Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has responded to criticisms about dwindling forex reserves, saying the government either parked funds in investments or used the money for the welfare of the people.
“It would not be proper to sit idle on a pile of reserves. We have to use it for people's welfare because we must reduce their sufferings,” Hasina said at a programme at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre on Monday.
Speaking at a swearing-in ceremony for newly-elected district council chairmen, Hasina addressed criticisms over the forex reserves slipping to $34.26 billion as of Nov 9 from $45 billion a year earlier.
“Suddenly there’s word that the reserves are gone, the money has been stolen. How is that possible? It was used to meet the demands of the people,” she said.
Hasina pointed out that the reserves were around $2.5 billion when the Awami League was elected after 21 years and her government increased it to $4 billion in that term. In 2008, the reserves amounted to just $5 billion. Under the current government, the amount was $48 billion at the peak, she said.
Forex reserves “always roll”, Hasina said, but it accumulated into such an amount because the pandemic suspended imports, export, communication and other fields of expenditure.
However, the government had to spend funds on import, export and agricultural machinery with the pandemic ebbing. Additionally, vaccination and free COVID-19 testing services also cost money, Hasina added.
Reiterating the soaring cost of goods due to the Russia-Ukraine war, she said: “We can’t let our people suffer from the higher purchase cost, so we’ve continued to buy goods [rice, wheat, cooking oil and fuel] from wherever we could.”
“We are delivering free food to those who are completely unable to pay, building houses for free while helping them get jobs,” she said, adding that five million people bought discounted rice through TCB cards at Tk 15 per kg.
Bangladesh invested $8 billion separately out of reserves and bought the latest jets, according to Hasina. “We used part of the reserves, not loans. We didn’t borrow the money as we would have to pay it back with interest,” Hasina said.
“So we are keeping the country’s money within the country. We are also spending on export incentives, which is benefitting our people.”
Hasina heavily criticised the BNP leaders for “spreading propaganda" over reserves, reminding them that their leader Tarique Rahman was sentenced to seven years in jail in a money laundering case.
Officials of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the US testified against Tarique, Hasina said. She also brought up graft cases against BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia.