Budget numbers: Secrecy vs openness  

Shamsul Huq Zahid    | Published: June 07, 2018 22:24:43 | Updated: June 08, 2018 21:22:56


Secrecy that is usually maintained in budget making is fading fast in Bangladesh. The media very often speculates about a few key figures as the budget-presentation comes closer.

At times, some people at the policy-making level also talk about possible duty and tax rate changes weeks or days ahead of the budget announcement.

But the fact remains that some key budget figures, particularly those relating to duty and taxes, should be kept shrouded under a cloak of secrecy until the budget is announced. Any deviation from that has all the potential to cause financial loss to the state.

The reported move by the reconditioned car importers to get a few thousand vehicles released from the country's two seaports before the announcement of the budget is a glaring example, how breach of secrecy could deprive the government of genuine revenue income.

According to a newspaper report, importers got more than 3000 cars released through the customs at Chittagong and Mongla seaports during a couple of days preceding the presentation of the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, 2018-19.

The hasty move on the part of the reconditioned car importers was aimed at avoiding the payment of additional duty on account of possible reduction in the rates of depreciation. 

The question is: how did the car importers manage information about the depreciation rate reduction? Someone involved in the budget preparation might have leaked the information.  A few days back, a section of newspaper also ran an item on the possible reduction in the rates of depreciation.

Besides, a few policymakers, knowingly or unknowingly, make public statements about the possible changes in duty or tax rates.

The incumbent commerce minister on June 05 last told the newsmen that the government would re-impose 28 per cent duty on rice import in the budget that was announced by the finance minister yesterday (June 07).

It is not known whether there were any extra efforts on the part of the importers concerned to get their rice consignments released from the country's land ports expeditiously following the commerce minister's statement. But, it was natural for the traders to cash in on such information.

Moreover, the news about the re-imposition of duty on imported rice pushed up the price of the item both at retail and wholesale levels for the past few days. The price-hike was inevitable, but the consumers had to count an extra amount for some days ahead of budget announcement just because of the untimely release of the information about the duty changes. 

But it was not long ago when the ministry of finance used to maintain secrecy about budget as far as possible. The process involving the preparation of budget now is a bit relaxed, it seems.

In contrast to Bangladesh situation, secrecy up to the maximum possible extent is maintained in the matters of some key budget figures in neighbouring India. Around 100 officials from the finance ministry are cloistered in a basement in the North Block for at least 10 days ahead of the budget announcement in that country. 'Blue Paper', a blue sheet of paper containing some key figures is prepared there. And the Paper is kept under close vigilance. Even the finance minister of India is not allowed to keep it.

The budget is printed at the basement that remains detached from the outside world during those 10 days. Even the finance minister is not allowed to enter the designated area with a mobile phone. Intelligence people keep round-the-clock watch on the area.

Besides, the finance ministry at the North Block becomes a fortress as budget presentation ceremony comes closer. Both incoming and outgoing calls at the ministry are tracked and e-mail facility is blocked.

Are the Indians too conservative for no reasons? Should they follow our liberal budget-making process? Or, should we follow theirs? 

zahidmar10@gmail.com 

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