Policymakers and experts on Saturday stressed the need for updated, accurate and consistent economic data to improve the budget formulation process, its implementation and to ensure that budgetary expenditures yield the expected outcomes.
At a virtual dialogue on the proposed national budget for the fiscal year 2021-2022 organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue, they also urged that emphasis should be given on proper implementation of the budget to save the lives and livelihoods of people who have been hit hard by the Covid outbreak.
They also said that the proposed budget should go through rigorous and meaningful discussions in parliament to make it participatory and transparent.
CPD chairman Rehman Sobhan said that the sources of the budgetary figures, including the rate of budget implementation, poverty rate and other sets of numbers, should come backed by proper explanations.
He asked, ‘What is the magic of jumping the budget implementation rate to near 100 per cent by the end of June from that of only around 50 per cent in the first 10 months of the fiscal year?’
‘The finance minister should provide an explanation about the numbers in his budget speech,’ he said.
He also recommended that an unemployment insurance scheme should be introduced at least for the readymade garment sector and more employment creating programmes should be adopted to overcome the Covid fallouts.
Acknowledging data a fundamental requirement for any economy, planning minister MA Mannan said that he also wanted the BBS to generate updated, pure, reliable and dependable data on its own instead of waiting for an order.
‘Generating statistics on order can sometimes be tailored,’ he said.
He said that the situation was being improved.
The BBS and the BIDS will have to work on determining the number of new poor due to the coronavirus infection, he added.
Inter-parliamentary union honorary president Saber Hossain Chowdhury, also chairman of the parliamentary standing committee on environment, forest and climate change ministry, said that there were inconsistencies between the data provided in the budget placed in the parliament and those collected by research organisations.
He said that the government should strengthen the BBS to get accurate and updated data to frame datadriven policy decisions on poverty and other issues like those related to the new poor.
He said that the government would not understand the reality of 2021 with old and outdated data, for example the labour force survey of 2016.
Expressing his disappointment over the absence of a participatory process in the budget formulation, he said that this year, the finance ministry could not even sit with the parliamentary standing committee heads although former finance minister AMA Muhith had started the process.
‘If we are not involved in the process, how will the demands of people be reflected in the budget?’ he asked.
‘We don’t just come to say only “yes or no” in the parliament. We are also here to talk about the demands and problems of the people,’ he said.
The CPD and others have recommended that such types of discussions should be held in the parliament but it is not being done in reality, which is a big drawback of the budget formulation process, he said.
‘If we think that our job is to pass what the government presents in the parliament, there is no need for the budget session,’ he commented.
He also said that there were hardly any instances of changing the basic framework of the budget that was placed in the parliament.
The budget consultation will not be effective without accepting the proposals from various sectors, he added.
He also suggested that the finance minister should put more emphasis on employment generation rather than figures related to GDP growth and other parameters.
He also said that another big shortfall in policy formulation was the fact that public health was not recognised in the process.
Prevention is the core issue in public health and pandemics and other crises cannot be addressed only through increasing the number of hospital beds and enhancing other facilities, he said.
For example, so far 13,000 people have died of Covid-19 while at least 16 times that number die every year due to tobacco related diseases which are not properly addressed in the budget.
There is no change in the prices and tax structures of cigarettes mostly consumed by 90 per cent of smokers, he said.
Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry president Md Jashim Uddin demanded that the tax policy and implementation should be separated from the National Board Revenue.
Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Nihad Kabir said that implementation, ensuring value for money, transparency and accountability were the major challenges of the budget.
Without strengthening the implementation capacity and accountability, increased allocation alone will not yield any benefit as was seen in the health sector in the last one year, she said.
Bangladesh Nationalist Party lawmaker Rumeen Farhana said that there was no reflection in the budget of how lives and livelihoods of people hit by the Covid outbreak would be saved.
There is no increase in the allocation for the health sector as a share of GDP while the allocation for the poor under the social safety net programmes was highly inadequate, she said.
She demanded that the BBS should immediately undertake a survey to identify the new poor and bring them under the social safety net programmes.
CPD executive director Fahmida Khatun and distinguished fellow Mustafizur Rahman, former Bangladesh Bank governor Salehuddin Ahmed and National Association of Small and Cottage Industries of Bangladesh central executive committee president Mirza Nurul Ghani Shovon, among others, spoke at the programme.
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