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Bangladesh prioritizes low cost mass housing

Interview - May 12, 2015

The Minister of Housing and Public Works has seen a fast changing Bangladesh reach new heights in development, as he aims to create 100,000 new apartments in Dhaka by then end of the government’s term.


Before we start talking about the housing sector, I want to talk to you as a member of this Cabinet, as a member of this Government. As you were saying before, you fought for the independence of the country. The Father of the Nation has said "I've given you the independence, now go and preserve it". Did you ever dream, back in 1971, that Bangladesh was going to be like this today, forty-some years after?

Things are changing in the world, and Bangladesh also takes this. I never thought that it would change so quickly, it is so good. So in Dhaka also I see that after these forty-four years, lot of changes happened, lot of changes.

How do you feel when the UN or Ban Ki-Moon praises your Prime Minister for the efforts made over the years and puts Bangladesh as an example for developing countries?

Honestly our Prime Minister worked very hard to make this country how it is today,  and we have put a lot of attention on this, and our goal is that by 2041, we should be there totally as a middle income country. This is our goal. For this thing, for this region, we are working hard. As for example say, our Prime Minister worked very quickly, as in 2008 she came to power. At that time power was 3200 MW, and from there we are producing now significantly more MW power.

So, these are the projects we're doing, and one more project they are going to start with this year: we have to give our country more industries, we need more foreign investors to come here. So, we are currently having several economic turns you see. And these economic turns, one is in the micro sourcing. This is a land, declaimed land; and on that declaimed land, you see, you've been walking on this, there 5.000 hectares of land and certainly industries jump there. In this way, we have crossed 70 years of development. We have 8 EPZ (Export Processing Zone) and they brought only 2.800 acres of land. Now, only in mid-year 2.000 acres of land will be there as industrial region. And World Bank has already started on that project.

So there will be an industrial city with a hospital, university, etc. So, in this way, our Prime Minister will be fulfilling plans, and she has taken many years of work to have industrial regions. And, identical regions, China, Japan and from various countries who may invest in the region as well.

Let's talk a little bit about housing. As you said, there was a period in the history of Bangladesh, under military leadership, where not much progress in terms of infrastructure was made. When the Prime Minister came into power, she decided to invest in energy, in roads, in housing as well.

I'll tell you one thing. Our vision was... previously, we used to build a project and we used to make plans and we keep doing this. But our peoples are growing, and the population is very high, the density is very high, so when I looked around, I saw we needed a plan.

So what did I do? I had a land for making 52.000 apartments in Dhaka, and I have kept some land where 15.000 apartments will be made; and in Sylhet we project 10.000 apartments will be made. So now, take the present, all will be highest apartments; of different sizes, say, from 800 to 4000, so that all can accommodate on the basis of that capacity. So, if we move on this field, I'm sure we can accommodate all the people.

Another thing is that I've been thinking how to solve this problem in slum areas. We have to have a great plan in infrastructure for this. So, in that way, our Prime Minister also has taken some steps, there are projects planned from Dhaka to connect and better reach Chittagong and Cox's Bazaar. Our Prime Minister is thinking about it in regions. There will be a high building of low income housing so that all the families can stay there; low income housing people can live there. And in 7 regions, 7 buildings. I'm taking some steps towards these slum areas, that is, we accommodate them: four bathroom, two bedrooms, one dining, one kitchen... And I accommodate them on a daily basis with very little cost to them. They live there and, after 20 years, they become owners.

How do you get to finance these projects, would it be mainly through government investment?

No, not government money. In my Ministry I have 11 departments, but there are four specifically. These four, they are planning on their own terms; not from the government. When I was first Minister, I convinced the Prime Minister to combat this thing of housing problems, and this solution takes a lot of peace between Government officers and the other people with interest in building apartments.

You were building apartments for civil servants?

Civil servants and the common people. Say you are looking for an apartment for you, so in 3 years’ time you'll pay 50% of the price; and we have financing plans. That means, on a daily basis, you're having the apartment and you're owning the apartment. In this realm we are accommodating the people and their families.

From this sector, housing sector...

You're seeing one of the bet situations of our country, previously there were struggles but the expectations have been restudied, rewritten. In earlier times, there are some houses that are apartments. But they were not good quality and they are now abandoned, so we convinced all the people that we would give them new houses and everybody was happy. So we are working to build larger apartment buildings, and now we can accommodate more people. And because this housing is aimed at a struggling class, we are taking a very nominal profit on that.

This is obviously a free market economy and sometimes when it comes to housing or social housing the speculation factor is there and it's very hard to avoid it. How do you approach this issue?

You don't have to buy that because it is government land, and you see, when others had control in our country in the past, with the military rulers, all of the sudden the price of the land came out. When we came into power again in 2008, and this time; because of our action the price has come down. And for example, I'll tell you, the private developers, they used to sell the apartments, that could be a very expensive cost. Now it has come down to 12,000 Taka, 15,000 Taka and I am - our Ministry - we believe in our land apartments, and we're giving 10,000 Taka. So, the price is coming down. It should be affordable to people, whether it's reach, whether is a mid-income group, and all income groups should reach affordable price.

What role do you think housing plays in the international image of Bangladesh? How can it continue the improvement and contribute to sending good news about Bangladesh to the international community?

We are already in contact with a Malaysian company; they are having a new technology on the basis for industrialized building systems. It was not yet here, it is a very new system. So, we're in contact with them, they're financing the new building project and they’re going to handle a lot of the building plans and investment. So in this way foreign countries, and also foreign companies, are discussing and aiding in the housing sector. We want to build up urban solid independence.

What do you expect from international creditors such as the World Bank? How do you see the relation evolving in the near future?

If they come forward for having the funding, we'll let them do what they can to help us. Because in our country the bank's interests are high. And actually at this company we are looking to finance in long term for the many new building systems, SDP, EDP and the 62,000 apartments also.

To better evolve the relationship though, we need to ensure the transparency and accountability of the private sector. That is something that this company has been ensuring, we are agreeing with the World Bank policies. We are creating the atmosphere needed to make us a place where foreign direct investors can come.

Before this Government, in 2008, we had no long term vision. In every year we took care of the policies the next year, and we were not taking advantage of creating and following a broader plan for development. But this Government, when they took up the charge in 2008-2009, they said that we should create a long term plan for Vision 2021. With that vision of a long term policy we have been working towards a certain goal, and have a plan in place for the coming years.

You have worked for many years as an engineer, and have been involved on many projects. Which one of those projects makes you the most proud, or has been the most difficult? Which one is your favourite one?

You see, our Prime Minister has had many projects and ideas here. Under our earlier leadership there was no accommodation in our country. We were struggling with how to make these apartments. But within two years’ time, I've made more than 2,500 apartments. But in these apartments the members of Parliament are living, our recommended official servants are living there, and other civil servants.