Closure of jute mills now not a wise decision

Updated at 11:23pm on March 08, 2018

THE ongoing tussle between the minister for finance Abul Maal Abdul Muhith and the minister of state for textile and jute Mirza Azam over the closure of state-owned jute mills that the Bangladesh Jute Mills Corporation run brings to the fore a couple of issues that are left ignored. The finance ministry, which sanctions money for the corporation, wants to close down the jute mills as the minister thinks that the textile and jute ministry, which he thinks is in the grip of the corporation, could in no way be able to play any role in the revival of jute. The minister thinks that if jute and jute goods need to be revived, it could be under the public-private partnership scheme. The state minister for textile and jute, however, blames the finance minister for having no sympathy towards the jute sector and says that he has been struggling for two years to get the jute sector enlisted as a processed agricultural goods sector and holds the finance minister, as New Age reported on Thursday, to be the main obstacle to the revival of jute as the enlistment proposal has been pending with the finance ministry for two years.
But when there has been a law making jute packaging mandatory aimed at giving a fillip to the sector and the demand for jute and jute goods is increasing in the event of people being more environmentally aware, the closure of jute mills would hardly make any sense. It is imperative for the government to look into the problems that plague the jute sector and find ways to resolve them so that jute and jute goods export could be revived, product diversification could be brought in and the corporation, which incurred about Tk 4.82 billion in losses in the 2017 financial year, could be made profit-making. The corporation is riddled with the number of labourers in excess in factories, a slump in export, institutional incapacity and corruption. All these are issues that can be taken care of given the required political will is there. On the other front, the jute and textile minister, who is fully aware of the problems, should have also tried to attend to the issues so that the finance ministry does not get the chance to pass the blame onto the jute and textile ministry. The country’s largest 52-year-old Adamjee Jute Mills was closed in 2002 during the tenure of the BNP-led coalition government in the name of privatisation of all state-owned enterprises and the closure, according to an estimation of 2008, caused more than Tk 100 billion in losses. The mill, if it could function, would be of immense benefits.
While the finance ministry should not insist on closing down the jute mills under the corporation on the mere excuse of institutional incapacity and corruption, the jute and textile minister must not give the finance ministry a reason to press for the closure of the jute mills by leaving the prickly issues unattended for years. Both the ministries must sit together, setting aside the tussle, and try to improve on the situation.