April 4 is just round the corner and all eyes are on the all-important election of the apex garment makers’ body in Bangladesh – the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA). And as one would expect, the contesting panels are going full throttle at ensuring victory for their respective candidates even as electioneering has reportedly reached its peak.
The Sammilita Parishad has pledged to prioritise diversification and innovation for steering pandemic recovery while also ensuring to work closely with the Government and the European Union to retain duty-free market access in the region till 2031.
This was underlined by the Sammilita Parishad leader Faruque Hassan, who made the pledges while unveiling the election manifesto of the Sammilita Parishad for the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) Election 2021-23, to be held on 4 April. “If the BGMEA members vote for us to lead the sector, we will focus on product and market diversification to help the sector recover from the Coronavirus pandemic as export earnings have fallen sharply due to demand shocks,” said Faruque while adding that to diversify products, the leaders of the panel will work on adopting the latest technology and research and innovation even as he confirmed that the panel will also work closely with the Government and the EU to retain duty-free market access in the region till 2031 after the LDC graduation.
Not stopping at that, the Sammilita Parishad leader has also ensured apparel diplomacy while also vowing to use his personal contacts at the global level for the betterment of the industry.
“I have close relationships with foreign diplomats and Government officials and Ambassadors abroad, who are also close friends of mine; I will use these relationships as a tool to improve business connectivity,” Faruque promised even as he maintained that for an effective negotiation with the global trade partners and buyers, the exporters’ platform will also form a special task force with the Government to deal with challenges while also assuring to appoint lobbyists in the USA to gain duty-free market access for ‘Made In Bangladesh’ apparels.
Further, if elected, the Sammilita Parishad has underlined to appeal to the Government to increase cash incentives for the sector from 4 per cent to 5 per cent against exports in non-traditional markets for diversification even as it went on to add that regaining the market share lost due to the pandemic would be a great challenge for the sector, and this has to be addressed.
“Bangladesh’s share in the global export market is below 7 per cent, but there are opportunities to grow further; to this end, we have to focus on branding Bangladesh and improving the image of the sector,” said Faruque Hassan (also the Managing Director of Giant Group) and added that in the last 30 years, the dominance of cotton products in the fashion industry declined sharply and about 70 per cent of the market is occupied by man-made fibre now.
“We have only 25 per cent products made of cotton. So, there is a huge opportunity to grow, but this needs technological upgradation and skills, where we will focus,” said the business leader, while adding that to cope with changing trends and to be prepared for the fourth industrial revolution, focus would be on training and skills development even as on the other hand, the platform has also vowed to work to introduce cash incentives for e-commerce-based entrepreneurs as the online marketplace is becoming more prominent, especially during the pandemic.
The panel will also focus on sustainable and recycled product development as the demand for these items is on the rise even as the Sammilita Parishad also reportedly assured its members to work to remove trade barriers by working with Government agencies and to bring amendments to customs and tax-related policies while former BGMEA President and Chief Election Coordinator of Sammilita Parishad Abdus Salam Murshedy hasurged the apparel makers to vote the panel lead by Faruque Hassan for the recovery of the sector from COVID-19.
“We have set the panel with a combination of experienced and talented business people, while there is a representation of women and young, talented second-generation business people with knowledge,” said Murshedy.
Meanwhile, the former Vice-President (Finance) of BGMEA, ABM Shamsuddin, who is leading the Forum Panel stated, “The future of Bangladesh’s apparel sector depends on the BGMEA leadership. So, you all will cast your vote to observe good leadership.”
Shamsuddin urged members to cast votes for their panel to work more for the organisation even as he stated, “We will ensure transparency and accountability in the sector if we are elected. We will form equal exit panel,” while Rubana Huq(who is also reportedly contesting the election as a panel member of Forum), on her part maintained, “If our panel is elected, we will finish our unfinished works….”
In the meantime, Managing Director of Motex Fashion Mohammad Masud Kabir said the industry gained a lot under Rubana Huq in the last two years.
So even as the campaigning for the upcoming election reached the crescendo, the two contesting panels — Sammilita Parishad and Forum — have raised allegations against each other of violating the electoral code of conducts.
Abdus Salam Murshedy on 29 March (Monday) sent a letter to the BGMEA Election Chief Commissioner alleging that the current BGMEA President Dr Rubana Huq influenced the election process.
He alleged that Rubana, in an attempt to influence the election process, has sent gifts to the voters in the name of the BGMEA President.While confirming this issue,Sammilita Parishad Media Coordinator Fazlee Shamim Ehsan on his part reportedly told, “After starting the election process, the board should not do anything except regular jobs like UD issues and others day-to-day tasks,” adding, “Being a candidate at the upcoming election,Dr. Rubana Huq has sent gift boxes in the name of the BGMEA President.”
However, Dr Rubana Huq claimed, “As BGMEA President, I can congratulate our members on the occasion of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s Birth Centenary and the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s Independence,” while adding, “I just sent the crest as BGMEA President, not as a candidate of next election. The intention is clear in this case..,” even as Fazlee Shamim Ehsan reportedly said that the BGMEA President has no authority to do such a thing after the initiation of the election process.
“If any President wants to spend a single penny, prior approval by the board is required, but in this case, we have no knowledge about such board approval,” claimed Ehsan while on the other hand, Khan Monirul Alam Shuvo, a Director candidate from Forum, reportedly said, “The Forum has officially complained to the BGMEA Election Board for repeated violations of the election code by the candidates from Sammilita Parishad.”
The complaints have been filed on 24 and 29 March against Sammilita Parishad panel leader Faruque Hassan, director candidate Shaidullah Azim and Asif Ashraf as they are sending gifts to voters ensuring them as candidates for the next election, maintained Shuvo.
Fazlee Shamim Ehsan has however refuted the allegations saying, “There was no incident of sending gifts to random voters.”
Given the scenario at hand, it’s a foregone conclusion that neither of the panels is ready to concede any ground; however, who would prevail at the end, remains to be seen though.