A NATIONAL budget does not merely mean the annual financial accounts of a country; it rather provides for a political and philosophical sense of direction towards economic development. The national budget, with the total outlay of Tk 5,231.9 billion, that the finance minister proposed, and the prime minister partly read out, in the parliament on Thursday for the 2019–2020 financial year very well subsumes the political direction at hand. But the political direction, unfortunately, is twisted and tilted to favour the rich, who having owned most of the nation’s wealth account for a small portion of the population. This is also inconsistent with the principles of Bangladesh’s war for liberation which envisaged an egalitarian economy, with no disparity, financial and otherwise, across social strata. What is worryingly evident in the budget proposal is that it has largely showed restraints in clearly spelling out any measures that it rhetorically claims to have in the egalitarian distribution of wealth, creation of employment and enhancement of income while it has been loud in affording the rich benefits that they have already enjoyed, depriving the teeming millions for ages and creating the scope for inequality in society to widen further.
The budget proposes no increase in the tax-free income limit, keeping it unchanged at Tk 250,000, which chooses to ignore the impact of inflation on low-earning individual tax-payers. But it proposes an increase in the surcharge-free limit of net assets of Tk 25 million by Tk 5 million which would benefit the rich. It proposes the legalisation of undisclosed money by way of a reduction in tax on the purchase of flats and land and by way of investment in economic zones and hi-tech parks with a 10 per cent tax. Such a budgetary provision is a breach of the ruling Awami League’s electoral pledges. In addition, such scopes, which the government thinks would increase private investment, is said to have failed to work in the past. The budget proposes an additional allocation of Tk 28.25 billion in cash incentive for apparel export and an allocation of Tk 30.6 billion for a 2 per cent incentive for remittances, which is said to be setting a bad precedent by way of creating multiple exchange rates. It also proposes the implementation of the Value Added Tax Act, enacted in 2012, with multiple rates but fails to suggest a tariff measure for some essential commodity such as cooking oil and sugar, which is likely to hurt people of middle and low income. The budget proposal also overlooks agriculture, which employs the largest single work force, by way of a 5.4 per cent allocation when it was 5.7 per cent in the 2019 financial year albeit with an increased allocation in monetary terms. It also proposes a not-so-high increase in allocation for education, this time with 11.68 per cent of the total outlay against 11.4 per cent in the outgoing financial year.
The rich-friendly budget proposal, which almost all business quarters have readily welcomed, vainly talks about wealth redistribution and employment creation as it lacks direction on ways to do them to make society egalitarian. The government, in a situation like this, must review the budget proposal, taking more the interest of the middle- and low-income people keeping in mind the liberation war promises of Bangladesh — equality, human dignity and social justice.
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