DHAKA, Bangladesh — Bangladesh’s finance minister downplayed the impact of last week’s factory-building collapse on his country’s garment industry, saying Friday he didn’t think it was “really serious” hours after the 500th body was pulled from the debris.
Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith spoke as the government cracked down on those it blamed for the disaster in the Dhaka suburb of Savar. It suspended Savar’s mayor and arrested an engineer who had called for the building’s evacuation last week, but was also accused of helping the owner add three illegal floors to the eight-story structure. The building owner was arrested earlier.
The government appears to be attempting to fend off accusations that it is in part to blame for the tragedy because of weak oversight of the building’s construction.
During a visit to the Indian capital, New Delhi, Muhith said the disaster would not harm Bangladesh’s garment industry, which is by far the country’s biggest source of export income.
“The present difficulties … well, I don’t think it is really serious — it’s an accident,” he said. “And the steps that we have taken in order to make sure that it doesn’t happen, they are quite elaborate and I believe that it will be appreciated by all.”
The government made similar promises after a garment factory fire five months ago that killed 112, saying it would inspect factories for safety and pull the licenses of those that failed. However, that plan has yet to be implemented.
The official death toll from the April 24 collapse reached 519 Friday and was expected to climb, making it likely the deadliest garment-factory accident in world history.
The minimum wage for a garment worker is $38 a month, after being nearly doubled this year following violent protests by workers. According to the World Bank, the per capita income in Bangladesh was about $64 a month in 2011.
Among the garment makers in the building were Phantom Apparels, Phantom Tac, Ether Tex, New Wave Style and New Wave Bottoms.