First Finance feels the pinch for corrupt directors
The country’s non-bank financial institutions bear the brunt of financial irregularities including embezzlement in which FIs directors and high-ups are involved, the central bank investigative team has found. The names of corrupt big fish in financial institutions (FIs) surface at a time when the country’s state-owned banks including BASIC Bank are still reeling from financial crisis due to loan fraud. The Bangladesh Bank investigation revealed that AQM Faruk Ahmed Chowdhury, former chairman of First Finance, embezzled over BDT 400.0 million from his corporation, and got involved in various irregularities including loan forgery and commission earnings against forged loans from his financial institution. In February this year, Bangladesh Bank asked Frist Finance to recover the embezzled amount from its chairman and served show cause notice to then CEO as to why he will not be fined BDT 1.0 million or given a three-year prison term or both. Recently, Faruk filed a case against the Bangladesh Bank decision on paying back BDT 400.0 million, said a senior executive of the central bank. Later in May this year Faruk resigned from the post of chairman and his brother AQM Faisal Ahmed Chowdhury took the helm being appointed as chairman. Prior to his joining, Faisal was serving the First Finance as vice-chairman and found to be an accomplice in the corruption. Faisal is also the sponsor director of Alphabet Associates Limited and Alphabet Systems Limited owned by his brother Faruk Ahmed Chowdhury. Several top officials including Chief Financial Officer MA Matin and Company Secretary Ashfaqur Rahman were also in collusion to commit the misdeeds. Though the accused chairman and CEO have been removed, Faruk Ahmed is still calling the shot by appointing his own men to directorial posts On August 23, Bangladesh Bank (BB) gave a show cause notice to the incumbent chairman, Faisal, asking how and why those two directors were appointed as representatives of a company owned by its former chairman Faruk Ahmed Chowdhury.
Government may create USD 5.0 billion fund from Bangladesh Bank reserve for mega projects
The government may create a sovereign wealth fund worth USD 5.0 billion using the Bangladesh Bank foreign exchange reserve for implementing its mega development projects. A government-formed committee, headed by Bangladesh Bank deputy governor SK Sur Chowdhury, is now working on making recommendations to the finance ministry on formation of the fund, said central bank officials. The recommendations would be made based on a concept paper prepared by Policy Research Institute executive director Ahsan H Mansur on how to create the fund by utilizing the BB’s foreign exchange reserve. Mansur last week submitted the concept paper to the 14-member committee after it sought his opinion. In his concept paper entitled ‘Sovereign Wealth Fund for Bangladesh : Issues to be Considered’, Mansur said that based on recent global experience with Sovereign Wealth Funds and the repaid reserve build up of the BB, government could establish a ‘Bangladesh Sovereign Wealth Fund’ initially with an asset base of about USD 5.0 billion. He noted that the nature of the fund could be more like an infrastructure investment fund since it will be dedicated to domestic infrastructure investment. Mansur said that a fund with asset base less than USD 5.0 billion would not be attractive enough form investors’ perspective. The government will fix the rate of interest to take loan from the foreign exchange reserve in the next fiscal budget, Muhith said at a function on the occasion of ‘Bangladesh Bank Remittance Award-2015’ at the Bangla Academy auditorium in the city.
Government seeks special WB financing thru IPFF window
Government authorities have sought low-interest loans for project financing in private economic zones from the World Bank’s Investment Promotion and Financing Facility (IPFF) window to nudge the EZs into takeoff. Officials said the Bangladesh Economic Zones Authority (BEZA) under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) has placed the request for the soft credits in project-financing mode. The government has undertaken a mega-plan for setting up a hundred such special economic zones across the country in a bid to put the economy onto a higher trajectory of growth by tapping area-specific potential. And BEZA has been working “relentlessly” to develop economic zones, they said. Over the last two years, 12 licences have been issued to renowned corporate houses. Six more are expected to be handed out over next six months, a senior official of the BEZA said.
IPDC plans to increase loan portfolio to Tk 110 billion
Country’s leading financial institution IPDC is looking forward to expanding its focus on consumer and SME as part of its five-year growth strategy. The expansion is in line with the country’s shifting socioeconomic needs, said Mominul Islam, Managing Director of the company, said this recently during an exclusive interview with the FE. “We plan to increase our loan portfolio to Tk 110 billion in next five years,” he disclosed. Asked to detail, he said, “Around 50 per cent of that loan portfolio will be targeted at the consumers, 30 per cent will be catered to the industries while the remaining 20 per cent will be served to small and medium entrepreneurs.”
Bangladesh misses out on US duty benefits to travel goods
The US has extended its generalised system of preferences to a new product — travel goods — but despite being a strong player in the segment, Bangladesh will miss out on the opportunity as the trade benefit is currently suspended for the country. The US government last month included some travel goods like luggage, backpacks, handbags, and pocket goods such as wallets in the GSP mainly for least developed countries. The countries that will be benefitted from the move are Myanmar, Nepal, Cambodia and some African nations under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), even though the countries are not strong in manufacturing these goods. US retailers and brands urged the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to offer GSP to more countries, as the existing countries enjoying the trade benefit cannot meet the demand for travel goods. Bangladesh has already applied to the USTR, the chief trade negotiation body of the US government, for the reinstatement of the trade privilege, which was scrapped in June 2013 on grounds of poor labour rights and workplace safety. But the Obama Administration did not give in, although Bangladesh has fulfilled almost all the 16 conditions attached to the revival of the GSP.
Foreign investment increased 9.3% year-on-year in fiscal 2015-16 due to an improvement in reinvestment in existing companies. Last fiscal year, net foreign direct investment stood at USD 2.0 billion in contrast to USD 1.8 billion a year earlier, according to data from the central bank. Foreign investment is split into three categories: equity, reinvestment of earnings and intra-company loan. Last fiscal year, equity capital or new investment declined 4.4% from a year earlier to USD 505.0 million. However, reinvestment of earnings edged up 1.0% to USD 1.2 billion. Intra-company loans more than doubled year-on-year to USD 344.0 million during the period. More than 50.0% of the recent FDI are actually reinvestment by existing companies. This is a positive sign since it indicates that the foreign companies are earning sufficient revenue to run their business and their confidence is growing, said a World Bank report released early this month. On the other hand, a deceleration in the contribution of equity capital to the total share of FDI inflows is indicative of the continuing lack of enthusiasm on the part of new investors to invest in Bangladesh, the report, Bangladesh Development Update, added. The WB comment comes at a time when fresh foreign investment dropped about 10.0%.
Telecom operators lose 7.0% of customers in August
The telecom industry faced a setback in August with its active SIM connections declining about 7.0% from the previous month. The top four mobile phone operators experienced the drop while Teletalk and Citycell maintained their position due to the use of different calculation tools, according to data from Bangladesh Telecommunication Regulatory Commission. The total number of active users in Bangladesh was 119.7 million in August, compared to 128.9 million in July. The six operators lost 3.7 million subscribers in July. The industry has been witnessing a decline in six out of the eight months to August. This is because the operators are adjusting to the drop in subscribers after biometric SIM re-registration that ended on May 31, said a top official of the regulator. As per rules, operators have to count any number as active unless it remains off for three consecutive months. In August, leading mobile phone operator Grameenphone lost 1.8 million (3.2%) from its customer base that pushed down its total to 54.5 million. Banglalink’s subscriber base came down to 28.9 million in August as the operator lost 2.4 million or 7.6% of subscribers in the month. Robi lost 3.6 million customers or 13.3% of its active customer base in the month that brought down its total to 23.3 million. Fourth largest operator Airtel lost 15.1% of its active customer base and came down to 7.9 million in August.
Bangladesh has overtaken China as world’s top cotton importer with a significantly expanding global market share to feed stronger demand from apparel makers. Such transition in the arena of import of raw materials for the garment industry is adjudged by the US Department of Agriculture. In the year ending July 31, 2016, the overall cotton import increased by 500,000 bales to 6.2 million bales, reinforcing Bangladesh’s position as the world’s largest importer of the item in 2015/16, said the USDA last week. Meanwhile, consumption has gone up by 300,000 bales, to 6.1 million bales, as market reports attest to growth of spinning, the USDA explained. For the 2016/17 year, the USDA has forecast imports to increase by 400,000 bales to 6.3 million, and use to 6.4 million. This raises Bangladesh’s share of global imports to just over 18.0%–more than double of the volume seen five years before. Currently, around 400 spinning units are in operation across the country.
Dhaka Stock Exchange (DSE) on the lookout for strategic partners
Dhaka Stock Exchange is desperately looking for strategic investors to sell shares to, as part of a regulatory requirement. Although the premier bourse and the Chittagong Stock Exchange were demutualized three years back, they are yet to find any strategic investor in line with the demutualization scheme. The deadline to get strategic partners ends in December. Under demutualization rules, 25.0% shares of the bourses have been kept in a block account for the strategic investors, while another 35.0% have been set aside for institutional and individual investors. The rest 40.0% is owned by existing shareholders, who are commonly known as stockbrokers and stock dealers. In recent times, the DSE sat with some 10 local and international institutions, offering them to be strategic partners. As part of its latest effort, the DSE also published ads in newspapers last week, seeking proposals from potential strategic investors by November 15. In December last year, Bangladesh Securities and Exchange Commission asked the twin bourses to find strategic investors this year to sell shares to them. As per the demutualization scheme, which was approved by the BSEC in September 2013, a strategic investor should have the experience of managing exchanges or a business so that the tie-up could form an effective synergy.
China beats India to be Bangladesh’s top energy partner
As Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Bangladesh recently, he announced a slew of agreements, among them investments in two coal-fired power plants in Bangladesh, according to http://scroll.in. These are the 1,320 megawatt (MW) thermal power plant in Payra located in the southern district of Patuakhali, and the 1,320 MW thermal power plant in Banshkhali located in the port city of Chittagong. Unnoticed by others, this marked the first time that Chinese-Bangladeshi energy cooperation exceeded that between India and Bangladesh. In 2009 Bangladesh had planned to establish two 1,320 MW capacity coal-fired power plants at Rampal near the protected Sundarbans with the assistance of India. But late this year, Bangladesh has slowly retreated from the idea of building the second plant after mass protests by local citizens.
Low skill, poor business environ overshadow country’s advantages
A US rating agency has ranked Bangladesh as the world’s most cost-competitive destination for outsourcing. In a latest global survey conducted by the agency, the country has beaten world’s top outsourcing destinations like India, China, Malaysia and Brazil to secure the highest score in terms of financial attractiveness. However, despite such outstanding score in terms of cost-competitiveness, Bangladesh secured 26th position in the overall survey output due to very low score in terms of skill and business environment. The findings were revealed in the latest edition of the Global Services Location Index of American global management consulting firm A.T. Kearney. The research paper analyzes and ranks top 55 countries for outsourcing worldwide based on scorecards in three areas, namely, financial attractiveness, people’s skills and availability, and business environment.
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