When Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal expresses his hope for creation of at least a job for each family, the majority of the people are not likely to take it seriously. In a country of no fewer than 160 million, providing each family with employment is not only daunting but practically near impossible. At least this is the impression most people gets, considering the level of education and skill of a large segment of society in the bottom rung. This is no Sikkim where the 'one family, one job' may be easier to implement.
However, in the context the minister deliberated on the subject his assertion does not at all look outlandish. He has referred to the social security network observing that the expenditure on this sector is not well organised. So there is a need for reappraisal of the government largesse in favour of tagging it with growth and employment. The finance minister did not give any timeline by which the job can be accomplished. This means he needs works to do before setting any target.
This sounds pragmatic. It is so because the minister has made such an observation in relation to the drafting of an 'easy and exoteric' budget. A country's budget may not give an authentic picture of social progress or the living standard of its citizens but it is a true reflection of the economic policies and social programmes it pursues in order to spur growth and development respectively. So, the next budget to be presented by the incumbent finance minister is expected to leave some sure hints at the social programmes to be supported by allocation of finance.
Let it be clear that Bangladesh is at the top of the list of those countries which saw the fastest rate of growth of the super rich in the latest such global survey. So far as wealth creation is concerned, the country is way ahead of many of its kind but unfortunately it is limited to the upper circle. At the bottom layer of society, its impact is next to nothing. Now the finance minister will have to blow into the system fresh air in order to make his dream come true. He has to infuse fresh blood into the rural economy.
Happily, up to a point his vision seems to be clear enough. He claims that the budget will be pro-growth, pro-development with its emphasis on job creation and export. One can argue when it was not. This will be followed by the next argument if this will be enough for creating employment for at least one member of a family. Evidently, it does not guarantee any such thing.
Realistically, it will be a long process in which more needs to be done. In a country where unemployment among the educated youths is 40 per cent and the primary and secondary school dropout rates cannot be managed, the main target should be remodelling the system of education. In the garments sector alone, there is a huge demand for technical hands but unfortunately the RMG factories are mostly dependent on such foreign employees numbering more than 0.2 million. And they remit $5.0 billion annually. In some other industries also expatriate employees and consultants hold top positions.
There is no compulsion for the republic to provide each family with a government job. After all, it is not proposing to be a welfare state of the socialistic model. But then there is no harm in judiciously making investment to drive the engine of growth. Now that the world is preparing for the fourth industrial revolution, Bangladesh should as well know how to make a balance between its demographic resources and automation. The fourth industrial revolution envisages a predominance of robotics and artificial intelligence.
In its favour Bangladesh has a dominantly young population but planning with it matters most. A forward-looking plan well executed in the area of education and training can help realise demographic dividends. The finance minister cannot achieve any of its envisioned goals unless education for the young generation can be made responsive to the challenges of the time. As for the backward and poor communities which are yet to be ready to accept modern knowledge and technology and derive benefits from them, there is need for crash programmes. The poor and laggards will fall back further if they cannot adapt to the digitised systems that will sweep all areas of human communication, financial transactions and even learning.
The country's young population has proved its resourcefulness but that is at a select level of society. At the bottom layer, children still get stunted because of poverty and want of nutritious food along with poor hygiene. It is a whole package of social reform there that has to be financed adequately to raise the level of health and education. Alleviation of poverty alone will not do. Children from poor families cannot compete with those from well-to-do ones simply because under the system they suffer from ill health and cannot manage the all-round support needed for a commercialised type of schooling.
So these are the areas that have to be addressed first in order to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. The country's resources should be invested wisely to do this. For example higher incomes have to be taxed at a high rate in order to garner funds for the purpose. Execution of such socio-economic programmes is a prerequisite for achieving the finance minister's objective of 'one family, one job'.
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