AN INCREASE in the cost of living by 8.44 per cent in the capital city, as New Age reported on Wednesday quoting from the annual report of the Consumers Association of Bangladesh for 2017, is gravely concerning as the soaring cost has added to the hardship that about 20 million of the extreme poor people and others from the low-income group face. The situation has been due to the increase in prices of food and other essential goods, utility charges and house rent. One hundred and fourteen food items and 22 other essential items became costlier in 2017, putting down the increase in prices food items and services at 7.17 per cent. In 2016, as the association report says, the cost of living increased by 6.47 per cent and prices of food items and services by 5.81 per cent. Such an increase has only left consumers, especially the poor, fixed- and low-income group people, to struggle to meet their daily needs. In 2017, apart from essential commodities, the cost of education and medical treatment has also increased. Even rent in slums of the city has increased by 8.24 per cent.
While experts blamed, and rightly, the government for this situation, which is busy looking for ways to fatten its exchequer by passing the burden only onto consumers, the government’s indifference to oversight issues of the market, which is mostly driven by trader’s tendency to make windfall profits, has also been equally blamed. The government has hardly succeeded in making an effective market intervention to keep prices within the reach of ordinary people. Coupled with that, it has increased power and energy prices, especially oil prices, which are lower on the international market, the fallout of which has hit the consumers hard in some other forms also. Corruption that has continued apace and extortion have been blamed by experts for such a high cost of living. The government is often blamed for not ensuring, or not even trying to ensure, that the economic benefits that are created within the economy trickle down more to the people living around the poverty line. The contrary has, rather, happened, making the rich richer and the poor poorer. The government has further failed to ensure access of the poor to food by way of the state-run agencies such as the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh.
The government, under the circumstances, must make market intervention to keep prices within the reach of people, more for the poor. It must also keep prices of power and energy, which are often said to have been the results of flawed planning in the power and energy sector and corruption and mismanagement, low and try to keep off expensive rental power by improving on the public-sector power plants. If it cannot ensure that the economic benefits that are crated reach all strata of society, it is unlikely that the situation would change. The government needs, above all, the political will to do all this.
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