Published:  03:22 AM, 09 July 2019

Govt aware of debt trap: PM

She criticizes Rakhine inclusion proposal by US Congressman; says Joy Bangla slogan belongs to all

Govt aware of debt trap: PM Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina addresses a press conference on her visit to China at Ganabhaban on Monday. -PID

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday said the government is fully aware of the direness of debt trap and asserted that she will not allow Bangladesh to fall into such trap under any circumstances.

"We're enough careful about debt traps. Our foreign debt burden is not so much. Our debt is only around 14 percent of our GDP. We're paying (foreign loan) installments timely without any default," she said.

The prime minister made the remarks while answering a question from English daily The Asian Age at a press conference on the outcome of her just-concluded visit to China at her Ganabhaban residence.

The question was raised against the backdrop of Sri Lanka, Pakistan and several other countries getting into debt trap after taking loans from China.Nine instruments and memorandums of understanding in different sectors on aid for the Rohingyas, power, economic and technical cooperation based on loans, culture and tourism were signed during the visit.

Responding to a query over the rise in the incidents of rape of women and children in recent time, the prime minister emphatically said all rapists would be nabbed and prosecuted with iron hand as per law. "Those who are committing heinous crimes such as child abuse, rape and murder are not human beings. So we'll take whatever punitive action is required," she said.

Replying to a question on the use of Joy Bangla slogan by West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, Sheikh Hasina said Joy Bangla slogan belongs to all. "India gave us shelter during [Bangladesh's] liberation war. They [Indian people] also chanted Joy Bangla slogan, which has come from a poem of poet Nazrul Islam. If anyone from any country shouts the slogan, should we snatch it from them," she said.

She criticized the delay in solving the Teesta water-sharing issue due to objection from the West Bengal chief minister.The prime minister came down heavily on US Congressman and Chairman of the Asia and Pacific Subcommittee Brad Sherman for his proposal on bringing Rakhine State of Myanmar under Bangladesh territory .

"Uttering such words is very much fulsome and unjust... Countries of the region are trying to stay in a peaceful atmosphere. Their efforts to ignite fire in this region aren't accepted," she said. Rejecting the proposal to include other country's border in Bangladesh territory,  Sheikh Hasina said every country has to remain happy with its own sovereignty.

Sheikh Hasina questioned about the intention of the US Congressman's proposal. "They might be a very big country and he is the Congressman of that country, but do they forget their past history where there were civil wars in their country?"

In reply to a question, the prime minister apparently ruled out the possibility of extending the age limit to 35 years from 30 years for entering government jobs.Sheikh Hasina said only 3.45 percent candidates of 29 to 35 years of age succeed in the BCS exams for government jobs. "So, there is no logical point in raising the age limit for entry into government jobs," she said.

"If the age limit is extended, what will be the situation? There is a certain age to do work... If anyone joins job at the age 35, he or she will have to be given training till 37 years," she said.The prime minister urged the country's people to accept the gas price hike for the sake of the country's economic progress as the government has to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) at a higher cost.

"Bangladesh could have attained 8.1 percent GDP growth if the country could produce energy on its own... We have to import gas and the import cost of LNG is massive. Energy is the most vital thing for economic advancement," she said.Sheikh Hasina said the import cost of per cubic feet of LNG is Tk 61.12, but it is being sold at Tk 9.80 by providing huge subsidy.

Even after the gas price hike, over Tk 10,000 crore (100 billion) has to be given as subsidy, she added.The prime minster said, "There are two options -- either to refrain from increasing economic growth by reducing LNG import or to accept the price hike in the interest of economic development."Gas prices are adjusted in all countries in line with energy or gas import, she added.Referring to gas prices in neighboring India, the Sheikh Hasina said its prices are still much less in Bangladesh than that in India.

The gas prices are adjusted in India twice a year - first in April and then in October, she further said.Drawing an analogy between gas tariff in Bangladesh and India, the prime minister said the gas prices for industrial purpose is only Tk 10.70cf in Bangladesh against Tk 40-42cf in India, the CNG price is Tk 43cf in Bangladesh against Tk 44cf in India, and the gas price for commercial purpose is Tk 23cf against Tk 58-65cf in India.

Pointing at the political organizations that observed strike over gas price hike, she said some leftist and rightist parties protested the gas price increase but they have forgotten what the situation was 8-9 years ago.Sheikh Hasina came back home on Saturday wrapping up her five-day official visit to China.

Road Transport and Bridges Minister and Awami League General Secretary Obaidul Quader and Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen were present on the dais along with the prime minister, while PM's Press Secretary Ihsanul Karim moderated it.

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