The question of free flow of or the right to information is not a convenient catchphrase with political overtone. Quite to the contrary! In truth, it is crucial to the country's economic growth. Sooner the policymakers become alive to the issue, the better. Especially, the criticality of the issue has attained a greater significance at the moment as the nation is close to graduating from its LDC status to a middle-income economy (MIE). At this point, a change in the traditional outlook towards information, particularly, at the different tiers of the administration, would be necessary, as viewed economists and other experts at a recently held discussion in the city.
Regrettably, people with conventional outlook or mindset are still inclined to believe that information or data are something intangible and as such do hardly merit much consideration as an economic input. But nothing can be more misplaced as a notion, especially, in this era of knowledge economy. Mention may be made in this context of the problem of data availability during framing of the national budgets. The recent experience in this regard is a case in point. Curiously, the information required to determine deficit financing was reportedly hard to come by from the relevant government departments. A case of acute data scarcity was also evident during the pandemic-time disbursement of financial assistance to the vulnerable groups. Even the public representatives of the different localities were not aware of the amounts of the financial assistance so released and who its intended recipients were. Not unexpectedly, the government's Eid Gifts, in the form of cash support amounting to Tk 2,500 for each recipient, could finally reach only to 20 per cent of the targeted beneficiaries.
So, it is hardly surprising that Bangladesh has been losing points on the 'open budget index' score card. In the FY 2019 it scored 36 points which was rather low compared to what it earned in the previous years, for instance, in the FY 2015. However, the latest record on this score has been at a reassuring level of 42 points. While appreciating that some progress has meanwhile been made at least towards retaining its previous position, it still cannot be said to be enough. Against this backdrop, there is no gainsaying the importance of our getting out of the state of what economists at the discussion in question termed 'data blindness' that the country has been said to be suffering from.
Unfortunately, this is the reality when the nation is on its way to a deregulated, liberalised economy. In this situation, to meet any challenge to the sought-after graduation from present to the LDC status, garnering sufficient support from the international community will be crucial. But that would require the aspiring economy's having the so-called 'trigger indicators' which basically rest pressingly on the obtainability of adequate financial information. For the purpose, a concerted effort should be in place on the part of the different sectors of the economy, not least the media, to create the demand for such information. What is to be noted here is that overcoming the condition of information or data deficit is not exclusively concerned with the nation's MIE graduation. It is more than that. In fact, accessibility to and control of data will be the sine qua non of a functional economy in the upcoming era of fourth industrial revolution or 4IR.