Incumbents should revise short-sighted decision
The decision of the Awami League-Jatiya Party government to lease out the ‘unutilised and additional lands’ belonging to different state-owned enterprises— especially those in areas ‘where availability of land at suitable places is scarce and their prices are higher’ — has already raised eyebrows of the ethical section of society. Yet, the government appears hell-bent on proceeding with the matter. According to a report front-paged in New Age on Sunday, the Privatisation Commission has already identified 1,288 acres of land located mainly in Dhaka and Chittagong in a survey conducted on state-owned enterprises, including nine closed industries under the Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation, three closed units of the Bangladesh Steel and Engineering Corporation and 10 sugar mills of the Bangladesh Sugar and Food Industries Corporation, for privatisation. Also, the high-powered committee, led by the economic adviser to the prime minister, which has been formed to hand over the identified ‘unused’ land to the Privatisation Commission, has discussed the survey report at a meeting early this month.
It is pertinent to note that the committee has been given the authority to declare even the entire area of a state-owned institution as ‘additional’ land. That apart, although the initiative is said to be intended to enhance private investments, local and foreign, within the rest of the incumbents’ tenure, speculations are there that it is actually to pave the way for the people tied to the ruling party to have the possession of the public, lucrative land lying on prime locations. The prevailing dismal scenario of most of the state-owned entities privatised earlier showing the same reasons tends also to lend credence to those speculations. As another survey conducted recently by the same commission revealed, almost a half of 75 such enterprises now remain inoperative whereas the prime condition of their handover to private owners was to ‘continue [their] operation’. Not only that, an expert quoted in the report appears to have rightly pointed out that private operators have turned a number of state-owned mills into real estates.
It is true that, because of unabated mismanagement, coupled with rampant corruption, different public enterprises, including the industrial units — crucial for the balanced development, economic and social, of the country covering all strata of the population — have incurred huge losses over the years. But it is also true that the wholesale privatisation of those entities is not the only way to address the problem. In addition, with the economy alongside the population growing, one cannot deny the fact that the setting up of more public institutions at least in the service sector may become essential in years to come and that the alleged unused land of the state-owned enterprises may prove potential then in a land-starved country like ours. Considering all this, the government needs to revise its short-sighted, if not opportunistic, decision in question.
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