Finance minister forgets to count new poor: Debapriya Bhattacharya

Participants at the virtual media brief organised by Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh

The Covid-induced new poor has not been taken into consideration in the proposed budget for the fiscal year of 2021-22, Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh, convenor Debapriya Bhattacharya has said.

"The government-run development projects, though, have widened the roads. But the finance minister has forgotten to pick up passengers for the ride on the road. Marginalised people are excluded from the ride, said the economist while responding to journalists.

Debapriya on Sunday gave this opinion at a virtual media briefing titled National Budget 2021-22: What is there for the ‘disadvantaged people’ hosted by the platform.

In his keynotes, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) distinguished fellow Debapriya said the proposed budget for fiscal 2021-22 does not recognise the pandemic-hit new poor. There is no offer for the 15-20 million new poor. The budget proposal contains no data on the number of pandemic-hit poor, neither there is any government-run survey. Hence the proposed budget does not endorse a pro-poor policy.

He pointed out that data deficiency once influenced the policymaking. Now a data anarchy is taking roots. Due to data deficiency, the proposed budget fails to identify people’s actual demands. A flawed and incomplete budget has been proposed for the fiscal 2021-22, Debapriya said, adding that formal sectors are given priority in the proposed budget while the informal ones receive nothing significant.

“The second wave of coronavirus has not been considered during the preparation of the budget,” he said.

Former advisor to the caretaker government, and the executive director of Campaign for Popular Education, Rasheda K Choudhury, said the pandemic-hit education sector is seen most neglected in the allocation of proposed budget for 2021-2022. “Students mostly from the solvent families attend their online tutorials while students from the poor and disadvantaged families are not able to attend their classes at all.”

Manusher Jonno Foundation’s executive director Shaheen Anam said, “Data deficiency about the number of disadvantaged families hampers proper policymaking. The budget proposal for fiscal 2021-22 fails to meet our expectations.”

Core group member of the Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, also a renowned health expert, Mushtaque Raza Chowdhury, said the proposed budget neither addresses the fundamental weaknesses nor speaks about a necessary reforms in the health sector. The Covid-19 crisis needs to be analysed to rearrange the country’s health sector. Mushtauqe Raza Chowdhury recommended for formulation of a health commission.

Former president of the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industries, Asif Ibrahim, said the proposed budget deducts the rate of corporate tax but offers nothing crucial for the small-medium and marginalised entrepreneurs.

Distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, professor Mustafizur Rahman, said necessary measures for the disadvantaged groups cannot be taken due to lack of data. Besides, the beneficiaries under the social safety net programmes do not receive the financial aid meant for them.

Sultana Kamal, core group member of the platform, chaired the briefing.

*This report appeared on the online edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Sadiqur Rahman.