Dhaka Courier

What do dengue and onions have in common?


Bangladeshis were not ready for the kind of shortage of everyday goods that people faced immediately after the war of liberation. What they found more incomprehensible was the  black market that sprang up rapidly, as quickly as the shortage. People had just gone through a very painful war but suddenly they were facing great economic challenges too.

Patriotic war and patriotic black marketing?

War suffering is understandable because it has a national objective and everyone participates in it, one way or another. Nobody gains individually but all do. But black marketing seemed slightly short of patriotism if one may say. Here was a group of people who were well connected politically, making money out of people’s difficulties. The innocent and naïve citizens of the immediate post 1971 days had little idea that some people were claiming and running both, patriotism booths and storage houses chocked with goods to be sold at outrageous prices.  People suffered but profits of a few soared as well. A model was being established.

Indians traders played a major role in this since they were the only ones who could meet the shortage and became very close to the people making money in Bangladesh. However, the “liberator” soon became known as the “black –marketer” and the damage to the Indian brand was enormous. They haven’t fully recovered from the ill reputation they gained in those heady, happy, slightly insecure and considerably shortage filled days.

Given Bangladesh’s production structure at that time, every form of supply was short and demand was soaring. The answer was fill the gap please and it was done by black marketing and hoarding of the same. It was economically necessary to be a “criminal “if one wants to say. But from an objective point of view, its was a an act which was to keep the supply chain going. Smuggling probably saved live in those says.

Nor should India be demonized for helping out. In fact, they did what they had done before. They had helped out to meet a national need. Sure they made money but then so did Bangladeshis so the moral equation really doesn’t apply.

And what about onions and dengue?

Fast forward to now and we see a much better off Bangladesh thanks to several regimes over time who have embraced the economic model of demand and supply. This is actually a new one in the sense that it has taken fifty years to develop and is now reaching a very well established position. And it seems to be working.

While Bangladesh has achieved much better GDP rates, what it hasn’t achieved is efficiency.  It’s obvious that in almost all the areas of official governance, it’s a in a crisis.  The way the dengue-chikanguniya epidemic was handled is a major example.  It shows three things.

  • Its known that the epidemic will hit but no preparation is taken
  • The blame can be distributed among many quarters including political conspirators and since the public is so used to inefficiency they will forget about it and move on to the next crisis.
  • It will create great opportunities in money making including getting higher budgets hence more supply.

So though people were suffering, it was actually economically positive and helped many people to make money. Mosquitoes should not be underestimated. They are efficient and do their job well. This is in contrast to most officials.

The recent onion crisis is a good example of that model. Now everyone knows that onions go through the shortage every year. Everyone knows that there is a syndicate that is operating the onion supply market. Everyone knows where they are stored. Everyone knows its dependent on the Indian supply but did everyone know that plans were made to create the crisis and make money?

But what could they do when the economic model is based on shortage and supply based on failure of efficiency? So unless onion supply is short there can’t be money, unless stocking is done the same, unless prices go beyond control, there is no money, unless prices do so more money can’t be made.

So its not a criminal act but management of inefficiency. The shortage has enriched many and this took a planned response. However, the decision is not in their hands so they had to depend on inefficiency of the officials responsible. Since those who are supposed to regulate and supervise the markets are missing, the supply shortage could thus become an economic opportunity.

The inefficient are of course not left out of the benefits scheme as always hence the motivation for efficiency is also absent. If inefficiency can be so profitable why should people be otherwise?

After 50 years of practice, inefficiency is no longer a disqualification but an essential element of the national economy management.

  • What do dengue and onions have in common?
  • Vol 36
  • Issue 20
  • Afsan Chowdhury
  • DhakaCourier

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