Although, the concept of Least Developed Countries or LDCs originated in the late 1960s, the first group of LDCs was listed by the United Nations back in 1971. LDCs are usually low-income countries confronting severe structural impediments to sustainable development. While, there were 25 countries in the list of LDCs back in 1971, the number has grown to 47 now. Bangladesh was first listed as an LDC back in 1975. So far, a total of five countries have graduated from the LDC status. These are- Botswana (1994), Cape Verde (2007), Maldives (2011), Samoa (2011) and Equatorial Guinea (2017).

The Committee for Development Policy (CDP)– a subsidiary body of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), is – inter alia – mandated to review the category of LDCs every three years and monitor their progress after graduation from the category. The identification as well as graduation of LDCs is currently based on three criteria, which are highlighted below:

Bangladesh’s Journey From IPoA to Graduation

With a view to expediting the development progress of the LDCs around the world, the United Nations has been organizing LDC Conferences once in every decade to formulate a 10-year long workplan. The latest LDC Conference (LDC IV) took place in May 2011 in Istanbul, Turkey. This conference came up with a mega action plan called Istanbul Program of Action (IPoA) for the time period between 2011 and 2020. The main objective of the IPoA was to reduce the number of LDCs by half by the year 2020.

A high-level delegation led by the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina took part in the aforementioned conference in Istanbul. During the conference, the honourable Prime Minister made a strong commitment for implementing the IPoA at the country level. Consequently, a 27 member strong IPoA ‘Coordination and Monitoring Committee’ was constituted under the leadership of the Cabinet Secretary on 22 December 2013 to oversee the implementation of the IPoA at the national level. Besides, a 13 member strong sub-committee was formed by the Cabinet Division through a circular issued on 03 August 2016. Additional Secretary (Wing Chief) of the DE Wing of ERD was designated as the member secretary of this sub-committee. Later, the ambits of both of these committees were further expanded through the inclusion of representatives from all the relevant ministries.

While the IPoA implementation at the country level was in full swing, former Honourable Finance Minister Mr. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith wrote a letter to the then Honourable Planning Minister and the Honourable Foreign Minister in December 2016. In that letter, he drew their attention to the upcoming steps regarding Bangladesh’s LDC Graduation. He also directed ERD to take necessary initiatives in this regard. The former Finance Minister, in his letter, also called for continuous liaisons with the United Nations for raising the issue of Bangladesh’s graduation in the next session of the Committee for Development Policy (CDP) scheduled to be held on 20 to 24 March 2017. As per that direction, ERD queried the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations about the immediate steps. Later, the Permanent Mission held a meeting with the Chief of the CDP Secretariat and accordingly sent some recommendations about the immediate steps. Subsequently, Bangladesh moved towards graduation by implementing those recommendations and by taking other necessary initiatives (e.g.- arranging conversion of the fiscal year-wise data maintained by Bangladesh to calendar year data). Meanwhile, the government, through a gadget notification issued on 03 January 2018, formed a National Task Force for monitoring the implementation of the roadmap for LDC Graduation. Principal Coordinator (SDG Affairs) of the Prime Minister’s Office was designated as the chair of this National Task Force (NTF) while Additional Secretary of the DE Wing of ERD was designated as the Member Secretary. As per that gadget notification, the responsibility of providing secretarial support to the NTF is bestowed upon the DE Wing of ERD. The same gadget notification also mentioned that the sub-committee on IPoA Implementation and Monitoring will play the additional role of providing necessary support to the NTF.

Bangladesh Meets the Graduation Criteria

Under the valiant leadership of the Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in various socio-economic parameters in recent years. In line with that progress, the country met all the criteria for graduation from the LDC status during the triennial review of the Committee for Development Policy of the United Nations back in 2018. This is certainly one of the biggest achievements for Bangladesh in her post-independence era. This is also a successful manifestation of the ‘Perspective Plan’ and the ‘Vision 2021’ of the Honourable Prime Minister.

Table 1: Status of Bangladesh’s LDC Graduation Criteria

Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina speaking during the grand reception oragnized by ERD on 22nd March 2018 to celebrate Bangladesh’s meeting of the graduation criteria.

The then Honorable Planning Minister and present Honorable Finance Minister Mr. A H M Mustafa Kamal FCA, MP is greeting the Honorable Prime Minister by handing over a flower bouquet during the grand reception organized by ERD

The then Honorable Finance Minister Mr. Abul Maal Abdul Muhith is speaking during the international workshop on LDC Graduation organized by ERD in Dhaka on 23rd March 2018.

As per the provisions of the United Nations, a country must be found eligible at two successive triennial reviews to be recommended for graduation. With the current economic and development trajectory, it is highly probable that Bangladesh will be able to meet the graduation criteria again in the next CDP triennial review to be held in 2021 and be recommended by the UNECOSOC for graduation. Subsequent to a three-year transition period, Bangladesh will officially graduate from the Least Developed Country category in 2024. However, along with meeting the criteria second time, Bangladesh has to follow some certain standard procedures (table 2) and will also have to maintain the development momentum during and after the Graduation to ensure a smooth and sustainable transition.

In addition, it will be imperative to identify the potential challenges arising from the loss of International Support Measures (ISMs) through carrying out necessary research works and studies, to formulate a Graduation Strategy through involving the relevant stakeholders, to provide necessary training for capacity building, to run negotiations with development partners and relevant international organizations and to ensure the required coordination between various ministries and agencies.

Moving Forward

The vision of developing Bangladesh into a Sonar Bangla or Golden Bengal was laid out by the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Honorable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is the torchbearer of the dream foreseen by the Father of the Nation. Led by prudent government policies and driven by a vibrant, productive workforce, the country has achieved high economic growth in the last ten years and is on course to attain many of the targets set under the government’s Vision 2021.

To keep this momentum, the country is now working towards the long-term target of becoming a developed country by the year 2041 while also focusing on achieving the UN mandated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Therefore, graduation from the LDC status, per se, is not the final destination, but rather another milestone towards the vision of becoming a developed country by 2041.

We want to celebrate the 100th year of our independence in 2071 with our heads held high as an innovative, prosperous nation. And we want to build up a safe delta for all our citizens through a green and sustainable development envisioned in the ‘Delta Plan 2100’. By achieving all these development milestones over the next decades, the dreamland of the Father of the Nation will turn into a true Golden Bengal.