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World Bank Helps Bangladesh Modernize Safety Net Programs

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Today, the government of Bangladesh signed an agreement with the World Bank to improve the equity, efficiency and transparency of its major safety net programs.

The $245 million additional financing to the Safety Net Systems for the Poorest Project will help improve beneficiary targeting, information management, and benefit payment of the country’s five large safety net programs. These are: the Employment Generation Program for the Poorest, Work for Money, Test Relief, Vulnerable Group Feeding, and Gratuitous Relief. Implemented by the Department of Disaster Management, these programs collectively reach over 9 million poor and vulnerable households.

In FY 2017, Bangladesh spent around $3.5 billion on social protection, which was about 1.4 percent of its Gross Domestic Product. To ensure effective use of public resources, the World Bank is supporting the country to build common digital platforms to better administer safety net programs.

An integrated social protection service delivery system will help ensure equity, build resilience and create opportunities for the poorest population. At the same time, it will reduce administrative efforts, costs and errors,” said Qimiao Fan, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal. “Efficient and transparent delivery of social assistance to the right households at the right time will help Bangladesh reduce poverty and boost shared prosperity.

Currently, only the Employment Generation Program for the Poorest Program is administered with a management information system. The program also pilots digital payment of benefits to the target beneficiaries. The financing will help digitization of the other safety net programs as well as scale up digital payments using various technologies.

The financing will also help the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) to complete the country’s first universal poverty registry – the National Household Database. The database will be integrated with information systems of various ministries and agencies to use for beneficiary selection purposes. For this, BBS has already completed data collection in Barisal, Rangpur and part of Mymensingh divisions. This month, BBS will start data collection in Dhaka and Chittagong divisions.

The government of Bangladesh is committed to strengthen its safety net management and oversight capabilities by developing an integrated social protection service delivery system, in line with recommendations of the National Social Security Strategy 2015,” said Kazi Shofiqul Azam, Secretary, Economic Relations Division. “The additional financing is a critical milestone in this process.

Kazi Shofiqul Azam and Qimiao Fan signed the agreement on behalf of the government of Bangladesh and the World Bank, respectively, at the Economic Relations Division. With this additional financing, World Bank support to the project now stands at $745 million. The credit is from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s concessional lending arm. The credits are interest-free and repayable in 38 years, including a 6-year grace period, and carry a service charge of 0.75 percent.

The World Bank was among the first development partners to support Bangladesh following its independence. Since then, the World Bank has committed close to $27 billion in grants and interest-free credits to the country. In recent years, Bangladesh has been the largest recipient of the World Bank’s interest-free credits.

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EU Politics

Cambodia loses duty-free access to the EU market over human rights concerns

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As of 12 August, some of Cambodia’s typical export products such as garments, footwear and travel goods are subject to the European Union’s customs duties. The EU’s decision to partially withdraw Cambodia’s duty-free quota-free access to the EU market is now effective. The preferential treatment enjoyed by Cambodia under “Everything But Arms” (EBA) – the EU’s trade arrangement for Least Developed Countries – is now temporarily lifted due to serious and systematic concerns related to human rights ascertained in the country. The EU enforces this measure while staying open to engage with Cambodia on the necessary reforms.

Commissioner for Trade Phil Hogan said: “We have provided Cambodia with trade opportunities that let the country develop an export-oriented industry and gave jobs to thousands of Cambodians. We stand by their side also now in the difficult circumstances caused by the pandemic. Nonetheless, our continued support does not diminish the urgent need for Cambodia to respect human rights and labour rights. I stand ready to continue our engagement and to restore fully free access to the EU market for products from Cambodia provided we see substantial improvement in that respect.

The withdrawal of preferential access to the EU market concerns approximately 20% of Cambodia’s exports to the EU. Cambodia may still export those products to the EU but they will be subject to general tariffs applicable to any other member of the World Trade Organization. The remaining 80% of Cambodia’s exports continue to enjoy preferential (duty-free, quota-free) access to the EU market.

The Commission, together with the European External Action Service (EEAS), will continue its enhanced engagement with Cambodia. The EU will keep on monitoring the situation in the country, with a particular focus on current restrictions in the areas of freedom of expression and civil and political rights, as well as land disputes and labour rights in the context of the ongoing reforms.

The EU is aware of the significant impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Cambodia’s economy and employment and stands ready to support the country in its fight against the coronavirus crisis and towards economic recovery. This, however, does not waive the urgent need to ensure respect for human rights and labour rights in Cambodia.

Since February 2020, when the EU’s decision on partial withdrawal was taken, the Cambodian Government could at any time have taken the necessary steps to fulfil the conditions allowing the European Union to fully restore EBA preferential access to the EU market. This remains the case.

The Cambodian authorities should take action to restore political freedoms in the country, to re-establish the necessary conditions for a credible, democratic opposition and to initiate a process of national reconciliation through genuine and inclusive dialogue. The Commission and the EEAS have outlined the necessary actions to the Cambodian authorities on numerous occasions, as well as in the Commission’s Delegated Regulation. Actions include the reinstatement of the political rights of opposition members and the repeal or revision of laws, such as the Law on Political Parties and the Law on Non-Governmental Organisations. If the government of Cambodia shows significant progress, particularly on civil and political rights, the Commission may review its decision and reinstate tariff preferences under the “Everything But Arms” arrangement, in line with the provisions of the EU Generalised Scheme of Preferences.

Background

The “Everything But Arms” (EBA) arrangement is part of the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP). The GSP allows vulnerable developing countries to benefit from lower duties or duty-free exports to the EU, and hence stimulate their economic growth. It is a one-way arrangement: it does not require reciprocity vis-a-vis EU exports. Through the EBA arrangement, the EU grants duty-free and quota-free access to its market for all products – except arms and ammunition – from Least Developed Countries (as defined by the United Nations). Under the GSP Regulation, tariff preferences may be suspended in the case of “serious and systematic violation of principles” laid down in the international human rights and labour rights conventions listed in an annex to the GSP Regulation.

Based on serious concerns about the deterioration of political, human, land and labour rights in Cambodia, in February 2019, the Commission opened a procedure for a withdrawal of the EBA preferences granted to Cambodia. On 12 November 2019, the Commission submitted to Cambodia a report demonstrating serious and systematic violations of key principles of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) linked to political participation, freedom of expression and freedom of association in Cambodia. At the same time, despite remaining serious concerns, the report underlined tangible progress in solving land disputes in the sugar sector and with respect to labour rights. Following a period for comments, on 12 February 2020, the Commission adopted a Delegated Regulation on a temporary and partial withdrawal of tariff preferences granted to Cambodia under the EBA. The Regulation entered into force on 25 April 2020 and takes effect as of 12 August 2020.

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Energy News

ADB Approves $73 Million Package to Develop Waste-to-Energy Facility in Maldives

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has approved a $73.39 million concessional loan and grant to the Government of Maldives to develop a waste treatment facility using waste-to-energy (WTE) technology and disposal infrastructure for the Greater Malé region and neighboring outer islands.

Greater Malé and its neighboring 32 outer islands—which host 86 tourist resorts—suffer from severe environmental pollution and deteriorating livability due to inadequate collection and haphazard disposal of solid waste. Over 830 tons per day (tpd) of solid waste are generated in the area and dumped or burned at the 10-hectare dump site on Thilafushi island. Established in 1992, this dump site has no pollution control measures. The site contaminates the surrounding environment and is a public health and environmental hazard threatening fisheries and tourism.

“The project will significantly improve Maldives’ solid waste management through the provision of efficient and sustainable treatment and disposal infrastructure,” said ADB Urban Development Specialist for South Asia Luca Di Mario. “The WTE facility will be a pivotal component of an integrated solid waste management system, which will improve public and environmental health, especially ocean health.”

The project will establish a WTE plant with a capacity of 500 tpd, 2 treatment lines of 250 tpd each, an 8-megawatt electricity surplus energy recovery facility, an air pollution control system, and a landfill for safe disposal of air pollution control residues and non-marketable incineration bottom ash. The WTE treatment process minimizes land requirements for waste disposal and produces renewable energy addressing the critical land and electricity constraints of developing small island countries like Maldives.

All facilities will adopt disaster- and climate-resilient features to respond to future disaster and climate change threats, such as sea level rise. The WTE plant will be implemented through a design-build-operate modality with the private sector, with a 15 years operation and maintenance period.

The project will also strengthen the institutional capacity of the Ministry of Environment (MOE) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to supervise WTE operations, enhance operation and maintenance cost recovery, and improve public awareness on sustainable waste management practices.

The total cost of the project is $151.13 million. The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank plans to provide a $40 million loan as cofinancing. The Japan Fund for the Joint Crediting Mechanism will provide a $10 million grant to finance expenditures related to WTE design and construction, contingencies, and consulting services for the certification of greenhouse gas emission reduction from the WTE plant. ADB is providing a $500,000 grant for the institutional capacity strengthening of MOE and EPA. The Government of Maldives will contribute $27.74 million to the project.

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MoU between “China-Eurasia” Council and the SCO Chinese Committee on Good Neighbourliness

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On August 11, 2020, Memorandum of understanding was signed between Armenian “China-Eurasia” Council for Political and Strategic research and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s Chinese Committee on Good Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation(SCO GNFCC).According to the Memorandum of understanding,Parties agreed to cooperate with each other, to contribute to the development of Sino-Armenian relations, to promote dialogue between 2 ancient civilizations, to start and bust cooperation in academic, technological, informational, educational, cultural and other fields. Memorandum of understanding on cooperation between Chinese and Armenian organizations was signed by the Vice President of  the SCO GNFCC, Member of The National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Ms. Cui Li from one side and Dr. Mher Sahakyan, the founding head of the “China-Eurasia” Council for Political and Strategic research from the other side.

Dr. Mher Sahakyan noted that the negotiations between “China-Eurasia” Council for Political and Strategic research and the SCOGNFCC started months ago and the actual cooperation began in June, when the  Chinese Committee, in agreement with the Armenian “China-Eurasia” Council, sent medical protective clothing to support Armenian medics on their fight against Covid-19. Mher Sahakyan thanked Chinese partners for support and expressed hope, that Memorandum of Understanding will provide an opportunity to deepen cooperation between two organizations and to strengthen Armenian-Chinese friendly relations.

Vice President Cui Li stressed that non-governmental diplomacy is especially important for strengthening mutual understanding and people-to-people exchanges among SCO affiliated states. Next year marks the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the SCO. China is willing to work with all parties to carry forward the Shanghai spirit, unite and work together to overcome the epidemic situation withCOVID-19, strengthen the ties between citizens of both countries, promote cooperation among the media and think tanks. She also added, that now it is possible to use artificial intelligence, teleconferencing, 5G and other new technologies for strengthening multilateral mutually beneficial cooperation. The Chinese side takes the initiative and calls on public organizations of the World to promote people’s diplomacy, to jointly contribute on strengthening peace and development in the world and to create A community with shared future for mankind.

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