Economist William Nordhaus found a political business cycle for the United States. He showed how the behaviour of the US economic cycle depends on which party, Democrat or Republican, comes to power. Whether our economic cycle significantly varies based on any political party remains a subject of study. But it is obvious that every parliamentary election dampens our business cycle. And this pattern has been evident since 1991 when civilian rule was reinstated in the country.
Bangladesh's economy remains slightly depressed in the years before and after the election. The simplest answer comes from the investors who suddenly turn cautious and resort to saving money or transferring it abroad during that restive period. Businessmen do expect the election to come, but they do not want to see any melodrama in fixing the date of an election, which has been unfortunately the case in the past years. We create unnecessary tensions and widespread speculations surrounding the task of deciding an election date, contributing to systematic instability in investment that hurts employment and growth. After four and a half decades of independence, can't we change this culture for the greater interest of our economy?
If we can fix the date or week for the election quickly, as many countries do, it will be a great leap forward in institutional reform, adding stability to growth. We usually allow the election fever to take over us during the winter so that campaign activities can add to the festivities, especially in the countryside. We don't mind being treated by the “benevolent” candidates to biriyani, polao, meat, sweets, cookies, and sugary drinks. Fixing a date in the winter, for example on December 24, may be a good time since December 25 is a holiday, which can give us enough time to know the results and spend some time at our ancestral homes at the same time.
The second step in organising our calendar can be making our fiscal year run from January to December. This change is needed for faster development and growth. In addition, it can reduce the unnecessary hassle involved with planning our activities for the calendar year and the fiscal year separately. Calendar years provide the easiest way for data compilation and accounting, without creating any confusion to the policymakers and economic agents.
We can start this process immediately. My suggestion will be to prepare the next budget for one and a half years starting from July 2018 to December 2019. The first calendar-year based budget will commence in January 2019—the start of a newly elected government that will celebrate the golden jubilee of the independence. As history suggests, there is no scientific justification to start a fiscal year from July, and actually, it started from a whimsical wish of the donors and has turned into a pain in the neck by now. Resetting the fiscal year is the need of the hour.
The non-implementation of the annual development programmes has been a recurrent feature of our national life. A substantial reduction in resource damage can be achieved by merging the fiscal year into the calendar year that includes two periods of strong activity at both ends: January-April and October-December. In contrast, the current fiscal year system has two less productive periods characterised by rain, flood, and heatwave at both ends. Therefore, a good start with the dry month of January and a decent end with December will be crucially beneficial for a successful completion of the projects.
And switching to a calendar year for the budget and annual planning will make that achievement more feasible and practical, contributing to faster infrastructure building.
The third proposal for time-related reform is to advance our clock by just 30 minutes. Many countries enjoy the social and economic benefits of daylight saving by changing their clocks twice a year. It would be better for our economy if we could do the same. Since the information gap in this society is huge, and the society in general is resistant to change, daylight saving earlier implemented by the current administration created chaos and discontent. Many of us became impatient since we failed to see the long-term benefits of such a change. The government backed down from the clock reform quickly.
So instead of advancing the clock by one hour during the non-winter seasons, and then changing it back to the original time in the winter, can't we just advance the clock by for 30 minutes permanently? This will likely be accepted by the general public and add to growth by increasing the worktime in the sunlight. It will also help reduce our power consumption—a much needed improvement for an energy-hungry nation like ours. It was a wrong move to make the banks and commercial offices start at ten o'clock—a time by which half the stamina of an employee is gone, a time by which people in many nations finish at least one-third of their tasks and have more time for themselves in the afternoon. The ten-to-six working hour, as prevalent in the banking industry, cannot be a productive culture for health and building the human capital.
A permanent time advancement will partly rectify the delayed placement of the current working hours. Since Bangladesh is a country of abundant sunshine and a shorter winter, advancing our clock permanently by half-an-hour is not only a possibility; it should be viewed as an opportunity. Thanks to the education sector for showing some reform in time management and also for creating a greater degree of certainty with exam dates. It helps the parents with making better-informed decisions for travel, treatment and so on. The economy requires further certainty for the sake of investment and employment. And disciplining our calendar as well as advancing our clock will be a commendable step to achieving that objective.
Biru Paksha Paul is an associate professor of economics at the State University of New York at Cortland.