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Volume:7, Number:25
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COVER STORY
THIS WEEK

YEAR IN REVIEW

| Khondoker Tazuddin |

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina is seen with visiting Chinese president Xi Jinping, who arrived in Bangladesh on October 14, 2016

The year 2016 has drawn to an end. It was Bangladesh’s 45th year of independence. During this year, the country recorded its highest per capita income and GDP growth as well. It will be memorable in our national history for a number of reasons.

The ruling Awami League attained a different dimension in the country’s politics this year. On the other hand, the main opposition party BNP apparently lost its pace, although it is attempting to reorganize itself.

The war crimes trials and the government’s aggressive actions have hit Jamaat-e-Islami so hard that the party is struggling to survive. As usual, Jatiya Party is kind of fl oated around in the political sphere with its nextto- nonexistent presence. The leftist parties were largely inactive as well. BNP and Awami League’s respective national councils were the talk of the nation throughout the year. Besides, Union Parishad and municipality polls and the trial of the war criminals generated a considerable amount of discussion. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina’s personal achievements transcended the country’s boundary, and became a topic of international discussion this year.

Awami League

2016 has turned out to be simultaneously the year of great losses and big gains for Awami League. The ruling party’s biggest achievements this year were the successful arrangements of the Bangladesh tours of the Chinese president Xi Jinping and the US secretary of state John Kerry. The visits of these two world leaders have brought Bangladesh to the attention of the entire world. Sheikh Hasina has created an impressive image of herself in the international forum this year as well.

Awami League’s national council was one of the highlights of this year. While prime minister Sheikh Hasina was re-elected president on the newly announced central executive committee, Obaidul Quader replaced Syed Ashraful Islam as the party’s general secretary. The council also introduced big changes in the leadership of the party, with relatively new leaders being included in the central body. Syed Ashraf’s replacement was one of the biggest surprises of this year. It was rumored that he was so disappointed by this change that he had left the country for England, although the prime minister later called him back to Bangladesh.

This year, Awami League candidates achieved landslide victories in the Supreme Court Bar Association elections and Dhaka University Teachers' Association elections. For the fi rst time in the country’s history, local government polls became partisan this year. Up until the last year, political parties were not allowed to directly nominate candidates; they could only extend their support to candidates of their choice and the contenders were not allowed to use party symbols. However, party symbols were used in this year’s UP and municipality polls, and Awami League candidates swept the polls countrywide although many allegations of blatant manipulations surfaced.

In its election manifesto, the Grand Alliance government pledged to ensure the trials of the war criminals, and implement the metro rail and Padma bridge projects. This year, we have witnessed signifi cant progress in those regards. Jamaat top leaders Motiur Rahman Nizami and Mir Quasem Ali have been convicted and executed for their crimes against humanity during the 1971 liberation war. Notable progress has been made in the construction of the Padma Bridge as well. The river training process has been completed on both banks, and the construction of the main structure has begun. The construction work of Dhaka metro rail has been offi cially launched this year as well. Similarly, the construction work of the Rooppur nuclear power plant has been initiated.

The deaths of prominent ministers, MPs and organizers of the liberation war have marked 2016 as the year of loss for Awami League. The party has lost some of its integral members and well-wishers this year. Promod Man Kin MP, eminent writer Syed Shamsul Haq, valiant freedom fi ghter and "Hemayet Bahini” chief Hemayet Uddin Bir Bikram, and the PM's special secretary Mahbubul Haque Shakil are amongst some of the prominent names. Another thing Awami League lost this year is part of its image, both in local and global spheres. The party has been highly criticized for its involvement in a number of controversial incidents including attacks on Hindu temples and homes in Nasirnagar, and arson on Santal homes in Govindaganj. The party has been locally and globally condemned for its lack of initiatives to provide security to the secular writers/ activists. Moreover, party joint general secretary Mahbub-ul-Alam Hanif went on to make some highly offensive remarks about the blogger killing issue, which earned the party negative press coverage.

The biggest blow to the ruling party’s international image was the Gulshan Holey Artisan attack that claimed the lives of 17 foreigners. Also, a number of fatal attacks on the members of minority communities have raised question about the party’s ability to provide safety to its citizens, especially the minority communities. The party has since launched aggressive anti-terrorist raids throughout the country. Overall, the year 2016 has been a mixed bag for Awami League with many things to be proud of, and almost equally as many things to worry about.

BNP

One of the two largest political parties of the country, BNP sank further into failure and obscurity in 2016. The party chief Khaleda Zia is well known in the country’s politics as an uncompromising leader. On February 5, 2015, she called a nationwide movement that quickly turned into a prolonged and violent unrest.

The continuous blockade program lasted from January 5 to March 30, with a cluster of 24 hour-long, 48 hour-long and 72 hour-long hartals in between. These hartals and blockade programs, coupled with arson attacks and petrol bombing, ended up killing more than 100 people. The petrol bomb attacks on public transportations during the three-month spate of strikes and violence caused a massive damage to the lives and livelihoods of people as well as national economy.

Throughout the course of those three months, Khaleda Zia stayed besieged in her Gulshan offi ce. However, the aggressive and violent resistance soon fi zzled out as the government took control of the situation. Thousands of BNP leadersactivists, including the top leaders, were arrested and sent to jail. Khaleda Zia eventually returned home without getting even a slither of compromise from the government side. Following that, every initiative taken by BNP to make a comeback failed, and that trend continued through this year as well.

BNP leaders who were arrested last year and at the beginning of 2016 included secretary general Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, presidium members Gayeshwar Chandra Roy, Khandaker Mosharraf Hossain, Barrister Rafi qul Islam Mia, MK Anwar, and Nazrul Islam Khan, and joint secretary general Ruhul Kabir Rizvi. Vice-Chairman Mohammad Shahjahan, Jubo Dal president Moazzem Hossain Alal and general secretary Saiful Alam Nirob, Chhatra Dal president Rajiv, etc. were also arrested but released already. Thousands of BNP leaders and activists, charged with petrol bomb cases, are in hiding. Prominent leaders including former mayor Sadeque Hossain Khoka, Abdul Awal Mintoo, MA Quayum, and Monowar Hossain Khan have left the country.Another infl uential leader, Mirza Abbas is yet to come out in front of the public following his jail stint.

The failure of the 2015 movement and the subsequent legal actions against the leaders and workers virtually crippled the party. With the aim to rejuvenate the party, massive overhaul initiatives were undertaken in the party’s new standing committee during the national council. Khaleda Zia was appointed the chairperson and Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir the secretary general of the new committee. However, the new committee has been criticized for shortsightedness, huge size and nepotism. Numerous lawsuits against top-ranking leaders, including chairperson Khaleda Zia and her son Tarique Rahman, further devastated the party this year. A treason case against Tarique Rahman is currently under trial. Khaleda Zia and other top leaders of BNP spent the entire year in court seeking bail in the various cases against them.

Following the failure of last year’s programs, BNP has dismissed its previous Dhaka metropolitan unit committee to form a new one. Mirza Abbas remained in hiding throughout the year while Habib-un-Nabi Sohel fl ed to London after being accused of orchestrating the killing of a Japanese national. Throughout 2016, BNP mostly boycotted various polls including the Zila Parishad polls. However, the party participated in the Narayanganj City Corporation polls with all its strength. The result of this poll was expected to be the beginning of BNP’s rise from ashes provided it won. But the defeat of its candidate dashed that hope and proved the year to be nothing but a series of disappointments for BNP.

Jatiya Party

In the history of Bangladesh, Jatiya Party is the only political group to play the roles of a ruling party and the opposition simultaneously.

The party did not gain much in 2016, neither did it lose anything. It took all the advantages of being a part of the ruling alliance, but continued to claim itself as an opposition party. For the most part, it tried to stay out of trouble as best as it could. It is alleged that Ershad and Rowshan tried to stir up some drama for the sake of staying relevant, but failed to garner much attention. In the party’s national council in May, HM Ershad was re-elected as chairman and ABM Ruhul Amin Howlader the secretary general. The party has largely kept its existence by often issuing statements in the news media.

Jamaaat-e-Islami

The country’s biggest Islamic party Jamaat-e-Islami is infamously known as the anti-liberation force. The year 2016 turned out to be the most tragic for this party as its top leadership has been pretty much wiped out.

The party’s senior leader and spiritual guru, convicted war criminal Ghulam Azam, died in 2015 naturally while serving his 90-year jail term for crimes against humanity. Party amir Motiur Rahman Nizami and senior leader Mir Quasem Ali were convicted and executed in 2016 for their crimes during the liberation war.

The government claims that Jamaat’s role in last year’s petrol bombing and arson spree is well documented. While BNP was the party to call for the movement, Jamaat leaders and activists were found to be more involved in the random attacks. The three-month-long attacks essentially crippled the country, as it disconnected various districts from the capital. However, the government was able to take charge of the situation. Following the failure of the movement, police and other law enforcement agencies started to round up Jamaat and its student wing Shibir’s leaders and workers. Thousands of leadersactivists are still locked up in jail, while equally as many or more have gone into hiding.

Some were forced to leave everything behind and fl ee abroad to avoid government persecution. All the political activities of the party have been stopped and all of its fi nancing organizations are being brought to justice. The arrest spree went on throughout 2016, completely destroying the organizational structure of the party. In an attempt to revive itself, Jamaat has announced a new committee through press release. The Supreme Court has barred the use of the party monogram 'weighing scale' as electoral symbol. There is a strong possibility that the party will be banned altogether. Considering that, the leaders and activists are trying to make a comeback under a new name and a younger leadership to avoid the stigma of war crimes and extremism.

Leftist parties

The leftist parties were active and busy mostly on television talk shows, but they were hardly seen in the streets this year. The parties have very little acceptance among mass people, and this year was no exception. They usually make their presence visible by arranging meeting, seminar, human chain and other forms of protest regarding oil and gas, and other issues. Some of the leftist groups such as Workers Party and Samyabadi Dal have essentially acted as the government’s mouthpiece in order to gain political favors. Other left-leaning parties remained largely silent and inactive to avoid confrontation with the government. Overall, 2016 was another year of existential struggle for the leftist parties.

CAUGHT BETWEEN HEIST AND TERROR

The trauma of Bangladesh Bank reserve heist and the terrorist attack in Gulshan signifi cantly slowed down the wheels of economy.

Just at the beginning of the last half of the year 2016, Bangladesh experienced a shocking terrorist attack that shook the whole nation. The terrorist attack at the Holy Artisan restaurant in Gulshan area of the capital city on July 1, 2016 claimed 20 lives, of which 17 were foreigners. It was the first day of the current fiscal year (FY17).

The terrorist attack came as a double blow to the business and economy at a year when the country’s financial sector already faced another severe shock to business confidence and regulation. In February 2016, some USD101 million was hacked from the foreign exchange reserve of the central bank. The amount was actually transferred from the Bangladesh Bank’s account with the New York Federal Reserve to Philippines and Sri Lanka on the basis of unauthorized instruction from the Bangladesh Bank. Though the central bank was able to recover around USD20 million from Sri Lanka, the incident caused a huge outcry across the country. The central bank governor Dr. Atiur Rahman was forced to resign while two deputy governors were also removed. The government initiated a two-step probe, and findings are still pending release.

Though there were some efforts to recover heist money from Philippine’s Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation (RCBC), where the fund was deposited, the bank recently declared that it would not transfer the amount as it had no role in the wrongdoing. The reserve heist incident put the regulatory authority and efficiency of Bangladesh Bank as well as its moral position under a big question. In fact, for the last couple of years, financial irregularities have made the total financial sector vulnerable. The regulators, especially the central bank, have failed to check these irregularities.

Just as the country was reeling from the trauma of reserve heist, the Gulshan terror attack came as a huge shock and ominous signal to the businesses. Since the carnage, businessmen have been urging the government to beef up security so that both local and foreign investors feel confident and encouraged to continue to invest in the country. There was no doubt that the foreign investors and buyers were aware that terrorism was not a unique problem for Bangladesh, but a global problem. Many also said that the initial response to the shock was not well thought. One critical example was the eviction drive in Gulshan area. The hotels, restaurants and other business entities are there for many years. All on a sudden, terming those illegal and launching the eviction drive sent a wrong message to the businesses.

While these two big internal incidents are yet to make any immediate impact on the growth path of Bangladesh, the possible negative effects cannot be ruled out especially on the external sector.

Troubled external sector

On the external front, export earnings during the 11 months (January-November) of 2016 registered a 9.2 percent growth over the same period of 2015. According to the Export Promotion Bureau (EPB), export earnings stood at USD31.85 billion in January-November period of 2016 which was USD29.17 billion in the same period of 2015.

On the other hand, import payments, as per Clearing and Forwarding (C&F) value, stood at USD36.53 billion in the first 10 months of 2016. The amount was USD34.48 billion in January-October period of 2015. Thus, import registered around a 6 percent growth during the period under review. It is true that both the export and import growth rates have improved compared to the same period of 2015 when export registered a 5.8 percent growth while import growth was recorded at 2.3 percent.

Again, the country’s merchandise trade gap with the rest of the world stood at USD5.8 billion during the first 10 months of 2016. The figure is obtained from the latest statistics of the central bank, which also showed that export earnings (on Free on Board value) stood at USD28.25 billion in January-October period of 2016. At the same time, import payments reached to USD34.04 billion. The balance of payment data of the Bangladesh Bank considers FoB value of both the export earnings and import payments. So, some differences exist with the export data furnished by the EPB and import data furnished by customs on C&F basis.

But, two other critical components of the external sector entered into the negative territory and indicate further slowdown in near future. Remittance earnings declined by 9.6 percent in January-November period of 2016 and stood at USD12.65 billion compared to USD14 billion in the same period of 2015, according to the latest statistics of the central bank. Remittance earnings posted a modest 2.4 percent growth in 11 months of 2015 over the same period. The reasons for decline in remittance are two, as pointed out by the government and supported by some economists. One is the slowdown in the Gulf countries and another is the increased infl ow through informal channels. But, these two reasons are not fully backed by strong evidences.

Net infl ow of foreign direct investment (FDI) also dropped by 11.30 percent during the fi rst 10 months of the last calendar year. Net infl ow of FDI stood at USD1.44 billion in January-October period of 2016, showed the central bank statistics. The amount was, however, USD1.62 billion in the same period of 2015. Infl ow of FDI actually increased by 4.5 percent in the fi rst 10 months of 2015 compared to the same period of 2014. Infl ow of FDI actually dropped signifi cantly in the fi rst quarter of 2016 compared to the same period of the previous year. Central bank data revealed that foreign investment in January-March period of 2016 stood at USD410.68 million while the value was USD606.92 million in the same period of 2015. Thus, FDI dropped by 21 percent in the Q1 of 2016 and the gap continued for the rest of the months up to October.

Brexit and Trump surge

Two global events also affected the country along with the rest of the world although no immediate impact was observed in the last year. But these two events- Brexit and rise of Donald Trump- are likely to have farreaching impact on the Bangladesh economy.

The United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union, in a move widely known as Brexit, in the month of May. As UK will no longer stay with the EU, market access facilities under the common market will also no longer be applicable for the UK’s trading partners like Bangladesh. So, to export to UK, it will require new terms and conditions for Bangladesh despite continuation of everything but arms trade preference in the EU. But UK market is going to be a different market regarding tariffs and regulations and Bangladesh has to renegotiate.

An estimate provided by the Commonwealth Secretariat showed that Bangladesh may face additional duties worth USD259 million annually to enter into the UK market, while the country’s annual export to UK is around USD2 billion. Moreover, UK is the second largest source of FDI in Bangladesh, which stood at USD307 million in the last fi scal year (FY16). In the US presidential election last November, the victory of Republican candidate Donald Trump appeared as a great surprise to the whole world.

He has already announced that he would ditch the much-talked-about Trans-Pacifi c Partnership (TPP) trade deal on the fi rst day of his offi ce. While this may bring some temporary relief to Bangladesh especially for the readymade garment sector, the long-term implication is uncertain.

As Trump is opting for bilateral trade arrangements instead of regional or multilateral ones, it will be more diffi cult for Bangladesh to get the longdemanded tariff-free market access to the US with whom bilateral trade now stood at USD7 billion. Moreover, the US is now the biggest source of FDI in Bangladesh and the amount was USD450 million. While an adviser of the FBCCI, the country’s apex trade body, argued for a move to sign a bilateral free trade agreement (BFTA) with the US, economists and business leaders expressed their reservation on such a move. They argued that ‘the country is not in a position’ to sign any bilateral trade deal with the US ‘at this moment’ or even ‘near future.’ So, there is a clear dilemma on setting the trade policy strategy with the largest trading partner of Bangladesh and the restoration of GSP is still uncertain.

Negative Equity Reigns High

A huge amount of negative equity worth BDT60 billion in the market due to the erosion of share prices affected the institutional investors

The stock market has passed another year affected by high volatility since the price crash in early 2011. Both the indices and turnover till December 20, 2016 showed rising trend against the previous year. DSEX, the prime index of the DSE, rose to 4,931.17, while the turnover stood at BDT9.33 billion on December 20, 2016.

However, a huge amount of negative equity in the market due to the erosion of share prices affected the institutional investors. The amount of outstanding margin loans stood at around BDT 150 billion in December of 2015. Of the amount, negative equity is around BDT60 billion, according to the market insiders. Negative equity is when the value of an asset falls below the outstanding balance on the loan used to purchase that asset.

Stockbrokers in a meeting with finance minister AMA Muhith on December 15 sought a BDT60 billion special fund from the government to increase the supply of money to the capital market. The fund will be used to buy securities when a downward trend continues in the market, and later sold during an upward trend, the DSE Brokers Association of Bangladesh said. Earlier in September, merchant bankers also sought a BDT60-billion special fund from the government. In the proposal to the fi nance minister, the Bangladesh Merchant Bankers Association (BMBA) had said they would take loans from the fund at a rate of 3 percent and then lend it to their clients or investors at 5 percent. “We sought the special fund that will rescue us as well as boost the market by increasing money supply,” Md. Sayedur Rahman, president of BMBA, said

Meanwhile, the brokers of the country’s premier bourse have sought a further three years to keep provision against unrealized losses incurred in dealer accounts, offi cials said. The DSE Brokers Association of Bangladesh (DBA) on December 20 made the proposal, among others, through a letter sent to the Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission (BSEC). In December 2015, the securities’ regulator allowed all the TREC (Trading Right Entitlement Certifi cate) holders to keep 100 percent provision against unrealized losses in their dealer accounts through fi ve installments within December 31, 2016. In its proposal, the brokers’ association also urged the regulator to provide same facility for negative equity in the margin accounts.

“Unrealized loss in dealer accounts as well as negative equity against margin accounts have not recovered fully yet,” said the DBA letter signed by its newly elected president Ahmad Rashid. The letter also mentioned that the TREC-holders, who have provided loans, would not be able to recover the unrealized losses in dealer accounts and in margin accounts within December 31, 2016 due to the present situation of the market and money supply constraints. “In view of the above, we would be grateful if you could kindly facilitate the TREC-holders extending timeframe for three years more to maintain provision phase-by-phase to make the capital market more vibrant and dynamic,” the DBA said.

In another development, eight companies, mostly small ones, and three mutual funds (MF) raised an aggregate amount of BDT8.49 billion through initial public offerings (IPOs) in 2016. Market insiders attributed the slow pace of collecting funds through IPOs to the revised Public Issue Rules, which compelled many issuer companies to revise their IPO proposals. The companies, which raised funds through fl oating IPOs, are Dragon Sweater and Spinning, Doreen Power Generations and Systems, Bangladesh National Insurance Company, Evince Textiles, ACME Laboratories, Yeakin Polymer,Fortune Shoes and Pacifi c Denims.

Of them, seven companies collected BDT2.50 billion through fl oating IPOs using the fi xed price method, while one company - ACME Laboratories- raised BDT4.09 billion using the book building method. “The securities regulator’s conservative policy in approving IPOs, procrastination, higher IPO costs and entrepreneurs’ reluctance to go for market exposure held back the primary market,” said a market analyst.

A Year of Consolidation

Biometric registration and merger of Robi and Airtel dominated 2016, while the number of active subscribers slightly declined

Bangladesh started 2016 with a massive issue of biometric registration of mobile connections, which dominated the fi rst half of the year, and continued to infl uence the second half as well.

The much discussed merger of the then third and the fourth largest mobile operators of the country – Robi and Airtel – also got much attention in discussions over the telecom industry. So far the biggest merger of the country’s service sector started the conversation in September 2015 and got the offi cial go-ahead last November. However, the issue is not over yet. Even after the offi cial merger started, Robi and Airtel have some other formalities left, which might draw media interest for months to come. These two were prominent issues in the telecom industry in 2016 with some other minor issues like fi ning Grameenphone BDT300 million for unauthorized services, export of bandwidth to India, and delaying the process of mobile number portability service auction, etc.

The industry also observed a quick progress in the country’s fi rst communication satellite Bangabandhu-1, which might be launched on December 16 in 2017. It also observed boosting of 3G services in the country. Actually the country passed a sensitive year in the telecom sector, said Abu Saeed Khan, senior policy fellow at LIRNEasia. “Crisis in leadership was the main challenge in the fi eld of telecom and information communication sector in the country, although huge work had been done here,” said Khan, who is an expert in this industry and was the secretary general of the Association of Mobile Telecom Operators of Bangladesh.

Khan further said that absence of metro network for digital connectivity is a serious problem and the country will suffer in the long run for it. Mobile communication is not the last achievement and the country will have to achieve more on fi ber optical cable connectivity. “And we found a huge gap between the demand and present network situation, which will create a serious crisis and people will not get the optimum service at the end.” He also said that biometric registration of mobile connections was a successful case in telecom sector, and people became more conscious through it although they had some confusion in the early days. “Now the telecom regulators will have to audit the process from time to time to make it work, otherwise it also may go in vain.”

People, who are even not using mobile phones, got interested in the biometric registration issue, and that also became a national topic of that time. Started in December 2015, it continued up to May 31 and directly impacted the telecom industry. The related industry people also know that the biometric fi ngerprints registration process ate up around BDT15 million active mobile connections. Except Grameenphone all other operators got the heat of it and were badly affected.

When the government made it mandatory to have biometric registration done for all mobile connections, the number of active SIMs in the country was 133.7 million, and 116 million SIMs were registered in the initial period. Several hundred thousand SIMs were re-registered after the deadline by paying a penalty. At the end of September, the country’s total active SIMs number stood at 119.10 million, according to the Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory. And it will take a long time to reach the number of SIMs that existed prior to registration, industry insiders said.

The decrease in SIMs number is not a problem, said Tarana Halim, state minister of the telecom division.“Now we got our actual users’ number and this number is quite good for a mature market like us,” said Tarana, who also claimed that the crime scene has also changed after the biometric registration of SIMs.

However, the junior minister also acknowledged that there might be less than 0.5 percent SIM cards on the database having biometric problem. Due to those faults in the registration process some problems are still arising, the minister said adding that the authorities concerned are working to fix the glitches. Meanwhile, the second most discussed issue in this sector was the merger of Robi and Airtel which has come to an end after the completion of formalities with the Office of the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms. However there are some issues left unresolved as the merged entity is yet to pay full merger fees and charges of spectrum amalgamation. Robi already took the control of all the business processes of Airtel, more than 200 executives of the operator joined Robi and they have now become the second largest operator in the country with 31.9 million active customers. After the merger declaration, Mahtab Uddin Ahmed, managing director and CEO of Robi, said that they were pleased to have reached the completion phase of the merger with Airtel and it will strengthen the long-term sustainability of the telecom landscape of Bangladesh and will secure a faster nationwide rollout of mobile broadband as well as contribute significantly to the overall economy. “The joint strengths of Robi and Airtel set the stage for delivering the widest mobile network coverage across Bangladesh,” Ahmed said. According to telecom regulator’s conditions, Airtel’s 016 prefix will be retained for the next two years at least and after that all 016 will be converted to Robi’s 018. The combined entity will serve about 31.9 million subscribers. As of September, Grameenphone's total active connections stood at 55 million and Banglalink's stood at 29.4 million, according to BTRC.

In the merged entity, Axiata, the parent company of Robi, will hold a 68.7 percent controlling stake. Bharti Airtel will hold a 25 percent share in the company and Axiata's old partner NTT DOCOMO of Japan will hold 6.3 percent. Currently, Malaysia-based Axiata has a 91.59 percent stake in Robi and NTT Docomo 8.41 percent.

Huge task in ICT but slips two notches in index

For the last few years, the citizens of Bangladesh have observed huge initiatives like expos, shows, workshops, programs, and government projects in the information communication technology arena. Yet the country did not make any progress on the global index. Instead, Bangladesh slipped two notches down to 145th in the global ICT Development Index among 175 countries, according to a recent report of International Telecommunication Union. In the Measuring the Information Society Report 2016, the Republic of Korea stood first with 8.84 points while Bangladesh achieved only 2.35 points. Bangladesh ranked 143th with 2.25 points in 2015, 145th with 1.97 points in 2014 and 146th in 2013

The development index points for Bangladesh increase every year, but the growth could not keep pace with that of other countries, said industry experts. Bangladesh has done very well in the use of mobile phones in the recent years but the country’s achievement in Internet use is poor, which is why Bangladesh ranked so low in the index, said Abu Saeed Khan. Among the neighboring countries, Pakistan and Afghanistan, with a ranking of 146 and 164, are behind Bangladesh while Sri Lanka, Bhutan, India, Myanmar and Nepal did well with rankings of 116, 117, 138, 140 and 142 respectively, according to the index. The report says that around 14.4 percent people in Bangladesh use Internet through mobile phones, 2.4 percent use fixed broadband Internet while 13.5 percent use broadband. Apart from the field of telecom and ICT, the government has also undertaken a huge challenge to digitize other sectors as well, and allocated more than BDT83 billion in 2016-17 budget for that purpose.

A Topsy-Turvy Year

Moderate successes in cricket and hockey saved the year otherwise marked by embarrassing performances in football and Olympics

Bangladesh did not have a great year in sports but it was capped off by the cricket team’s maiden Test win over England in October. The U16 girls captured the hearts with their 26-goal bonanza for a week in August and September but for the footballers and the Olympians, it was another year to forget.

Bangladesh’s year in international cricket was bookended by success. The year started with the team qualifying to the final of the Asia Cup T20 with Sabbir Rahman and Al-Amin Hossain performing admirably. They lost the rain-affected final, but still took lots of confidence to the World T20, which began the following week. They qualified to the main draw of the World T20 with some flourish but trouble awaited Bangladesh. First, Taskin Ahmed and Arafat Sunny were banned due to illegal bowling actions and then came the Bangalore meltdown, when Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah played rash shots in the last three balls with just two runs required to win.

Bangladesh went into a long break after the tournament and with the security situation in the country deteriorating, a crippling postponement awaited them until the ECB green-lit the October tour. Bangladesh had earlier in September defeated Afghanistan 2-1 in an ODI series but went on to lose to England by same margin.

But they fared better in the Test series, getting close in the first game in Chittagong with debutants Sabbir and Mehedi Hasan performing very well. In the Dhaka Test, Tamim Iqbal batted brilliantly for his first innings century, before Shakib Al Hasan and Mehedi took 10 England wickets in one session to win Bangladesh their first Test against the much vaunted line-up.

Football

Bangladesh girls beat Chinese Taipei to qualify for the final round of the 2017 Asian Football Confederation Under-16 Women’s Championship

Bangladesh’s year in football was dominated by success at the youth level but it was horrendous for the seniors, whose poor form sealed their fate for the next three years. The year started with Bangladesh making an exit in the semifinal of the Bangabandhu Cup before getting only the bronze medals in the men’s and women’s football competition of the SA Games.

In March, they were drubbed 8-0 by Jordan to end their 2018 World Cup qualification campaign. In the 2019 Asia Cup qualifiers, Tajikistan beat Bangladesh 5-0 and 1-0 in home and away matches, before Bhutan put the nail in the coffin with a 1-0 defeat in October to ensure Bangladesh would not be playing an international competition for the next three years. They burned through four coaches – Maruful Haque, Gonzalo Moreno, the returning Lodewijk de Kruif and Tom Saintfiet – but could not find success. Rather, the team was riddled with controversies that included the suspension of four senior players and early retirements, to name a few.

But it was not all doom and gloom. For nine days mid-year, it was the girls’ football team that enthralled the nation. They sank 26 goals past Chinese Taipei, Iran, UAE, Kyrgyzstan and Singapore to qualify in style to next year’s AFC U16 Women’s Championship in Thailand. The matches were shown live from the Bangabandhu National Stadium, with Krishna Rani starring with eight goals.

Olympics

That Bangladesh would bomb in the Rio Olympics was almost a given but there was some hope with Siddikur Rahman becoming the first qualifier from the country to the Olympics. But he finished 58th among 60 golfers, and it was downhill from there. Archer Shamoli Ray did not proceed past the round of 64 after scoring 600 in the women’s individual event. In athletics, Mesbah Ahmed and Shirin Akhter could not get past the 100-meter heat in the men’s and women’s events respectively. Swimmers Mahfizur Rahman Sagor and Sonia Aktar also did not go beyond the men’s and women’s 50-meter freestyle heat. In the men’s 10-meter air rifle, Abdullah Hel Baki did not advance past the qualification round.

Hockey

In November, Bangladesh became the first country to win the AHF Cup for the third time, beating Sri Lanka 3-0 in the final in Hong Kong. The triumph ensured their participation in the 2017 Asia Cup hockey.

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