Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday (6 October) said Bangladesh will overcome the present financial crisis by 2026.
"We had set a target to recover from the economic crisis by 2024. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, we took two years extra, and have now targeted 2026," she said at a media conference at Gonobhaban, where she discussed her recent trip to the UK and the US.
The prime minister also told the media that she had interactions with leaders from many countries on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly where the world leaders expressed fear that the world will face an even more difficult time in 2023 and countries may face severe crises like famines.
Sheikh Hasina highlighted the importance of ensuring food security in the face of the current economic and environmental challenges and urged the people to be more attentive about food security. "Whatever agricultural land or water bodies you own, make use of them."
She called upon the people to utilise every bit of arable land available to them.
Premier Hasina said she wants to maintain the economy's growth momentum despite the challenges induced by the Covid pandemic, Ukraine war, sanctions, and counter-sanctions.
She maintained that she sees no major risks in the long term, medium term, short term, or immediately, and there is nothing to worry about the dwindling foreign currency reserves.
"I believe and I can assure everyone that we will be able to achieve our targeted growth rate."
There are no issues with the budget and the government is working at a good pace to complete the most urgent projects, the prime minister said.
Besides, she said, there is nothing to be worried about the foreign exchange reserves because in 1996, the AL government started its journey with $1 billion in reserve, while at that time, electricity generation was 1,300 megawatts, food shortage was four million metric tonnes and the literacy rate was only 45%.
"Our foreign exchange reserves are still sufficient. If there is a crisis, we can still buy food to feed the people for five months."
The prime minister's assurance came in the prevailing situation of the forex reserves having declined below $37 billion as the central bank continues to sell the greenback to facilitate government imports amid the dollar crisis. In August 2021, the country's reserves stood at $48 billion.
'Let's take part in next parliamentary polls'
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said the government wants the participation of all political parties in the next parliamentary election, but it's up to political parties to decide if they want to join it or not.
"It is the decision of any political party whether to participate in the election. We can't impose anything there…. Yes, we definitely want all parties to join it," she said while replying to a question at Thursday's press conference.
PM Hasina said the Awami League, along with its allies and all others, made improvements and reforms in the country's electoral system. "Even after that, if anyone doesn't take part in the poll, what can we do?" she said.
"Yes, we want all parties to join the election and contest the polls. Awami League will never come to power by rigging votes at least and didn't (in the past) also," she said.
In response to a journalist's question whether she will invite political parties to a tea party before the forthcoming 12th general election, the Prime Minister said, "Invitations are restricted in this time of the coronavirus. Infections are going around. In such a situation, even journalists were barred from coming to my office. It is I who stressed meeting you saying 'how long can I stay restricted like this!'
"So, we have to think twice [about inviting political parties for discussions] this time around. Many will not come, while some will not be able to come."
Pointing at the BNP, she said they blamed the government when they lost the national election, nominating 700 candidates in 300 constituencies in 2018.
"Do the people vote for those who killed people through arson and violence? They (the people) never would do that," said PM Hasina.
She said Awami League came to power time and again working for the people, winning their hearts and earning their votes. AL never grew from the pocket of any military dictator. "AL always came to power through votes and elections," she added.
The AL chief said her party's triennial council will be held in December next and the party has started taking preparation for the 12th parliamentary elections to be held late 2023 or early 2024.
She said AL is now perhaps the only party in the country that always abides by its charter.
'I'm fully prepared to say goodbye'
Hasina said she was completely prepared to give up the leadership of the Awami League if the party called for her to do so.
"If even one Awami League councillor does not want me to lead the party, I'll step down," she said in response to a question about the upcoming Awami League party council.
Hasina said that she was ready to retire because it was the right time.
She said she had helped restore democracy in Bangladesh after overcoming many hurdles and had served as prime minister for three consecutive terms.
The 75-year-old Awami League president said several times that she was ready to retire, but continued in the role at the urging of her party's activists.
Hasina also commented on the American sanctions on the Rapid Action Battalion, an anti-terrorism agency.
She questioned the rationale behind the sanctions imposed on the RAB and some of its top officials by the United States for alleged human rights abuses. The move to sanction the RAB is "in effect helping terrorists".
Responding to a question on the issue, Hasina said the RAB was formed on Washington's recommendation, adding that the force received training as well some of its equipment from the US.
"They are acting how they've been trained to act. They'd be doing better had they been trained better."
Myanmar border tensions
Bangladesh is currently providing refuge to more than 1.1 million forcibly displaced Rohingya, people most of whom fled persecution in Myanmar in 2017.
However, concerns over a fresh influx of the ethnic minority group from Myanmar's Rakhine state have grown in recent months in the wake of an ongoing conflict between the ruling junta and insurgents.
Last month, a Rohingya teenager was killed and several others injured when a shell fired from Myanmar landed on a settlement in a strip of land between the country's border with Bangladesh. Two Bangladeshis have also lost their legs in mine explosions near the border in Bandarban.
But PM Hasina is wary about the prospect of taking in more refugees, as she highlighted the socio-economic impact that the presence of the Rohingya is having on Bangladesh.
Efforts are being made to repatriate the Rohingya, but there is a lack of willingness on the part of Myanmar to take them back, according to the prime minister.
On the ongoing conflict near the border, Hasina said it is an 'internal matter' for Myanmar and so, Bangladesh will not interfere in it. However, she warned that the country will not allow the conflict to spill into its territory.
'UNGA was a success for Bangladesh'
Prior to the question-answer session at Thursday's press conference, the prime minister read out a written statement where she said Bangladesh's participation in this year's United Nations General Assembly was very much successful.
"Considering overall (aspects of engagement), I think Bangladesh's participation in this year's United Nations General Assembly was very much successful," she said.
Sheikh Hasina said that in this year's assembly, Bangladesh participated in all important meetings actively.
"This has strengthened Bangladesh's position further in multilateral forums," she said.
She hoped that the active participation of Bangladesh will also expand in the arena of international cooperation.
PM Hasina returned home early Tuesday (4 October) after completing her 18-day visit to the UK and the US.
She left Dhaka for London on 15 September. There, the prime minister, accompanied by her sister, Sheikh Rehana, joined a host of other world leaders in paying their last respects to Britain's longest-reigning monarch Queen Elizabeth at Westminster Hall ahead of the state funeral.
Hasina said she wrote a condolence message in Bangla on behalf of the people of Bangladesh and her family at Lancaster Hall.
After attending the funeral at Westminster Abbey and the accession ceremony for King Charles III, she flew to New York on 19 September.
At the UN headquarters in New York, the prime minister took part in nine high-level meetings and side events.
Hasina also attended a reception hosted by US President Joe Biden for the heads of state participating in the UNGA on 21 September. The prime minister said she invited President Biden and First Lady Jill Biden to visit Bangladesh.
Hasina addressed the UNGA in Bangla on 23 September. In her speech, the premier emphasised the economic fallout from the war in Ukraine for developing nations such as Bangladesh, particularly the effects of the measures and countermeasures taken by the warring sides in Europe and their allies.
The Bangladesh leader stressed the importance of mutual solidarity at a time when the world has barely shaken off the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. She called on the international community to resolve all crises and disputes through dialogue rather than imposing economic sanctions and counter-sanctions.