Giving debate a chance  

Mahmudur Rahman     | Published: March 12, 2019 22:21:44 | Updated: March 23, 2019 12:51:53

Each year we hear of the budget session of parliament shifting to the Gregorian calendar so as to allow for adequate time for the debate. It doesn't happen resulting in a pell mell hurry over a month that rarely gets the consideration due it. The fiscal doesn't get the debate it deserves and very little by way of a proper debate. That leaves us with no real critique over the inevitable surplus or stricture of unspent money or what happens to it. Following several cuts to the Annual Development plans newer, unbudgeted expenses are picked on the appropriation budget that speaks weakly about budget discipline.

It's time therefore for an early placement of budget somewhat like the United States where the proposals are proposed in March with implementation beginning in September that allows for time to allow businesses to plan their business accordingly. In an absolute majority like ours the budget debate gets mixed up with speeches in the President's speech whereby tax-payers' money is unnecessarily utilised. Discussions are limited to the qualitative rather than the quantitative, leaving little scope for fire tin to be clarified. The appropriation budgets are mostly on essentially unnecessary expenditure and designed to keep the government expenses running rather than a bird's eye view of the country's health.

The Prime Minister's Office always runs  short but few questions are asked why this should happen year on year making a mockery of the process. On the contrary, unlike moneys returned to the exchequer for want of spending , the demands are always more than allocation leading one to believe that the PMO expenses aren't going through due diligence. On the other hand project aid wrung out of stressful negotiations is falling short of implementation thereby affecting negatively on the projects' questioning their viability in the first place. Over Tk 1420 crore is being returned from the Roads and Bridges Division --a combination of slow process that makes it impossible to implement on time. Similarly other ministries and divisions did likewise sending back project aid but asking for more local resources i.e. tax-payer's money.

They almost always get their way but once again accountability is not ensured. The Implementation Monitoring Evaluation Authority doesn't ask rude questions but maybe that will change with a new Planning Minister at the helm. Whether parliamentarians will pick up the issue is anyone's guess. If more time is allocated to listen to them as well as experts, budget management might well improve.

The Finance Minister had accolades in his previous role as Planning Minister insisting project implementation was much improved. With a new VAT law in the offing and with the shoe on the other foot, perhaps his view will change. A possibility of energy prices isn't providing any comfort either but there are rumours of 'surprises' in this year's budget. Let's hope they are of the pleasant type.


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