Despite criticism from the opposition and government lawmakers over widespread irregularities in the banking sector, Finance Minister AMA Muhith yesterday in parliament kept mum about the issue.
After the minister's six-minute speech on the supplementary budget for 2017-18 fiscal, the House passed the Tk 15,339.83 crore budget to meet the increased expenditures of different ministries and divisions.
Muhith placed the supplementary budget along with the national budget in parliament on June 7.
Taking part in the discussion on the supplementary budget, lawmakers in the last two days came down heavily on the finance minister for his failure to take any action to stop irregularities and mismanagement in the banking sector.
On Sunday, six Awami League and Jatiya Party lawmakers blasted Muhith for his poor handling of the sector.
Yesterday, several MPs from the AL and opposition parties again sharply criticised the minister over the issue.
AL presidium member Abdur Razzaque said what happened in BASIC Bank and Sonali Bank was nothing but robberies in broad day light.
He called upon the finance minister to take steps so that such scams in the banking sector do not recur.
Agriculture Minister Matia Chowdhury said lawmakers in the last two days talked much on the banking sector.
“I hope the finance minister will take timely measures and will respond to lawmakers' criticism while delivering his speech [on the supplementary budget],” she said.
Lawmakers on Sunday criticised Muhith for backtracking on his earlier position of forming a commission to reform the banking sector.
Those who looted money from banks could have been identified if the commission was formed, they told parliament. Some even accused the finance minister of favouring the “bank looters”.
Muhith, who placed his 10th national budget in a row in parliament, was present in the House on Sunday, but he didn't respond to criticism.
Industry insiders said defaulted loans in banks were rising and it reached nearly 11 percent of the total outstanding loans. If the rescheduling of loans is taken into account, it will be about 20 percent.
Surprisingly, many borrowers became willful defaulters. Big borrowers (Tk 500 crore and above) were given extra benefits in the name of rescheduling their loans in 2015. Many of them have already become defaulters and are now lobbying hard to reschedule their loans again.
BASIC, once a healthy state bank, is now all but destroyed, thanks to Sheikh Abdul Hye Bacchu, who had been the chairman of the bank from 2009-2013.
State-run Sonali, Janata, Agrani and Rupali banks have also been hit by big loan scams and are now being recapitalised with taxpayers' money. Now the “disease” has spread to private banks, such as Farmers Bank which is even failing to pay off depositors' money.
It was expected that the finance minister would respond to lawmakers' criticism over the irregularities in banking sector. But his silence took many by surprise, several Jatiya Party lawmakers told this correspondent.
'NOT A JP MINISTER'
Muhith yesterday warned some Jatiya Party lawmakers of taking “proper steps” if they again termed him a former minister of the party.
“I will request the Jatiya Party members to keep it in mind in future. If you don't remember this, I will try to take proper steps against you.” he said.
Some JP lawmakers on several occasions in parliament said Muhith was their former minister.
Yesterday, JP lawmaker Selim Uddin said Muhith was a former minister of the party.
Muhith told the House, “I have already said it [I was not a minister of Jatiya Party] several times, but the Jatiya Party members are not paying heed to it.... I was neither a Jatiya Party member nor its minister.”
He mentioned that he was a minister of HM Ershad when the latter was the head of a military government.
“Jatiya Party was not formed at that time. I left the cabinet long before the formation of Jatiya Party,” said Muhith.
Taking part in the discussion on the cut-motion on the supplementary budget, JP MP Kazi Firoz Rashid said it was true that Muhith was not a minister of the party.
“Let me assure you [Muhith], Jatiya Party will never make a knowledgeable person like you a minister in future, and for that you will not need to go to a court.”
He also said the finance minister was giving protection to bank robbers. “You [Muhith] will have to go to court for that.”
SUPPLEMENTARY BUDGET PASSED
Muhith placed the Appropriation (Supplementary) Bill, 2018 in the House which was passed by a voice vote, allowing the government to spend Tk around 15,339 crore from the consolidated fund.
Different ministries, divisions and institutions sought additional allocations under 22 demands. Opposition and government lawmakers discussed the demands. As many as 173 cut-motions were moved by seven MPs.
Discussions were held on four cut-motions, including on the public administration, LGRD, power and health ministries. However, all the cut-motions were rejected by voice votes.