Deficit, implementation main challenge of new budget

Update:

Finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal on Thursday presented the national budget in parliament for the 2019-20 fiscal. It was received with positive and negative reactions.

Prime minister Sheikh Hasina spoke in favour of the budget at a press conference. Political parties have also expressed their reactions. Research think-tank Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) said the proposed national budget will only benefit high-income people, with nothing for the farmers and common people.

This is finance minister AHM Mustafa Kamal's first budget but for ruling Awami League it is the 11th one. And so the budget was expected to be a reflection of the continuity of the government economic policy and election pledges. In reality, there is nothing new in the budget.

The budget for 2019-20 fiscal titled 'Bangladesh on a Pathway to Prosperity. Time is Ours, Time for Bangladesh' is the largest-ever budget with Tk 5,231.90 billion. The overall budget deficit will be Tk 1,453.80 billion. It has been seen that the finance minister announces a big budget in the beginning of a fiscal but cannot implement it at the end. For this reason, experts call these budgets unrealistic and extremely ambitious. It seems that the new finance minister could not break away from that kind of ambitious budget either.

The banking sector was a much talked-about topic before the budget announcement. The finance minister in his budget speech admitted the need for reforms in the banking sector but did not table any specific proposals. He vowed to take 'strict measures' to end the culture of default loans. But, how he would implement that was absent in his speech.

The finance minister wants to achieve 8.2 per cent GDP (gross domestic product) growth in the new fiscal and in doing so private investment needs to be increased. But it is unfortunate that he failed, in his speech, to indicate any increase in private investment. Like every year, this budget kept windows to whiten black money.

The optimistic aspects of this budget are Tk 1 billion fund for young entrepreneurs and an incentive of two per cent on money remitted by expatriate Bangladeshis. These measures will to some extent give hope to the unemployed youths and lessen hundi trade. Besides, keeping women entrepreneurs' products VAT-free, widening the social safety net and increasing allotment to education sector are all optimistic.

The worrying fact of this budget is that the farmers who work hard day and night to produce food for us were deprived of any assistance. It was said in the budget that they will be supported in case of natural disasters. This means the farmer will not get any help if there is no disaster.

It is unacceptable that the government has increased customs duty on imported smartphones to 25 per cent from the existing 10 per cent and withdrawn duty exemption on laptops. It is unrealistic to make compulsory TIN (tax identification number) for every electricity clients.

The finance minister could not give any specific plans for decreasing economic disparity. Development and GDP will be meaningful only when the benefits reach a large section of the people.

Above all, meeting the budget deficit and its implementation will be the main challenge for the finance minister. Let's see how he is going to face it.

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