Serving as finance minister for 10 years in a row under Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Abul Maal Abdul Muhith oversaw Bangladesh's economic miracles. Between 2009 and 2018, when he was at the helm of finance, the country witnessed spectacular growth in terms of gross domestic product, per capita income and external finance.
This was the decade of more than 6% average annual economic growth propelling Bangladesh to a lower middle income country and meet eligibility criteria for graduating from LDC status for the first time.
This was also the period that witnessed the collapse of the capital market bubble, biggest banking scandals in the country's history and central bank reserve theft.
He cultivated a reputation for openness and was honest enough to express his helplessness and frustrations in public.
The economy grew from Tk6.14 trillion to Tk29.51 trillion between the years he began and ended his terms, with annual growth exceeding even 8% from over 5%. The annual budget size crossed Tk1 trillion for the first time in FY09 which quadrupled in FY19, the year he placed his last budget.
Despite the embarrassing World Bank-led withdrawal of global lenders from the landmark Padma Bridge project, it was during his time as finance chief that the country proved its strength to implement bold decisions and scale up efficiently. Due to a strong political decision of the prime minister, the country's biggest prestige project started with its own fund and progressed towards completion by the end of this year.
It was followed by a number of flagship mega projects like Rooppur nuclear power plant, Metrorail and Karnaphuli river tunnel, which are now at various stages of implementation.
A cultured, courteous and soft-spoken person like Muhith is rare in today's politics. "Rubbish" was the most harsh word he used to express his serious discontent, for those involved in financial crimes, he could at best use 'dustu'(naughty).
Before becoming the finance minister of Ershad government in 1982 for a short period, Muhith cut short his career as a civil servant spanning from the mid-60's under the Pakistan government. While posted in Washington, he defected from Pakistan and played his diplomatic role in mobilising global support for Bangladesh's liberation war in 1971. He took over as planning secretary in post-independence Bangladesh, before taking self-retirement as ERD secretary in 1981. He had served international institutions before joining Awami League politics in 2001.
Muhith was active as an environmentalist.
He was an outstanding writer. Bangladesh: Emergence of a Nation, American Response to Bangladesh Liberation War, and History of Bangladesh: A Subcontinental Civilisation are among his books published so far.
Muhith was a great admirer of music, art and literature.
Elder brother of Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, Muhith breathed his last in the early hours of Saturday at United Hospital in Dhaka.
President Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal expressed their deep shock.
After namaj-e-janaza at Azad Mosque at Gulshan in the capital, his body was taken to Central Shaheed Minar where people of all walks paid their last tribute.
Yesterday his body was taken to Sylhet, where he was born 88 years ago and will be laid to eternal rest in the family graveyard.
This is the same soil where two of his predecessors in the finance ministry, M Saifur Rahman and Shah AMS Kibria, were also born and laid to rest.
Politicians as well as business and civic leaders, while attending last rituals and speaking to media, paid rich tributes to the ex-finance minister.
Awami League General Secretary and Road Transport Minister Obaidul Quader said, "The biggest thing is that there are not many honest people in the politics of this country. He was an honest man."
Nihad Kabir, former president of MCCI, who attended the janaza, said the most attractive virtue of Muhith was that he was accessible to all. "Everyone could express their thoughts and demands to him without any hesitation. Such a friendly minister is rare in Bangladesh."
Finance MInister AHM Mustafa Kamal said, "From the top to the bottom he was a good person. He has done a lot for this nation and for this country."
Reminiscing to The Business Standard over phone, former finance minister M Syeduzzaman said the economic modernisation of Bangladesh started with Muhith's help. During his time, Bangladesh consistently achieved 7% or more growth.
"Muhith spoke to me at length about the poor condition of banks when he was the finance minister. He admitted that while many banks were weakening, he had to approve new ones under political pressure," he recalled.
"Muhith also spoke to me about whether sovereign bonds could be introduced or not… I forbade the issuance of sovereign bonds," M Syeduzzaman said, sharing his memories about Muhith with TBS, whom he visited just a week ago.