Sitting at the crossroads of regional connectivity with South and Southeast Asia, Chittagong needs to be developed fast to feed the economic growth of the country, speakers said at a discussion in the port city yesterday.
The two-day conference at Hotel Agrabad was hosted as part of The Daily Star's 12-day festival -- Odommo Chattagram (indomitable Chittagong).
Visionary plans and goodwill are essential to uplift the city at par with global standards, said analysts and businesspeople at the inaugural session of the conference.
They also said the port city has the potential to become the regional connectivity hub as well as effective gateway to landlocked southern Asia including north eastern India, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and southern China.
Once the necessary developments are implemented, the port city could be a key-driver of the country's economic growth, they added.
Chittagong Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association are assisting the conference -- Future Bangladesh, future Chittagong: a global port needs a global city.
“Chittagong has the power to become Penang or Singapore. But we are sick and tired of Dhaka-centric development. Our rights have not been recognised as the commercial capital,” said Salahuddin Kashem Khan, trustee secretary of AK Khan Foundation.
“To transform Chittagong into a regional excellence, we need to make united efforts,” he said.
Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, former adviser to a caretaker government and coordinator of Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) Chittagong Research Initiative, said, despite inadequate attention to the development of the port city, it serves as an important lifeline for the country.
Rahman, a noted economist, said Chittagong, with an expanded and developed sea port that carries 80 percent of the country's exports and imports, was a city of 25-billion-dollar economy in 2010.
The city, which accounts for 40 percent of the heavy industries of the country and has internationally competitive export processing zone, holds a huge prospect with emerging industries such as shipbuilding, steel and tourism.
Rahman also said Chittagong has a huge potential as the city is awaiting implementation of a deep-sea port, a regional connectivity hub and a gateway to landlocked southern Asia.
The city would be a vital actor in the new maritime bonanza, he added.
He sought a collaborative initiative of the civil society and businesspeople of Chittagong for the development of the city.
Terming a number of mid-size cities as the key driver of global growth, Rahman said Chittagong has such potential as its economic competitiveness will be the key to faster growth of the country.
Rahman said Chittagong's attractiveness in terms of the quality of life should be improved to stop migration of talents to the capital.
Regarding the targets till 2030, he said Chittagong should be a city of 60 billion-dollar-economy by 2030.
He also said the management at Chittagong Port should be upgraded to global standards and the city should be turned into a global one to complement the global port. “A global port cannot coexist with an underdeveloped city.”
Speaking as the chief guest, Environment Minister Hasan Mahmud said, though Chittagong was the second important city after Kolkata in the British India, its significance started to fizzle out after 1960s with the beginning of Dhaka-centric urbanisation.
The minister urged all to come forward with goodwill for the development of the port city keeping aside all political differences and divisions.
He said Chittagong would be the key beneficiary of the new maritime boundary.
Mahmud said the government has given Tk 2,200 hundred crore in the last three years to the Chittagong Development Authority (CDA) including the projects of JICA for the development of Chittagong city.
The minister said the CDA is setting up a flyover in the Bahadderhat area and the government plans more such infrastructures in the city.
Executive Committee of the National Economic Council has already approved the Chittagong Television (CTV) centre as the second terrestrial TV station in the country, he added.
He said the media can change the image of a city. He hoped the CTV would play a significant role in developing the image of the port city.
Salahuddin Kashem Khan said Chittagong has long been neglected by all the successive governments.
Khan also stressed formation of a national council to develop the coastal belt. He said Chittagong should be developed as a regional centre of excellence with research, technology and management institutions.
Khan said Chittagong registered gross domestic product of $25.5 billion in 2010 with an annual growth rate of 6.3 percent.
He said the GDP of Chittagong will be at $39 billion in 2020.
MA Latif, a member of the parliamentary standing committee on the commerce ministry, blamed a lack of foresightedness, knowledge and visionary planning of the political leaders and bureaucrats for inadequate development of Chittagong.
The Daily Star Editor and Publisher Mahfuz Anam said Chittagong has made some tremendous contributions to the global economy by making high quality ships and apparels.
People have to be made aware of its economic power, Anam said, adding that growth of the country is possible only through the progress of Chittagong.
Chittagong Chamber President Murshed Murad Ibrahim, who chaired the inaugural session, said Chittagong has a long history as a centre of export as it first shipped goods to Germany in 1800.
He said the chamber first raised its voice against the economic disparity the country was facing when Bangladesh was part of Pakistan.
He hoped the new generation would get a new Chittagong through the 'Odommo Chattagram' movement.
Dainik Azadi Editor MA Malek proposed setting up of more heavy industries on the southern bank of the river Karnaphuli.