blind, it is often taught in business schools.

And seeing that the Bangladesh Bank has stopped preparing its major economic statements since February on the pretext of ongoing shutdown, it is safe to say that the country's central bank is just tottering along in this crucial moment.

The major statements of the central bank -- the balance of payments, the growth of reserve and board money and their multiplier effect, import, government borrowing, private sector credit growth and many other statistical reports -- have not been published for two months now.

Some of the statements even were not prepared since January, prompting economists to question how the central bank would be fighting the recession in the days ahead without any financial data.

The reports would have informed the central bank, the government, the foreign multilateral donor agencies and the economists' recommendations and policymaking in coming out of the pandemic-induced slump.

"This is a great omission and foolishness of the central bank," said Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the Policy Research Institute and a former economist of the International Monetary Fund.

The Daily Star yesterday communicated with officials of the six departments that prepare the major statements: Banking Regulation and Policy, Monetary Policy, Research, Statistics, Agriculture credit and Payment Systems.

The concerned officials of all the departments informed that their higher-ups have not given them any instruction to prepare the statements.

But the managing directors of banks said they are ready to send all required data if the BB asks.

The BB's deportment amid this critical moment is rather bizarre as the Federal Reserve System, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England, the Reserve Bank of India and all other central banks are now publishing the statements often.

All the BB appears to be doing of late is shooting off notices, one after another, almost every day. But in the absence of the statements, there is no scope to know what impact its measures are having on the economy.

The central bank has so far announced measures amounting to about Tk 80,000 crore in soft loans to large, medium and small businesses in the industrial and service sectors, and growers and entrepreneurs in the farm sector.

Besides, the government has started borrowing heavily from the central bank in the wake of the revenue shortfall and for implementing its stimulus packages.

To manage liquidity, the central bank is now using the reserve or high-powered money, which usually has a great impact on the financial sector as it speeds up the growth of broad money and boosts the money multiplier.

"But we do not have any information on the latest growth of reserve and board money after February as the Statistics Department has stopped providing information," said an official of the Monetary Policy Department requesting anonymity.

The correspondent then reached out to the Statistics Department, which is also responsible for preparing the monthly statement of the balance of payments (BoP) and private sector credit growth.

The last statement on BoP was prepared in January and that on private sector credit growth in February.

The Statistics Department will prepare the statements once the shutdown is lifted, the officials said.

The research department of the central bank is dedicated to preparing the government borrowing statement every week. But it did not prepare the report since the third week of March.

Although The Daily Star on Wednesday published a report on the latest government borrowing status, it did so by collecting data from another department that is not responsible for doing so.  

The country's trade deficit stood at $9.64 billion in the first seven months of the fiscal year, and the situation has definitively changed for the worse given the collapse in exports. But we remain in the dark.

In February, credit growth to the private

sector dropped to 9.1 per cent, the lowest since at least 2008, which is as far back as the BB data goes.

"The growth is supposed to fall further in the last few months due to the ongoing recession. But how we can know the actual situation?" said Zahid Hussain, former lead economist of the World Bank's Dhaka office.

The government will have to seek financial support from multilateral and donor agencies to recover from the economic fallout. But the agencies will first look at the country's BoP.

"They would get the BoP statement from the central bank website, which is for January. As a result, this will hamper in getting the expected support from them."

Besides, the BB will be unable to take any time-befitting decision due to unavailability of the required data, he added.

Asked why the BB has stopped preparing the statements, Serajul Islam, its spokesperson, said he would give his opinion after looking into the matter. But he never got back with a comment.

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