A more pro-people budget expected
Since the pandemic hit Bangladesh in early 2020, the poverty rate has doubled—for every five people in Bangladesh, two are now living below the poverty line. There has been a 49 percent decline in salaried income, with daily wage labourers being hit particularly hard, and households have had to cut back on crucial spending on health, education and other necessities. In the run-up to the recent announcement of the proposed budget for the fiscal year 2021-22, there was hope that the latest budget would aggressively tackle these pandemic-induced inequalities and ensure that the affected are able to get back on their feet.
Although the two new safety net funds—Tk 7,300 crore for the pandemic-affected and Tk 5,000 crore for climate victims—are welcome news, an article in this daily yesterday detailed how the major issue will be with implementation, since the government still has no up-to-date dataset on vulnerable populations. And so far, the government stimulus packages to help the Covid-affected have mainly served the formal sector. If the government has any new plans to support the estimated 1.35 crore informal-sector workers who lost their jobs during last year's shutdown, we are yet to hear of them.
The budget also made very little provisions for the unemployed—a disappointment for the middle-class people who are struggling with a loss of work and yet are ineligible for social safety net programmes. In a similar vein, returnee migrant workers were left out of most considerations, with the focus being on increasing remittances instead. While we understand the government's emphasis on boosting the economic recovery, as reflected in a range of tax cuts and exemptions as well as efforts to increase investments, we are worried that the current policies do not sufficiently target the people who are unlikely to directly benefit from such economic policies.
In terms of pro-people policies, we are astonished to see that the allocation for education remained almost unchanged in terms of proportion of GDP, despite the very real fears of irreparable learning losses, made worse by the digital divide, which could hamper the future of students and have widespread ramifications on our economy and society. The public spending on healthcare also saw a minimal increase, despite expectations of a renewed focus on access to primary healthcare.
If anything, this shows the higher authorities' lack of faith in the proper execution of such budgetary allocations. However, this inability to act promptly during crisis periods and the overall lack of effectiveness are unacceptable in such fundamental public sectors of a soon-to-be middle-income nation. We hope the government will now focus all their energy on not just the efficient implementation of the budget, but also on building a system of transparency and accountability that ensures that public funds are no longer misused.