“My Aim Is To Protect This Sector From Any Kind Of External Disruptions Or Problems”
Born in Borguna on 1st July, 1955, the son of Late Abdul Hamid Howlader, Md. Siddiqur Rahman started his business journey with Sterling Garments Ltd. gradually expanding his business into Sterling Group. Rahman is currently the president of the BGMEA. Prior to this, he served the BGMEA as the Vice President (Finance) and the Second Vice President for the terms of 2010-2011 and 2012-2013, respectively.
What are the main challenges faced by the RMG sector now?
Energy is the number one problem at this moment. We need uninterrupted supply of gas and electricity to move forward. We can claim that we are self-sufficient in terms of our electricity supply but there is a necessity to upgrade our electricity transmission lines. The energy policies we have also needs to be updated. It is impossible to help an industry grow without proper energy being provided so we are consistently asking the Government about when this problem will be alleviated.
Secondly, we must focus on infrastructural development. We are saying that we need to reach our $50 billion target on our 50th anniversary in 2021. We will need to double our current level of export, which is around $25.5 billion.This does not necessarily imply that we have to double our capacities. We can achieve our target through increasing the production efficiencies of our workers and machines.
Another challenge regarding the labor force in the industry is that the workers mostly belong in the 18-30 year age bracket. People in this age group are vulnerable to outside influences leading to disputes and unrest. We have to quell the disputes before they start because the buyers lose faith and confidence in us when they hear about labor unrest.
The future stability of political situations will also play a major role in the advancement of the industries in our country. The conditions are stable now and will hopefully continue because the profits from this stability are quite evident.
There is an abundance of labor in our country, though we are hiring expatriates in high-end positions. How can we change this?
We have around 44 lacs worth of manpower in this industry and many of them are working in mid-level and high-end positions. However, we still have around eighteen to twenty thousand expatriate workers in this sector as well, who are working in prominent positions in the factories and buying houses. Presently, there is not much we can do. Fortunately, we have the BGMEA University of Fashion and Technology and some other institutions, which will be provide the necessary knowledge to our students and workers regarding apparel technology, merchandising, etc. allowing them to attain higher level posts. Hopefully within five years, we will have a more self-sufficient system in place.
What is the main target you have set for your tenure?
My aim is to protect this sector from any kind of external disruptions or problems so that we can move forward towards our $50 billion target. With Garments villages and Special Economic Zones being constructed, we can nurture the growth of our industry further. Nonetheless, there are still some unused areas owned by the Government, which they could lease to us. We could relocate the small and medium industries to those areas as they, along with their owners are facing some serious problems. They are in need of assistance and if that isn’t provided to them, they may not be able to survive creating a significant problem for the growth and future prospects of this sector. We have already gone into an agreement with the Chittagong City Corporation and signed an MOU, which will ensure the construction of ten buildings where these businesses will be able to reallocate to. Apart from that, organizations like JICA and the IFC World Bank are trying to contribute by providing soft loans with interest rates lower than 5% through the Bangladesh Bank. Ensuring the survival and growth of these small and medium businesses will benefit us greatly in the future. I hope to oversee their protection and development during my stint.
What are your thoughts regarding the relocation of garments factories to other lesser-developed areas of the country?
With an adequate supply of electricity, we will be able to relocate our factories to rural areas. In the future, we will see factories and industrial areas in places like Barisal and Bhola when the right infrastructures are in place.