The country's ongoing multi-dimensional crisis will deepen further if industrial raw materials and essential goods cannot be imported owing to the dollar shortage, opined Mohammed Amirul Haque, managing director of Seacom Group and Premier Cement.
In an interview with TBS, he stressed the need for uninterrupted gas and power supplies to factories to keep the wheels of the economy running.
The top official of the large conglomerate also shared his observations about the country's present economic and business situation.
What is your observation about the current situation of business?
Immediately after the Covid-19 pandemic, we have seen the Russia-Ukraine war which caused another severe global crisis. We could not escape it. Our dollar crisis has now been coupled with severe gas supply disruption. In a word, the situation is tough for survival.
The fact is that we failed to set our priorities even in such an emergency. Still, many luxury items such as foreign fruits, chocolates, and cars are being imported. At the same time, imports of daily commodities like baby food, sugar and rice as well as industrial raw materials are falling significantly. We must set our priorities first and stop importing unnecessary goods. If needed, the import of non-essential products should be stopped by law.
How can industrial production be continued?
Now, all industries have modern machinery which requires continuous operation. Yet the authorities are going for outages of electricity supply to the industries. Gas supply disruption is also in place. So how will factories run? We are asking for import of gas (LPG). We are willing to pay more for that. If gas is imported, the wheels of production will turn. Dollars will come. We are talking about making commercial adjustments. Again, LPG can be imported and supplied to households.
What is your suggestion for an overall solution to the ongoing crises?
To deal with the crises, four issues should be stressed. They are uninterrupted imports of essential commodities, strict restrictions on import of unnecessary goods and special measures for ensuring industrial raw materials and keeping exports up.
Besides, cars which need high amounts of fuel should not be allowed to run for now. Vehicles should run on schedule. For example, cars with even numbers can be allowed to ply three days a week and those with odd numbers on the other days. There will be no problem if air-conditioners in offices are kept off.
Banks are now reluctant to open LCs. What will be the impact?
The supply chain will collapse if letters of credit, particularly for importing food items, are not opened. As opening an LC involving above $3 million is not permitted now, a food shortage may arise.
I recently failed to open two LCs due to the dollar crunch. Anyway, different dollar prices for different purposes are another problem. We have always insisted that the dollar rate at the time of LC opening should be kept the same at the time of payment.
Will the dollar crisis be solved if the laundered money is brought back? What is the crisis of Bangladeshis doing business abroad?
Money laundered abroad should be brought back. The loan that the IMF is negotiating is only one and a half billion dollars. It is possible to bring back this amount of money from abroad if we try. If the government lifts the rules of paying 7.5% in tax for making black money white, the country will no longer face a money crisis.
Bangladeshis who own passports of other countries and have businesses abroad usually do not want to come back simply because they have no easy way of bringing their money into the country. The country even has no policy on that. Arrangements should be made so that the expatriates can bring foreign earnings to the country through a declaration only. Now, in many countries, it is possible to transfer billions of dollars just with a declaration.
Besides, the foreign currency earnings of those who work from the country should be tax-free. Otherwise, people will continue to choose illegal ways.
What can be done to increase the country's exports?
Policy support. There is still a huge opportunity in our readymade garments sector. About 500 companies are doing very well in this sector. This number should be increased. Those who are doing well must do better.
We have the potential for agricultural goods exports, but we are failing to seize the opportunity. In the meantime, we were supposed to give policy support for the shipbuilding industry. However, it has not been provided yet. Without policy support, I do not believe it is possible to increase the scope of exports.