Syed Badrul Ahsan
The move by the Saudi government to take Bangladeshi workers again into the oil-rich kingdom after a hiatus of seven years is certainly welcome news. There are some very good reasons why the lifting of the ban on an intake of Bangladeshi workers by Riyadh is to be applauded. In the first place, it testifies to certain new levels of trust and mutual respect which the governments in both Dhaka and Riyadh hold out toward each other. In the second, it is a reflection of the confidence with which Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her government have moved in persuading the Saudis that just as Riyadh needs migrant workers from Dhaka, so does Dhaka require its citizens to add substance to the national economy through their remittances to the home country. This also indicates a new beginning of Dhaka-Riyadh relations following the assumption of power by new Saudi King Salman Bin AbdulAziz.
The Saudi move clearly replicates the decision by the Malaysian authorities earlier to permit Bangladeshi workers job opportunities in Kuala Lumpur. Both countries happen to be major hubs of economic activities by migrants, who in turn not only play a role in an uplifting of their families here at home in Bangladesh but also contribute enormously to national development. The Saudi decision is thus a clear reversal of its earlier position, which was its clamping of a ban on the recruitment of Bangladeshi migrant workers in 2008. It was a time when the Fakhruddin Ahmed-led caretaker government held political power in the country. Statistics, as a report in yesterday's issue of this newspaper revealed, note that a mere 14,000 workers travelled to Saudi Arabia in 2009. The ban imposed in 2008 precluded any possibility of an increase in the number of migrant workers going to the kingdom that year. The figures were in sharp contrast to those for the years 2007 and 2008. In 2007, as many as 2,00,000 workers went from Bangladesh to Saudi Arabia while in 2008, the figure came down to 1,32,000. It was still a significant number, however.
One expects that the lifting of the seven-year ban by the Saudi authorities will lead to a spurt in our manpower export to Riyadh, thereby bridging the gap which has been there for such a long time. Our manpower in Malaysia has been showing creditable results, a fact we now expect to be repeated in Saudi Arabia. Obviously, the successes achieved by Sheikh Hasina's government in a re-engineering of the nation's manpower sector are remarkable, given the political turmoil the country has been pushed into by the agitation of the BNP-led alliance. That growth remains above six per cent is proof of the government's determination to keep the economy afloat. But for such growth to be sustained, it is important that the manpower industry expand in other ways, in places like the United Arab Emirates. That is necessary if social and development plans in the country are to form the bottom line of politics. Economic transformation is all.
The Prime Minister is certainly to be commended for the personal initiative she has been taking in persuading the Saudi authorities to lift the ban on a re-entry of Bangladeshi workers into the Saudi market. In addition, the efforts put in by the Expatriates' Welfare Ministry are surely a sign of the power of government to do good, given a well laid-out plan, followed by proper implementation.