Seminar on “National Budget and Economic Pathway”

02 July 2022
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With the honorable Finance Minister of Bangladesh’s announcement of the national budget for the fiscal year of 2022-2023, the Centre for Governance Studies organized a seminar on Friday, 24th June, titled, “National Budget and Economic Pathway” to analyze the various aspects of the proposed budget. The program was held on 9.30 a.m. at the Pearl Auditorium of Hotel Intercontinental. Honorable Minister of Planning Mr. M A Mannan was present as the Chief Guest and Mr. Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, former minister and standing committee member of Bangladesh, National Party (BNP) was present as the special guest of the seminar. Dr. Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, Chairman, Department of Development Studies joined the seminar as the keynote speaker. 

The other discussants of the seminar were Mr. Abdul Haque, Former Chairman of National Board of Revenue (NBR), Mr. Anwar-ul Alam Chowdhury (Parvez), President of Bangladesh Chamber of Industries (BCI), Mr. Liakat Ali Bhuiyan, Member, Industry & Commerce Sub-Committee, Bangladesh Awami League, Mr. Abdul Haque, Former President of Bangladesh Reconditioned Vehicles Importers and Dealers Association (BARVIDA), Nasrin Fatema Awal, Former President of Women Entrepreneur Association of Bangladesh and Mr. Parvez Karim Abbasi, Assistant Professor, Deparment of Economic, East West University.

The seminar was presided over by Dr. Manjur A. Chowdhury, Chairman of Centre for Governance Studies and moderated by Mr. Zillur Rahman, Executive Director of Centre for Governance Studies.

BNP does not have the courage to call strike because people will protect the government for the love they have for them- stated the Chief Guest Mr. M. A. Mannan MP, Minister of Planning. In his opinion the mass people are less interested about governance, all they want is living standard, which Awami League has ensured them with. Awami League has ensured electricity for everyone, provide sanitation and safe water. Road to governance is very long process, but we have to understand what mass people want at the first place. The motive of western institutions is not honest in his opinion. Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics provides very important data. Bangladesh did excellently in the recovery of COVID-19 even better than China and India. Hasina took the risk and showed the bravest decision in declaring to do the Padmna Bridge with our own money, on the note of the inauguration of the bridge. Regarding budget, he said, the proposed budget might have a lot of shortcomings but it is just a draft, and with all the suggestions and criticism, it will be discussed in the parliament and made into a proper one according to the Minister. 

Special Guest Mr. Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, Former Minister started his speech by pointing out if non-representative government’s budget is made, there is lack scope for discussion. According to World Bank’s Statistical Capacity Score, Bangladesh is in the lowest rank among South-Asian countries. Public sector expenditure reflects the dependency on bureaucracy. He emphasized that politicization is taking over the economy which is a symbol of an authoritarian government. The recent scenario shows how 1% at GDP in health sector is unrealistic. Most investment should be on education, health and social safety net. He emphasized how most of the private sector reform are done by BNP. He also stated that at the time of laying the foundation of the Jamuna Bridge by Begum Khaleda Zia was faced with a strike from then Awami League opposition party, whereas now BNP is not calling for any strike for the opening ceremony of Padma Bridge. Main strength of Nation’s economy is SME sector which does not get proper policy attention. He concluded by saying that, inequality is rising where government is patronizing their own people for the political interest. 

The keynote speaker of the event was Professor Dr. Rashed Al Mahmud Titumir, Chairman, Department of Development Studies, University of Dhaka. In any democracy, it is very crucial to discuss about economy but the economy has to be driven forward with keeping the politics in mind in his opinion. He explained the budget focusing on three sectors. Firstly, if it is going forward with taking lessons from the history and world system. Secondly, if the Minister of Economy is lessening the flow of economy and lastly, if the citizens have any role in it. 

He talked about the ongoing inflation and made the Ukraine-Russia war responsible behind it. Lifestyle crisis was emphasized by him, as earning is not increasing along with expenditure and this crisis has been noticed in various countries. Three incidents need to be kept in mind to recover from this situation- the recession of 1930, Second World War and the Liberation War of 1971. In 1930, it was noticed that the President of United States, Roosevelt increased the tax infrastructure of the country for providing social security during recession. He then was elected for four times which proves that the increasing of tax not always bad for politician. At the time of Second World War, the United Kingdom gave importance to the maintenance of employment which can be a lesson of recovering from the crisis. He emphasized how Tajuddin Ahmed gave a budget of 786 crore taka in 1971, where the development cost was greater than management cost, which is noticed to be in reverse nowadays. He stated the post-covid decrease of employment, which adds a new group going into poverty. But the statistics are quite old which creates a lack of information. So, the people creating the budget struggle with the proper allotment of the money. The budget for security and education has decreased, whereas that in the health sector is not enough. The political influence in social security activities results in lack of inclusion. He stated the need for a megaproject of ways to increase the tax. The MPs who are the people’s representatives, often fail to have any role in making the budget in a constitutional way. Lastly, he posed a question if the economy is actually by the people and if it contributing for the people. 

There are various contradictions in budget process for which there is no implementation in the opinion of Dr. Muhammad Abdul Mazid, Former Chairman, National Board of Revenue (NBR). The discussion ground is also limited. He stated how contradictory making Padma Bridge with our own money but giving the toll to foreign company is. It is necessary for continuity and consistency in policy. He ended his speech by mentioning the necessity of NBR office in every upazilla and an enabling environment for tax collection. 

Mr. Anwar-ul Alam Chowdhury (Parvez), President, Bangladesh Chamber of Industries (BCI) & Former President, BGMEA stated that crisis gives an opportunity to think and to move forward. There is a necessity of accelerating earning. There is lack of framework of how NBR will collect so much tax. Increasing the income is difficult as a result. The existent policy is not friendly for the taxpayers, so tax collection is difficult in his opinion. There is a need for change in the policy of NBR with skilled manpower. He emphasized the need for addressing inflation to increase employment. 

Mr. Mir Nasir Hossain, Former President, Federation of Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) stated the importance of practical learning rather than certificate earning. The investment must be increased for employment. He also said how different sorts of tax law has made running business very difficult. He suggested reformation of the NBR.

Mr. Abdul Haque, Former President, BARVIDA & Former Director, FBCCI talked about the increase of government expenditure, whereas there is less income. The policy for decreasing expenditure in absent, there are more waste. He addressed how little the political commitment is and importance of people’s representation and ownership. Deficit of budget, unplanned development and excessive wastage lead to corruption in his opinion. 

Mr. Parvez Karim Abbasi, Assistant Professor, Department of Economics, East West University addressed the distributive justice, especially the inequality and struggle faced by the middle-income families. He criticized Bangladesh’s inability to follow gravity law. As the global inflation is increasing, the commodity price is also going up, however, with the decrease in global price, the decrease of price in our country in unseen. He mentioned the contradiction that, although the forth industrial revolution is being discussed, the prices of digital devices are rising. Public sector is growing bigger than necessary. There is a great necessity as a developing country to focus on universal health insurance. He concluded his speech by saying how there are ambiguous dreams but lack of implementation. 

Mr. Abu Motaleb, Director, FBCCI & General Secretary, Business Unity Forum addressed the importance of focusing SME for a level playing field. He emphasized on banning the law of excluding the defaulter’s utility, facility and connection. He requested for more policy support for the SME sector. 

Ms. Nasreen Fatema Awal, Founder President of Women Entrepreneur Association of Bangladesh criticized, while making the budget women associations are not consulted. Every year there is a big budget but lack of implementation. There needs to be special allotment for women empowerment and women entrepreneurship. She also mentioned the lack of data in the work and business sectors of women, so there is a need of funding and research in this regard. 

Mr. Liakat Ali Bhuiyan, Member, Industry & Commerce Sub-Committee, Bangladesh Awami League talked about the role of the housing sector in the budget. He requested the Minister of Economy to give more emphasize on the housing sector in the budget. 

In health sector, government’s expenditure is much more than the per capita allotment which comes out of the pocket of the citizens, stated Professor Dr. Sarder A Nayeem, Chairman, Japan Bangladesh Friendship Hospital. The private sector plays a crucial role in this regard in his opinion. For lack of practical implementation or utilization of money, the public health is not running in the right way and it is being wasted as well as there is a decrease of manpower. People are inclining towards private hospitals. He also discussed about the inability to create manpower due to bureaucratic complexity. 

We do massive projects but hire and depend on the manpower and maintenance from abroad- stated Mr. M Shafiullah, Former Ambassador. He emphasized on creating skilled manpower in this regard for handling big projects. 

Ms Priti Chakraborty, Chairman, Universal Medical College Hospital & Director praised the women empowerment and development of the country. She stated the tackling of Covid in Bangladesh was note-worthy. There is lack of initiative in private sector development. Foreign currency can be earned by exporting skilled manpower. She talked about the absence of utilization of budget in women empowerment and addressed the importance of growing attention towards research sector. 

Manjur A Chowdhury, Chairman of the Centre for Governance Studies started the welcoming speech by sympathizing with the people suffering from the massive flood of Sunamganj and Sylhet. He then stated that budget is just like the change of season, it comes every year but whether it reflects the economic reality is the question. Gratitude was shown for the new Padma bridge which will unite the southern region of the country which the other parts. Special policy should be implemented to reduce water pollution and this should be included in the budget. He concluded his speech by suggesting that there is a need for controlling the inflation with keeping recession in mind. Lastly, he concluded the seminar with requesting the government to start the budget year from January or Baishakh. 

Moderator and Executive Director of the Centre for Governance Studies, Zillur Rahman remarked that every year the budget that is proposed is much like copy-pasting which derives much criticism throughout. But, there is a lack of any conversation about budget by the MPs in the parliament. We often talk about economic growth but ignore inequality.