Budget thought in time of COVID-19

Emphasis sought on SMEs to boost employment

Experts see leak-free safety net programme a major challenge for govt    

Shakhawat Hossain   | Published: 23:48, May 29,2020 | Updated: 23:54, May 29,2020


Economic experts have asked the government to change the employment generation policies by prioritising the small and medium industries in the upcoming annual budget against the backdrop of massive joblessness caused by the coronavirus outbreak at home and abroad.

They said that the COVID-19 crisis should be an opportunity for the policymakers to expand a leakage-free social safety net programme and blend it with job creation for millions in the labour-surplus country for the new fiscal year beginning from July 1.

They, however, noted that the pro-people social safety net programme and employment generation policy would be no less challenging than reviving the growth of export, import, demand and production, also affected by the coronavirus-induced shutdown since March 26.

Former caretaker government adviser Mirza Azizul Islam said that the main aims of the social safety net programme and employment generation should be target-oriented which was somehow missed in the programme run by the present government over the years.

The employment generation proramme should be matched with the majority workforce and the social safety net programme should be leakage-free to have the optimum benefit out of the programmes, he said.

According to the ministry of finance, the government has been running dozens of social safety net programmes every year.

In  20018-19, an allocation of Tk 46,177.22 crore was made for the purpose.

Allowances for widows and deserted and destitute women, financially insolvent disabled; assistance for patients of cancer, kidney, liver cirrhosis and other illnesses;  grants for residents in government orphanages and other such institutions; programme for livelihood improvement of tea-garden labourers: honorarium for freedom fighters:  block allocation for disaster management; and pension for the retired government employees are among the programmes.

But there have been widespread criticisms about the criteria for the selection of beneficiaries.

Some 50 per cent beneficiaries of old-age and widow allowances are not poor, said Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies research director Binayak Sen referring to studies.

The government has expanded social safety net programmes in the outgoing fiscal year by including more people under the vulnerable and destitute food relief scheme and allocating cash assistance to 50 lakh jobless people, said Shah Kamal, secretary of the disaster management and relief ministry.

He said that the programme was likely to continue in the new fiscal year too.

But economic experts pointed out that the expanded social safety net programmes would not bring any major benefit unless the government corrected the flaws in the selection processes.

Former Bangladesh Bank governor Salehuddin Ahmed said that there was no justification of including the pension for the retired government employees in the social safety net programme only to fatten its size.

In 2018–19,  Tk 22,639.46 crore was spent on the pension for the retired government employees, which was close to half of the total budgetary allocation shown for the social safety net programmes in that fiscal year.

Salehuddin said that it was regrettable that the planning commission had proposed the allocation of Tk 52,000 crore for the transport infrastructure sector in the new annual development programme.

Pointing out that the transport infrastructure sector could not employ much manpower with the introduction of sophisticated equipment, he said that the country needed higher allocations in the small and medium enterprises to solve the growing unemployment problem.

The SMEs should get priority over the industry as Tk 10 crore investments in SMEs often create same number of jobs against Tk 100 crore investments in an industry, said the former BB governor.

The economic experts also suggested that the government should give emphasis on job-oriented education as a BIDS study released in December 2019 showed that the rate of unemployment among educated youth was 33.2 per cent.

Higher concentration of joblessness is more among the graduates and post-graduates than those who have the SCC- and HSC-level education.

Not only the foreign market but also the local market is in need of huge numbers of skilled and semi-skilled manpower to meet the future need that the current coronavirus crisis too exposed clearly, said the experts.

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