From Denmark with Love
Denmark, the land of Hans Christian Anderson, has been helping Bangladesh to build its infrastructure for many years. In an interview with Star Weekend Magazine's (SWM) AHMEDE HUSSAIN, the country's newly appointed Ambassador, His Excellency Einar H Jensen talks about ways to strengthen this age-old relationship further.
SWM: You have been only two months into your new job in Bangladesh. Will you please tell us something about your experience here in Bangladesh?
Einar H Jensen (EHJ): I arrived with my family in the middle of August 2006 since my children (age 9, 12 and 15) had to start school in Dhaka. We have all settled in well and find the people of Bangladesh very friendly and warm, which I have also experienced on a boat trip as well as two field trips in Noakali. My observations so far are that the history of Bangladesh is characterised by the richness of its culture, which has given both cohesion and diversion of social life and human interaction. The majority of the population are moderate Muslims, who have a common language, similarities of dress, and shared traditions of literature, drama and music, which have been unifying forces in development. On the other hand, the expressions of multi- faceted heritage of folk culture have contributed to diversity, as exemplified in the production of crafts like weaving, pottery, basketry, and terracotta sculpture. The Bangladesh- Denmark Partnership expressed in the strategy for development cooperation 2005-2009 stresses the cultural dimension as one of the issues that need to be further explored. So far the theatre and drama have been used as communication and empowerment tool within the programme support for fisheries, agriculture, water and sanitation as well as the programmes for supporting human rights and good governance.
SWM: In this ever-changing globalised world where do you expect the diplomatic relationship between Bangladesh and Denmark to go? How do you want to strengthen it further?
EHJ: Denmark has been a close friend of Bangladesh ever since independence in 1971, where Denmark was one of the first countries to recognise Bangladesh. Since then Bangladesh has been one of the main partners for Danish development cooperation and I understand that Danida is well known in your country. Disbursements in Bangladesh increased from around 25 million USD in 1995 to 35 million USD in 2005. Bangladesh will continue to be a programme country for Danish development cooperation. In this regard, a new Strategy for Development Cooperation “Bangladesh-Denmark Partnership 2005-2009” is under implementation with strategic focus on poverty reduction; stimulate increased ownership; democratic participation; improved governance and respect for human rights. The present strategy is complementary with Bangladesh's development strategy as outlined in the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP).
Moreover, last year, as part of Strategy for Development Cooperation an Agreement for Partnership was reached between the Governments of Bangladesh and Denmark outlining the framework for mutual obligations and improved collaboration. Accordingly, the Danish Government has committed itself to align programmes with the PRSP and increasingly implement programmes through government structures and in coordination with other donors.
SWM: Many have described the next election in Bangladesh as an acid test for the country's democracy. How do you think Denmark, a secular democracy, help Bangladesh, a young one rather, build its democratic institutions?
EHJ: Bangladesh and Denmark already have a long-term cooperation in building democratic institutions. The Bangladesh-Denmark Partnership programme for development cooperation has put the promotion of good governance and respect for human rights at its centre and a 5-year programme on Human Rights and Good Governance is under implementation with a number of activities including support to government's programme on addressing Violence Against Women and support to the Judicial Administration Training Institute (JATI)
Furthermore Denmark is prepared to provide financial support to e.g. a Tax Ombudsman, an independent Human Rights Commission and next month the Comptroller and Auditor General from Bangladesh is visiting his counterpart in Denmark to discuss cooperation in the future. So for me dialogue, cooperation and sharing of knowledge are key words in terms of building democratic institutions. I also sincerely hope for the people of Bangladesh that the upcoming elections will be peaceful, free and fair.
SWM: In a world where Islamic extremism is gaining grounds in different parts of the world, how can, Bangladesh, with its large Muslim population, cope with this dangerous trend that can put democracy in danger?
EHJ: In Bangladesh like in many other countries there is risk of certain elements in the society taking destructive action in the name of Islam, a religion that actually professes peace and harmony. However in your country important steps have been taken by security forces to solve the problems and we urge that while taking action the law enforcing agencies keep respect for human rights in mind.
SWM: Denmark's help in helping Bangladesh develop its infrastructure facilities has been crucial. How do you expect this to grow in your term as Ambassador?
EHJ: In many ways I think Bangladesh is on the right track. The economic growth has averaged five per cent a year for several years and has now moved to over six per cent. Poverty reduction has in recent years reached nearly 2 per cent.
These are results that Bangladesh can be proud of and as a close partner in promoting development I am very happy that Denmark has supported Bangladesh in achieving these results.
Over the years Denmark has provided support for about 22,000 water supply installations, improving the access to safe water supply for some 1.4 million people. Denmark has also actively contributed to the construction and proper use and maintenance of latrines in some 550,000 households, building of 320 kilometres of major and minor roads (1.5 million labour days) and improved knowledge and income of 500,000 male and female farmers.
Looking ahead I think the Bangladesh economy can do even better and improving the enabling environment for doing business is crucial just as the diversification of Bangladesh's industrial base is important to encourage private sector investments in many different sectors. Since 1999 Denmark has been active in Bangladesh strengthening the private sector by supporting long-term commercial co-operations between Danish and Bangladeshi companies. This titled “Business-to-Business Programme”, is using private sector companies in Denmark as “tools” for promoting transfer of know how, technology and skills to their Bangladeshi counterparts. As one successful example coming out of this programme is a Danish naval architectural design company teaming up with a counterpart in Bangladesh. Having established a ship design centre in Bangladesh, this joint venture is now offering advanced ship design to the local ship building industry. As a direct result, Ananda Shipyard is now in the process of building a container ship of 2,900 DWT for a Danish shipping company, this ship being the biggest vessel built at any Bangladeshi shipyard so far. I would like to see more of such successful examples of these private sector initiatives in the years to come.
(R) thedailystar.net 2006