The Supplementary Budget for the FY 2017-18 and the Proposed Budget for FY 2018-19 have already been placed before Parliament. According to the legislative rules and procedures, the Supplementary Budget is to be cleared within a week after it is placed, and the Proposed Budget has to be passed by Parliament within June 30 for getting 'assent' of the President.
Constitutionally, Bangladesh budget is a document that should be recommended by the President for placement before parliament, and finally it must have his assent to become legally implementable. In particular, the placement of Supplementary Budget and its passage has a specific provision ( Article 91) in the Constitution. The President has the power to authorise expenditure from the Consolidated Fund, whether or not it is charged under the Constitution or not. It has now become a custom to clear the Supplementary Budget without much debate or enquiries.
In this backdrop, the nation seldom sees detailed discussions or debates on the Supplementary Budget in parliament. It is cleared by the legislature mostly within the week following its placement. Traditionally, in this part of the world, Budgets are prepared by the Ministries of Finance. They are mostly endorsed by parliaments without significant scrutiny, and implemented by different ministries and agencies of the government without strict adherence to what is proposed. Apart from being an outline of strategic plan and roadmap as well developmental-cum-operational fiscal measures, the budget is a fundamental memorandum of understanding between the citizens and the government. Both are legally bound to each other for proper implementation of the budget. Both the government and the citizens are represented in parliament by the elected representatives. Consequently, the representatives are expected to actively participate in the budget processing and passage as well as in overseeing its implementation with due diligence.
The Bangladesh Constitution has a clear stipulation in Article 83: "No tax shall be levied or collected except by or under the authority of an Act of Parliament." So the parliament must endorse the new additions or revisions made ( tax policies in particular) during the current financial year, other than those passed by the parliament while adopting the Finance Bill 2017.
With not so many new measures this time, the National Board of Revenue (NBR) is likely to face huge challenges in achieving a growth rate of 34 per cent in revenue collection. The share of non-NBR revenues has decreased enormously during the last four fiscal years. It has been given a soft target for the coming year as well. Non-NBR revenues come from public sector corporations, state-owned enterprises (SoEs) and service organizations run commercially. There should be more accountability in the financial performance of SoEs. As they have eaten up a large chunk of the foreign-aid money for their development, and also received huge subsidies from public funds, they must pay back to the government in terms of loan repayments as well as payment of customs duties, value-added tax (VAT) and taxes.
Effective initiatives should be taken to make direct tax the principal source of revenue with a view to ensuring socio-economic growth and establishing a society based on equity and justice by removing social disparities. Such reform initiatives should be implementable for upholding the principle of equty in our socio-economic landscape. In the proposed budget, alongside enhancing investment and employment opportunities, multifarious initiatives have been announced to widen the tax net. Stock-taking of the implementation of previous initiatives should be carried out in order to devise more realistic strategies for the present and the future.
The tax system in Bangladesh should reflect our socio-economic and cultural values. To create a system of taxation, a nation must make choices regarding the distribution of the tax burden-who will pay taxes and how much they will pay-and how the taxes collected will be spent. In democratic nations where the people elects those in charge of the tax systems, these choices reflect the types of community that the public wish to create. In countries where the public do not have significant influence over the system of taxation, that system may be more of a reflection of the values of those in power.
Dr Muhammad Abdul Mazid is a former Secretary and Chairman of NBR; firstname.lastname@example.org
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