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Swasti Lankabangla Swasti Lankabangla

Remembering a bridge between war-ravaged Bangladesh and the world

| Updated: October 22, 2017 14:42:37


Remembering a bridge between war-ravaged Bangladesh and the world

The Norwegian political economist Just Faaland (January 25, 1922 - February 17, 2017) is widely respected in Bangladeshi academia for the seminal book he wrote with J. Parkinson (1976) titled Bangladesh: The Test Case for Development. Those who have even a remote relation with development studies of Bangladesh must have heard, if not read, about the book.  The book observed: "If development can be made to succeed in Bangladesh, there can be little doubt that it can be made to succeed anywhere else. It is in this sense that Bangladesh is the test case for development".
Three decades down the road, in 2007, the authors came to Bangladesh with a research paper titled Bangladesh: The Test Case for Development Revisited. The paper highly commended the rate of development Bangladesh has achieved: "Bangladesh in its early years seemed to us to have the characteristics of a real country test case for development….. At this point with three decades and more of experience of limited and chequered progress, sustained development in Bangladesh appears to us within reach, although far from assured".  
Given the caveats, perhaps it would not be an exaggeration to assume that the 'Development Puzzle', as Bangladesh has been dubbed by the world community, derived much of the academic arguments from the observations of Just Faaland and his fellow co-author J Parkinson.
To pay a tribute to the departed soul of Faaland, the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) and the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) jointly organised a memorial meeting on April 04, 2017. Chaired by Professor Rehman Sobhan, a close friend of Just Faaland, the memorial meeting was addressed by former finance minister M Sayeduzzaman, Ambassador of Norway Ms Sidsel Bleken, and others. It may be mentioned here that both Professor Rehman Sobhan and Sayeduzzaman were at the pinnacle of policy making in those days as member of the first Planning Commission and the Planning Secretary respectively.
Faaland was the first World Bank resident representative in war-ravaged Bangladesh. Rehman Sobhan recalled that Faaland was possibly the first-ever non-World Bank staff to be posted in any country as resident representative. In the words of Rehman Sobhan:  'In the first days of an independent Bangladesh, the World Bank extended a unique privilege to Bangladesh by inviting Professor Nurul Islam, the first Deputy Chairman of the recently set-up Bangladesh Planning Commission, to suggest whom they should send as their first country representative in Bangladesh'. After consulting with colleagues Professors Mosharraf Hossain and Rehman Sobhan and receiving a nod from the then Prime Minister Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Finance Minister Tajuddin Ahmed, the preference went for Just Faaland mainly on two grounds. First, he was already well-informed about the Bangladesh economy and society as he had been serving as a member of the Harvard Advisory Group of economists for Pakistan, and second and possibly more appropriately, he came from a small country like Norway 'with no hegemonic aspirations or interference to influence policy directions of independent Bangladesh'. Rehman Sobhan describes Faaland as a bridge between a new-born nation and the rest of the world in the sphere of international resource mobilisation.  Further, he extended extraordinary respect to the fierce desire of a newly independent nation to protect its policy-making sovereignty from external donors.
Rehman Sobhan and Sayeduzzaman believe that Faaland had a soft corner for the people of the war-ravaged country. He disliked, at least privately, that donors dictate development priorities, or for that matter governance, conditioned by aid or grants.
Faaland's deep love for Bangladesh is reflected by another emotional episode described by Rehman Sobhan:  "When Faaland departed from Dhaka, he demonstrated his deep emotional commitment to Bangladesh by taking back to Bergen a baby girl for adoption by his son".
Bangladesh has lost a great friend in the death Just Faaland.
The writer, a former Professor of Economics at Jahangirnagar University, is Chair, Department of Economics and Social Science, BRAC University. abdul.bayes@brac.net/

 

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