World Cup raises hopes of new dawn

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 March, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 March, 2011, 12:00am

Just as the red disc on the Bangladesh flag symbolises a new dawn, the sun will be ever rising on Hong Kong cricket as far as Sohail Murshed is concerned.

For the international banker is the only son of Bangladesh sitting on the game's governing body in Hong Kong and the ICC World Cup, co-hosted by his native country.

'The passion of cricket is always with me and sport can unite people,' says Murshed, who has lived in Hong Kong for about 20 years. 'I sense a new euphoria from this great opportunity.'

Dhaka may be abuzz with cricket, as Murshed puts it, but he points out that Bangladeshis have major hurdles to overcome. Not least is a legacy of political factional fighting and how rapid a growth has Dhaka 'bursting at the seams', with congestion and overdevelopment.

'We must stress that Bangladesh and the welfare of the country comes first. Sort out the politics in parliament and the senate, not on the streets ... calling strikes and closing the country down has no good effect for anybody.'

Murshed is hopeful that government efforts to cut red tape and let the private sector take a lead in the economy continue. An encouraging sign has been how a bank in Dhaka backed the beautifying of areas in the city in readiness for the Cricket World Cup.

Power shortages are another concern, but also an area in which he says the drive of the private sector ought to be deployed.

To alleviate overcrowding, Murshed also believes in decentralising government departments and involving the private sector.

'Move the government out of Dhaka - with a population of 15 million people it's bursting at the seams. Building satellite towns would ease the biggest problem of traffic, and migration from rural to urban areas, which has to stop,' he says.

The shedding of bureaucracy and a greater role for business means more opportunities for Hong Kong investors, Murshed says. 'This is a good time to get into Bangladesh because the government is doing away with red tape and contracts are going to the business sector. That definitely has a positive effect, but it will take a year or two.'

Murshed points to the relatively youthful Bangladesh cricket team as an example of the potential of the nation's youth.

As more become educated and prosperity increases, there is a growing pool of talent which Hong Kong's IT, and banking and finance sectors can tap.

However, he says visa restrictions on Bangladeshis, which were imposed after abuses by overstayers, ought to be eased so more young professionals can be recruited by Hong Kong companies.

'I'd like to see the return of visa-free status as there are a lot of professionals that Hong Kong can use. We hope the government can look into that,' Murshed says. 'The major banks have branches in Bangladesh and have brought young people to work in Hong Kong. You utilise people in the right area and more economically too.'

Murshed's own career in banking began in London in the early 1970s, followed by postings to Paris and North Africa before Hong Kong.

His father was a diplomat who served in Beijing, and so the Sino-Bengal connection has a special interest for Murshed, particularly in view of the level of Chinese investment in Bangladesh.

Philanthropy is another beacon of hope for poorer Bangladeshis. Murshed's father started the first private university in the country with foreign teachers among its staff. Street children were also offered training to equip them with a trade, and he says private sector involvement in family planning programmes can go a long way in helping people out of poverty.

'Bangladesh is definitely an emerging Tiger economy. There is a female labour force of two million working in the garment industry as valued, skilled labour. With husband and wife both working, it creates extra money to educate children, so leading to prosperity.'

For this to happen, he believes the best hope is for Bangladeshis to put factionalism aside and not to mix politics and business. 'What we have seen too much of in the past are people putting themselves before the country.'