Sheikh Hasina

Speech at the American Chamber of Commerce Meeting - Dec. 12, 2006

Sheikh Hasina
December 12, 2006— Dhaka, Bangladesh
Luncheon meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce
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Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen


My greetings to all of you.

I would like to thank the organizers for inviting me as the Guest of Honor to this luncheon meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce.

December is the month of Victory of the Bengali nation. Under the leadership of the father of the nation Bangobondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman we achieved independence on December 16th 1971 at the cost of millions of lives. Today I would like to remember all the martyrs of the liberation war due to whose sacrifice Bangladesh found its place in the world map.

The main objective of our politics is to build a poverty free Bangladesh. To ensure the basic needs of the people i.e. food, clothing, education, health and shelter.

Bangobondhu Sheikh Mujib said that “my life’s dream is to ensure that the people of this country attain a higher quality of life.” Making the dream of the Father of the Nation come true by presenting the people with the gift of a higher quality of life is the objective of our politics.

You are aware that poverty is the biggest enemy of the people of Bangladesh, for that matter all of South Asia. We have to constantly fight against poverty.

In this era of free flow of information and globalization, the world has been transformed into a Global Village. Within the world economy, economies of every country are somehow linked with, complementary to or dependent on each other.

For this reason in order to build a strong national economy, in addition to paying attention to the domestic economy it is necessary to consider the growth and nature of the global economy. In order to market manufactured goods the world market must be explored. An enabling environment for foreign investment must be created.

Demand for exportable items have to be identified. Arrangements have to be made for the manufacture of products, in conformity with the needs of the twenty first century.

In this era of globalization, it is not tenable for any country to follow a protectionist or a go it alone economy policy. Each challenge has to be faced with total effort, initiative and motivation by all.

Just as we are faced with the challenge of poverty, in South Asia we also have the prospect of a huge market. I believe by empowering and thereby enhancing the purchasing power of this vast poverty stricken populace, this huge market will yield large dividends for the world economy.

For this, rich and industrialized nations must come forward. Only aid or technology will not suffice, new ideas and concepts must be provided and direct investment must increase.

From this viewpoint, while representing Asia in the G8 Summit in Italy in July 2001, I proposed that poverty alleviation be taken up as an agenda of G8. I am extremely happy that for the first time G8 adopted poverty alleviation as an agenda in that Summit.

On 15th January 1998 a tri nation business summit was held in Dhaka in the presence of Prime Ministers of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh in order to increase the economic cooperation and trade.

In December 1998 a BIMSTEC conference was held in Dhaka to increase economic and technical cooperation in the region with the participation of Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan and Nepal.

You are aware in 1996 securing mandate of the people we worked tirelessly to achieve a positive image for Bangladesh. We were successful in establishing a liberal, tolerant society with communal harmony. Good governance was established. Bangladesh was recognized by the world as a country with immense potential.

I would like to humbly point out that it was our sincerity, good will and tireless efforts which initiated economic development, social security and positive politics in the country.

We transformed Bangladesh from a food deficit country to a food surplus one. Food production increased by 8 million metric tons from 19 million metric tons to 27 million metric tons.

Literacy rate increased to 66% from 45%.

Extensive initiatives were taken to increase the flow of wage earner remittance through the banking channels.

Per capita income increased to US$ 390 from US$ 245.

Growth rate increased to 6.6%, inflation rate was kept under 1.59%.

Life Expectancy increased to 63 years from 58.7 years.

Birth rate reduced by 6.6% and mortality rate reduced by 3%.

Infant mortality rate reduced to 58 per 1000 from 71 per 1000.

Poverty reduction rate was 1.5% per annum which has now fallen to 0.5%.

By creating an enabling environment for direct foreign investment and by assuming the leadership of the Least Developed Countries in the world forum we were able to take the country to such heights that even our critics accepted that Bangladesh was successful in discarding its negative image from the past.

In 1996 when we formed the government US investment was US$ 25 million and during the Awami League tenure this increased to US$ 1.2 billion.

We passed a law for private sector involvement in power generation which resulted in increase of power generating capacity to 4300 mw from 1600 MW.

Permission for operating airlines by the private sector was granted.

Private investments in telecom and mobile telephony was allowed. The monopoly in mobile telephone was dismantled as a result of which the number of mobile phone users has gone up from only 2000 in1996 to nearly 20 million today.

Our government declared information technology and agro based industry as thrust sectors.

Computers, accessories and spares and medical equipment imports were made duty free.

In communication infrastructure we constructed 200,000 meters of bridges and culverts. 70,000 km of roads were built.

Through the Chittagong Hill Tracts peace treaty we were successful to bring to an end the bloody ethnic conflict of two decades.

We entered into a 30 year Ganges water sharing treaty with India.

We ensured increased participation and effective role of our Armed Forces in UN Peace keeping missions.

Due to our sincere efforts immortal 21st February was recognized as the International Mother Language Day.

By keeping poverty alleviation as our main agenda we introduced old age pension, distressed women allowance, freedom fighters allowance and education stipends at the primary level. We created social security.

Under Ashrayan Project we provided free of cost housing to 50,000 poor homeless families and rehabilitated them by providing micro credit at 5% service charge.

We introduced interest free micro credit for destitute women.

We provided credit from the housing fund to various NGO’s at 1% service charge for on lending to homeless people for building homes.

One Homestead – One Farm, Community Health Clinics, Karma Sangsthan Bank and micro credit programs brought about a positive impact on the socio economic development of the country.

Development is a continuous process. Development activities of a government is carried forward by the next government. However, we were shocked to find that when BNP-Jamaat alliance came to power they discontinued all development programs initiated by us. They changed the names of many projects.

Instead the wheels of corruption came into motion, terrorism and partisanship became widespread. Every state institution was made controversial.

Bangladesh came to be known in the international arena as a country where 24 persons were killed in a grenade attack, where a foreign ambassador was attacked with grenades, where 500 simultaneous bombings occurred, a country of oppression of journalists, a country of violation of human rights, a country of oppression of women. Due to the corruption of a few individuals and families Bangladesh became the most corrupt country for successive years.

In this context I would like to congratulate our businessmen and industrialists. Even in the absence of a conducive environment they have operated their businesses, expanded their industries and have worked to bring foreign investment utilizing their, intellect, hard work and competence.

I would like to thank the expatriate Bangladeshis for remitting their hard earned money to the country as a result of which the foreign exchange reserves could be maintained.

Establishment of good governance is a pre requisite for business and investment. A recent World Bank report reveals that performance indicators to measure accountability, effectiveness, regulatory quality, prevention of corruption, political stability and establishment of rule of law were much weaker during the past regime compared to our government. Absence of good governance has been the main obstacle to progress.

In order to come out of the vicious cycle of poverty, double digit growth must be attained. This is mainly possible by ensuring good governance.

We believe in democratic politics. We believe that change of government can take place only through elections. In 2001 our government handed over power in a peaceful and orderly manner for the first time in the history of the country. We had hoped that example would be emulated in 2006. However that did not happen. At the time of their handing over of power, the conspiracy hatched by the BNP-Jamaat alliance for election engineering to influence the elections has resulted in the present unrest in the country we were compelled to go into a Movement. Seventy seven persons gave their lives in order to protect the people’s right to vote.

Businessmen and industrialists have become the victims of this complex situation. Political workers and common people have sacrificed their lives for the noble purpose of protecting the people’s right to vote; in the process you have also suffered losses in your businesses. If we come to power we will try to take steps through discussions to alleviate these losses.

In order to free the country of lack of governance, corruption and partisanship we want free, fair and neutral elections. We would like to constitute a government that would take Bangladesh forward on the path of good governance.

If we are voted to power we will bring the price level within the purchasing power of the people. To keep the prices in check we will set up a price regulatory authority. We will take steps to monitor the market.

Within one year we will bring the power shortage down to an acceptable level. Through public-private partnership, local and foreign joint ventures, hydro electric power projects, Rooppur nuclear power project, solar energy project, wind energy project and small and large power plants will be established in order to ensure the required power supply.

We will stop militancy and terrorism. We will identify, arrest and try terrorists and their godfathers. Political and administrative patronization of terrorists will be stopped.

Independence and effectiveness of the Anti Corruption Commission will be stopped. Corruption will be eliminated from all levels of state and society. Exemplary punishment will be meted out to corrupt persons. Their money and property will be forfeited. Within shortest possible time separation of the judiciary from the executive will take place. Independence and neutrality of the judiciary will be ensured.

In order to decentralize the administration a four tier strong local government framework will be made operational. Within one year District and Upazilla Parishad Elections will be arranged.

Parliament will be made effective. Transparency and accountability of the government will be assured. All government offices will be brought under e-Governance.

Extra judicial killings will be stopped. All laws and regulations which are contrary to fundamental rights will be cancelled.

We will stop partisanship in the administration and judiciary. Merit and competence will be the basis for recruitment and promotions.

The judgment on the killing of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman will be implemented. The trial of jail killings of the four national leaders will be completed. All political killings will be investigated and tried. Distortion of the history of the liberation war will be stopped and the correct history will be instituted.

Initiative will be taken to re-start closed industries. Effective steps will be taken to sustain the Jute, Sugar, Textile and Garments industries and allow them to flourish.

Self contained industrial parks will be established for various industries on a regional basis. Environment conducive for local and foreign investment will be created. Implementation of all international commercial contracts will continue.

Dhaka’s traffic congestion will be managed through construction of Elevated roads, East-West road and Ring road. The country’s rail network will be improved on a priority basis.

An employment guarantee scheme will be instituted to ensure employment for at least one employable youth from every family. The activities of the Karma Sangsthan Bank will be enhanced.

The prices of agricultural inputs will be reduced. Agro based industries will be set up. In order to free the people from land related civil and criminal cases all land use and land ownership related information will be computerized.

Empowerment of women will be ensured by reinstating the Women’s Development Policy of 1997. Direct election of women to the reserve seats of parliament will be introduced and the representation of women in all institutions will be increased.

Education will be brought to worlds standards. Education will be made free up to graduation for both boys and girls.

Capacity of the Submarine cable will be increased so that it is accessible to all throughout the country. Tariff will be reduced.

Given the opportunity, our young generation can compete and excel with any country in education, culture, technology and sports.

We will ensure health for all. 18,000 community clinics established during the last Awami League government will be restarted.

When we were in office we had taken the decision to make radio and television autonomous. This will be implemented.

The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Treaty will be implemented. Development of tribal and backward communities will be ensured.

Bangladesh will play a leading role in peace keeping in the world.

We will follow an independent foreign policy based on the principle “friendship towards all and malice towards none.”

We will maintain friendly ties with our neighboring countries.

Regional cooperation will be strengthened to achieve economic emancipation of the poor people of South Asia.

Maximum utilization of gas, coal and mineral resources will be ensured in national interest. Local and foreign investment in these sectors will be organized through a transparent national policy.

Port management will be modernized and made efficient to meet international standards. Chittagong and Mongla ports will be developed as the major ports of South Asia.

We want to make Bangladesh into a bridge between the east and the west by establishing a deep sea port, new airport, Asian highway and railway. In these sectors priority will be given to public-private and local-foreign investments.

Under the leadership of the greatest Bangali of all times, Father of the Nation Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the people of this country, irrespective of party or faith unitedly fought together and liberated Bangladesh.

We will celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh in the year 2020. Taking this Golden Jubilee as a milestone we want to proceed with “vision 2020”. We want to leave behind a poverty free country, a democratic state and welfare society for the future generation.

I would like to thank you once again for patiently listening to my speech.

Thank you. Khoda Hafez.

Joy Bangla. Joy Bangabondhu.

Long live Bangladesh.

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