For the last couple of years, the concept of 'youth budget' has occupied a space in the mainstream policy debate. Though there is no universal definition of 'youth budget', it has become a buzzword in developing countries including Bangladesh. The term `youth budget' is interchangeably used with 'budget for younger generation', `youth-centric budget', 'young people's budget' etc. The core idea is to make adequate public investment for healthy and sustainable advancement of young manpower in a county. Policy makers, economists, analysts, business leaders, academics, activists and civil society members have been stressing on youth-centric budget as Bangladesh has been going through its first phase of demographic dividend.
Demographic dividend indicates the socio-economic opportunities offered by a larger working age population. The country's working age (15-64) population is now larger than those of the non-working-age. Total population is now 161.3 million of which 101.10 million is working age, according to the Labour Force Survey 2016-17 (LFS FY17). The country is now midway in the first demographic dividend period which is likely to end by 2030-2040. To utilise the demographic dividend efficiently, youth-centric budget is considered a critical instrument.
The Seventh Five-Year Plan (7FYP) which covers the second-half of the current decade (FY16-FY20) said: "Annual Budgets will be formulated in a manner consistent with the realisation of the Seventh Plan objectives. Annual Budget and ADP ought to be synchronised to use them as tools for achieving the objective of the plan."(P-114) Thus, youth budget or budgetary allocation for youth needs to be guided by the 7FYP. Several youth related policies have already been formulated and projects have been initiated in accordance with targets and objectives stated in the 7FYP."
In its election manifesto in December last year, Bangladesh Awami League, the party in power, promised for creating job opportunities for the young and productive segments of the population as well as help facilitate in engaging them in income generation and nation building. It pledged reducing the unemployment rate to 12 per cent by 2023 and creating 15 million new jobs by the same period. It also pledged to provide financial support to the youth who aspire to start businesses, do innovations and generate jobs for peers. So, commitment for the advancement of youth is also there and government is asserting the importance of youth-centric budget.
Civil society organisations like Action Aid Bangladesh and IID are trying to provide some inputs in this regard. For instance, these two organisations prepared a research paper and a policy brief focusing on youth-centric budget. The paper analysed the key issues in 7FYP concerning youth affairs under several components. It showed that 7FYP underscores: (a) promotion of technical and vocational education and e-learning opportunities, (b) skill development at the national level, (c) development of infrastructure to facilitate youth activities, (d) health and social protection, and (e) job creation.
The research also pointed out that youth-centric budget or investing on youth is important to achieve the SDGs. In fact, four targets under SDG-4 and SDG-8 talk about youth and youth affairs. Three of the targets are relevant to Bangladesh while remaining one calls for global commitment and effort. Among these, target 4.4 speaks of increasing the number of youth and adults by 2030 who have relevant skills including technical and vocational skills, for employment, decent jobs and entrepreneurship.
Defining the youth segment of the population is important. According to the Youth Policy 2017 of Bangladesh, people aged between 18 and 35 years have been referred to as youths. In contrast, the United Nations (UN) and the Commonwealth Secretariat respectively use the age range of 15-24 and 15-29 years for defining youth. The Labour Force Survey uses both the UN and the Commonwealth definition to identify the age of youth as well as determine the size of youth labour force. However, it finally uses the 15-29 age bracket to define youth labour force in the country and mentioned that more than 20 million youths aged 15-29 participated in the labour force and also identified that youth labour force represented 31.6 per cent of the total labour force. Though the LFS mentioned that the age of youth was defined as 18-35 years by the youth ministry, it didn't provide any information about the number and employment situation of this age group. Thus harmonising the definition of youth with international practice appears necessary to make public expenditure policy effective for youth development.
Budgetary allocations for different sectors can show how youth-centric a national budget is. AAB-IID research tried to find out a trend by such analysis. It pointed out that at least 22 ministries and divisions may be considered directly involved in the youth-affairs and youth-related issues. These ministries and divisions include education, science and technology, labour and employment, expatriates' welfare and overseas employment, youth and sports, cultural affairs, religious affairs, information, post and telecommunication, civil aviation and tourism, health, social welfare, women and children affairs, agriculture, fisheries, industries, finance and planning. Total budget size of these 22 ministries and divisions is Tk 1.93 trillion in FY19 which was around 41.72 per cent of the total budget (Tk 4.64 trillion) of the fiscal year. Original combined budgetary allocation of these ministries and divisions in FY18 was Tk 1.66 trillion which declined by 21.16 per cent to Tk 1.37 trillion in revised one. At the same time, original national budget of Tk 4.00 trillion declined by 7.81 per cent to Tk 3.72 trillion in the revised budget of FY18. Now, if the allocation for the finance and planning ministries is deducted, total allocation for the remaining 20 ministries and divisions (which are considered directly important for youth budget), stood at Tk 1.19 trillion in FY19 which was around 27.46 per cent of the national budget for the fiscal year. The ratio was 29.63 per cent in FY18 (original outlay) and 31.75 per cent in FY17 (actual outlay). So, it may appear that combined budgetary allocations of youth-related ministries and divisions were sharply revised downward.
But this kind of conclusion is misleading as ministry or division-wise allocation is not enough to understand the real extent of youth budget. Instead of ministry-wise allocation, allocations for the sectors critical for youth development may be a more pragmatic approach. Action Aid-IID policy brief also tried to show that about a quarter of the national budget is allocated to sectors that are critical to youth development. These sectors are: education, skills and employment, social and health care. It matches the IID Youth Manifesto Survey 2019 that identified five most important sectors related to the youths. These are: education, employment, health and medical service, transportation and women's rights establishment.
It needs detailed analysis to identify direct and indirect youth-related allocations in different ministries and divisions. Budgetary allocation is one part of the story while the other part rests with actual spending. It is a challenging task as some allocations as well as spending are cross-cutting in nature. Moreover, sometimes it is impossible to identify whether an allocation is directly or indirectly related to youth. A lot of grey areas are there.
So, to differentiate direct and indirect allocations, developing a set of indicators is essential. Without a clear set of indicators, the campaign on youth budget may not bring optimal benefit in the long-run. A toolkit may be developed in this regard.
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