Experts and economists on Saturday recommended that the government should review the budget every two to three months to correct the measures and meet the utmost needs of saving lives and livelihoods of people, terming the proposed budget as not responsive to the COVID-19 outbreak.
The government framed such a budget as it was unable to get over its GDP growth rate obsession and upon the assumption that the COVID-19 fallout will be managed within a very short period and the economy will bounce back in FY21, they said.
Policymakers also echoed with the recommendation made by the experts to review the budget at regular intervals.
At a virtual dialogue on the proposed budget, they also emphasised the reforms needed in the banking sector, capital market and tax administration.
The Centre for Policy Dialogue arranged the dialogue presided over by its chairman Rehman Sobhan.
CPD distinguished fellow Mustafizur Rahman presented the keynote paper at the dialogue while its executive director Fahmida Khatun moderated the session.
Ruling Awami League lawmaker Saber Hossain Chowdhury, also the honorary president of the InterParliamentary Union, said that the focus of the budget should be on saving people’s lives, ensuring livelihoods and managing employment and not the GDP growth rate.
‘We will have to save people by getting over the GDP obsession. GDP growth will not work if poverty and inequality increase,’ he said.
‘I think the budget should be reviewed every two months by prioritising the issues of coronavirus control and economic recovery,’ he said.
BNP standing committee member Amir Khosru Mahmud Chowdhury said that people were now only concerned about how lives and livelihoods could be saved.
The economy had been in tatters even before the COVID-19 outbreak, he said.
But it seems that the government did not consider the issues and rather framed the budget on the existing template with a little variation where saving lives, delivering income and food assistance to the affected people, particularly those from the informal sectors who had lost jobs, did not get proper attention, he said.
He said that the health sector allocation accounted for less than 1 per cent of the GDP despite the sector now being the most important one for saving lives.
While speaking as the chief guest, planning minister MA Mannan said that although the revision of a budget was an everyday process and an intensive review was undertaken in March, the government might consider the proposal to review the budget at regular intervals if the outbreak lingered.
Rehman Sobhan suggested that three taskforces should be formed for monitoring the measures taken to tackle the COVID-19 outbreak and ensuring healthcare services for the citizens and implementation of those measures, social safety net programmes and implementation of the incentive packages.
Former Bangladesh Bank governor Salehuddin Ahmed said that the budget should give priority to components related to reduction of poverty and inequality and retaining and creating jobs in the time of the outbreak.
Reforms in the banking sector, capital market and tax administration should be emphasised to implement the budget and incentive packages, he said.
Policy Research Institute executive director Ahsan H Mansur said that Bangladesh required two rolling budgets — one in June and another one in December — prioritising the new poor, unemployment and implementation of stimulus in the current context.
In the first six months of the year, the focus should be on COVID-19 control, saving livelihoods and implementation of the incentive packages, he said.
Emphasising reforms in the banking sector, he said that the Bangladesh Bank was saying that the rate of non-performing loans had declined although it had now doubled as no one was repaying the loans.
Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Nihad Kabir said that it would be beneficial for the people of the country if the budget was reviewed every three months considering the reality of the coronavirus outbreak as no one knew when the pandemic would come to an end.
While presenting the key-note paper, CPD distinguished fellow Mustafizur Rahman recommended that the policymakers should revise the budget after two months for taking corrective measures in line with COVID-19-induced risks and uncertainties in life and livelihoods instead of waiting for six to seven months for revision.
Member of parliament Nahim Razzaq spoke at the dialogue, among others.
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