Govt-people disconnect writ large
The current national budget for fiscal year 2021-22 reflects a disconnect between the government and the people as enough measures were not taken for the poor and vulnerable people, analysts said yesterday.
They came up with the remark at a press conference organised by the Citizens' Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, where they disclosed a report titled "Delivery of the National Budget 2021 in the Context of the Pandemic: Ensuring Interests of the Disadvantaged People".
The livelihoods of many will become more vulnerable this year as the 2021-22 budget did not address their crisis, they said.
Sultana Kamal, a core member of the platform and also a human rights activist, chaired the event.
She said around three crore people had become poor due to the ongoing economic hardship caused by the pandemic and their woes were not addressed properly by the government in the budget.
"The people who were left behind [in the budget] have remained in the same condition [with no improvement in livelihood]. Rather, the number of such people has increased.
"The budget has given an indication that there has been a disconnect between the government and the disadvantaged people."
Although the budget took some measures on an ad-hoc basis in this regard, it could not take any concerted efforts to resolve the troubles of the poor broadly, she said.
Debapriya Bhattacharya, convener of the platform, presented the keynote paper.
He said the livelihoods of the disadvantaged people will face another stringent situation due to the latest Covid-19 wave, he said.
They (the poor and disadvantaged) are not an organised voice, he said, adding that the political leadership, which is supposed to sympathise with them, is making their situation tougher.
"Between March 2020 and July this year, the government rolled out 30 stimulus schemes worth Tk 128,194 crore, but the financial and food support given to the overall allocation for the packages is low."
Some 13 packages and four food support schemes accounted for less than 20.5 per cent of the total allocations.
In contrast, 13 packages, which are mainly formed to give out loans is 79.53 percent of the total allocation.
The share of the announced stimulus packages in FY-20 was only 2.8 percent of the GDP growth, which further declined to 1.71 percent in FY-21 and 0.11pc in FY-22.
Remittance declined significantly in July and that was not a good indicator as all, said Debapriya, who is also a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue.
The upward trend of the inflow may come to an end in the days to come as manpower exports have declined alarmingly, he said.
Iftekharuzzaman, executive director of the Transparency International Bangladesh, said that the budget also "encouraged corruption" by giving people a chance to whiten black money.
Mustafizur Rahman, another distinguished fellow of the CPD, said that the economy now faces a K-shaped recovery, meaning that the recovery process is uneven.
"The rich are recovering but the situation is quite the opposit for the poor."
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, said that some female migrant workers were also repatriated to the country due to the pandemic.
"The government should about think whether any special support can be given to them," and that many children are deprived of cash incentives, which is ultimately forcing them to drop out of school due to financial hardships.
"There is no plan on how to resolve the social problem. So, the government should emphasise on this issue," she said.
Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of the Campaign for Popular Education, said that the government should have increased the volume of stipends for students.
"We also requested the government to extend internet facilities with a low cost so that taking part in online classes can become easier, but no such initiative has been taken."
Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, vice-chairperson of Brac, said that the rich were now benefitting from the "vaccination", while the story is different for the poor as a majority is even deprived of getting vaccinated.
Asif Ibrahim, chairman of Chittagong Stock Exchange, said that the government should take more steps to protect small businesses during economic crisis caused by the pandemic.