THE national budget for Bangladesh, with a total outlay of Tk 4,64,573 crore, that the finance minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith proposed in the parliament on Thursday for the 2019 financial year appears to be stupendous, not clearly mentioning how such an overly-sized budget would be implemented. While the structural principles of the budget proposal, serving moneyed interest and lacking measures for financial reforms, are almost what they were in the budget for the outgoing 2018 financial year, the proposal with over a fourth of the total amount in the deficit, or Tk 1,25,293 crore, rides on the wings of external and domestic borrowings, as the government’s expenditure would far exceed its revenue income. The proposed budget lacks clarity on the source of fund. The situation has pushed the government to make an allocation of 11.1 per cent of the budget for interest payment. An 18 per cent of the total budget outlay has been set aside for the salaries of public servants, an amount that is very high and, in percentage, has been almost the same as that in the outgoing budget, but the government has largely faltered in curbing corruption in the public sector and by public servants.
The budget speech has proposed to shelve out an unspecified amount of the allocated fund on bailing out banks such as Sonali, Janata and BASIC, which have been mired in politically linked loan scams bringing down the banking sector, with the government not taking effective measures to get down on irregularities and people responsible for this. The finance minister in his speech has proposed a decrease in corporate tax, indicting the government’s propensity to serve moneyed interest, and an expansion in the purview of value added tax, with a prediction for the collection of Tk 2,96,201 crore in revenue, which is likely to push up prices of rice, furniture and clothes, among other commodities. The budget speech has also proposed to keep the income tax threshold for individuals unchanged at Tk 2,50,000 which would hit the middle-class hard, especially with the expansion of VAT net. The finance minister spent a substantial part of his four-hour speech on listing economic progress that the Awami League-led government during its legitimate and illegitimate tenures achieved, but he conveniently remained almost silent about prickly issues such as law and order, the ailing baking sector, overpricing in development projects, default and non-performing loans, commodity prices, traffic congestion and inefficiency of the public administration and development project management. The budget speech has mentioned no measures to attend to such issues.
The proposal for the national budget for the 2019 financial year has, thus, once again veered away from the principles of Bangladesh’s war for liberation which envisaged an egalitarian economy, with no disparity, financial and otherwise, across social strata. It is, therefore, not a matter of surprise that not only the Awami League’s prime political opponent Bangladesh Nationalist Party but also left political parties have rejected the budget proposal and even the business community has expressed mixed reaction in this connection. In a situation like this, the government must review the budget proposal, weighing the views that different stakeholders have earlier expressed about budgetary aspirations, obviously keeping in mind the liberation war promises of Bangladesh, before its passage.
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