There is a possibility of the announcement this week of another increase in per capita income coming across as decidedly tone deaf, in a week where the cost of living crisis confronting the population became more pronounced, with the record hike in the price of soybean oil coming into effect.
Be that as it may, there we had it: the per capita income of Bangladesh is going to increase by $233 to $2,824 this fiscal, according to the latest provisional estimates of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, who also project that 'shaking off the pandemic fallout', the economy will have grown at a robust 7.25% over the course of the 2021-22 fiscal, that ends on June 30th of course. Planning Minister MA Mannan, whose ministry enjoys oversight over the statistics agency, revealed all this midweek, at a time when the usual Eid hangover had been replaced by the nagging realisation that daily, normal lives for the majority of households, where food and energy comprise the essential elements of their monthly spend, can only get dearer in the days ahead.
The planning minister said the GDP growth projection is based on the data BBS data for the first three quarters, or first nine months (July - March) of FY22. But in its presentation, emphasising the growth in per capita income, which of course is a natural corollary of GDP growth unless population has grown faster, made it the subject of much mirth among the chattering classes on social media, and surely in many a tea stall along the length and breadth of the nation. There is a danger that the public would start to soon disregard these numbers and calculations as enjoying no or little relation to reality, just the product of some mathematical sleight of hand, to be exploited for political ends, if ministers continue to act as if pulling off these numbers is the pinnacle of achievement.
In order to prevent that, our important ministers must start displaying greater sensitivity to how this growth is being distributed, who it is benefiting, and who are the ones losing, falling through the cracks. GDP growth has been played up to such an extent over the last ten years or so that most Bangladeshis are well-versed in its significance, its limits. You don't need an economics degree in Bangladesh to know about the 'tyranny of GDP'; not in this day and age.
Speaking of economists, even their reaction to the planning minister's statement this week was telling in its unusual bluntness. CPD's Debapriya Bhattacharya straight out gave vent to his disbelief, calling the 7.25% growth figure 'illusory', and demanding full disclosure of the underlying methods and data. Meanwhile Zahid Hussain, the World Bank's former chief economist in Bangladesh, rather sardonically wondered why the country can't achieve its other targets with the same proficiency that it displays in the realm of GDP.
It all goes to show, there is a time and place, and possibly a manner, even for good news. In a week where lakhs and lakhs in litres of soybean oil were being discovered in secret hideaways on a daily basis in all corners of the country, what they wanted to know was what would be done to punish such racketeering, in order to prevent it from happening again and again. Good news could wait.
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