Hassle-free disbursement of stimulus funds key to economic recovery

Funds from the government’s stimulus packages need to be effectively disbursed in a hassle-free manner to help local businesses recover from the Covid-19 fallout as soon as possible, said Mahbubul Alam, president of the Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry (CCCI).

“Being a lower middle-income country, we cannot sit idle at home. We have to control the spread of the virus and simultaneously continue working in order to safeguard our livelihoods,” he said in a recent interview with The Daily Star.

Bangladesh should also remain cautious about a possible second wave of coronavirus infections during the upcoming winter.

To prevent another surge, cautionary restrictions could be implemented in stages instead of a complete lockdown, Alam added.

Like most parts of the country, businesses in Chattogram are slowly coming back to life as both large-scale industries and small firms have resumed their activities in an effort to survive the ongoing pandemic.

Soon after the outbreak began, the government declared a 14-day ‘general holiday’ aimed at curbing the spread of Covid-19.

However, as the situation deteriorated, the closure of all economic activities countrywide was extended several times until it finally came to an end on May 30.

During this two-month period, business suffered heavy losses as they were made to bear the operational costs with next to no revenue.

“At the beginning of the lockdown, the CCCI offered several proposals to the government on how to save the various business sectors,” Alam said.

These proposals include declaring waivers on different port charges, such as storage rent and even shipping agents and off-dock services.

For industrial units, the chamber suggested that the authorities concerned should provide a one-month waiver on electricity and gas bills and accept delayed payments on utility bills without surcharges until June.

In regards to how the banking sector could play its part, the CCCI urged the country’s lenders to allow loan rescheduling among other facilities.

The government has implemented most of these proposals, which has helped revive the business sectors that came to a standstill due to the pandemic.

Besides, the stimulus packages worth a combined Tk 100,000 crore, including the Tk 20,000 crore fund for cottage, micro, small and medium (CMSM) enterprises, announced by the prime minister has helped immensely, he added.

Due to allegations of inefficiency in the disbursement process, more measures should be taken to ensure that businesses from all sectors can easily avail loans from the fund.

The CCCI, in association with Brac Bank and the Bangladesh Centre of Excellence, launched a help desk in August to assist its members in receiving loans under the stimulus package for the CMSM sector.

Alam underscored the need to make micro disbursements, ranging from Tk 2-5 lakh, among the smalls-scale traders who do not even have TIN certificates or trade licences so that they can continue to play a role in the economy’s revival.

He also urged the banking sector to come forward with a positive attitude in this regard.

According to the CCCI president, there is no alternative to enhancing the efficiency of Chattogram port in order to achieve the export target of $60 billion announced by the prime minister.

The port has already enhanced its capacity but it now badly needs more jetties while the expansion projects need to be expedited due to the increasing business activities of the country.

For example, the construction of a proposed Bay Terminal at the port should be accelerated, Alam said.

If the Bay Terminal is established, the Chattogram port will not require any further expansion for the next 50 years, he added.

Chattogram is yet to become Bangladesh’s biggest business hub despite being home to the country’s premier sea port. Decentralisation of power can only help in converting the city into the country’s real commercial capital.

“All logistic support related to the port required by business people have to be based in Chattogram,” Alam said.

The Dhaka-Chattogram highway should be made into eight lanes while the Dhaka-Chattogram elevated expressway needs to be implemented for better connectivity so that businesspeople can come to and from Dhaka within a day.

The container transport facilities provided by Bangladesh Railway need to be increased as well, he added. 

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