General

Muhith: His footprints traverse the journey of Bangladesh

One of the country’s longest-serving finance ministers, the only one who commanded the economy for 10 consecutive years, and the principal architect of the Awami League’s era of development, AMA Muhith, breathed his last in the early hours of Saturday.

Muhith, 88, passed away at a city hospital at 12:56am – technically in the wee hours of Saturday – his brother Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen told UNB.

He had been keeping unwell for quite some time. In July 2021, Muhith tested positive for Covid, but fought that back.

Then in March, he was hospitalised again as he became enfeebled in his old age.

Muhith’s first janaza will be held at the Gulshan Azad Mosque at 10:30am on Saturday, followed by the second at 11:30am at the Parliament premises, Momen said.

Afterwards, his body will be taken to Central Shaheed Minar at 2pm for the public to pay their respects to one of the giants of Bangladesh’s political arena, whose role stretches through the entire history of independent Bangladesh.

After that, it will be off to Sylhet for burial in ancestral surroundings for one of the region’s proudest sons.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who entrusted him with authoring the Awami League’s manifesto as the party charted its comeback ahead of the 2008 election, expressed deep shock and sorrow at the death of Muhith.

That manifesto underpinned the AL’s era of unprecedented dominance, and his entire spell as finance minister, the most influential portfolio in the cabinet. For ten years, his seat was reserved to the immidiate right of the prime minister at weekly cabinet meetings.

As the finance minister of the Awami League government, he presented the budget in parliament for 10 years at a stretch. He had also presented it in an earlier era, as finance minister in the early days of the Ershad-led administration.

Muhith left his mark in the deliberate and strategic move towards expansionary fiscal policy, reflected in the burgeoning of the budget under his watch – from Tk114,000 crore in 2009-10, the first under the newly elected AL government, to Tk464,000 crore in his last, for the 2018-19 fiscal.

At first, his critics said he was overambitious with his budgets. His retort was that he would rather be that, than fall short on ambition. It set the tone for the AL’s blueprint of governance in many ways, and continues to define it to this day.

Muhith retired from politics after serving as the finance minister of Sheikh Hasina’s government from 2009 to 2018.

Birth and Early life

Muhith was born on 25 January 1934 in Dhopadighi, Sylhet.

He was the third child of Advocate Abu Ahmad Abdul Hafiz who was a leader of the Pakistan Movement and the founder of the then Sylhet District Muslim League.

His mother Syed Shahar Banu Chowdhury was also active in politics and social work.

He secured first place in the intermediate examination in the province in 1951 from Sylhet MC College.

Muhith stood first class first in BA in English Literature in 1954 from Dhaka University and passed his MA with credit from the same university in 1955.

During his service period, he studied at Oxford University from 1957-58 and received an MPA degree from Harvard University in 1964.

After joining Pakistan Civil Service in 1956, he served in different capacities in the East Pakistan government, the central government of Pakistan, and then Bangladesh.

During his service as the chief and deputy secretary of the Pakistan Planning Commission, he made a report on the disparity between East and West Pakistan in 1966 and that was the first report submitted on that issue in the Pakistan National Assembly in fulfilment of the constitutional obligation.

Liberation War and beyond

He was the counsellor (economic) at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington DC when he joined the Liberation War effort as the first in his station to defect for Bangladesh and inspired many others to join him later on.

After retiring early from government service in the early Eighties, he embarked on a decades-long career as a consultant on economic and development matters at the Ford Foundation, IFAD, UN, UNDP, ADB and World Bank.

Muhith was also a pioneer of the Bangladesh environment movement and was one of the founders as president of BAPA in 2000.

He joined Awami League in 2001 and was elected a member of parliament in 2009 from his home constituency in Sylhet, after an earlier foray with the Gono Forum fizzled out without notable success.

Muhith was awarded the highest civil award Swadhinata Padak (Independence Award) in 2016 for his contribution to the Liberation War and devoted record of public service.

He was equally gifted as a writer and published 35 books on different subjects, including the Liberation War, economic development, history, public administration and political problems.

Source: United News of Bangladesh