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Surge in workers' remittance: Good news, but
A considerable rise in the wage earners' remittances this year has indeed left a sobering effect on the economy, amidst bad news on almost all productive and economic fronts. Remittances from Bangladeshi wage earners abroad registered a commendable 10 per cent increase in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2011-12 compared with that of the previous period. The Bangladesh Bank (BB) data released recently showed that the migrant Bangladeshis in FY 2011-12 sent about $ 12.84 billion in remittance against $11.65 billion during the previous fiscal. The increase in FY 2010-11, according to BB data, was 6.03 per cent over that of the preceding FY 2008-09. The rise in remittance during the last FY is, however, partly attributed to the declining taka against the US dollar, especially in the December-February period when the remittances shot a record high.
This high remittance has its most direct link with the forex reserve of the country which dipped down to $9.5 billion in early May this year following two months' import payments of $700 million to the Asian Clearing Union. The reserve has improved considerably to US$ 10.02 billion as an instant reaction to the increased remittance inflow during the later part of the FY.
Now, recognising that the money received from the ex-pat workers is a source of great strength for the government points to a different reality that is far from pleasant. No wonder, it is only the money we see that they send home-- not their sunken faces, not the drudgery they go through and the pitiless conditions in which they live in foreign soil. It is, in other words, a collective selfish instinct that counts on only the goodies they deliver and not the circumstances under which they deliver. Although it is common knowledge that a wholesale mismanagement coupled with the criminality often associated with the manpower agencies at home and their overseas collaborators is largely responsible for their plight, nothing in the form of a smooth and tangible mechanism to address their problems is in sight yet.
Ever since manpower export emerged as a prospective money-making instrument since the late seventies, the so-called manpower recruiting agencies have been ever active to execute all kinds of heinous devices to clamp down on this too naïve brand of forex earners for the country. It is generally believed that the absence of a comprehensive law on manpower export has also contributed to allow things to get worse, to the advantage of these agencies.
Amidst this sordid state, tiny blips of hope are noticed when human rights' activists raise the problems besetting the entire cycle of activities-- recruitment of the workers, their employment conditions, salary packages, nature and status of work permits and so on. Needless to say, there is an awful lack of transparency in the system which also involves the role the government has been playing over the decades.
At present, rough estimates say around 7.5 million migrant Bangladeshi workers, including 100,000 females, are employed in different countries, concentrated mostly in the Middle Eastern and South Asian regions. The present government since its taking over has made some efforts that, however, in most cases are reactive rather than proactive to address the ever mounting problems. Some of the critical problems that have been continually causing threats to the desired growth of this sector are high migration cost, fraudulent practices of recruiting agencies, lack of adequate supervision and extensive monitoring of the activities of these agencies by the government, human and institutional resource constraints in the overseas Bangladesh embassies etc. To point out just one, in most of the countries where the workers are based, the Bangladesh embassies are poorly staffed, except those in Saudi Arabia and Malaysia. In the Gulf states, the embassies can barely spare one official to attend to labour matters. And sadly, the incumbent official besides his or her obvious limitation of being a civil servant with no exposure to labour matters finds things unmanageably scaring with virtually no logistic support. It is extremely impossible for a single person to even remain focussed on affairs involving hundreds of thousands of workers, that too in a foreign land. Even in normal times, the services required by the workers are not at all adequately met due mainly to the dearth of human and other resources-- not to mention the unforeseen situations at times of crisis. We have witnessed such situations in Iraq, Malaysia and lately in Libya where the workers were left to their fate for deliverance.
The fact we can not afford to be forgetful of is that this sector that has grown over the decades despite the attendant ordeals accounts for around 54 per cent of the country's total forex earnings and more than 10 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP). Thus the facilitating role of the government to rise up to the desired needs calls for high priority. A comprehensive policy, not just to ease export of manpower but also to cater to all related affairs is a crucial need. The task, needless to say, is getting more and more challenging with the expansion of manpower markets overseas and the growing demand of workers in areas where unskilled workforce, however cheap and abundant, cannot match the varying, often specialised requirements.
It is high time the government adopted a systematic and practical plan of action that should be able to take care of the problems faced by the migrant workers, which are country-specific and sometimes job-specific too. It is only when the wellbeing of the workers will be integral to government policy and visible, too, at various stages of its implementation that the nation can count on the high remittance figures without a pinch of guilt.
[ Editorial ] 2012-07-11