By budget we mean an annual account of the earning and expenses of the country placed by its government to the parliament. Since earning of the government is provided by its people in the form of tax, the parliament has to give sanctions as to how the money is to be spent. So, the budget being placed in the parliament has to get sanctioned from the elected representatives of the people. But, the budget of a country that makes promises to its people about changing their fate is probably something more than an account of what it is meant to accomplish as a whole. It reflects the hopes and aspirations of the people so much so that the people are keen to know what kind of budget is being placed in the parliament. In fact the characteristics of the budget really reflect the principle of governance.
In Bangladesh, since we are a nation that had to make supreme sacrifices for earning national independence, the commitment of the government to the people should be a sound and fair budget. Unfortunately, it did not happen at the time of liberation, as the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led the war of liberation, ruled the country for only three and half years and was killed by the anti-liberation forces. Since then, the country was governed by people who were not involved in the process of creation of the country so they had little commitment to the people. They only needed a particular class to support their governance and hence they did everything for them to keep their grasp on power.
In Bangladesh, before we discuss on budget we should take the fundamentals and basic needs of the people into consideration. But unfortunately budgets placed by BNP and Jatiya Party were inherently anti-people in character. They were committed to a particular class. So a class developed rapidly in the country with the blessing of the rulers. Actually this class enjoyed the 85% of the national resources for about 21 years. So the budgets that were placed in the so called parliament during those 21 years ruled by the autocratic government served the purpose of that particular class. During this long time, people witnessed little development that could bring about a change in the socio-economic order of the country.
It was Sheikh Hasina, the daughter of the founding father who changed that order and made the government answerable to the people making all out efforts to change their fate. It is her government that placed as many as 16 budgets in the parliament since 1996. The latest one placed in parliament was on 13 June 2019 for the fiscal 2019-20. It is the biggest-ever national budget in Bangladesh’s history, amounting to a whopping Taka 523,190 crore. The proposed budget aimed at collecting Taka 377, 810 crores as revenue in the new fiscal year. Of the amount NBR has been asked to collect Taka 325, 66 crore while non-NBR revenue collection target has been set at Taka 14,500 crore. The no-tex revenue is estimated Taka 37,710 crores. Taka 4,168 crores will come from foreign grants.
The areas of allocation if properly
judged---like transport and communication,
agriculture, health, education---one must
say that the government has rightly fixed
the priority areas to carry forward the
progress and development
The areas of allocation if properly judged---like transport and communication, agriculture, health, education---one must say that the government has rightly fixed the priority areas to carry forward the progress and development.
It’s a gigantic budget no doubt. The government of Sheikh Hasina has already proved its efficiency by implementing a similar budget in the fiscal 2018-19. It’s a common practice in the parliamentary democracy that the opposition will criticize the budget through rational way and presenting authentic data and information. But the opposition, BNP, has been criticizing the budget as if the country would go to docks because of this budget. The way the opposition especially the BNP has been criticizing is really unacceptable. They find no positive aspects in the budget. This sort of criticism is really obnoxious. We have seen in the previous budgets placed in the parliament that if the political parties and civil society groups criticized the budgets mentioning the specific fiscal measures that do not suit with the people’s interest the government may take action to scrap those.
One criticism is that essentials like raw salt, raw sugar, and powder milk have been taxed and further rise in pricing of these essential commodities may hit the common people. About imposition of Value Added Tax (VAT) in five scales, if implemented, it may increase the cost of living. In fact the imposition of VAT was proposed in 2012. The government has delayed the process by about 7 years. Even if there is any incongruity the government would take it into cognizance and do the necessary. The reality is the NBR has been asked to collect Taka 377, 810 crores as revenue and even after that, the overall budgetary deficit would be Taka 145,380 crores, which is 5% of the GDP. So the tax has to be imposed. The policy of VAT Tax is such that people will feel less burdened to pay the VAT in five scales.
Some are talking that the whitening of black money would encourage corruption. The fact is most of the black money goes beyond the border. Moreover, the impact of black money in the society is dangerous. There are allegations that huge amount of black money is spent for spreading terrorism. The prime objective is to check money laundering and increase investment.
Some critics of the budget have been telling that nothing has been proposed for middle, lower and the poor. If all the allocations are taken into consideration their criticism seems to be exaggerated. The steps that have been taken in service sector would render benefit to all. It is certainly not a budget meant for the rich only, every section of the society would get benefit when its implementation will be completed. The widening of safety net programme would certainly help reduce poverty.
The successive budgets placed by the government of Sheikh Hasina have really changed the economy of the country. The people are now better off than before. Their standard of living has improved. How do we evaluate it? Let us look at the agriculture. It is only within 10 years that Sheikh Hasina has made the country self-sufficient in food. Now Bangladesh produces more food grain than its requirement to feed its people. This year, the productions is 3 lakhs 62 crore tons against the requirements of 3 lakhs 52 tons i.e., Bangladesh can export 10 lakh tons. If we talk about the per capita income it’s now $1909, whereas, it was $595 in 2002. The GDP was 5.50 and it’s now at 8.28. The Prime Minister expects country’s GDP will reach double digit by 2021. The inflation was two digits and it’s now below 5.2. Bangladesh is now in second position in garment exports, 4th in fish production, 5th in vegetables production. It has launched its own satellite in space, it produces nearly 18,000 MW of electricity a year. Bangladesh is far advanced in health, education, poverty alleviation and women empowerment.
Every national budget that the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has placed in the parliament so far had only one objective -- to carry forward the country from the existing position towards development. So, there was progress from every new budget placed in the parliament since 1996. The period from 1996 to 2001 governed by Sheikh Hasina showed nationwide development in all areas. Remarkable change has been brought about during 2009 to 2019. The global survey conducted by HSBC revealed that the position of Bangladesh in the global economy would be 26th from the present 42nd. In fact Bangladesh will be a rich country within the next two decades if Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina can work for the people. By all cannons of development, Bangladesh is now a role model and we are advancing so rapidly under the dynamic leadership of Sheikh Hasina that by 2041 the country will be a developed one.
Dr S A Malek is former political adviser to the Prime Minister and Member of Parliament, general secretary of Bangabandhu Parishad and columnist.