Mr. Tofael Ahmed MP, Minister of Commerce of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh. He is one of the most influential characters of Bangladesh political history. He was born in the family of Late Moulovi Azhar Ali and Late Alhaj Fatema Khanam on 22nd Oct, 1943 in the land of island district Bhola. He was the chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Industries Ministry. He is also the member of the advisory committee of Bangladesh Awami League. Earlier he was one of the influential members of the presidium of Awami League. He was elected several times as a member of Jatiya Sangsad from Bhola constituency.
Tofael Ahmed joined the Awami League and in support of the 1966’s Six-Point Program of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He was involved in the 1969 mass uprising in East Pakistan as a student leader. He was the vice-president of Dhaka University Students Association. In 1970, Ahmed was a political secretary of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. He was a Bangladesh independence activist one of the organizers of Mujib Bahini during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. In 1996, prior to the controversial February elections, he was arrested along with Bangladesh Jamaat-e-Islami leader Abdul Quader Mollah under the Special Powers Act. He served as the Minister of Commerce in the Awami League government from July 1996 to January 2001.
Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman fought for the Freedom of Bangladesh throughout his life. How far the progress is in fulfilling that dream in the hands of his daughter?
Tofael Ahmed: Bangabandhu is a great leader in world history. An insightful leader, who gave the poor and hardworking people a place in his mind. The leader like him is rare in the world. Father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman has two dreams- one is Independence of Bangladesh and another is Economic Freedom of Bangladesh that he had announced in the historic gathering of Suhrawardy Udyan on 7thMarch 1971. It was the great and best speech in the world. Through a speech, the unarmed nation has been transformed into an armed nation.At the end of the speech, he had proclaimed his historic utterance that “Our struggle, this time, is a struggle for our freedom. Our struggle, this time, is a struggle for our independence. Joy Bangla!” He said firmly about the economic emancipation of the Bengali nation. And after independence, the father of the nation compiled the basis for this economic release. Today’s Bangladesh is the role model of development in the world. Many economists of the world including World Bank president Maknavara Henry Kissinger said that Bangladesh is a storm less turbine. Bangladesh would be the model of world’s poor country. And today they are saying about amazing emergence of this Bangladesh. Today our per capital income has increased. We become a low middle-income country today. We’ll become a middle-income country within 2021. Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina has two dreams. The First one is transforming Bangladesh into digital Bangladesh. Another one is making Bangladesh a middle income country. We became completely independent through the returning of Bangabandhu to Bangladesh on 10th January, 1972. In the absence of him, we are moving forward in the path of economic liberation under the leadership of his daughter. The forecast of Bangabandhu become true today. Once, there was seven crore people in Bangladesh with lack of food. Now sixteen crore people, but the food is barely.
Once the export was little and now the export is more than 34 billion dollars. This year we have set goals of 37 billion dollars.Once the reserve was very little and now the reserve is more than 32 billion dollars. After independence, Bangladesh was in dire need. Bangladesh was a cremation ground. The Pakistanis looted everything. And they destroyed what they could not loot. Father of the nation Bangabandhu made the country normal out of that rubble. After the assassination of Bangabandhu, they thought to destroy his ideally too and Awami league would be destroyed. But we handover Awami flag to his daughter Sheikh Hasina. Keeping respect to the flag, she devoted his team to the state power for 3 times. She has taken Bangladesh to the highest peak of development. Diplomacy is very important in business and economics.
In the case of diplomacy what are the specialty and success of this government?
Tofael Ahmed: Our foreign policy is making friendship with everyone, not to be hostile. Foreign policy of the government led by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina which brought out a breakthrough. One country is conflicting with another country. But we have no dispute with any country. We have good relation with China, India, United States, European Union and Russia also. We have been working to increase our trade keeping good relations with everyone. 55 percent of our total exports are exported in the European Union. We’re getting duty-free access to all products except arms from the EU. But the United States does not allow our duty free and quota free access. Nevertheless, the United States is our biggest export destination. We are continuing with bilateral discussions with Russia so that we can get duty and quota free access. Chile has given us quota free access. Australia, New Zealand gave us 100 percent duty free and quota free access. Without two products Japan allows everything to be tax-free. We can export everything except tobacco and alcohol in India. This means that our business relationship with all the countries of the world is very deep. We have decided through the seventh fifth year plan to diversify the products and diversify the market. With this goal, we will make a FTA that means free trade agreement with some countries. Again with some other countries, we will make a PTA that means Professional Trade Agreement. In this way we will increase our exports more than 60 billion within 2021. We’re exporting 50 billion dollars only in RMG sector. We are working towards that goal and we’re the 2nd largest exporting country in RMG sector. We are only after China. Honorable Prime Minister has made 100 special economic zones, foreign investors will come. Our Pharmaceutical industry is moving forward well. Other industries including furniture, jute and leather are moving forward. Now we have identified leather as the product of the year. That is, in all cases we continue to work with liberalization of trade with cash assistance.
It is said that Bangladesh is on the highway of development- how this progress is possible?
Tofael Ahmed: I think our businessmen are brilliant and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s government is a business friendly government. We’re always beside them during their sufferings. As we’re beside the industrialists, we’re also beside the laborers. We have taken steps to increase labor wages. The salary that was initially sixteen hundred taka and we make it almost double. Nowadays no one in RMG sector currently gets under 7/8 thousand taka. So Bangladesh is in the highway of development in all respect. We are doing different types of development projects like Padma Bridge, Karnafuli Tunnel, Matarbari 13 Megawatt Power Plant, deep sea port in Sonadia, Metro Rail and Elevated Expressway. A new port named Paira Port is going to build including railway lines. We’re also going to make a railway line over the Padma Bridge. So Bangladesh is really on the highway of development. Once renowned economist Kaushik Basu, a former Senior Vice President of the World Bank, said the economy of Bangladesh is very excellent especially Rural Economy. I’m also from a village. Villages that were in dark are now enlightened. The remote villages in which there were no culvert are highly developed. So Bangladesh is moving forward in all directions. Our goal in the ICT sector is to export billions of dollar within 2021. We will earn 50 billion dollars from RMG. We will also earn 5 billion dollars from the pharmaceuticals and 3-4 billion from the leather industry. In all cases we are providing cash assistance and we’re always beside the businessmen. We’re controlling the market maintaining good relations with the traders.
What is the real progress of Bangladesh achieving Economic Growth?
Tofael Ahmed: After independence, our per capital income was 70 dollars. The per capital income is currently 1066 dollars. When our seventh anniversary will be implemented, our per capital income will be more than 2,000 dollars. We will be a middle-income country. Once there was no bank in this country. Now we have many banks and many insurance companies. We have been moving forward in all spheres of business.
There are businessmen who export more than five hundred million dollars. The number of merchants who export more than 100 million dollars is not less. There are many important construction firms in the country and they’re doing their work efficiently. Now we do not have to work by the foreign firms. So we’re advancing in all respects and we’ll be able to fulfill the unfinished dream of Bangabandhu come to be true.
What about the election of FBCCI and how is going on BGMEA?
Tofael Ahmed: The FBCCI elections is being held after every two years. The elections will be held on 14thMay. Hopefully good leadership will come in the FBCCI. The running president of BGMEA is doing well. The former has done well also. We are very careful to RMG and we give much importance on both workers and owners.
The business of the housing industry is downstream. Is there any special arrangements in this budget?
Tofael Ahmed: there is currently some problem with Housing business. Hopefully this sector will improve if we take some effective steps in this budget. There are about 200 companies involved in this sector. There needed a lot of things including rod and cement. So this sector has an opportunity to do well.
What is the expectation of the next budget?
Tofael Ahmed: InshaAllah, honorable Finance Minister will present a good budget in front of the nation by consulting with the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. During the 1972-73 fiscal year, our budget was only 767 crore taka. And in the current fiscal year, the budget has been 3 lakh 40 thousand 605 crore taka. In next fiscal year, our target of giving budget is about 4, 20,000 crore taka. So our development work is expanding. Our other ministries are also doing very well. In this year we will give a historic and important budget to the nation.
There has been a lot of possibility created in the ICT sector. Many young people are being employed.I think Ministry of Commerce should play an important role here.
Tofael Ahmed: in case of exporting, our government is giving first importance to information and communication technology. We have taken many steps in respect of ICT. Sajib Wazed Joy is the adviser of honorable Prime Minister. He has taken this sector forward. There are skills, honesty and devotion within him. We hope that Bangladesh will achieve 5 billion dollars by 2021 from this sector. So if we provide cash assistance in this sector, young generation can earn much foreign currency by outsourcing. This will increase our reserve.