Economists agree on budget reform
Economists are seldom of one mind on specific policies. But yesterday, many gathered at a seminar at Dhaka University agreed that a commission of experts should guide the nation's budget reforms.
They even concurred that reforms to the formulation and implementation of the nation's budget were essential to establish accountability, monitor performance and deepen democracy but only qualified economists should apply.
Former finance adviser Dr AB Mirza Azizul Islam said cross-sections of people have participated in pre-budget discussions, but these were not productive. “Everyone wants to incorporate his idea,” he said.
Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman, a former commerce adviser to the caretaker government, said pre-budget consultations have become a voice without influence.
“The time has come to form a budget-reform commission,” said Rahman. “Some sort of reforms are being carried out for 20 years, but we don't see any result.”
Rahman questioned current performance monitoring, which allows foot-dragging on budget allocations that then are mostly spent in the last two months, to not appear a targets for cuts. “You will see 35 percent development budget is implemented (SPENT?) in 10 months, but it goes 90 percent after just one month,” he said.
“We should try to improve accountability,” said Islam, who prepared and presented two past national budgets.
“There are lot of deficiencies in budget implementations. But no actions were taken so far for past failures.” Islam added that a commission should itself pass the test of a cost-benefit analysis.
Dr Yousuf H Rahman, an expatriate Bangladeshi who works in the New York City Office of the Management and Budget, said reform should start with a budget commission made up only of top experts drawn from anywhere in the world.
“The government can involve people, both from inside and outside, to carry out reforms,” said H Rahman. He also presented a paper on lessons learned from his New York City experiences.
Economists have persuaded the government to have a unified budget. Most oppose district budgets, arguing that districts have little institutional infrastructure to implement budget objectives.
“[A] budget which is divided into revenue and development heads is completely artificial,” said Islam. He said a teacher's salary is given from the revenue account, while a school building is constructed from the development budget.
Ranjit Kumar Chakrabarty, additional secretary of the ministry of finance also called for an end to separate development and revenue budgets.
The university's Economics Department Alumni Association (DUEDAA) organised the seminar held at the LGED auditorium.