Budgetary allocations for health, agriculture, social protection and education have not been sufficient and visionary in view of the Covid-19 crisis, the Centre on Budget and Policy (CBP), University of Dhaka, said on Monday.
Dr M Abu Eusuf, director of the CBP, a research and advocacy institution, made the comment while delivering the keynote speech at a post-budget virtual dialogue titled ‘Post-Budget Virtual Dialogue 2020’. Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal tabled the budget proposed for the fiscal year 2020-21 in parliament on June 11.
He mentioned that the targeted GDP growth of 8.2 per cent is highly ambitious, which barely takes the reality of the multi-faceted health as well as economic crises into consideration.
Setting a high GDP growth target amidst this pandemic may send a wrong signal to the international community and may negatively affect our claim for low-interest loan packages from the global as well as regional financial institutions, Dr Eusuf, also an economics professor at the University of Dhaka, added.
He put emphasis on expanding the tax net to increase revenues and asked for immediate automation of the tax collection system.
To discuss the keynote speech, Dr Selim Raihan, an economics professor at the University of Dhaka, focused on the need for more concrete steps and directions in sectors like health, education, social protection, and agriculture to fight against the ongoing crisis.
He argued that while increasing budgetary allocation has remained a necessary condition to fight the multi-faceted crisis, increasing the capacity of the prioritised sectors including health, education, social protection and agriculture is the sufficient condition.
“Given this backdrop, we are still lagging behind in fulfilling the necessary as well as the sufficient conditions to enable these important sectors to save lives and livelihoods during and after this crisis,” Dr Raihan, also the executive director of SANEM, opined.
Dr Rumana Huque, an economics professor at the University of Dhaka, indicated that the budget allocation is often incremental and lacks needs-based planning for all the important sectors including health.
“We need concrete research on the needs of the health sector to increase both the allocation and the capacity of the sector to fight against this pandemic and to make sustainable reforms in the health sector,” she argued.
In the speech of the special guest, Professor Dr Sadeka Halim, dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Dhaka, mentioned that the budget is an important political document where the state’s economic and political philosophy is reflected.
Hence, given the current context, she argued that the budget must provide necessary directions to improve the healthcare system at the union, sub-district, and district level across the country rather than by intensifying all the efforts in the capital city.
She also stated that, though the budget has a mention about quality education, neither sufficient allocation nor any specific direction has been given in the budget speech on materialising the dream of the quality education.
Finally, she asked the government to announce incentive as well as social protection schemes to protect the girls and women who are losing and may lose their jobs due to the Covid-19 crisis.
Former Advisor to the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh and Executive Director of CAMPE Ms Rasheda K Choudhury shared her insights in the event as the guest of honor.
She argued that, while the increased allocation for research on agriculture has been proved to be effective in ensuring food security for the nation, similar allocation has never been given to the research on education and health sectors.
Hence, she opined that, increasing the allocation in research for both education and health sectors may help bring about sustainable changes in both the sectors.
Keeping the Covid-19 crisis in mind, she urged the government to increase the allocation for and the coverage of both school stipend and school meal programmes to retain the students in schools.
Opining that this is the best time to show innovative and visionary policymaking and that the budget is an important political document to portray the visions of the government, in the speech of the chief guest, Professor Dr Md Akhtaruzzaman, vice-chancellor of Dhaka University, asked for more budgetary allocation on infrastructure, human resources and research purposes in both education and health sectors.
In the concluding speech as the chair of the event, Professor Dr Atiur Rahman strongly stressed the need for providing continued financial as well as technical supports to the frontline workers in the coming year.
Also a former Governor of Bangladesh Bank and a Bangabandhu Chair professor of the University of Dhaka, he asked the policymakers to be courageous and visionary in allocating and implementing budget in the priority sectors like health, agriculture, and social protection.
He also urged the government not to worry about the budget deficit this year and keep supporting these priority sectors as the targeted budget deficit of 6.0 per cent can be further expanded at least by 25 per cent from its current figure.
To finance the budget deficit, Dr Rahman suggested Bangladesh Bank be braver by selling more online bonds to non-resident Bangladeshis, to expand the balance sheet and to put larger refinancing schemes to provide loans for the marginalised people at lower interest rates.
Besides, he suggested the government seek bigger loan packages from World Bank, International Monetary Fund, Asian Development Bank, and Islamic Development Bank rather than by largely depending on the local banks.
Inaugurating the dialogue with his welcome speech, Dr Kazi Maruful Islam, a development studies professor at the University of Dhaka, put emphasis on the significance of accommodating all the relevant stakeholders in the budget-making process.
He also urged the policy makers to pay attention to the demands of the general people and to listen to the comments of the experts from different fields to make the budget more visionary and effective.
The CBP virtual dialogue was moderated by Md. Imran Hossain Bhuiyan, an assistant professor at the Development Studies Department at the University of Dhaka.