The Centre on Budget and Policy (CBP), University of Dhaka, recently held a virtual dialogue, titled ‘Pre-Budget Virtual Dialogue 2020’ on the upcoming budget amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Dr Md Akhtaruzzaman, vice-chancellor of the University of Dhaka, took part as the chief guest in the programme.
Professor Dr Md Kamal Uddin, treasurer of the university, joined as the Chair in the dialogue while Professor Dr Atiur Rahman, ex-governor of Bangladesh Bank, was present as the guest of honour.
Professor Dr ASM Maksud Kamal, president of Dhaka University Teacher’s Association, Professor Dr Mustafizur Rahman, senate member of the University of Dhaka and Distinguished Fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), Dr Selim Raihan, Professor of Economics, University of Dhaka and executive director of SANEM, Dr Taiabur Rahman, Professor of Development Studies Department, University of Dhaka, and Dr Kazi Maruful Islam, Professor of Development Studies Department at University of Dhaka, joined as special discussants in this dialogue.
Md Imran Hossain Bhuiyan, Assistant Professor of Development Studies Department, University of Dhaka moderated the dialogue.
Professor Dr M Abu Eusuf, director of Centre on Budget and Policy (CBP), presented the keynote speech in the programme. In his speech, Dr Eusuf said that we have to inhibit the reduction of our GDP, increasing poverty rate, instability in our market economy, and the effects of world economic recession.
He further focused on increasing budget on health and social protection programmes to ensure public health and to normalise the lives of marginalised people.
Dr Eusuf mentioned that the preserved amount of ADP from previous budget should be utilised in the prioritised sectors to save our economy. He also asked the government to allocate at least 10 per cent of our budget for the health sector and 20 per cent for the social security sector.
Dr Selim Raihan focused on spending more budget on health, education, and social protection. He laid emphasis on effective budget implementation with more transparency and less leakage. He also mentioned that the budget deficit can be raised from current rate of 5.0 per cent to 8.0 per cent of GDP in the next budget.
In the dialogue, Dr Taiabur Rahman asked the government to make budget preparation more participatory in the coming years, via both online and offline participation, from different segments of citizens and professionals.
He further urged for more active roles of parliamentary standing committees in preparing and implementing budget effectively.
Dr Mustafizur Rahman termed the current situation three-pronged crisis, combining health, economic and humanitarian problems. He drew the government’s attention to implement universal health care policy as soon as possible.
Dr Rahman also asked the authorities to devise and implement health insurance for all. He suggested the government and the banking sector to create subsidised loan support for the underprivileged university students so that they can pursue higher education.
Dr Atiur Rahman began his speech by thanking the frontline workers during the ongoing pandemic and asked for their financial and technical supports in the coming years.
He termed the upcoming budget ‘a budget for survival’ (beche thakar budget) and asked the concerned authorities to implement necessary steps, such as providing cash transfers to the marginalised people through Mobile Financial Services (MFS).
Dr Rahman asked the government to collect seasonal fruits, paddy and other crops directly from the farmers; thus eliminate the middlemen problem and save our agriculture sector.
Ensuring the right price of agricultural goods and keeping the supply chain intact are two key challenges for the agriculture sector in the coming budget, he said.
To finance the expansionary budget next year, he suggested Bangladesh Bank to sell more online bond to the non-resident Bangladeshis, expand the balance sheet, and put larger refinancing schemes to provide loans for the marginalised people at lower interest rates. He also suggested the government to keep up the game in ‘economic diplomacy’ to receive bigger loan packages from World Bank, IMF, ADB, and IDB.
Later in the dialogue, Professor Dr ASM Maksud Kamal gave his remarks on the upcoming budget. He emphasised the need for more technical and financial attention to the disaster management and relief activities in the next budget.
Referring to the multi-faceted crises brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and the probable devastation that Super Cyclone Amphan could bring, he said that disaster management, as well as relief management, are two key areas where we need more planning and financing in the coming years.
Dr Md. Akhtaruzzaman started his speech echoing the view of Dr Atiur Rahman. He said that the public universities in the country are the true example of being economical while serving a larger segment of population with a limited budget.
When asked about implementing online classes at Dhaka University, Dr Md Akhtaruzzaman said that this is a big challenge for a public university where at least one-third of the students and their families are facing extreme financial as well as mental crises during this pandemic. He cited this referring to an internal study conducted among the students of the university. Dr Akhtaruzzaman said that the university authority is actively considering the possibility of taking online classes only after ensuring students’ technical, financial, and psychological states are stable.
At the end of the programme, Professor Dr Md Kamal Uddin asked for more budgetary allocation to the universities for scientific research. He expressed hope to keep supporting the students, teachers, and officials of the university utilising the institution’s limited budget.