The Financial Express

Pre-noon placement of national budget

Pre-noon placement of national budget

The finance minister will place the national budget for the next fiscal year (FY22) in the first or second week of June next. As per the long tradition, the budget will be placed in national parliament on Thursday afternoon. Here is, however, an argument for changing the placement time of the budget, from afternoon to morning.

Placing the budget in the afternoon by the finance minister's speech is a legacy of the colonial era. At that time, the Indian subcontinent was ruled by the British government.  Back then, members of the British parliament listened to the Indian budget through radio transmission in London. That's why the British-Indian budget was placed afternoon, at 5.00 pm to be precise. Though the British rulers left more than seven decades ago, like many other colonial systems and traditions, the schedule of budget announcement is still followed in the sub-continent. The federal budget in Pakistan is placed at 5.00 pm. India, however, has revised the time. Since 2001, the annual union budget of India has been announced at 11.0am morning. India also has broken with the tradition of announcing the budget on the last day of February since 2016. Now the budget is placed on the first day of February.

In Bangladesh, there are also some arguments favouring announcing the budget in the afternoon of the last working day of the week. The main idea is to avoid manipulation or undue advantage, taken by a few quarters, from the proposed or announced fiscal measures. As banking transactions and customs clearance at the ports are closed by the afternoon of Thursday and there is no bank or port activities resumption until Sunday morning, new tax measures have no immediate impact.

This kind of logic has little validity now. The tariff structure in Bangladesh has become simple thanks to a series of reforms in the last two decades. Trade liberalisation also makes imports of many products duty-free. Moreover, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the secrecy of fiscal or tax measures. Finally, the tax authorities can clearly instruct banks and ports to process any export or import bill based on new duty rates with effect from the first working day after the announcement of the budget in the morning on Thursday.

If the finance minister announces the budget at 11.00 am or 11.30 am on Thursday, the media, especially the newspapers, will get sufficient breathing space to listen, read, comprehend and analyse the budget. Thus, journalists can prepare comprehensive news and reports on budgetary measures and present those before the readers. Currently, journalists have to come under tremendous stress due to having a maximum of five/six hours in hand. So, the scope of errors and omissions is ample now, and it is not possible to provide all the necessary information on budgetary steps. Businesses and experts will also get sufficient time to go through the budget documents and make their observations and analyses more accurate and objective. 

By starting his budget speech in the morning, the finance minister will also be able to conclude his presentation by 4.00 pm, even after having prayer and lunch break. Thus, he and his team will also get enough time to make some necessary clarifications. All these will enhance the transparency of the budget in general. The immediate reaction from financial and commodity markets will expose the sensitivity of the budget.

This year, the nation is celebrating the golden jubilee of the independence of Bangladesh. The year also marks the birth centenary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. The FY22 budget will also be the 50th national budget of the country.  By placing the budget in the morning this year, the finance minister can pay homage to the three historical events uniquely. He will also become the pioneer for breaking with the colonial legacy.


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