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Dhaka, Bangladesh
Monday, September 28, 2020

IMF approves $732m assistance to address COVID-19 pandemic

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IMF assistance
Microscopic view of coronavirus

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved US$ 732 million emergency assistance for Bangladesh to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The disbursements of about US$ 244 million or 16.67 percent of quota under its Rapid Credit Facility (RCF) and a purchase of about US$ 488 million or 33.33 percent of quota under the Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI) were approved by the IMF executive board.

Bangladesh’s economy has been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic with weaker domestic demand and a sharp decline in exports and remittances, said a statement issued in Washington on Friday.

It said the IMF assistance is to address the urgent balance-of-payments and fiscal needs of Bangladesh.

The government of Bangladesh has scaled up health and social protection expenditures to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on the population and adopted several stimulus measures to preserve economic activity.

This will help finance the health, social protection and macroeconomic stabilisation measures, meet the urgent balance-of-payments and fiscal needs arising from the COVID-19 outbreak, and catalyse additional support from the international community, said the IMF statement.

The COVID-19 pandemic is severely impacting the Bangladesh economy. Two major sources of external financing, namely exports of Ready-Made Garments (RMG) and remittance inflows, are projected to decline rapidly.

Necessary policy responses to prevent a domestic pandemic, including the shutdown of major cities, will inevitably affect economic activities and slow growth.

The authorities have started implementing several measures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic and preserve the country’s macroeconomic prospects.

In addition to increasing health expenditures, the government’s immediate response has focused on expanding food distribution and cash transfer programmes to vulnerable populations, ensuring the payment of wages in export-oriented industries, and facilitating the provision of working capital to businesses and farmers.

The authorities remain committed to promoting strong and inclusive growth while preserving macroeconomic stability.

Key policy challenges include tax revenue mobilisation, addressing the non-performing loans in the banking sector, and improving infrastructure and governance to enhance the business environment and attract foreign direct investment.

The IMF continues to monitor Bangladesh’s situation closely and stands ready to provide further advice and support if needed.

The authorities have also committed to put in place targeted transparency and accountability measures to ensure the appropriate use of emergency financing.

Following the executive board’s discussion on Bangladesh, Ms. Antoinette Sayeh, Deputy Managing Director and Acting Chair, issued a statement, saying that the IMF assistance will help cover the financing gap and support the authorities’ effort to contain the adverse impact of the outbreak and catalyse additional support from the international community.

She said a temporary increase in the fiscal deficit is necessary, and it will be important to ensure transparency and accountability in the use of all emergency spending.

“The Bangladesh Bank took appropriate steps to ease liquidity conditions and allow the financial sector to support the economy,” she noted, adding that further easing could be considered if the economic situation deteriorates and inflation remains moderate.

A gradual increase in exchange rate flexibility should be allowed to adjust to the external shock while preserving foreign reserves, she said.

“Once the crisis abates, the authorities are committed to re-focus on addressing banking sector problems, including non-performing loans and the poor performance of the state-owned commercial banks. They are also committed to ensuring fiscal discipline and debt sustainability by broadening the tax base and strengthening tax administration and compliance.”

Deaths from Covid-19 cross 500

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Deaths from Covid-19

The death toll from coronavirus disease (Covid-19) stood at 501 in Bangladesh as 21 people died in the last 24 hours until today.

Bangladesh saw another spike in fresh cases on the day when the health authorities reported 1,975 fresh cases. The number of confirmed cases now stands at 35,585.
 
Prof Dr Nasima Sultana, Additional Director General of the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS), revealed the latest figures at a regular online briefing on the day of Eid-ul-Fitr.

Bangladesh confirmed its first coronavirus cases on March 8 and the first death on March 18.

Meanwhile, the global death toll from coronavirus rose to 345,059 on Monday morning, according to the Centre for System Science and Engineering of the Johns Hopkins University.

The number of confirmed cases has topped 5.4 million – 1.6 million in the US alone.

A total of 9,451 samples were tested across the country during this period, she said. Meanwhile, 433 people have recovered from infections over the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of recovery to 7,334, she added.

Amphan leaves severe disruptions in telecom services

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telecom services

Cyclone Amphan has badly disrupted the telecom services at different parts of the country as it left a heavy toll on the network infrastructure on Wednesday night.

Some 50-60 percent of the mobile phone sites in Khulna, Barisal, Chattogram, Sylhet, Dhaka, Mymensingh, Rangpur and Rajshahi had been badly affected by severe cyclonic storm, AMTOB Secretary General Brig Gen S M Farhad (Retd.) said yesterday (Thursday).

However, the operators are committed to restore the services, he said in a statement.

Electricity supply of many areas remained suspended in country’s south-western belt, Farhad said, adding that initially the mobile operators used the backup battery and then switched to the generators to continue the service amid the cyclone.

“Since the affected mobile towers are mostly located in the rural areas, we need special support from the Palli Bidyut Samity to restore our services in the affected areas,” he said.

Besides, he said, employees of mobile service providers are facing difficulties to move around the country due to restriction of law enforcement agencies due to coronavirus outbreak.

“The cooperation from the authorities would be crucial for restoring the telecom infrastructure, which has become vital for the country in ongoing Coronavirus pandemic situation,” he added.

Amphan cuts off 20m electricity connections

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electricity connection

Around 20 million electricity connections, out of 36.4 million across the country, were cut off by cyclone Amphan as it hit the country’s south-western region on Wednesday night.

The utility services have been able to restore half of the connections until 2 pm on Thursday and working on the rest of the disconnected lines, said a senior official at the Power Cell.

They were expecting to restore around 80 percent of the connections in the cyclone-hit areas by Thursday.

The uprooted trees fell on the transmission and distribution lines, leading to the colossal disruptions in power supply.

Officials said the Power Division has asked all the power distribution entities to send the statistics and information on how power supply has been affected by the storm in their areas.
 
Power supply network in Bagerhat, Satkhira, Barguna, and Kustia were affected badly while a grid transformer in Kustia was severely damaged by the cyclone, they said.
 
As per the initial information, the electricity supply networks under the Bangladesh Rural Electrification Board (REB) were mostly affected by the cyclone and about 15 million of its consumers fell into blackout.

REB, which works to extend electricity to many off-grid areas of the country, leading to a preponderance of individual connections.
 
It has vast network in most of the districts in south and south-western areas where consumers suffered power disruption, said the officials.

The power supply network of West Zone Power Distribution Company (WZPDC), which also has a distribution network in the south and western areas of the country, was also heavily affected.

Meanwhile, State Minister for Power, Energy and Mineral Resources Nasrul Hamid asked the officials concerned to take immediate steps to restore electricity connections across the country within 24 hours. 

He also asked the officials to take immediate steps to supply electricity to the hospitals through emergency generators, if necessary.

Nasrul gave the directives while holding a meeting with top officials of different subordinate bodies of Power Division on Thursday through videoconference.

He also asked the officials to work through coordination among the power generation, distribution and transmission sections and take help of the Power Division. 

Amphan damages Sundarbans plants, infrastructure

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Amphan damages Sundarbans
File photo shows a wooden jetty in front of a forest office facility in the Sundarbans

Severe cyclone Amphan damaged natural plants and man made infrastructure of the Sundarbans as it passed through the world’s largest mangrove forest last night (Wednesday night).

Meteorologists said the cyclonic storm was packing maximum sustained winds around 160-170 km/h (100-120 mph) and gusts to 190 km/h (120 mph) as it roared ashore with Khulna, Mongla, Satkhira and the Sundarbans absorbing its main brut in Bangladesh part.

According to primary reports, more than 10 wooden jetties and 30 staff barracks were damaged while salted water entered into more than 60 ponds due to high stream of the sea, said Environment, Forest and Climate Change Minister Md Shahab Uddin in a video conference on Thursday.
 
Among the plants, he said, Kewra sustained the biggest destruction.

He added that the broken trees won’t be removed as it (Sundarbans) would recover through natural process.
 
“Only damaged infrastructures will be overhauled and the salinity of the ponds will be removed. We will also excavate new ponds if necessary,” the minister said, adding that the damages could not be ascertained immediately.

However, four investigation bodies have been formed under the leadership of Range Officers to assess the devastation.

The committees have been asked to submit reports within three working days and necessary measures will be taken after getting the reports on the Amphan damages to the Sundarbans, said the minister.

However, thanks to the world heritage site once again as it considered saved lives and properties in a bigger way by resisting the severe storm after the similar ones in 2007 and 2009 when it stood as a shield between the habitants of the coastal areas and fierce winds.

The trail of devastation would have been much higher had the Sundarbans not there, experts said.

“The Sundarbans prevented huge damage from the cyclonic storm Amphan. It has saved us,” said a senior official at the forest division.

He said the Sundarbans has been saving us repeatedly from the adverse impact of the natural disasters like the cyclone ‘Amphan’. “The Sundarbans with its thick mangrove forest acts like a shield. It does not just help reduce the wind speed when storm moves through the delta but even help break the waves and the storm surge triggered,” he added.

Covid-19 spikes as deaths, cases hit single-day records

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Deaths from Covid-19

Bangladesh recorded the biggest single-day spike of Covid-19 deaths of 22 in last 24 hours until today (Thursday), raising the total number of fatalities to 408.

The caseload also soared to 28,511 after 1,773 people, the highest in a single day, tested positive for coronavirus disease during the same period, a top health official said.

A total of 10,262 samples were tested in the last 24 hours, the highest in a single day, at the 47 authorised labs across the country, DGHS Additional Director General (admin) Prof Nasima Sultana told a virtual media briefing at the Directorate General of Health Services (DGHS) in the city.

She informed that the recovery count also jumped to 5,602 during the period after 395 patients were discharged from the hospitals.

Bangladesh confirmed the first coronavirus death on March 18, ten days after the detection of the first COVID-19 cases.

Among the total infections, 19.47 percent patients have recovered while 1.04 percent died so far since the first COVID-19 positive cases were reported in the country on March 8, the heath official said.

Nasima said nearly 75 percent COVID-19 patients are taking treatment from their homes, and many of them are being cured every day after receiving treatment through hotlines.

She said among the 22 deaths, one is in his 30s, two in their 40s, 10 in their 50s, three in their 60s, two in their 70s, two in their 80s, and two below 20.

Among the COVID-19 victims, the health official said, eight are in Dhaka city and rests are outside the capital.

According to the division-wise data, 10 deaths took place in Dhaka division, eight in Chattogram division and one in Mymensingh division. Nasima said a total of 3,792 positive cases with 35 deaths were reported from April 26 to May 2, 4980 infections with 39 fatalities from May 3 to May 9 and 9,225 cases with 101 deaths from May 10 to 16. According to the data of DGHS, Chattogram division, with 2,339 cases, has been identified as a “new epicenter” of COVID-19.

Bangladesh eyes taking advantage of post-Covid world trade situation

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Post-Covid world trade

Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi yesterday (Wednesday) said the government is intensifying its efforts to take advantage of the post-Covid world trade situation.

“Investors around the world are looking for new places to invest,” he told the seventh meeting of the ‘Trade Support Advisory Committee’ at the ministry conference room.

“In the current global situation, Japan is planning to relocate its investment from China to other countries,” he pointed out, stressing the need for taking an approach to sustain the world trade competition in the post-Covid world trade situation.

Tipu mentioned that many countries and companies across the world have already come forward to invest in the 100 special economic zones, according to an official release.

Industries Minister Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayun attended the meeting while Foreign minister Dr AK Abdul Momen, Prime Minister’s Private Industry and Investment Adviser Salman Fazlur Rahman, Former President of the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) Md Shafiul Islam Mohiuddin and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) President Dr Rubana Huq, among others, joined the meeting online.

“If timely steps are taken, investment will come to Bangladesh and exports will also increase a lot,” Abdul Momen said.

He said that Bangladesh’s two foreign exchange earning sectors are exports and remittances.

“In the current situation, the garment buyers have been requested not to cancel the purchase order from Bangladesh. Many countries have already promised not to cancel purchase orders. The United States has expressed interest in importing medicines from Bangladesh,” he added.

The foreign minister added that a request has been made so that Bangladeshi workers in different countries do not have any problem in staying, eating and medical treatment. “The countries concerned have assured to fulfill this responsibility.”

Nurul Majid Mahmud Humayn said a suitable environment is prevailing in the country for setting up industrial factories. “We need to inform our investment policy to foreign investors. We are ready to cooperate in any way. Employment will increase if alternative factories are built in the country,” he added.

Salman Fazlur Rahman said Bangladesh has an opportunity to attract foreign investment. “We have to use this opportunity without wasting time. We need to make a quick list and contact with the investors to highlight the investment policies and opportunities of Bangladesh. If necessary, a task force can be formed for this purpose,” he added.

Dhaka, Delhi widen scope of water transit protocol, trade

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water transit protocol
Shipping Secretary of Bangladesh Mezbah Uddin Chowdhury and Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das signing the second Addendum to the Protocol on Inland Water Transit & Trade in Dhaka today

Bangladesh and India today (Wednesday) decided extension of the protocol routes, inclusion of two new ones, and declaration of five new Ports of Call under the inland water transit protocol to facilitate trade between the two countries.

The decisions will come into effect with the signing of the second Addendum to the Protocol on Inland Water Transit & Trade.

Shipping Secretary of Bangladesh Mezbah Uddin Chowdhury and Indian High Commissioner to Bangladesh Riva Ganguly Das signed the protocol on behalf of their respective sides in Dhaka. 

Bangladesh and India have a long standing and time-tested Protocol on Transit and Trade through inland waterways of both countries, according to Indian High Commission in Dhaka.

This inland water transit protocol, which was first signed in 1972 immediately after the independence of Bangladesh, is a reflection of shared history, trusted friendship and mutually beneficial partnership between the two countries.

It was last renewed in 2015 for five years with a provision of its automatic renewal for a further period of five years giving long-term assurance to various stakeholders.

The Standing Committee on the Protocol and the Shipping Secretary Level Talks are the institutional arrangement between the two neighbours to discuss and make it protocol more effective.

During the discussions between India and Bangladesh at these meetings held in October, 2018 in New Delhi and in December, 2019 in Dhaka, there were key decisions:

Routes:  The number of Indo-Bangladesh Protocol (IBP) routes is being increased from eight to 10 and new locations are also added to the existing routes.

Inclusion of Sonamura-Daudkhandi stretch of Gumti River (93 km) as IBP route No. 9 & 10 in the water transit protocol will improve the connectivity of Tripura and adjoining states with India and Bangladesh’s economic centres and will help the hinterland of both the countries.

This route shall be connecting all the existing IBP routes from 1 to 8.

The operationalisation of Rajshahi-Dhulian-Rajshahi routes and their extension up to Aricha (270 km) will help the augmentation of infrastructure in Bangladesh as it would reduce the transportation cost of stone chips/aggregate to northern part of Bangladesh through this route.

It will also decongest Land Custom Stations on both sides.

Kolkata-Shilghat-Kolkata as well as Kolkata-Karimganj-Kolkata, Kolaghat in India have been added.

Kolkata-Karimganj-Kolkata and Karimganj-Shilghat-Karimganj have been extended up to Badarpur in India.

In these routes, Ghorasal in Bangladesh has also been added.

Under the current Protocol, there are six Ports of Call each in India and Bangladesh. Those are Kolkata, Haldia, Karimganj, Pandu, Shilghat and Dhubri on Indian side and Narayanganj, Khulna, Mongla, Sirajganj, Ashuganj and Pangaon on Bangladesh side.

The newly added five Ports of Call on Indian side are: Dhulian, Maia, Kolaghat, Sonamura and Jogigopha and on Bangladesh side are: Rajshahi, Sultanganj, Chilmari, Daudkandi and Bahadurabad.

Two more extended Ports of Call – Tribeli (Bandel) and Badarpur on Indian side and Ghorasal and Muktarpur on Bangladesh side – have been added through this addendum, increasing the number to eleven Ports of Call and two extended Ports of Call in both the countries.

Inclusion of Jogigopha in India and Bahadurabad in Bangladesh as a new Port of Call will provide connectivity to Meghalaya, Assam and Bhutan.

Jogigopha also becomes important since a Multimodal Logistics Park is proposed to be established there.

The new Ports of Call would enable the loading and unloading of cargo transported on the Indo-Bangladesh protocol route and provided a stimulus to the economic development of the new locations and their hinterland.

As a path-breaking development, both sides have agreed to introduce trade between Chilmari (Bangladesh) and Dhubri (India)  through the use of  shallow draft mechanised vessels, provided these are registered either under Inland Shipping Ordinance 1976 of Bangladesh or Inland Vessels Act, 1917 of India as per provisions of Article 1.3 of the Protocol and conform to safety requirements.

This initiative will allow export of stone chips and other Bhutanese and North East cargo to Bangladesh and easy access for the traders to the hinterland of Bangladesh, enhancing the local economy in Bangladesh and the lower Assam region of India.

Under this protocol, Inland vessels of both the countries can ply the designated protocol route and dock at Ports of Call in each country, notified for loading/unloading of cargo.

There has been significant improvement in the movement of cargo vessels in an organised manner on the Protocol route carrying both the transit cargo to North East region of India and vice-versa and export-cargo to Bangladesh.

The Indian transit cargo is mainly coal, fly-ash, POL and ODC for power projects in North East region.

The other potential cargo for movement is fertilisers, cement, food grains, agricultural products, containerised cargo etc.

The export cargo from India to Bangladesh is mainly fly-ash to the tune of 3.0 million metric tonnes per annum. Around 638 inland vessels (including 600 Bangladeshi flag vessels) completed with approximately 4,000 loaded voyages annually.

It is expected that these additions to the protocol will greatly facilitate the bilateral trade, with improved reliability and cost effectiveness for the business community and the people of both the countries. The connectivity provided by the existing and the newly added protocol routes is all the more pertinent in the present Covid-19 scenario as it will be instrumental in providing economical, faster, safer  and greener mode of transport  for traders and business communities of both the countries and will also have environmental benefits for the region.

Govt approves Tk2.05tn ADP for FY ’21

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ADP

The government yesterday (Tuesday) approved an Annual Development Programme (ADP) of over Tk 2.05 trillion for fiscal year 2020-21 with focus on transport, education, health and agriculture sectors.
 
The National Economic Council (NEC) approved the development expenditure at a meeting at its conference room, chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who joined the meeting from her official residence Ganobhaban through videoconferencing.
 
With an amount of Tk 94.66 billion allocated for the autonomous entities, the total size of the ADP will be over Tk 2.14 trillion, Planning Minister MA Mannan said.
 
Of the Tk 2.05 trillion, an amount of about Tk 1.35 trillion will come from internal sources and over Tk 705 billion from foreign sources.
 
Of the Tk 94.66 billion of the autonomous entities, the internal sources will provide Tk 55.78 billion and the foreign portion will be Tk 38.88 billion.
 
In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, health, agriculture, social safety nets and employment also received priority.

The new ADP for FY ’21 made a provision for a record Tk 58.98 billion, 2.87 percent of the overall ADP, in block allocation to spend in case of any natural disaster or in any national need.

Answering a question, Mannan said the Prime Minister advised the meeting that if there is any further necessity, the projects with due merits would be considered taking into account the interests of the people.

The new ADP is Tk 122.24 billion higher than the revised ADP of about Tk 1.93 trillion for the current fiscal year (FY ’20). The original ADP size for the current fiscal (2019-20) was about Tk 2.03 trillion.

The Planning Minister said the number of the total development projects for the next fiscal year will be 1673, including 89 projects for autonomous entities. The number of projects in the outgoing fiscal year was 1,744 without the projects of the autonomous entities.

Under the new ADP, there will be 1,584 projects and 1,456 of them are investment projects, 127 technical assistance projects while another is a JDCF-financed one.

Transport sector will get Tk 521.83 billion (25.44%) while infrastructural planning, water supply and housing Tk 257.95 billion (12.57%), power sector Tk 248.04 billion (12.09%), education and religion Tk 233. 90 billion (11.40%), Science, Information and Communication Technology Tk 184.48 billion (8.99%), rural development and rural entities Tk 155.55 billion (7.58%), health, population and family welfare Tk 130.33 billion (6.35%), agriculture Tk 83.83 billion (4.09%), water resources Tk 55.27 billion (2.69%) and public administration Tk 40.48 billion (1.97%).
 
Among the ministries and divisions, Local Government Division will get the highest allocation of Tk 311.31 billion, followed by Road Transportation and Highways Division Tk 248.25 billion, Power Division Tk 248.04 billion, Science and Technology Ministry Tk 173.89 billion, Railways Ministry Tk 124.91 billion, Health Service Division Tk 100.54 crore, Secondary and Higher Secondary Division Tk 98.65 billion, Primary and Mass Education Division Tk 94.04 billion, Bridges Division Tk 79.73 billion and Water Resources Ministry Tk 62.69 billion.
 
Revealing the implementation status of ADP during the July-April period of the current fiscal year, the Planning Minister said the executing agencies could spend Tk 988.40 billion during this period with an implementation rate of 49.13 percent.

The spending was Tk 970.30 billion during the same period of the last fiscal year (FY ’19), showing an utilisation rate of 54.94 percent.

According to the Planning Commission, among the allocations against mega projects for the next fiscal year, the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant Project got the highest allocation of Tk 156.91 billion while the Paira Deep Sea Port Project the lowest Tk 3.50 billion.

Besides, the single line dual gauge track construction from Dohazari to Cox’s Bazar via Ramu then Ghumdum near Myanmar witnessed an allocation of Taka 1,500 crore followed by Taka 5,000 crore to the Padma Multipurpose Bridge Project, Taka 4,370 crore to the Metro Rail (MRT Line 6) Project, Taka 3,685 crore to the Padma Bridge Rail Link Project, Taka 3,670 crore to Matarbari Ultra Super Critical coal-fired Power Plant Project. Ministers and state ministers attended the meeting while Planning Commission members and secretaries concerned were present.

Bangladesh sees spike in Covid-19 spread

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IMF assistance
Microscopic view of coronavirus

Bangladesh witnessed a spike in Covid-19 spread as the country registered 1,602 new cases of infection 21 deaths in last 24 hours till today (Monday).

The total death toll so far stood at 349 and the total number of cases soared to 23,870, Prof Dr Nasima Sultana, Additional Director General of the Directorate General of Health Services, disclosed the information at a regular online briefing.
 
In the last 24 hours, 42 labs across the country tested 9,788 samples, Dr Nasima said adding, “The highest number of patients have been infected and died in the last 24 hours.” “Twelve of the deceased breathed their last in Dhaka division, seven in Chattogram division, one in Sylhet division and one in Rajshahi division,” she added.

While sharing the district-wise death toll, Dr Nasima said six died in Dhaka City, two in Dhaka district, one each in Gopalganj, Munshiganj, Tangail, Manikganj and Noakhali, two each in Chattogram, Cumilla and Chattogram City Corporations area and Feni, one in Sylhet and another in Bagura district.

She added that 212 people have recovered from the disease in the last 24 hours. “With this, 4,575 people have recovered in the country so far.”

Against the total number of detected cases, statistics show, the recovery rate is 19.21 percent and mortality rate 1.46 percent in Bangladesh, Dr Nasima said.

Among the deceased, one was between 11 and 20 years of age, two between 31 and 40, six between 41 and 50, eight between 51 and 60 and five between 61 and 70, Dr Nasima said about the age-based statistics of the deceased.

She said 231 more people were taken to isolation in the last 24 hours across the country.

The global death toll from Covid-19 spread reached 316,671 as of Monday.

Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in China in December 2019.