Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday said Bangladesh has never defaulted in repaying loans and fallen into a “debt trap”, calling upon the global development partners including the World Bank (WB) to continue their investments in the digital and physical infrastructures to transform the country into a “Smart Bangladesh” by 2041.
“The present situation gives an indication of our economy’s growth opportunities and absorptive capacity and Bangladesh has never defaulted on its debt repayment, or fallen into a so-called “debt trap”,” she said.
Sheikh Hasina said this in an informal interaction for 50 Years Partnership between Bangladesh and the World Bank with the board of executive directors at the Shihata Conference Room at the WB headquarters on Monday morning.
The prime minister said her government is looking for enhanced partnership with the World Bank.
“We now wish to look into the future of our partnership. The World Bank must remain focused on its core purpose of poverty alleviation and development financing,” she said.
“The World Bank is actively engaged in our digital transformation. Our government has kept its words to our people by building together a ‘Digital Bangladesh’ by 2021. We have set our next target to become a knowledge-based ‘Smart Bangladesh’ by 2041,” Sheikh Hasina said.
The premier called upon the development partners like the World Bank to continue investing in our digital and physical infrastructure.
“We also seek international support for trade diversification, investment promotion and domestic resource generation,” she said.
The premier said the World Bank is now committed to 53 different projects in Bangladesh, involving USD 15 billion, adding that this is part of the grants and loans of USD 39 billion so far offered by the Bank.
“Our strong performance in human capital formation is matched by our investment in infrastructure mega-projects. The construction of the 6.1 km Padma Multipurpose Bridge with Bangladesh’s own financial and technical resources is a sign of our economic maturity,” she said.
In Bangladesh, the premier said they have made impressive gains in food security, free and affordable housing, community healthcare, compulsory primary education, women’s empowerment, financial inclusion, access to electricity, and disaster preparedness.
“We wish to achieve our targets on universal health coverage, quality education, child welfare, skills promotion, urban development, sustainable industrialization, environmental protection and effective institution building,” she said.
The premier said they need the WB to scale up its concessional financing for developing countries to allow them to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“I look forward to the World Bank sharing its concrete ideas on this at the UN SDG Summit in New York in September,” she added.
The premier will later attend a high level business luncheon after the plenary session with WB President, MDs and VPs at East Dining Room the World Bank.
She later gave a talk on “Reflection on 50 years of World Bank- Bangladesh Partnership” at Preston Auditorium in the World Bank.
On her arrival at the WB headquarters in Washington DC, Bangladesh Prime Minister was received by Country Director of World Bank to Bangladesh Abdoulaye Seck and its SAR VP Martin Raiser with a flower bouquet.
At the outset of the program, the Prime Minister with World Bank President David Malpass jointly opened a photo exhibition and walked-through some of the key elements of the exhibition.
World Bank Executive Director Parameswaran Iyer, its Director Junaid Ahmed Kamal, Managing Director Anna Bjerde, Alternative Executive Director Dr Ahmad Kaikaus and other directors also poke at the function.
The premier also witnessed a dance performance.
Sheikh Hasina said the World Bank must invest further in building state capabilities and knowledge for sustainable development.
“It is encouraging that the World Bank is giving added emphasis on climate financing. For a climate vulnerable country like Bangladesh, we need adequate financing for both mitigation and adaptation,” she said.
Since 2009, she said that Bangladesh has financed 800 projects from its own climate trust fund.
“We are launching a Mujib Climate Prosperity Plan to fast-forward our green transition in key sectors. We shall need USD 230 billion by 2050 only for adaptation. The Climate Financing Summit in Paris in June will be an opportunity for the World Bank to give us some meaningful assurance on these,” she said.
The prime minister expressed her happiness to have this meeting with the World Bank Board of Governors, she said.
“We are witnessing some major shifts in geo-economics this year. These have implications for Bangladesh as an economy in transition. I believe the World Bank is also making itself ready for the future,” she said.
Mentioning that Bangladesh is the world’s largest active delta situated on the world’s largest Bay – the Bay of Bengal, saying, “This is a location at the heart of what is termed as Indo-Pacific.”
Referring to some internationally influential economy, she said, “We are now the world’s 35th largest economy with a GDP of USD 460 billion. In South Asia, we are the second biggest economy and an emerging growth engine. We are graduating from the UN Least Developed Country (LDC) status, having qualified in all three criteria”.
“In 2022, our headcount poverty came down to 18.7%, with a sharp decline in extreme poverty to 5.6%. All this has happened despite the multi-dimensional challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the war in Europe, and the deepening climate crisis,” she said.
The biggest asset of Bangladesh is its resilience, she said, adding that we achieved our independence through a genocide, and a ruined economy in 1971, she said.
“Development journey has been far from smooth. Bangladesh experienced repeated military takeovers, extremist threats, and deadly natural disasters. In the last one and a half decade, the nation finally started turning around by tackling these challenges, and ensuring political and economic stability,” she said.
“These ensure equal treatment without discrimination based on religion, race or gender. The people’s representatives responsible for governance are subject to different layers of accountability,” she said.
The WB’s support to repatriate Rohingya, she said that the World Bank has extended grant support for the 1.2 million forcibly displaced Rohingya from Myanmar in Bangladesh.
“Their prolonged presence is becoming a huge challenge for us,” Sheikh Hasina said.
“Bangladesh has shown that it can deliver on its commitments. I am confident that our young people will take our nation forward in the right political environment. We wish to further expand our role as a responsible and contributing member of the comity of nations,” she said.
The prime minister said they continue to pursue Bangladesh’s economic diplomacy based on our foreign policy principle of “Friendship to All, Malice towards None”
She hoped that Bangladesh’s international partners will stay focused on the positive aspects of our march forward and join us in a promising development journey ahead.