Bidding farewell to one whose footsteps traversed the journey of independent Bangladesh.
One of the country's longest serving finance ministers, the only one who commanded the economy for 10 consecutive years, and the principal architect of the Awami League's era of development, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith, breathed his last on the last Friday of Ramadan.
Muhith, 88, passed away at a city hospital at 12:56am - technically in the wee hours of the Saturday, April 30th. His brother, who succeeded him in his parliamentary seat and in the cabinet, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen, shouldered the duty of notifying the nation shortly after.
Muhith had been keeping unwell for quite some time. In July 2021, he tested positive for Covid-19, but fought that back. Then in March, he had to be hospitalised again. Even as his body visibly gave away though, that formidable intellect that he wore proudly and unapologetically throughout a life of achievement.
The public were given the chance to pay their respects to one of the giants of the country's political arena, whose various roles span the the entire history of independent Bangladesh.
After that it was off to Sylhet for burial in ancestral surroundings for one of the region's proudest sons.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who entrusted him with authoring the Awami League's manifesto as the party charted its comeback ahead of the 2008 election, expressed deep shock and sorrow at the death of Muhith. How couldn't she?
That manifesto underpinned the AL's era of unprecedented dominance, and his entire spell as finance minister, the most influential portfolio in the cabinet. For ten years, his seat was reserved to the immediate right of the prime minister at weekly cabinet meetings. It was easy to tell she would have preferred none other.
As the finance minister of the Awami League government, he presented the budget in parliament for 10 years at a stretch. He had also presented it in an earlier era, as finance minister in the early days of the Ershad-led administration, having left government service once earlier, making no secret of his dismay at the assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
But the role that sealed his legend (if he was British, they would anoint him as 'national treasure') came last, after he - fun fact - succeeded the late Saifur Rahman a second time in the hotseat of the country's finance minister. This time with ten years holding the reins, he would leave his mark indelibly. It's difficult to believe it's been four years since he presented his last budget. Muhith left his mark in the deliberate and strategic move towards expansionary fiscal policy (he might have been a Keynesian), reflected in the burgeoning of the budget under his watch - from Tk 114,000 crore in 2009-10, the first under the newly elected AL government, to Tk 464,000 crore in his last, for the 2018-19 fiscal. But the multiplier effect that is the key to unlocking the potential of this policy was very much at work here. The size of the economy during his time grew even more than the budget - by one account, from Tk 6.14 trillion to Tk 29.51 trillion, which is nearly 5 times.
At first. his critics said he was overambitious with his budgets. His retort was that he would rather be that, than fall short on ambition. It set the tone for the AL's blueprint of governance in many ways, and continues to define it to this day.
Birth and Early life
Muhith was born on 25 January 1934 in Dhopadighi, Sylhet.
He was the third child of Advocate Abu Ahmad Abdul Hafiz who was a leader of the Pakistan movement and the founder of the then Sylhet District Muslim League.
His mother Syed Shahar Banu Chowdhury was also active in politics and social work.
His life full of achievements started when he secured first place in the intermediate examination in the province in 1951 from Sylhet MC College. Muhith stood first class first in BA in English Literature in 1954 from Dhaka University and passed his MA with credit from the same university in 1955.
During his service period, he studied at Oxford University from 1957-58 and received an MPA degree from Harvard University in 1964.
After joining Pakistan Civil Service in 1956, he served in different capacities in the government of East Pakistan, the central government of Pakistan, and then Bangladesh.
During his service as the chief and deputy secretary of the Pakistan Planning Commission, he made a report on the disparity between East and West Pakistan in 1966 and that was the first report submitted on that issue in the Pakistan National Assembly in fulfilment of the constitutional obligation.
Liberation War and beyond
He was the counsellor (economic) at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington DC, when he joined the Liberation War effort as the first in his station to defect for Bangladesh and inspired many others to join him later on.
After retiring early from government service in the early Eighties, he embarked on a decades-long career as a consultant on economic and development matters at the Ford Foundation, IFAD, UN, UNDP, ADB and World Bank.
Muhith was also a pioneer of the Bangladesh environment movement and was one of the founders as president of BAPA in 2000.
He joined Awami League in 2001 and was elected a member of parliament in 2009 from his home constituency in Sylhet, after an earlier foray with Gono Forum fizzled out without notable success.
Despite being such a central figure to the AL's revival post-2008, his self-possessed nature kept him above the fray of politicking for the most part. He was largely absent from the scene for most of the atrocities that inevitably occurred over the course of the decade he was in government. Although too absent, his critics would say, when it came to the stock market debacle of 2010-11.
Muhith was awarded the highest civil award Swadhinata Padak (Independence Award) in 2016 for his contribution to the Liberation War and devoted record of public service.
He was equally gifted as a writer and published 35 books on different subjects including Liberation War, economic development, history, public administration and political problems.
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