As suspected, the delay in publishing the monthly inflation figure for January by the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, did end with the revelation that the figure had nudged up again, once again nudging at double figures. This of course is the official figure, that BBS claims came in at 9.9 percent. From which we can easily surmise that the real figure is not only well and truly into double figures, it is most likely in the 15-18% range.

Of course those of us who spend from our pockets didn't need BBS to tell us there was bad news coming again on the inflation front. In an audacious move, most retailers chose to mark up prices right from the day after the election - something that has drawn the ire of the prime minister herself. Economists will tell you it is said that prices tend to be 'sticky upwards', i.e. once they go up, they tend to be more difficult to bring down, than the converse. Well, Bangladeshis will tell you they experience this more than most, and in a more extreme manifestation. Not even the PM's publicly expressed outrage worked on this occasion to nudge the prices down.

Of course part of the trouble is the dependence on such external interventions in the first place. The prime minister should never have to direct tradesmen on how to price their wares. But the sheer lack of market fundamentals makes it necessary to try. The circus we have witnessed in the last two months over the price of beef and onions, to name just two items that are important to different segments in society, is enough to demonstrate that.

What is now almost certain, barring a miracle of some sort, is that the government's target of inflation for the fiscal, which was 6%, set in the corresponding budget, is going to be missed by a wide berth. Inflation has been nudging 10% almost throughout the current fiscal in its first 7 months. The very slight downward movements witnessed in November and December (although still not far from 10) had given rise to some hope that a more manageable equilibrium could be attained. Now even Ramadan is knocking at the door, and despite the best intentions of a new junior minister at the concerned ministry (commerce), nothing inspires much faith that the government can indeed succeed in its quest. The problem for Ahsanul Islam Titu, the state minister of commerce, is that as a first-timer in the cabinet, he is a learner, and I trust that he will try his best to learn the ropes of his new job as best he can 'on the job'. But the post really calls for an enforcer.

Called to brief parliament on his ministry's activities in relation to prices and supplies ahead of Ramadan, Titu gave an enthusiastic response, but one that lacked any new ideas. The way to break the hold of the powerful, invisible and almost anonymous syndicates is not simply to rail against them in parliament. What you need is market development, of the type that aligns more closely with economic or market fundamentals, where predictability reigns and uncertainty is diminished. Good luck to him on that.

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