Changing the fiscal year

Syed Mahabubur Rashid | Published: July 21, 2018 00:41:19

The under-construction Padma Bridge

Recently a discussion has started about the above-captioned issue with the innings being opened by Professor Anu Muhammad. This kind of discussion simply reminds of the old proverb: 'A bad workman quarrels with his tools'. After the partition of India in 1947 Pakistan was following the April-March financial year as done by the British rules.

In 1958 the self-proclaimed Field Marshall Muhammad Ayub Khan took over the state power being the president and Martial Law Administrator. His government changed the financial year and switched over to the July-June financial year. The logic was that the monsoon breaks out in May and continues till September. So after the financial year starts in April, it immediately faces the hazards of the monsoon and the development work is impeded. So, according to the Ayub government, July-June is the ideal time to follow. Dr. Shafiq Khan has admitted in his writing that during the monsoon season from the month of May to September the monthly rainfall is more than 300 mm. Rainfall is the highest in June and July accounting for around 500 mm. So, this information rather lends credence to the view of the Ayub government. Bangladesh is prone to natural calamities. Which month is safe? The severest and worst cyclone and tidal bore of the last century occurred on November 12, 1970, leaving more than one million people of the coastal areas perished and causing huge damage to properties. Again in December 1973 a cyclone and a tidal bore occurred, of course, it was not of the magnitude of that in 1970. Probably the year before the last in the haor areas, a heavy crop loss was witnessed because of the onslaught of flooding. The flood was not unexpected. It came as usual as it had come earlier. This time it was more severe. The crop was lost because of the height of the embankment was not at the desired level. The embankment could not reach the height as a big chunk of fund allocated was devoured by the local kleptocrat politicians and bureaucrats. Human civilisation has progressed and has been continuing so braving the natural impediments. So, these are very weak and lame excuses that the rainfall and cyclones are causing delay in implementing the development projects. In India from Punjab in the west up to Arunachal in the east there are lands with different climatic conditions and people with different cultures. But the Indian government has been following one financial year. Comparing its sizes and resources Bangladesh can boast of the highest number of ministries/divisions. Then there are implementing departments and agencies. In preparing a project all possible impediments, particularly climatic conditions, are supposed to be taken into consideration. Climate has nothing to do with the floatation of tenders and collection of materials. Only land development work is to be kept out of the monsoon. Not all projects need such work. Our most pride project, the Padma project, is striding braving the climate because the authorities do know what kind of work they can do and when. The problem of timely implementation of the project is not the rain and winter. The government will not be able to cite a single project which has been completed with the reasonable delay, let alone the proper schedule. Sloth is the inherent quality of bureaucracy, be it civil or technical. Comparatively, the Army completes their assigned work more or less on schedule. This is done because of their prompt action, strict discipline and patriotic zeal. It has been a tradition in our country that a project, after being taken up will be revised due to delay and the cost will be increased. The Ministry of Planning is there to condon the delay and approve the revised costs as much time as required. The Ministry of Planning does not reprimand nor recommend stern actions against the shenanigans. The Dhaka-Chattogram Road is a glaring example where the original cost shot up because of the unusual delay. It has been mentioned in an article that presently the maximum fund is spent by June. It is natural that all the amounts will have to be spent, otherwise it will lapse. A few years back a fund donated by a foreign agency lapsed because there was no cheque signing authority. The secretary, being the only authority was abroad in June. It happened in the case of the Ministry of Health. Sloth, kleptocracy, unpatriotic psyche are the viruses which cause delay in timely implementing the projects. Lack of good governance which is inextricably linked with accountability is also a major impediment. The syndrome of June will be visible in March or December in case of the changes of the financial year accordingly, unless the viruses are destroyed. Someone has suggested January-December to have a link with the academe year. This academic year is followed up to the S.S.C level. So, this argument is also not acceptable. Baisakh is the first Bengali month and we grandly observe Pahela Baisakh, the first day of the Bengali year corresponding to 14th April. That means we are to have the financial year from 14th April to 13th April. We should remember that our language day is observed on 21st February. It has now become the International Mother Language Day and obviously observed on 21st February as the month of Falgun will not be available anywhere except Bangladesh and India. So it is purely a meaningless argument expecting to have our financial year follow the Bengali calendar.

Another point should be remembered. Foreign assistance/aid is decided on the basis of bilateral discussions. It has nothing to do with the donor's financial year, because their budget allocation is not made against a particular country. So, it is naive to think that changing our financial year will help coordinate obtaining the foreign aid/assistance. The USA, the largest economy of the world, follows October-September as the financial year.

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