IN the absence of the opposition, a friendly house obliged the finance minister and approved his proposed budget without making a fuss over its nitty-gritty with regard to the share of benefit or stimulus to various sectors of the country's interest groups, in spite of a shift of resources in favour of privileged ones.
Being no stakeholder in the whole equation, the country's common folk care most for the budget's impact on the consumer market and more specifically on the prices of the essentials that has hardly relented in the last six months of AL rule, in spite of lavish pre-election promises.
The people seldom craved for lower taxes for goods the rich are crazy for, as food alone accounts for about 50 to 70 per cent of our household budget. That's where is the rub for the poor. From that perspective, the budget is going to draw a blank for us.
Yet the real purpose of all economic planning exercises like the budget should be the welfare of the common people. And the variables that concern them directly are unemployment, poverty, and inequality.
This year's budget contains all the elements that breed them, and the issues were, if at all, inadequately addressed in the relevant parliamentary debate. Worse still, they were buried under layers of mealy-mouthed mendacity and false promises of all enveloping change in the lot of society's dispossessed.
The perfunctory budget debate in the House was both preceded and followed by myriad other academic deliberations on the budget. They were more of a pattern we had been familiar with even in the past, and the words spoken in those deliberations were little more than cliches.
Even then, it appears to have satisfied the prime minister who, after her customary thanksgiving in the House and being assured by the tenor of the budget that its thrust is enough for her to keep the power base happy -- briskly left for NAM conference to lead her 50-member delegation.
Cheers for the finance minister whose political instinct paid him dividends. Look at his meteoric rise to be one of the PM's inner circle when the AL's die-hard stalwarts are kept away from it. But Mr. Muhith did his homework well. A convert at best, he knew his limitations, and cultivated his connections diligently.
All told, the only losers in the whole exercise are indeed the common people, and they are the ones for whom the bell tolls. They were led unsuspectingly as the gap between the promises and the ground reality only widens. The people certainly did not want honey and milk to flow together. They did not want a rose garden or cherry blossom. Neither did they want to relish the stuff the power-wielders are after.
Their demands are humble -- affordable price of the essentials in the first place. Then, of course, a habitat, health care, pure drinking water, a road to walk on, education, and so one constitute their dreams. Can't there be a redeemer to deliver just these!
Understanding the limitation also of the government, the people have consciously lowered the bar and brought the goalposts nearer. They also have curbed their lyricism, upped their optimism, and washed clean their gray calls of pre-conceived notions. Despite such desperate measures, their hunt for a redeemer brought nothing but angst, bordering on heartbreak.
Promises or no promises, it is a convoluted riddle as to whether the government is capable of delivering even on the basics. The redoubtable commerce minister, thought to be the government's trouble-shooter, seemed full of sound and fury on the price of the essentials, but at the end of the day it signified nothing.
Even the petty traders refused to be cowed by his fulmination. The much-trumpeted easing up of the prices, emanating from compliant quarters, is cosmetic at the best. The occasional ups and downs in the prices are a usual phenomenon in the market, but the market is far from stabilised.