A Turning Point in Bangladesh Development: Chinese Investment on 17 Priority Projects

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By Lamia Saiyara Mela

As the pandemic has affected the world at large, Bangladesh is yet to see the numbers drop. At a state of uncertainty when Bangladesh comes out of the pandemic, broader changes for the nation need to be planned. With this in mind, the country has set the tone for looking out for its future. And this comes in a timely manner. To strengthen various sectors in Bangladesh, the government has finalised 17 projects for Chinese investments.

These projects encompass several areas which have potentials to expedite the country’s development as a whole. These hand-picked ‘priority’ projects worth a total of US$ 11.5 billion, have been proposed by the Bangladesh government with high hopes to strengthen the areas. The 17 projects have come up from the first meeting of the Bangladesh-China Investment Cooperation Working Group. The list in which the investment is proposed to China, seems to stem from urgent need to better certain sectors and bring attention to the areas which need fast growth. Whether that is poverty eradication, or access to proper road safety; funding is a key player for a developing country. Strategic planning goes a long way, especially with the list that has been sent over to Chinese government.

These ‘priority’ projects came about with close attention to those intentions. The list of these projects have been sent to the Chinese government, as a copy of it has been obtained by the FE. The curated 17 projects’ list has been appraised to the Chinese government so they can allocate appropriate funding and bring about the Bangladesh government’s propositions to fruition.

We may wonder which sectors have been included in this well-thought and stated a priority list of projects. What makes projects rank as such? Bangladesh, being a developing nation, requires funding in many aspects, to say the least. Whether that is to address long term or short term goals, funding seems to be key. An additional helping hand to boost the economy works in great lengths to position Bangladesh out of its collective shortcomings. With 170 million people as a population, a lot of work needs to be done to properly address those shortcomings. While some hundreds and thousands hang around the poverty line, funding is definitely one which requires meticulous planning. Proper execution of planning could brew good news in terms of development in Bangladesh. The list which has been drawn up with 17 priority projects aims to occupy such motifs.

As the list goes to display what those 17 projects are, it can be seen that the projects are scattered in several sectors. The projects come with one unified goal when seen in hindsight; to introduce changes within many sectors but working in unison. It shows three projects which belong to the power division for the country. The power grid strengthening has been given priority as it holds massive tools to better the nation. About US$970 million has been placed to aid the project, as well as US$ 230.59 million has been placed as an attempt to replace overloaded transformers. With keeping electricity consumption and regulation, this project has potential to alleviate the power related issues that may occur. Another whopping US$467.95 million has been budgeted to aim at reducing system loss. As electricity shortage and over-load has been an issue for several years, this is particularly an area that can transition Bangladesh towards betterment. Dealing with power in Bangladesh solves many problems at once, if we closely look at the way mass population utilises it.

Furthermore, Bangladesh Railway (BR) has four projects under their wing which has been sent over for Chinese investment. The projects are big ones which can have impacts on the way roads look for Bangladesh. Among those four, Joydevpur-Ishwardi double line project stands at a budget of US$1045.59 million, and conversion of Akhaura-Sylhet meter gauge line to double gauge line comes at a cost of US$1272.9 million. The construction of Joydevpur-Mymensingh-Jamalpur double gauge line racks to about US$581.26 million, as well as plans of constructing a new inland container depot costs at US$200 million. The new inland container depot would be positioned near Dhirasram Railway Station. Within the 17 priority projects, the list contains two from the road transport division. This specific area is one which requires very intelligent planning, and the funding can alleviate many stressors the roads in Bangladesh face. Construction of Dhaka-Ashulia expressway is an area being looked at with a cost of US$1155.18 million, and Sitakunda-Cox’s Bazar marine drive expressway project is also worth US$2856.56 million. Both these constructions rank as vital to the overall development of road management. With a well-planned implementation, the road related concerns may have a better future for Bangladesh.

Along with the above proposed projects, two projects are being listed by the ICT ministry which were put on the priority list. Both of them have intentions to bring about new and informed growth to how ICT works in Bangladesh. The first being US$837 million aimed at establishing digital connectivity in Bangladesh. And the second is to modernise the rural and urban lives through introducing stronger ICT plans worth US$500 million. These both projects have potential to go above and beyond with the ‘digital Bangladesh’ dream. With an influx of ICT regulation in the country, information shortages can be minimised which can render a better informed population. This can particularly be helpful in terms of enabling proper access to technology and ICT advancements to address many issues at once. Better access to ICT has been one of the powerful tools towards globalising and coming out of pitfalls due to lack of technological support. This is where technological intervention is a well-suited plan.

Additionally, the local government ministry has two projects under their wing that made it to the list. They include Rajshahi WASA water treatment plant project which is worth US$276 million. With that, more US$150 million is being budgeted for water supply, sanitisation and waste management project in several municipalities. As clean water access and its management acts as a barrier to growth in development in Bangladesh, these two projects would aim directly at bringing about major changes. The information ministry also has made onto the list with their project of establishing six full-fledged TV stations. These come at a cost of about US$125 million. This can especially help to expedite urbanisation and aid the rural spaces to gain information in a convenient way. The other projects which are on the priority list includes one under the jute ministry racking up US$280 million. And, the Chinese Economic Zone project in Chittagong also made its way to the priority list with a cost of US$221 million.

Finally, one project of the shipping ministry has been included which works towards expansion and modernisation of Mongla port facilities at a cost of US$353.52 million. While the rest of the projects aim at many worthy areas of improvement, a better functioning shipping scenario would enable growth in trade. The effects of these funding, if utilised to their maximum, shows promises to develop the mentioned sectors of Bangladesh.

Now for the analytical bit- let us look at the areas which have been given the most budget and possibly ones which have not even made it to the list. To start off, it seems that the highest budget has been allocated to the two respective areas; Bangladesh Railway (BR) and road transport divisions. For common sense, these two sectors look as though they need that massive budget to bring about immediate changes. However, let us look at it from the viewpoint of how the country has been struggling in multifaceted ways due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic.

For one, the railway constructions seem to have been on its way for a while now. With several factors including the COVID-19, slowdown into forming this railway has been noted too. As well as with new challenges of social distancing as a form of restricting the spread of the COVID-19, formation of railways in Bangladesh could potentially hinder as masses load onto railways. That is, if the pandemic is not brought under control by the time railways open up.

Another area such as the road transport division which is one of the main issues in Bangladesh. Being a tightly-knit country it is housing millions of people, roads do need imperative attention. With the COVID-19 pandemic, however, the question becomes if other sectors need that budget more than roads. Keeping in mind the scenario of social-distancing, which is not as rigidly being exercised, other sectors may need that budget to alleviate possible losses due to the pandemic.
Out of those areas which display dire needs of improvement given the COVID-19 pandemic, which is also seen blatantly missing in the list, is the health sector. This is one which is currently under tremendous load and burden due to treating COVID-19 patients. While this crucial, and lifesaving sector struggles, it is of concern that the list does not place a priority on it as definitively as they should. Budgeting towards a more accessible and advanced health sector could, in general, be of colossal advantages to bringing Bangladesh out of its weaknesses. However, from the standpoint of infrastructural development, the list of 17 projects does make sense. Keeping in mind that the ripple effect of those infrastructural changes is felt over the course of time, Bangladesh has the possibilities to see major growth using those projects.

In conclusion, the development of the country warrants as heavily important even when the COVID-19 continues to grow. With a generous US$11.5 billion as investment from the Chinese government, the end goal paints a grand picture if the list goes through and gets approved. Whether it is the on-going pandemic that is yet to be brought to a halt, it is necessary to point out the weak areas which make Bangladesh quiver in vulnerability. Placing priority in those areas only would account for positive results. The 17 priority projects which made it to the list for Chinese investments have aimed at doing so, if not shot entirely at the bull’s eye. The efforts definitely speak well of Bangladesh government’s strives and it displays strong resilience on their part. To bring the country out of those vulnerable spots remains as a goal when reading through the 17 projects’ list. With that being said, it also launches the future plans of Bangladesh on the right foot.

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