Budget gives no comfort to poor, jobless
The proposed budget for the fiscal year of 2022-23 has failed to give comfort to the poor, jobless and lower-income groups, said economists, politicians, entrepreneurs and senior officials of non-government organisations (NGOs) yesterday.
Moreover, it took measures that will encourage capital flight, they said.
The amount of income that is tax-free is very low when compared to current market prices as Tk 3 lakh can be earned by a rickshaw-puller in a year too, said Zafrullah Chowdhury, founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra.
"It should have been raised to Tk 5 lakh."
If the government spends Tk 12 crore on every union-level hospital to ensure all equipment and opportunities for doctors, the health system will gain extra mileage, he added.
Chowdhury's comments came at a CPD Budget Dialogue 2022 organised by the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) at the Lakeshore Hotel Dhaka.
The government should focus on health services for the poor as they do not get adequate healthcare, said former commerce secretary Sohel Ahmed Chowdhury.
Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, a former commerce minister, said the government showed many statistical plans on the basis of wrong data.
The government spends more in implementing projects through reallocations, so the real development budget is much lower that it looks, he said.
The government has continued to raise the budget for government officials, but the poor and the lower-income groups have remained ignored, he said.
It reduced the budget for actual social safety net programmes and the Trading Corporation of Bangladesh's (TCB) open market sale (OMS) programme, he added.
"The budget formulation process needs to be changed as there is no provision for consultation with the members of parliaments," said Anisul Islam Mahmud, a former environment and forests minister.
About the opportunity to whiten black money, he said he does not see any logic except for the fact that it would encourage money laundering.
Planning Minister MA Mannan said the inflation figure was different as some took into consideration a handful of data from a narrow perspective but the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) availed a wide range of data.
To address poverty, social safety net programmes are a long-term strategy and the government is working to improve infrastructure, accelerate growth and generate jobs, he added.
Mannan refuted data manipulation allegations of Amir Khasru, saying if that was the case, ensuring the Padma bridge, Karnaphuli tunnel, metro rail and electricity for all would not have been possible.
While everyone in Bangladesh is cheering and busy celebrating the upcoming inauguration of the Padma bridge, some are trying to spoil the party, said the planning minister.
The government talks to businesspeople before and after the budget proposal but none talks to blue-collar workers, for which they remain ignored in the budgets, said Socialist Workers Front President Razekuzzaman Ratan.
Rationing is necessary for industrial workers amidst the high inflationary period. However, the government has reduced the allocation for the labour ministry and for the TCB's OMS activities, he said.
Shusmita Anis, a director of ACI, said the tax-free income threshold should be raised to Tk 5 lakh at least.
The government has proposed a corporate tax cut by 2.5 percentage points on a precondition that all receipts and incomes as well as all expenses and investments of more than Tk 12 lakh had to go through banks.
In reality, meeting this precondition will not be possible, she added.
Rizwan Rahman, president of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the government aims to borrow from the banking sector to meet a portion of its budgetary deficit.
But this might crowd out the private sector as banks always prefer the public sector when deciding on giving out loans for the guarantee of repayment, he said.
He said the proposed money whitening opportunity will encourage capital flight.
"Who will pay the 25 per cent tax if they can whiten money in exchange of only 7 per cent tax? If an honest taxpayer becomes dishonest, who will take the responsibility?"
While chairing the event, Fahmida Khatun, executive director of the CPD, said the fiscal and monetary measures that have been taken to guard the poor and the lower-income groups are inadequate.
"There was an opportunity to lessen the burden of higher prices through the cut in duties of imported items and lowering of taxes domestically. The government should also have raised the tax-free income limit from the current level."
Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of the CPD, made the keynote presentation.