2 years ago

Economists suggest redirecting public finances into protection recipes

Published :

Updated :

The government should urgently act to resurrect purchasing power of the down-and-outs as the impact of the pandemic is much stronger on them, says a citizens' coalition, and suggests a recovery budget next.

Based on the findings of a study, the group of economists and aid agencies stresses redirecting public resources towards such protection recipes and recovery priorities.

In the report of the study, conducted by Citizen's Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, it is observed that the Covid-19 affected every SDG pillar, almost all indicators and transmitted multitude of challenges to the vulnerable.

This increased pre-existing vulnerabilities of the "traditionally left behind" and created new challenges for the "newly pushed behind".

Amongst all the SDGs, economic and social-related development targets have been most affected. The Covid-19 had a more intensified impact on poverty, inequality and employment-related areas. Education, child marriage and violence against women will continue to impact in the medium term, it predicts.

Tracking mechanisms to capture the pandemic impact on SDGs are severely affected due to the dearth of data. There are hardly any up-to-date data to capture the impact of Covid-19 on SDG targets.

The findings of the study, titled 'What Impact Will Pandemic Have on SDGs Delivery in Bangladesh?', were shared at a briefing and review session organised by the Citizen's Platform.

Sharing the outcomes of the study, convenor of the platform Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya said no indicator experienced impact of a "low" severity. Impact ranged between "medium" (57 per cent of indicators) to "high severity" (43 per cent of indicators) in terms of possibility of implementing the SDGs.

"The impact would persist for at least three years if the rates of Covid-19 infection and fatality come down to zero tomorrow," he says.

Mr Bhattacharya, also distinguished fellow at CPD (Centre for Policy Dialogue), feels that the immediate focus must be on protecting the purchasing power of the disadvantaged people by controlling the cost of basic living and enhancing income opportunities.

The government should immediately reduce duties, tariffs and taxes to make prices of essentials more affordable and provide access to basic commodities at "fair prices" by expanding open-market sales (OMS) operations, the forum suggests.

The government should expand public works, social-protection programmes and food assistance and increase the tax rebates for job creation. Public resources will need to be redirected for subsidy to protect prices of electricity, fuel, food and fertilizer, according to the economist.

He says the upcoming national budget of FY2022-23 should be designed in the context of following recent developments which threaten to raise vulnerabilities of the disadvantaged.

"Overall policy approach should be towards using SDGs as a framework for post-pandemic recovery by prioritising public expenditure on education and health in view of COVID losses," he adds.

Chairing the event, Core Group Member of the platform Dr Ahmed Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury said the country can also use the learning of the pandemic as an opportunity to implement reform to address the weaknesses in the prevailing system.

"We also have to use the lessons of current crisis to build forward better," says Mr Chowdhury, also convener of Bangladesh Health Watch.

CPD distinguished fellow Prof Mustafizur Rahman discussed social protection and demanded expansion of social-safety net adequately in urban and peri-urban areas.

"To this end, lack of data and information is obstructing government from reaching the people in need," he says.

Chief executive of Nagorik Uddyog Mr Zakir Hossain observed that the high prices of essential commodities are not adequately addressed by the policymakers.

He also gave importance on conducting an independent midterm review of SDG implications as the country is crossing the mid-point of 2030 timeline.

General secretary of Bangladesh Mahila Parishad Dr Maleka Banu said the pandemic increased inequality, including gender inequality, while lack of good governance further constrained addressing this issue.

Director (Programme Development and Quality) at Save the Children in Bangladesh Mr Reefat Bin Sattar highlighted that the pandemic might have affected all, but those with better resilience were able to cope better.

While fighting the Covid impacts, he said the health sector faced difficulties to deal with priorities such as maternal and child care.

He also notes that being absent from school during the pandemic adversely affected the mental health of children, so this will require special attention.

Talking on the context of the climate effect, chief executive of Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) Syeda Rizwana Hasan said budgetary allocations for environment and climate had declined in recent years.

The COVID-19 has deprioritised environmental issues for government which Bangladesh, as a climate-vulnerable country, cannot afford, she says.

Country Director of WaterAid Bangladesh Hasin Jahan mentioned that Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) was key in countering the pandemic. "Unfortunately, budget allocations have declined for WASH. In Bangladesh, budget for WASH is highly urban-biased," she told the meet.

"It is critical to give more importance to rural areas. Additionally, budget tracking for WASH is not possible due to lack of separate budget code," she adds.

Program Manager of Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) Dr Mostafizur Rahaman recalled the fact that the poorest and most disadvantaged children were deprived of online-based education during the pandemic.

"The children who are more at risk of dropping out should be provided more fiscal incentives in the next budget," he says.

Professor at the Department of Economics of the University of Dhaka Dr Rumana Huque urges ensuring public health services for the marginalised people, including the urban poor.

Executive Director of Centre for Services and Information on Disability (CSID) Khandekar Jahurul Alam, General Secretary of Horijon Eikko Parishad Raju Bashfor and Coordinator of the Citizen's Platform Anisatul Fatema Yousuf also spoke at the programme.

[email protected]

Share this news