A Futile Exercise?

Kh.A.Saleque.

Kh.A.Saleque.

A team of energy think tank of Bangladesh goes abroad on a hyped series of Road Shows at London, New York and Singapore to woo investors to boost the ailing energy sector of Bangladesh. A country which could succeed a total generation capacity of about 4000MW after 38 years of independence and dream to add another 4500 in four years. A country, which does not have any enabling infrastructure to receive imported Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) or Coal, set to base its all immediate power generation on LNG and Imported coal. A country which can not honor signed contract with international companies dream to create magic.

The energy think tank of Bangladesh in one year of new democratic government gave enough lip service. They started with the hyped mission of achieving election pledges, and then came contingency plans, mega plans. A year went on with several brain storming, seminars and talks. In one year not a single unit of power could be added to national grid, not a single new contract could be concluded. No progress could be made to advance initiatives of coal mining or exploring & developing petroleum resources. No major investor showed any keen interest to risk investment in Bangladesh as the investors already risking investment in Bangladesh are suffering from lack of quality supply of power and gas. Many investors are investing huge money can not even commission their plants failing to get energy supply. The nation is suffering huge energy crisis and gas drought.

In the backdrop of above smart energy think tank managed to convince policy makers to go for expensive Road Shows in three major cities – London, New York and Singapore wasting about TK 1 Crore to fund the unnecessary visit of some white collared bureaucrat and their favored energy sector officials. This money will be drained from PSC fund deposited by international oil companies for human resource development in Bangladesh energy sector. The first of the series started in London today.

In this age of IT boom you do not need to go out of your country to make presentations to investors to attract investors. Who does not know about investment climate in Bangladesh? Several mega investment proposals in Bangladesh in the recent past hibernated for years. Signed contracts between Sovereign Bangladesh Government and international companies are not honored. Initiatives like Korean EPZ, Tata -proposals for three flagship companies had to be withdrawn, AEC Phulbari project could not take off in 4 years. Government is dragging feet on Coal policy. A highly prospective Bibiyana Power plant still remains wrapped under bureaucracy. A highly ill motivated group of civil society off and on misguide general masses against potential foreign direct investment. There exist so many bureaucratic barriers and impediments.

Who will ring the bail? Who will risk investment here? Investors do not care about corruption. There are corruptions of some degree almost every where the investors go. But the corrupt people there also take required decisions. They do not keep things pending for years. In Bangladesh the case is different. We are corrupt and at the same time incompetent. Nothing moves there without objectives of personal interests. These situations are not unknown to Investment community. Bangladeshi policy makers will soon realise the futile exercise that they are doing. If expensive gifts and free lunch dinners are available you can always count some bees to hang around. But there may not be much success. Present Energy advisor in earlier term arranged similar seminar at New York under sponsorship of Bangladesh -USA joint efforts. PM Hasina addressed that seminar as well. What were the achievements?

We thought a properly structured International investment forum in Bangladesh could be more effective. Really interested investors could come and see for themselves the actual investment climate. They could interact with investors here, local business leaders. We foresee very feeble response and little hope on the out come of the futile exercises like road shows.

The government wants to import LNG as an alternative to indigenous gas. Can Bangladesh down stream absorb huge initial costs, about 7US$ per unit cost of LNG where our present price is about 1.5 US$? How long it will take to set up enabling infra structures- port access, LNG Terminals, degasification plants? Won’t it be wise to concentrate on exploration and exploitation of our own petroleum resources – onshore, offshore?

The government is contemplating to import coal from abroad while substantial quantity of high quality coal is lying underground at mining depth. A democratic government having overwhelming mandate can not adopt a coal mining strategy in one year. Here also we need required infrastructure to receive imported coal, store properly and set up in land transportation infrastructures.

Where from the coal will come? Neighbour India itself is suffering from quality coal deficit to run its own coal based plants. Dust coal can not produce power. Moreover coal burning will get more expensive after Copenhagen which among others will definitely agree on Carbon Emission reduction and carbon trading. Can Bangladesh imagine what will be the costs of coal fired power if the plants have to buy carbon credits?
Possibly the ground realities are not explained to Prime Minister and Energy Minister by the policy makers who are eager to look at their self-interest rather the country’s interest. In this situation we have reasons to believe that Road shows will turn into another futile effort.

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Kh. A. Saleque (Saleque Sufi) is the ex-Director ( Operation) GTCL and writes from Australia.

[Read all posts by Kh. A. Saleque]


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