The stimulus packages announced by the government are ineffective in offsetting the plights of millions of working people amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown that made them jobless and live in growing fears of a looming food crisis.
The packages were mainly loan schemes when the nation badly needed more fiscal-oriented initiatives to minimise impacts of the unprecedented shutdown, said Dhaka University teacher Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir in an interview with New Age on Thursday.
Of the stimulus packages worth Tk95,619 crore or 3.3 per cent of the gross domestic product, he calculated that the contribution from the fiscal side were Tk 5,000 crore to the export-oriented sector, Tk 760 crore for jobless workers of the informal sector, Tk 100 crore incentive for health service providers and around Tk 250 crore for the health sector.
The rest includes Tk 30,000 to industries and the service sector, Tk 20,000 crore for small and medium enterprises and Tk 5,000 crore for agricultural loan schemes, he said.
Titumir, professor of the department of development studies, who was also critical of the current approach by the government to tackle the disaster ‘not known nor seen before', said that the government approach simply go against the opportunity that had been created to forge a national unity irrespective of politicians, academicians and economists to meet the challenges.
He alleged that the government was hesitant to take the safeguard measures much earlier despite knowing the fact that major economic indicators including export and import, local demand and revenue were falling apart.
He, however, said that an opportunity was still there to untilise the cash distribution scheme by the government to keep the purchasing power intact of the overwhelming population of informal sector workers, now jobless. This can be accomplished by assisting the supply side, he added.
He recommended the use of the national identification card database and the army to identify the beneficiaries of the cash distribution scheme to get over the challenges of identifying actual jobless people and check misappropriation of fund.
Since army was already there in aid to civil administration, they should also be involved in distributing the cash assistance through bank accounts, he said.
Titumir further said involvement of army would help the government restore the public trust decayed already because of rampant leakages and corruption in food distribution allegedly by ruling party leaders forcing the government to suspend the food ration.
Titumir said that Tk 760 crore was a paltry allocation since staggering 85 per cent of the labour force was employed in the informal sector.
He said that the recent 2017 Labour Force Survey of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics said around 60 million were employed as wage labourers, of which 51.7 million are working devoid of job security in this unorganised sector.
According to Titumir, Tk 15,000 should be given to each effected household for six months as a basic grant.
Besides, the government needed to procure more rice, he said, adding that the procurement should be done locally and distributed in the same area primarily and then other areas where there is a food shortage.
He said bleak forecast made my World Bank, International Monetary Fund were subjected to revision since more time was needed to get the real picture whether the county’s GDP would grow less than 3 per cent in the current fiscal.
He said that the COVID-19 outbreak was a wake-up call for the government to increase budgetary allocation to the health sector which was less than 1 per cent of the GDP, much lower than 5 per cent of GDP suggested by the UN.
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