It's surprising to see that some 25,000 workers of the mills under Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation (BJMC) are being retrenched. These mills would now be run under a public-private partnership (PPP) management, according to an official announcement.
There is no point in disagreeing that the country's state-owned jute sector has been a casualty of wrong decisions for long. First, quick nationalisation of mills immediately after liberation was a historic mistake which allowed a section of inefficient and corrupt officials to become virtual owners at the cost of the enterprises. Secondly, recommendation for utilising the expertise and entrepreneurial experience of the previous owners was ignored whereas their expertise was welcomed elsewhere. Thirdly, when machines of these mills became old, no government spent money for carrying out balancing, modernisation, rehabilitation and expansion (BMRE) activities. Fourthly, despite no demand for more workers, fresh recruitments were made that created burden on the mills. Fifthly, there was corruption at every stage of purchase and no action was taken, thanks to political interference.
Since the Ershad regime, some enterprises were privatised under conditions that they must be run professionally. But in reality, they were given to chosen private hands at throwaway prices and the lands of the mills were used for other purposes. A common argument for disinvestment was that the government could not bear the accumulated losses. Still, it's not clear why the latest decision of retrenching the workers was taken during the coronavirus crisis. We don't know how the experience of running the mills under PPP will be.
Md. Ali Zaman
President, SME Owners' Association
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