Address 1999

Address of the Hon'ble President 
Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed at the 
First Session of 1999 of the 
Seventh Jatiya Sangsad


January 25, 1999

 

Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim

Mr. Speaker,

Assalamu Alaikum

 

            1.  I feel honoured to be present here today in the Parliament. At the commencement of the first session of the Parliament of the year 1999, after the month of Ramadan and festivity of the Eid-ul-Fitr, I convey my sincere felicitations and warm greetings to you and through you, to all the Hon'ble Members of the Parliament and to the fellow countrymen.

             2.    At the very outset, I pray to Almighty Allah, for the salvation of the departed souls of the Hon'ble Members of Parliament, leaders and renowned personalities who breathed their last during last year.

             3.   The devastating and prolonged flood of the century that swept over Bangladesh last year, brought untold sufferings and misery to the country. The flood caused destruction to our agriculture, industry, communication system and infrastructure. By the grace of Almighty Allah and with the untiring efforts of the government and our brave people, we could overcome the losses. The timely post-flood rehabilitation saved the nation from an inevitable catastrophe. The appropriate and timely steps taken by the government were applauded both nationally and internationally. I thank our Development Partners, International Organizations and the NGOs working in the country who came forward and took part in the relief and rehabilitation work during and after the floods.

             4.    Last year was very important in our national life for various reasons. The objective of our independence - establishment of rule of law and economic self-reliance - was marred by the brutal killing of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and members of his family on August 15, 1975. This most heinous crime in contemporary history put the whole nation into utter disgrace so long. Though the trial was held after a pretty long time, the murderers were tried under the existing laws of the country. This has relieved the nation from disgrace. Thus justice has been restored, injustice defeated and all the citizens ensured justice.

Mr. Speaker,

5.  The judiciary is very important for the establishment of rule of law. The government is determined to uphold the rule of law in the country. With this end in view, the government has undertaken steps for a total reform of the age-old judicial system and in order to make it up-to-date to meet the need of the time, a comprehensive reform programme has been undertaken with the financial assistance of the World Bank. Meanwhile, a need-assessment has been completed with a view to examining the existing laws, strengthening the legal and regulatory framework, improving court procedure and court administration, judicial training and legal education, expanding infrastructure facility, introducing modem monitoring techniques and know-how to bring in greater dynamism in the works of the Ministry of Law. For this purpose, implementation of a project will commence very soon. It is hoped that with the successful completion of this project an epoch making change will usher in the management of the judicial sector.

6. To ensure fundamental human rights the National Human Rights Commission has been formed. For settling petty disputes of the villagers expeditiously and at least cost, rural Courts have been set up. To ensure transparency and accountability in the public administration, necessary formalities for the creation of the office of the Ombudsman have already been completed. It is hoped that an Ombudsman will be elected very soon.

7.   The need for updating, adaptation and translation into Bengali of all the current laws of Bangladesh is undeniable. The Ministry of Law has completed adaptation of all laws enacted till 1957 and has taken steps to enact a law for the purpose. A competent legal framework and sound judicial system is essential for country's sustainable economic development and for attracting domestic and foreign investment. With this end in view and to expedite disposal of cases relating to the financial sector, two  Bankruptcy  Courts,  one  each  in  Dhaka  and Chittagong, two additional 'Artha Rin Adalat' in Dhaka and one in Chittagong have already been set up. Moreover, Metropolitan Sessions Courts have been set up in Dhaka and Chittagong and the Sessions Court in Dhaka has also started functioning.  To expand the Supreme Court building, construction of an annex building with modem architectural design and facilities is in progress. For accommodation of lower courts and officers of the judiciary, construction of court buildings and residential buildings is in progress.

8.  As a consequence of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Agreement about 2,000 members of the Parbatya Chattagram Jana Sanghati Samity (PCJSS) surrendered their arms and returned to normal life. Over 64,400 members of 12,000 tribal refugee families living in Tripura, India have returned. An Implementation Committee headed by the Chief Whip of the Parliament and a Task Force for the rehabilitation of the refugees headed by a tribal MP has been formed. A tribal MP has been appointed as Chairman of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Development Board and Ministry of Chittagong Hill Tracts Affairs has been created with a tribal MP as Minister in-charge. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Regional Council Act has been enacted and an interim Regional Council formed. In the light of the Agreement three Hill Tracts Local Government Laws have been amended. As per the terms of the Agreement a Land Commission will also be constituted very soon.  After overcoming the long standing complexities, the 'Mong Circle' and the 'Bomang Circle' Chiefs have been appointed and they have also formally taken over their offices.

9.  The members of PCJSS and the repatriated refugees have been rehabilitated with all benefits committed by the government. Members of the PCJSS have been reinstated to their jobs and another 705 have been appointed as police constables. Two hundred more tribal refugees will be recruited as police constables in foreseeable future. PCJSS members and their children have been extended facilities for education in different educational institutions. Peace and normalcy has returned in the Chittagong Hill Tracts region for all the inhabitants.

10. After the conclusion of the Peace Agreement development activities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts have picked up. UNDP has completed a survey in Chittagong Hill Tracts and has earmarked 48 development projects. It is hoped that the Development Partners and Organizations will come forward with financial assistance for the implementation of these projects. To formulate a strategy for development in the Chittagong Hill Tracts International Conference on Peace and Chittagong Hill Tractswas  heldonJune20 to 21lastyear.Renowned personalities from home and  abroad participated in this conference. They lauded the peace accord as a rare example in resolving long-standing differences among parties in dispute without any local or foreign third-party mediation or intervention.

11.  The Bangabandhu Bridge was opened for traffic after it was inaugurated by the Hon'ble Prime Minister on 23rd June last. This bridge will contribute to a great extent in the overall development of the northwestern region of the country, particularly in the fields of agriculture, industry, fisheries and mineral resources. This bridge will be reckoned as an important milestone for development of the country on the eve of the twenty first century.

Mr. Speaker,

12. It is the constitutional obligation of the government to ensure the security and safety of life and property of every citizen by maintaining peace and harmony in the society. Law and order is a must for progress and prosperity in every sphere of the society. The Government is committed to keep the law and order situation under control. To this end, various pragmatic and effective steps are being taken to curb terrorism as well as to maintain the law and order situation. Meanwhile, 5,000 additional posts of different categories in the police force have been created. Besides, necessary logistics and transports have been procured to make the police force dynamic. To strengthen the overall police activities as well as to expedite investigation of cases, 36 new investigation camps have been set-up in the crime prone remote localities in addition to the existing 47 camps. Similarly, six more new police stations have been setup in Dhaka City. To prevent women and child trafficking, a special cell has been created in the CID and patrolling by BDR and Police in the border areas intensified. In order to attract foreign investment procedure for issuance of visa for the foreigners has been simplified. In the light of international conventions action for amendment of the Narcotics Control Act is underway.

13. Bangladesh armed forces came into being in the midst of our great war of independence. Economic development of the war ravaged country and its overall defence programme were initiated under the leadership of the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Based on the guidelines given by the great architect of our independence. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to involve the armed forces in the national development activities along side protecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, the armed forces have been subsequently developed.

14.  Steps have been taken to enhance the efficiency and professional standard of the armed forces through proper training. For this purpose, establishment of the National Defence College, the armed forces Medical College and the Military Institute of Science and Technology is progressing fast.

15.  Participation and performance of the members of our armed forces in the United Nation's peace keeping missions have been appreciated and lauded both at home and abroad. The members of the armed forces contributed effectively in the relief and re-habilitation works during and after the last devastating flood. The armed forces will remain vigilant in safeguarding the independence and sovereignty of thecountry with professionalism and will dedicate themselves in the service of the motherland keeping them above all controversy.

Mr. Speaker,

16.  The prolonged and devastating flood of the century damaged life and property and severely affected the economy. Many development projects have been damaged by the flood. Huge resources are necessary for the repair and rehabilitation of the physical infrastructure that was damaged by the flood. In response to the appeals of the government, development partner countries and organizations have already made substantial commitments for assistance. Estimates made till November last showed a need for a sum of $885 million for rehabilitation. Till now, arrangements for assistance have been finalised for $543 million from the World Bank, $138 million from the Asian Development Bank and $138 million from the International Monetary Fund. Assistance from bilateral sources has also been received and negotiations for further assistance are going on. To cope with the need for flood rehabilitation works, in addition to the foreign assistance, local resources have also been mobilised by reprogramming funds from many less priority projects under the Annual Development Programme. Besides, the post-flood austerity programme is expected to save around Tk.200 crore. Some specific steps taken to gear up mobilization of domestic resources are expected to provide an additional Tk. 300 crore. For speedy rehabilitation of the flood damaged projects under both ADP & outside ADP, approval procedure of such projects has been simplified.

17. Funds provided in the current year's Revenue Budget for operation and maintenance amounting to Tk. 711 crore have been re-allocated for flood re-habilitation works. Target for distribution of agricultural loan for re-habilitation has been raised to Tk.3.269 crore. For affected farmers agriculture loans up to Tk.15.000 taken during financial years 1997-98 and 1998-99 have been allowed to be re-scheduled.

18. Appropriate and timely steps have been taken in the fields of trade liberalization, expansion of tax base and simplification of tax payment procedures. Rates of income tax for individuals have been rationalised and reduced to four from existing five. The maximum investment ceiling for tax rebate has been raised from Tk. 1 lakh to Tk. 1.5 lakh. The existing tax rates on publicly traded banks, insurance and financial institutions have been reduced to 35%. Self-assessment tax returns for private limited companies have been further simplified.

19. The highest rates of duty on imports have been reduced to 40%. Customs duty on items of similar category included in 107 H.S. codes has been unified. To make treatment of heart and kidney patients easy and less costly, import of machinery and equipment including a large number of auxiliary items has been made duty free. To attract industrial investment and make such investment profitable, customs duty on various raw materials and intermediate goods has been reduced. For the promotion and expansion of computer and software industry in the country import of machinery for such industry has been allowed duty free.

20. The commitment of foreign aid for 1998-99 is $1600 million and the estimate for disbursement is $1.543 million. Actual disbursement during the current year is expected to exceed last year's level. Commitment of aid in education, health and private sector is particularly remarkable.  Enhanced assistance to these sectors is a reflection of confidence and support of the development partners in the economic policy of the government.

21. Under a Three Year Country Assistance Strategy adopted by the Executive Board of the World Bank on 31st March 1998, provision of annual assistance earmarked for Bangladesh has been raised from $450 million to $650 million. The quantum of assistance may further increase depending on proper utilization of such assistance and the pace of implementation of institutional and policy reform programme.

Mr. Speaker,

22. With a view to improving the quality of life through poverty alleviation the present government has adopted a series of reform programmes. Appropriate emphasis has been given on private sector based growth. open market policy, simplification of complicated procedures & formalities, de-regulation, legal reform,   favourable  environment  for  attracting  FDI  etc. Moreover, special attention has been given to generation, transmission and distribution of electricity and oil & gas exploration. Excepting a few sectors of the economy, all other sectors are now open to private investment.

23.  Government  has  given  top  priority  to  planned development. The Fifth Five Year Plan document has been prepared in the shortest possible time. The Plan envisages total investment of Tk. 1,960 billion, out of which public sector outlay accounts for Tk. 859 million which is about 44% of the total outlay. The remaining 56% has been earmarked for the private sector. Domestic resources would finance 78% of the investment outlay, while the rest 22% would be financed through external assistance.

24. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics has estimated the real GDP for 1996-97 and provisional GDP for 1997-98 and the growth rate was at 5.9% in 1996-97 and 5.6% in 1997-98. Annual per capita income during the same period stood at Tk.11,859 and Tk. 12,743 respectively.

Mr. Speaker,

25. Primary education is the first step in human resource development. The Primary and Mass Education Division has been awarded the UNESCO International Literacy Award for 1998 in recognition of the success in primary education and literacy. As per government's commitment primary schools will be set up in all villages which do not have any such institution. For this purpose, selected NGO's have been provided with Tk. 5 lakh per school. Management of non-functional community schools in different areas of the country has been handed over to NGO's on some conditions. Enrolment in schools increased to 96% in 1997 as against 80% in 1993. Rate of literacy increased to 51% in 1997 from 47% in 1996. Literacy rate is estimated to be 56% in 1998. Majority of the population are now literate.

26.  For repair and renovation of about 20,000 primary schools damaged by the last flood, a project costing Tk. 25 crore has been taken up. To improve the standard of education, the management committees of the government and registered non-government primary schools have been re-constituted and the schools have been classified into four categories on the basis of their performance standard. Special attention has been given to training of teachers. A programme is under implementation to train the primary school teachers on the methods of teaching of English under the supervision of foreign experts and volunteers. For effective supervision of the schools and education offices, an intensive inspection programme has not only been strengthened but also has been made compulsory. As a result of intensive and improved supervision, attendance of teachers and the quality of teaching in the primary schools have shown marked improvement. To impart training on modem and scientific methods of teaching through computers by experienced trainers, steps have been taken to establish 'Resource Centres' in each thana. Motivational publicity through Radio and Television has been further strengthened.

27. The election commitment of the government to introduce an education system aiming at human resource development, generation of self employment, infusion of scientific and technological know how, an appropriate education policy has been formulated by the government in the light of the Dr. Qudrat-e-Khuda Commission report, will soon be placed before the august Sangsad for approval. Education has been assigned top most priority in the national budget to top most priority and 80 development projects have been taken up during the current financial year at a cost of Tk.733 crore. Twelve new universities of science and technology are going to be set-up. To promote technical education 16 polytechnic institutes, one vocational teachers training institute and one college of textile engineering and technology are being established. During 1997-98 over 8,000 trainees have been trained on various vocational trades in 11 technical and 1 marine technology institutes. In line with the government teachers and employees, the non-government teachers and employees have also been given increased benefit under the new national pay scale. A 'Welfare Trust' with a fund of Tk. 50 crore has started functioning for their pension and general welfare.

28. For expansion of female education the government has already nationalised 18 non-government women colleges and has taken up a plan to establish 3 women polytechnic institutes. Stipend and tuition fee facilities for female students have already enhanced participation of female students at primary and secondary levels to a level almost equal to that of the male students. Considering the increased number of students, steps have been taken to introduce double shifts in 300 schools. Rehabilitation work of about 10,000 flood affected educational institutions of different categories is going on in full swing.

29. To make the subjects of astronomy and space science attractive to the younger generation, and to show the movements of the planets and the stars to the general public, construction of a modem planetarium named 'Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Novotheatre', the first of its kind, in Bangladesh at a cost of Tk. 52 crore has been undertaken. A Bio-technology Institute is being established to generate momentum in research and development in the fast developing field of bio-technology. An Information Technology Wing has also been set up in the Ministry of Science & Technology. A programme has been taken up to establish an Information Technology Village for setting up an Information Technology Institute and for providing necessary assistance for the expansion of information technology. Three research projects were undertaken last year in order to undertake an appropriate programme to prevent arsenic pollution in the country. A programme has been taken up to provide non-government secondary schools with computers to familiarise students at the grass roots on computer technology and its application.

30. The Public Administration Reforms Commission have already submitted some recommendations to the government and these are being implemented in phases. To provide improved training to the government officers and staff, the training institutes have been strengthened. To ensure transparency and accountability among the government officials and to prevent corruption steps have been taken to ensure submission of statements on both movable and immovable property by the government officials at the time of entry into service and annually thereafter. Financial assistance has been extended to government officials to implement various welfare activities. More than Tk. 8 crore has been distributed as stipend for the education of the children of class III and class IV officials. For treatment of complicated and costly diseases both at home and abroad, Tk.l.45 crore have been paid as grant to government officers and staff.

31.  To make health and family welfare services easily available to the people, the existing project-based system has been replaced with sector-wide programme approach. The estimated cost of this five-year programme is Tk. 15,314 crore. To ensure health care, a 'National Health Policy' has been formulated. The Institute of Postgraduate Medicine and Research has been upgraded to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Medical University to bring in excellence and improvement in medical education and research. An 'Essential Service Package' has been introduced for providing health and family planning services to the people at their doorsteps. To prevent spread of AIDS a National Plan of Action has been formulated in the light of the 'National AIDS Policy'.

Mr. Speaker,

32. Under the poverty alleviation programme of the Rural Social Service about 20 lakh families were given loan amounting to Tk. 111.88 crore till November last. In 222 thanas 7.31 lakh women have been imparted vocational training, 10.35 lakh women motivated in the use of contraceptives and more than 5.05 lakh given revolving credit through Rural Mother Centres. Under the Urban Community Development Programme, Tk.4.22 crore have been given as revolving credit to families living below the poverty-line in 50 towns and over 1.25 lakh persons have been provided vocational training for self-employment. Elderly persons in 4,479 unions numbering 2,01,555 women and same number of men have been paid ' Old Age Allowance' at the rate of Tk. 100 per month. Widows and divorced distressed women numbering 10 in each word of every union in the country have been given Tk. 100 each as grant, totaling a sum of Tk.4,07,72,000/-.

33. Micro credit programme has been strengthened both by the government and the non-government organisations with the objective of poverty alleviation.   Tk. 184crorehavebeen distributed through the Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation. To assist their programmes a loan of Tk. 100 crore has been extended to the Grameen Bank through the Bangladesh Bank. The Karma Sangsthan Bank with a paid-up capital of Tk. 100 crore has started functioning. The Bangladesh Rural Development Board has so far distributed Tk. 1,868 crore among the poor men and women of the agriculture co-operatives for crop production and income generation activities. For the rehabilitation of flood affected poor, a plan to distribute Tk. 310 crore as micro-credit and Tk. 100 crore as crop loan through the co-operatives, has been taken up. Besides these activities in the public sector, non-government organisations have also created self-employment opportunities through their micro credit programmes. Employment opportunities for 2,60,000 unemployed persons have been created by these organisations through the micro credit programme. To make the activities of the non- government organisations more effective, a 'Government-NGO Consultative Council' has been formed.

Mr. Speaker,

34. Participation of women in all development activities is a pre-condition for balanced development. Realising the importance of participation of women in development activities, the present government has taken a number of important steps. Among them, formulation of the 'National Women Development Policy' for the overall improvement of women and the National Women Development Plan of Action, are important. The 44 member National Women Council headed by the Hon'ble Prime Minister is monitoring the implementation of development programmes and policies pertaining to women. Attaching top priority to the development of women and children, the government has raised allocation by six times to Tk.336 crore in the Fifth Five-Year Plan compared to that in the Fourth Plan. A total of 30 projects on the development of the Jatio Mahila Sangstha, poverty alleviation, increase awareness among women, development of women investors, preservation of to the legal rights of women, prevention of cruelty to women and children and women and child trafficking, development of women in Chittagong Hill Tracts, are now under implementation. Besides these, the Begum Rokeya Training Centre at Mymensingh have started providing training to women to make them as trained manpower. Construction of the Shahid Begum Fazilatunnessa Mujib Women Training Academy is progressing fast. Work for the addition of 223 beds to the Nilkhet Working Women Hostel and construction of two such hostels at Mirpur and Badda will be taken up soon to provide residential accommodation for working women. For the children of working women, 12 day-care centres have already been established in Dhaka and Chittagong. Number of such centres will be increased in phases.

35.  On 28th January 1997 Bangladesh ratified the ILO Convention on Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Equal Work. The Convention became effective on 28th January 1998.

36. The youth development programmes have been expanded to all districts and thanas of the country. The number of training centres to train the unemployed youths in various trades has been increased from 169 to 210. During 1998-99 about 2 lakh youths will be trained in these centres. Necessary steps have been taken to impart computer training at the computer training centres in all district headquarters.

37. There has been a re-awakening in the country in the field of sports. For the development of sports the National Sports Council is implementing 16 projects and Tk-16.42 crore has been allocated during the current fiscal year for this purpose. Bangladesh Cricket Team became champion in the 1998 A.C.C Trophy Cricket Tournament. The successful holding of the Mini-World Cup Cricket in Dhaka during 24 October - 01 November last year, has enhanced the image of the country. Bangladesh will play in the World Cup Cricket to be held in England in 1999. For meeting the growing demand of teachers of physical education, construction of two physical education colleges in Chittagong and Khulna Divisions is nearing completion. To improve the standard of sports and games in the country, competition among boys and girls of 12-16 years age groups in various sports events is being organized from union to national level. In addition, sports goods are also being distributed to the educational institutions and sports clubs every year. Every year 12 sports events are held in all the districts. These efforts are expected to result in producing successful athletes and players at the national level from the grassroots. In the meantime, the 'National Sports Policy' has been announced and elections to the Sports Federations have been held after a long period of time.

38. To develop the infrastructure in the cultural field, forty projects have been included in the development programme for the current fiscal year. In order to expand cultural activities in all districts, Shilpa Kala Academies have been established in 36 districts and 6 thanas. Necessary steps have also been taken to establish Shilpa Kala Academies in the remaining 27 districts. Besides these, development of public libraries in the districts and some divisional headquarters is also in progress. Private libraries in the districts and thanas are also being given government assistance. For the remembrance of the works and memory of the renowned poets, literary personalities and artists among the new generation, a number of development projects are being implemented. Under this programme memorial centres and libraries are being built in Pairaband for Begum Rokeya, in Rajbari for Mir Mosharraf Hussain, in Narail for Artist S.M. Sultan, at Sagardari for poet Madhushudan Dutta, at Shilaidaha for Rabindranath Tagore, at Darirampur for National Poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and in Mymensingh for Shilpacharya Jainul Abedin. Shahid Matiur Memorial Centre at the Nabakumar Institure, Dhaka and Lalan Academy at Kushtia are also being setup.   Excavation, repair and restoration of important archeological sites at Bagerhat and Comilla are in progress. A Divisional Museum has been opened in Khulna. For promotion of tribal cultural activities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts, development projects are being implemented for various cultural activities including construction of cultural centres at Ramu, Bandarban and Rangamati.  Programmes are also being undertaken for tribal population of Maulvibazar, Khagrachari and Rajshahi. Mujibnagar Complex will be built at historic Mujibnagar in memory of our great liberation war.

39. To immortalize the memory of our liberation war and the freedom fighters and to use the ideals and spirit of our liberation in rousing our awareness for national progress and advancement in the years to come, construction of the Independence Monument has started at Suharawardi Uddyan, Dhaka. As a mark of respect to the eternal sacrifice of the architect of these ideals and spirit, the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a Memorial is being built around his mausoleum at Tungipara.   Construction of the 'Shahid Intellectuals Memorial' at Rayarbazar, Dhaka is in progress.

40. The devout Muslims, Hindus, Christians and Buddhists of Bangladesh are practising their respective faiths in harmony. For the promotional activities of the respective religions, the Islamic Foundation, Hindu Dharmiyo Kalyan Trust and the Buddha Dharmiyo Kalyan Trust have been working regularly.

41. As in last year, 35,000 pilgrims will go to Saudi Arabia to perform the Holy Haj. For the welfare of the pilgrims adequate number of medical teams and volunteers will be deployed during Haj. To make their stay comfortable, residential accommodation for the Haj has already been hired in Makkah Sharif.

Mr. Speaker,

42. About 90 lakh farmer-families have been badly affected by the last devastating flood. In agriculture the estimated damage would be over Tk.3,600 crore. To recover the damages caused by the flood and to further enhance the contribution of agriculture in the national economy, short and long-term steps have been taken. A short-term programme for the rehabilitation of flood damages in agriculture sector with a cost of about Tk.44 crore has been launched. This programme will benefit about 18 lakh farmer-families. Under this programme small and marginal farmers and share-croppers affected by the recent flood will be provided with cash to purchase agricultural inputs in the form of seeds, saplings, fertilizer and sprayers for prevention of insects.

43.  Under the mid-term programme, 7 projects will be implemented by the Directorate of Agricultural Extension and Bangladesh Agricultural Development Corporation at a cost of Tk.101.52 crore. These projects aim at increasing production of high-breed boro paddy, building up a buffer stock of insecticides for pest and insect control and rehabilitation of unserviceable deep tubewells.

44. To implement the long-term agricultural rehabilitation programmes, 8 projects at a cost of Tk. 647 crore have been taken up. These projects aim at increasing production of transplant aman paddy through extending irrigation in the drought-prone localities, strengthening of post-flood agricultural output through block displays, plantation of fruit-bearing trees and irrigation and mechanised cultivation. It is hoped that the implementation of these projects will not only compensate the damages caused by the flood, but will also usher in far-reaching developments in the agriculture sector.  

45. There are many kinds of problems in water resources development. The most critical of them are alternating flooding during monsoon and water scarcity during the dry season, river sedimentation and river bank erosion. A 'National Water Policy' has been prepared to ensure optimal development and use of water resources.

46. As per provisions of the historic Ganges Water Sharing Treaty, Bangladesh received its due share in the dry season of 1998. The Joint Committee of Experts headed by the Water Resources Secretaries of Bangladesh and India are working on the sharing of waters of the Teesta and other common rivers. Meanwhile exchange of necessary data in respect of border and common rivers has started. The Right Bank embankment of the Teesta river falling on both Bangladesh and Indian territories has been linked up making it a perfect protective embankment. As a result of this linking up, crops and properties of the people living around the 100 sq.km. area of the right bank of the Teesta will be protected from recurring floods.

47. Severe damages have been caused to the flood control embankments and various infrastructures by last year's flood. Meanwhile, under the emergency programme, repair and rehabilitation work have started with our own resources. Since the eastern part of the Greater Dhaka City was seriously affected by the flood, implementation of the Dhaka Integrated Flood Control Project to protect an area of 124 sq.km. from recurring floods and drainage congestion by constructing an embankment-cum-bypass road and railway track from Kanchpur bridge to Joydevpur intersection, has been taken up. Implementation of the remaining work of the western segment of the Dhaka City Flood Control and Drainage Project is also nearing completion. Dredging of 30 km. of river bed from the off-take of the Garai has also started to maintain ecological balance of the south-west region of the country.

48. Production of food crops in our country largely depends on nature. The prolonged and devastating flood that the country experienced from July to September 1998 caused enormous losses to crops, particularly the aman crop. As a result, the projected food deficit for 1998-99 increased from its normal level of 21 lakh metric tons to 43 lakh metric tons. To meet the food deficit, the government decided to augment market supplies and to increase the national food reserve. With this end in view, the government increased the target import of food grains in the public sector form 3.5 lakh metric tons to 10 lakh metric tons. The development partners have responded positively to the request of the government for food assistance. As a result, against the original expectation of 6 lakh metric tons of food aid, commitment for 16 lakh metric tons of food aid has already been received. I would like to thank the development partners for their generous food aid at this crucial time. The government has also taken measures to facilitate smooth import of food grains by the private sector. Against the total import of about 11 lakh metric tons by the private sector during 1997-98, food grain import up to November in the current fiscal year stood at 16 lakh metric tons. The coordinated and timely actions taken by the government have ensured a satisfactory reserve of food stock and stability in the supply of food grains in the market.

49. Government has formulated a "National Fisheries Policy' for the development and proper guidance of the fisheries sector. It is expected that the implementation of the Policy will have a positive impact on fisheries conservation, increase in production, protein supply, employment generation and foreign exchange earnings.

50.  The number of private dairy farms has increased to 29,649 due to government patronization. As a result, dependence on import of powder milk has fallen. About 31 thousand sheep and goat farms and 91 thousand poultry farms have been established in the private sector. As a result of increased production of meat & egg animal protein deficiency is being gradually reduced.

51. To meet the ever growing demand for forest resources and to maintain the ecological balance, a Forestry Master Plan has been taken up to bring 20% of the land area of the country under afforestation. Under this Master Plan the government has undertaken a country-wide programme of massive afforestation, management of wildlife and the ecosystem, conservation of the bio-diversity, etc.. Provision has been made for involving the poor, especially the landless rural women and the people of hill tracts, and for the rehabilitation of the unemployed freedom fighters in the process of afforestation of 9.056 hectares of land and 5 thousand km. of strip plantation under 11 different projects during 1997-98. The people have already begun to reap the fruit of social afforestation. By undertaking 6 new projects in addition to the existing ones, around 20 thousand hectares of land will be brought under plantation and strip plantation will be made along 11 thousand km. of road during 1998-99 through extension of the afforestation programme. As a result of the efforts of the present government, the UNESCO has declared the Sundarbans as 'World Heritage' and for the country this is a rare recognition. Besides, steps are underway for the re-organization of the Forest Department and amendment of the existing Forest Act to make the forest administration more dynamic.

52. The Government has been making relentless efforts for the conservation and up-gradation of the environment and prevention of environmental pollution. In line with the 1992 Rio Declaration of the UN, the government has framed Environment Conservation Rules to consolidate and strengthen environment conservation activities. The 'National Environment Committee' under the leadership of the Hon'ble Prime Minister has been reconstituted in order to bring dynamism to the environment development activities. Besides, in pursuance of the decisions at various International Conventions, Environmental Courts are being setup for speedy disposal of cases against environment polluters. The development projects taken up by the present government to protect environment and create of awareness among the general public will, hopefully, make significant contribution.

Mr. Speaker,

53.  Bangladesh has attained efficiency & reputation in disaster management. For effective disaster management, about 2,000 officers and staff are working through the country under the Ministry of Disaster Management & Relief and its sub-ordinate offices. Besides, 32,800 male and female volunteers are engaged in more than 2,700 units of 19 coastal districts under Cyclone Preparedness Programme. For proper monitoring at the time of natural disasters the control room in the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief remains open round the clock. Meanwhile, a computer based MIS has started functioning in the Disaster Management Bureau for effective monitoring. This has contributed a lot during the last flood.

54. About 3 crore people in 375 thanas of 53 districts were severely affected during the century's worst flood last year. More than 10 lakh people took shelter in 2,716 flood shelters. The government provided succour to the effected and needy in the form of biscuits, sarees, lungies and other relief materials during the flood lasting for over two months. At the same time 2.43 lakh metric tons of food grains were distributed through 7 lakh VGF cards in the first two months and another 42 lakh VGF cards subsequently. In addition, a huge quantity of sarees, lungies, old clothings, ready made garments, oral saline and other relief materials were also distributed from the Prime Minister's Relief Fund. Furthermore, an amount of Taka 20.20 crore was sanctioned as house building assistance for the repair and rehabilitation of flood damaged houses. The government was profusely praised both at home and abroad for successfully managing the worst flood of the century

55. The Test Relief and Food for Works programme play a vital role in employment generation in the rural areas, repair and reconstruction of rural infrastructure, maintaining stability in the price of food-grains in the local market and poverty and alleviation. The government has so far sanctioned 1.20 lakh tons of food-grains for reconstruction of rural infrastructure and 50,000 metric tons of food-grains for maintenance of rural infrastructure under the Test Relief programme.  

56. The 'Asrayan' project is an endeavour for providing accommodation and self-employment to the landless and shelterless. Conceived by Hon'ble Prime Minister, this project is being implemented throughout the country under her direct supervision. The rehabilitated families are provided with a homestead and 0.08 acre of khas land permanently in the joint name of husband and wife. They are also imparted vocational training and extended a loan of Tk. 10,000 each for self-employment. Till December last 3,510 families have been rehabilitated in 351 barrack houses. Another 364 barrack houses are now under construction. On completion of this project, a large number of shelterless people of the country will be free from the clutches of poverty.

57. To modernise land administration, a technical assistance project has been taken up with the assistance of the Asian Development Bank. Every landowner will be provided with a correct and dependable ownership certificate by bringing in modifications in the existing legal and institutional arrangements, where necessary. When this scheme of providing ownership certificates all over the country is completed in phases, the number of litigation's will be drastically reduced. The general public have been facing various difficulties because of the age-old conventional method of record keeping. To ameliorate and reduce these difficulties, steps have been taken to computerise land records and update them. As per the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Agreement, a project has been taken up to conduct land survey in the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

58. The Steering Committee formed to formulate a Policy for the optimal and best use of land and prevent indiscriminate use of land, has already prepared a draft Policy. Optimal and proper use of land will be ensured by the formulation of the Land Use Policy.

59.  For the best use of the Khas agricultural lands 'Committees for the Management and Lease of Khas Land' have been formed at thana, district and national levels. Under the second phase of the 'Adarsha Gram' project, 48,000 families will be rehabilitated in 650 'Adarsha Grams' during 1998-2005.

60. With a view to reducing the acute shortage of residential accommodation in the Dhaka - Metropolitan City and creating a healthy and environment friendly atmosphere for the city dwellers a number of housing projects are under implementation. The RAJUK has taken up construction of the 'East Baridhara" housing project, the 'Purbachal' satellite township with modem facilities in the out-skirts of Dhaka City, the third phase extension of 'Uttara Model Town' and a new housing complex near the Dhaka-Mawa Highway for low and middle income groups with the collaboration of local and foreign investors. A programme for construction of multistoried buildings at Bhashantek near Dhaka for accommodating 15,024 families of landless and homeless slum dwellers and class III and class IV government employees, has been undertaken.

61. To ease the residential accommodation and transportation problems in Chittagong area, the CDA has been implementing 3 housing and 4 road development projects.  The Khulna Development Authority is implementing one housing and two road development projects. The Rajshahi Development Authority is implementing 7 projects for housing and road development.

Mr. Speaker,

62.  Export and import trade plays a significant role for industrialisation andeconomic self-reliance. To make international trade free and simplified the government has adopted a five-year export policy and import policy in place of existing two-year policies. For accelerated industrialisation import of capital machinery and raw materials without opening Letters of Credit has been allowed. During 1997-98 exports grew by 16.81%.  Although growth of export during the first two months of 1998-99 was more than that during the same period last year, it slowed down in the following two months due to the most devastating flood of the century. However, with the present trend of exports it is hoped that the target can be achieved by the end of the year. Meanwhile, anomalies concerning GSP certificates have been resolved and this will help growth of export. Considering the export potential of agricultural products, steps have been taken to strengthen this sector and diversify exports and explore new markets. With this end in view, computer, toy, luggage and fashion goods, electronics, leather products, silk fabrics, wood, artificial flower, orchid, gift items etc. have been included in the crash programme for export promotion. Customs duty on import of computers and its accessories has been withdrawal. As a result, opportunity for employment of a large number of educated youths will be created, export prospect of computer software and data entry will be widened and poverty alleviation achieved.

63. During the 1997-98 fiscal year 2.43 lakh workers were sent abroad from Bangladesh. The overseas workers remitted Tk. 6,642 crore in foreign currency during the same period. Death compensation for 676 overseas Bangladeshi workers was realised from foreign countries in 1997-98 and distributed to the families of the deceased.

64. The problems created by the destruction and damages caused by the last flood to the industrial infrastructure and production of export commodities was faced by the government with courage and efficiency with the active support of the private sector. The 'National Export Council' under the chairmanship of the Hon'ble Prime Minister and the relevant Committee headed by the Hon'ble Minister for Commerce and Industries took prompt and effective steps to solve the problems of production and transportation of export commodities by making arrangements for special ferry service and quicker loading of export cargoes in the sea ports and airports at the time of last devastating flood.

65. To keep the prices of essential items like onion, dry chilli and soyabean oil etc. stable, import duty on those items was either withdrawn or reduced. Draft Consumer Protection Law is under preparation in consultation with the relevant agencies with a view to protecting the consumer rights.

66. In the context of the adoption of the world-wide free market concept by the World Trade Organisation, foreign trade related policies of the country have also been amended and modified, where necessary after thorough evaluation and review.

67. During the years 1996-97 and 1997-98, the Investment Board registered 278 foreign and joint venture investment proposals worth $4.4 billion. By July, 1998 foreign investment worth $2 billion was made in the country. Besides, '0ne Stop Service' has been introduced with a view to intensify local and foreign investment and attractive package of incentives has been announced to facilitate investment. Investment in the two EPZs of Dhaka & Chittagong till September last year stood at $ 334 million resulting in the creation of employment opportunities for 75,000 workers. One Industrial Park' in Sirajganj and EPZ's in Mongia, lswardi and Comilla are being setup. For the growth of small and cottage industries 57 industrial estates have already been set-up and 13 estates are being set-up. For small and cottage industries, loans worth Tk.7.29 crore have been distributed during the last fiscal year creating employment opportunities for about 50,000 workers. Acceptance of Bangladeshi products in the international market is gradually picking up under the present open market competition. In the back-drop of the open market economy, an up-to-date Industrial Policy' has been framed to encourage and expedite industrialization.

68. To ensure fair price to the jute growers and optimise production in the nationalised jute mills, the government has set a target to purchase 12 lakh bales of raw jute by the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation. For this purpose BJMC was provided with Tk. 100 crore from the public exchequer. Besides a fund of Tk. 130 crore has been provided by the government to give export market assistance at 10% on export of jute products by both public and private sectors. It may be mentioned that over Tk. 435 crore have been earned in foreign currency till November 1998 from export of jute products. Besides, Tk. 129.12 crore have been earned by exporting 7.05 lakh bales of raw jute till December, 1998.

69. For increasing production of handloom fabrics projects entitled  'Banarasi  Palli' and Integrated Development and Rehabilitation of Weavers of Chittagong Hill Tracts' are under implementation. During the current year Tk. 20 crore have been allocated to provide working capital to the marginal weavers under the Tk.50 crore project titled 'Small Credit Programme'. Besides, another project titled 'Handloom Fabrics Marketing' has been taken up. A project has been taken up for the post flood rehabilitation of the weavers and loan worth Tk. 10 crore have been disbursed through the banking channel under this project. For the post-flood rehabilitation of Banarasi and Jamdani artisans another programme has been launched to provide them with loans from the commercial banks. Like the farmers, the weavers will also receive credit facilities under the ongoing agricultural credit programme.

70. The Bangladesh Sericulture Board is implementing two projects for the overall development of the silk sector. On completion of these two projects, production of improved varieties of eggs, cocoons and raw silk will increase and employment opportunity will be widened. A project with a cost of Tk. 190 crore has been taken up for the rehabilitation of the units of the already completed projects on extension of silk industry, establishment of seed cocoons production centres and the national programme for the development of research in silk production. Arrangements have been made to provide working capital to the tune of Tk-6.20 crore to the Rajshahi and Thakurgaon Silk Mills to enable them to become commercially viable and profitable units. The operational mills under the Bangladesh Textile Mills Corporation are being run with a service charge on a 'no-loss no-profit' basis. As a result, the recurring loss for the running of the mills is gradually falling. The 6 Textile Diploma Institutes and 27 Vocational Textile Institutes are producing on an average 1,100 textile technicians annually. Modernisation of these institutes is also underway.

Mr. Speaker,

71. The government has undertaken various measures to meet the growing demand for power through reforms in the management of power sector and its development. The policy adopted by the present government to overcome the past limitations and bottlenecks in the way of investment in the power sector has started yielding positive results. The 100 MW barge mounted power plant in Khulna built by the private sector has gone into production last September. Another 100 MW barge mounted power plant has arrived. Construction of the 210 MW power plant at Ghorashal under the public sector is complete and is expected to go into production soon. As a result, production of electricity will increase by 410 MW raising availability of power by about 20%. Besides, the 210 MW Shiddhirganj power plant is under construction. Emphasis is also given on the maintenance and rehabilitation of the existing power plants. Under the rural electrification programme 24,308 kilometres of distribution lines have been erected to cover electrification of 7 lakh consumers in 6,300 villages.

72.  Keeping in view the future demand of electricity 4 contracts have been concluded for setting up power plants in the private sector. On completion of these projects additional 650 MW of electricity will be generated. The on-going plants at Shahjibazar, Haripur and Baghabari for generation of a total of 279 MW of electricity are at different stages of construction. Contracts for setting up 3 more plants in the private sector are under process.

73.  To over come the limitation of transmission lines, erection of 132 KV Comilla - Baroaulia transmission line has been taken in hand. In the meanwhile, Baroaulia-Feni segment has already been commissioned. Construction of 230 KV Comilla - Hathajari transmission line has also started. Steps have been taken for the construction of 230 KV Comilla - Meghnaghat - Haripur line and Kallyanpur - Hasnabad line. Under the reforms programme, the Dhaka Electric Supply Company has taken over the responsibility of distribution of electricity in the Mirpur area.

74. Situation in the energy sector is improving due to the various steps taken in this regard. An all time record production of over 900 million cft. of gas has been achieved during the current year. As a result it was possible to ensure adequate supply of gas to all the power plants and fertilizer factories. During the past two years gas from four new wells has been connected to the national grid by constructing four main transmission pipe-lines. Last year the Sangu offshore gas field started extraction under the production sharing contract. Besides, steps have been taken for laying gas pipeline over the Bangabandhu Bridge to make gas available to the western region of the country. It will be possible to supply gas to the Baghabari and Sirajganj Power Plants during the current fiscal year.

75. Four companies are now engaged in the exploration of oil and gas in eight blocks under the production sharing contract. Evaluation of the offers received in the second round open bid for 12 blocks is now at the final stage. Under this process five companies have been invited for negotiation to finalise the contract.  An LPG plant of 5.000 tons capacity has been constructed in Sylhet which will contribute in the conservation of environment by supplying alternative energy. Work for extraction of coal in the Barapukuria Coal Mines is progressing fast and a coal based power plant is being setup there. Side by side, works for the extraction of hard rock in Maddhyapara are also progressing at a fast pace.

Mr.Speaker.

76.  The Bangabandhu bridge has established a smooth communication net-work between the eastern and the northwestern region of the country. The bridge has the provision for setting up railway track, gas, electricity and T & T lines. Meanwhile, railway track and electricity transmission lines have already been laid. Over 2,300 vehicles are crossing the bridge daily and about Tk. 15 lakh is being earned every day. On completion of the access road from Dhaka, vehicular traffic will further increase. Railway trains are now plying from the western region to the eastern point of the Bangabandhu Bridge. Work for linking the railway link with the eastern region is also in progress.

77.  The government has taken up an extensive programme for the improvement of road communication. Works for the improvement of the road networks of Dhaka - Comilla - Chittagong - Cox's Bazar, rehabilitation, expansion and periodic repair works of the national highways in north-west and south-west regions with the assistance of the development partners, are in progress. Improvement of the Dhaka - Tangail and Dhaka - Chittagong highways under the Bangabandhu Bridge Access Roads Project and construction and reconstruction of bridges in Dhaka - Sylhet region are also going on. Works for the Third Road Development Project and Metropolitan Transportation Project with the World Bank assistance will begin soon. Construction works of the Pakshi bridge with Japanese assistance, Bhairab Bridge with British assistance. Shikarpur - Duarika bridge and Sylhet - Jaflong road with Kuwaiti assistance and Gabkhan bridge with Chinese assistance are expected to start soon. Preparatory work for the construction of the Padma bridge on the river Padma on Dhaka - Mawa highway and the Rupsha bridge on the river Rupsha in Khulna is in progress. Besides, construction of the Garai, Daratana and Mollarhat bridges with local funding has already started. Preliminary work for the construction of the Brahmaputra bridge in greater Mymensingh and the Dharala bridge in greater Rangpur has also started. Simultaneously, construction of the Bhola - Barisal - Lakshmipur highway is also going on in full swing.

78. Reconstruction, repair and maintenance of the national, regional and feeder roads and bridges & culverts damaged by flood have been taken in hand.  For this, additional allocation of Tk. 154 crore has been provided in the current ADP. Arrangements for a sum of 120 million from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank for the flood rehabilitation projects are also at the final stage.

79.  With a view to providing better services to the passengers, the Bangladesh Railway has taken various steps and has also improved the quality of service by involving private sector in the management of some trains. Bangladesh Road Transport Authority has taken effective steps to issue laminated plastic license. Works for the establishment of five modern motor vehicle testing centres with foreign collaboration are on the verge of completion. The BRTC has made arrangements for procurement of 200 double-decker buses to facilitate the travelling public in Dhaka and other cities.  Meanwhile 42 double-decker buses have started plying in Dhaka and Rajshahi cities.

80.  The government has formed the 'Greater Dhaka Transport Planning and Coordination Board' for improvement of traffic and transportation system in Dhaka Metropolitan City. Under this Board construction of some fly-overs, improvement of a number of road junctions, introduction of road network for rickshaws, re-organisation and expansion of bus service and introduction of computerised traffic signals, have been taken up. On completion of these works, traffic congestion and environmental pollution in Dhaka City will be reduced.

81. In the shipping sector 32 development projects are under implementation. To ease the congestion at the Chittagong port government has taken steps to allow construction of container terminal in the private sector as well. To make overland transportation of cargo more attractive, establishment of a separate Authority for land based port is in progress. For the safety in shipping and to protect shipping routes from pollution, two projects are in last stage of completion. To modernise and upgrade the shipping sector in order to face the challenges of the twenty first century, a 'Shipping Policy' is under preparation.

82. With the expansion of international air transportation, the Chittagong airport is being developed as the second international airport of the country. Implementation of this project will be completed by September, 2000. Steps have been taken to upgrade the Sylhet airport into an international airport. To improve passenger service at the Zia International Airport, the international terminal is being expanded and two new boarding bridges installed. A separate cargo village is under construction at Dhaka airport for efficient handling and management of cargo. Construction of STOL airports at Bogra and Bagerhat is nearing completion.

83. The Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism has taken appropriate steps for the expansion of the Dhaka Sheraton and Sonargaon Hotels and construction of additional accommodation facilities by both public and private sectors to accommodate the guests of the Non-Aligned Conference to be held in Dhaka in 2001.  Meanwhile, construction of hotels of international standard has been taken up. To attract foreign tourists 'Exclusive Tourism Zones' are being created at Kuakata, Cox's Bazar, Khagrachari and Bandarban. Besides, projects are underway to build tourism infrastructures  at  Khagrachari,  Bandarban, Chittagong and St. Martin's Island and Inani in Cox's Bazar.

84. In order to keep pace with the modern telecommunication development in the world, Bangladesh has initiated expansion of the telecommunication network and services with her limited resources. The government has formulated the long awaited 'National Telecommunication Policy' for the development of a sound national telecommunication infrastructure. This policy will ensure expansion of telecommunication network all over the country in meeting the long pending demand for telephones and provide equal opportunity for fair competition among the public and private operators for a disciplined and balanced improvement of the telecommunication services. Target has been set to raise telephone density to one per 100 population by the year 2000 and to 4 by the year 2010. To achieve this target, the number of telephones in the country will be increased to 13 lakh by implementing projects in both public and private sectors. Work on the installation of 67,500 digital telephones in Dhaka City with Japanese assistance has started. Preliminary work for installing 3 lakh digital telephones by the private sector has also started.  Besides, installation of 1.89 lakh digital telephones throughout the country with Chinese collaboration is in progress. Satellite phones will be introduced to provide advanced telecommunication facilities. Besides, the e-mail and internet connection have made exchange of data with the outside world through V-SAT very easy and has opened up the opportunity for the export of computer software and data entry programmes.

85. Bangladesh Post Office is now operating money order services with 13 countries and postal insurance services with 50 countries. During 1997-98 fiscal year 252 new post offices were opened and a target has been set to open 150 new post offices during the current year. A project has been taken up to computerise postal life insurance and postal savings accounts. This arrangement will start functioning in 4 divisional headquarters by next June.

Mr. Speaker,

86. Press in Bangladesh enjoys complete freedom. Consistent with the free-market economic policies and the election commitment of the government, the   government-owned newspapers, The Dainik Bangia, The Bangladesh Times, The weekly Bichitra and the fortnightly Ananda Bichitra, have been privatised. A balanced policy is being pursued in the distribution of government advertisements. The government has increased rates for advertisement and raised budget allocation to Tk.17.05 crore from Tk.l2 crore of the previous regime.

87.  The report submitted by the Committee formed to recommend measures for granting autonomy to Radio and Television is now under process. Permission has been given to run TV channel in the private sector. The proposal for granting permission to run radio in the private sector is under process.

88. To bring the whole country under TV coverage a full-fledged TV centre in Cliittagong and relay stations at Jhenaidah, Thakurgaon, Patuakhali and Barhmanbaria have been commissioned. Construction of TV relay stations at Rajshahi, Rangamati and Ukhia is going on. A full-fledged radio station at Barisal will be commissioned very soon. In the backdrop of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Treaty, transmission capacity of the TV relay centre at Rangamati is being strengthened. The Rangamati centre of Bangladesh Betar has started airing its own programmes. The balancing, modernisation and rehabilitation of the Dhaka centre of the Bangladesh Television has been completed with Japanese assistance. The auditorium and the OB van of the Dhaka Television Centre have been modernised and another modem OB van with six cameras has been procured at a total cost of Tk.l5 crore with our own resources.

89. The live broadcast of the parliamentary proceedings in the TV and Radio through the programme 'Ajker Sangsad' has been acclaimed by all quarters. The question-answer session of the parliament is also being broadcast live by Radio and Television.

Mr. Speaker,

90. The Cabinet has approved a four-tier local government setup at village, union, thana and district levels on the recommendations of the Local Government Commission constituted to make the local government institutions more broadly representative. Meanwhile, the Gram Parishad Act has been passed by the Parliament. The Union Parishad Ordinance was amended, incorporating provisions for direct participation of women under which elections to Union Parishads were also held last year.  Similarly, the Paurashava Ordinances have been amended incorporating provisions for direct election of women. The election schedule for the Paurashava elections has been announced recently. The Upazila Parishad Act has been passed in the Parliament to setup local government at thana level in the name of 'Upazila Parishad'. Implementation of a comprehensive long-term project with UNDP assistance has started for the training of the elected members and officials of Union Parishads and Paurashavas. A committee has been constituted to recommend on the financial authorities of the local government institutions and to identify the sources of revenue such as tax, toll, cess, fee etc.

91. By-elections to the vacant Parliamentary seats of Barisal-5 and Pabna-2 constituencies and the vacant seats of Union Parishads and Paurashavas were held last year, freely, fairly, peacefully and impartially.

92.  To facilitate holding of free, efficient and impartial elections, work for the issuance of Identity Cards for the voters has been initiated. Meanwhile, ID cards for about 40% of the voters are ready for distribution. Simultaneously, for ensuring preparation and distribution of correct ID Cards, the Election Commission undertook an elaborate programme at the field level throughout the country to correct mistakes and upgrade electoral rolls. Work for the preparation and distribution of ID Cards after taking photographs of voters has began again. The voters are expected to use ID Cards to cast their votes in the next general election. The voter ID Cards will not be limited for use in voting only. A programme for the multipurpose use of the ID Cards is also underway.

93. The Election Commission has initiated a comprehensive programme for the training of the polling personnel. Steps have also been taken to reorganise the training programme based on the local needs. Arrangements for training of works of the political parties have also been made under this programme.

94. After the Seventh Parliament was constituted, various steps have been taken towards manifestation of our Parliamentary culture. During the Parliament session every Tuesday any Hon'ble Member of Parliament can directly ask questions to the Hon'ble Prime Minister on the policy and administrative affairs of the government. The Hon'ble Prime Minister's question-answer session of has opened up a new chapter in the history of Parliamentary democracy and accountability of the government. Meanwhile, 35 Parliamentary Standing Committees have been constituted with an Hon'ble Member of Parliament who is not the concerned Minister as the chairperson of each such Committee. With the introduction of this system, the extent of accountability to the Parliament has widened and transparency of government activities increased.

Mr. Speaker,

95.   The foreign policy of a country is, in essence, an extended form of its internal policy and is also complementary to such policy in many respects. The formulation and conduct of our foreign policy is guided by the domestic policies of the government and the over-all national interests of the country. Despite manifold limitations, our foreign policy goals of peace and co-existence have earned much admiration around the globe.

96.  World leaders, gathered at the NAM summit held in South Africa last year, unanimously endorsed the proposal for the hosting of the next NAM summit in 2001 in Bangladesh. We are taking appropriate measures for organising this prestigious summit successfully. Similarly, we have taken the responsibility of hosting the next D-8 Summit. We hope, by hosting the summit efficiently in the beginning of the current year we will succeed in further brightening the image of our country. The BIMSTEC meeting held in Dhaka at Foreign Ministers' levies-last December opened a new horizon for wider economic cooperation among the countries of the region.

97. The initiative taken by our Hon'ble Prime Minister to visit Pakistan and India after the testing of the nuclear bombs, to defuse tension caused by the testing of such bombs by the two countries was appreciated both at home and abroad. Her participationintheSAARCsummitheldinColombo significantly contributed to the efforts in resolving the overall political, social and economic problems of the region. The role played by Bangladesh among the SAARC countries has been acclaimed as an outcome of our successful foreign policy.

98. The unanimous resolution adopted by the UN General Assembly on the flood situation in Bangladesh and the special resolutions adopted by the Commonwealth, the OIC, the European Parliament and in the NAM summit held in South Africa assuring assistance for combating flood, are the manifestations of our successful foreign policy.

99. The historic Ganges Water sharing Agreement concluded with India was discussed in the US Congress and a resolution was adopted congratulating the Government of Bangladesh. The Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Agreement for establishing peace in the region was widely acclaimed abroad. The recently concluded Land Agreement with Myanmar has resolved a longstanding border problem.

Mr. Speaker,

100. The international economic scene was quite eventful last year. The south-east Asian countries were beset with financial crisis. Even Japan, the second economic super-power could not also escape from this crisis. This had adverse impact on the economy of many countries all over the world particularly the countries in Asia. Bangladesh, however, did not feel the impact of this crisis to that extent due to her pragmatic financial reforms programme, appropriate monetary policy, well-timed exchange rates, effective supervision of the banking sector and judicious and bold steps taken in maintaining balance in the income and expenditure of the government.  However, the international financial crisis is not yet over. To protect ourselves from this crisis we must be prudent, efficient and very careful in the management of our macro-economic parameters.

101.  We have passed 27 years since gaining our independence. For a nation, 27 years may not be a long period of time but for a generation the period is not short either. We have created a unique history in winning our freedom and in the establishment of democracy. We all must be sincere in the pursuit of economic development and in the practice and culture of democracy. We must come out of the narrow confines of party interests when it is the question of national wellbeing. We must refrain from activities which may cause harm to our economic development. In the back drop of an open world economy, we have to survive competing with the stronger economies. Therefore, we cannot indulge in any activity or programme that is likely to plunge our economic & productive infrastructure into crisis.

102. We are on the eve of the new century. To offer our future generation of the next century, a prosperous, stable and poverty-free society, let us work with renewed zeal to materialise Bangabandhu's cherished dream of 'Sonar Bangla' and thus bid farewell to the 20th century.

103. Let me conclude, by thanking you and the Hon'ble Members and wishing success for this Parliament.

Khoda Hafez

Long live Bangladesh