Md. Joynal Abdin
The Daily Sun on June 4, 2017
Honourable finance minister AMA Muhith has proposed the national budget for the 2017-18 FY in the parliament on June 01, 2017. The most experienced finance minister of Bangladesh has broken his own record of placing maximum budget in the parliament. The total size of the proposed budget is taka 4.26 trillion along with an annual development plan of about taka 1.55 trillion. The sizes of the total outlay and ADP are both the ever highest in Bangladesh budgets. Critics called it an election budget to manage everybody. Few criticisms came with crueller words like to cut mass peoples pocket and collect election expenditure of the party. In spite of all the political criticisms, we welcome this biggest budget in the national history. Before going into detailed evaluation, I would like to have a look on the development budget allocation.
As per the proposed development budget transportation and communication got the highest priority with about 27.4% allocation. Bangladesh economy is transforming from agriculture dependency into industrial economy. During this transformation stage transportation and communication sector got its justified priority. So no doubt that, the experienced brain committed a justified move. The second highest budgetary allocation goes to the education and technology sector. It is another wonderful step from the honourable minister. But it makes me sorry that the healthcare sector is just neglected in this budget with 6.1% budget that stood at the 6th position of the ADP. It could get the 2nd or 3rd highest priority. Because till now there is only one child hospital in Bangladesh for 160 million people. The capital city is the only way out for treating many serious diseases. The government healthcare sector is overloaded to bear the demands of 160 million populations. Private healthcare facilities are just out of reach to 80% of the citizens. In such a situation healthcare sector deserves more budgetary allocation to establish more seats in the existing district level government hospitals. Establishing specialised hospitals at the divisional or district level is a justified demand of the mass people. Childcare is crying loudly in Shaymoli when a serious child needs ICU facilities to save his / her life.
The local government and rural development got 15.3%, Energy and electricity got 13.5% of the proposed ADP. To ensure a balanced development of the country local government and rural development deserves attention. Similarly, energy and electricity are the inputs to industrialisation and essential catalyst of mass people’s living standard. The honourable minister explained his achievement to bring 9,000 MW electricity generation capacities to 15,000 MW. But till now we are experiencing uncontrollable load shedding in the capital city especially during last two months. The experience of the rural people is even more agonising than that of the city duellers. At the same time a significant portion of the rural Bangladesh is still to get electricity connection. In this circumstance energy and electricity deserves extra attention.
Now we would like to have a look on the sources of this money. The finance minister has proposed to collect 62% of the revenue through the National Board of Revenue (NBR). It could be an extra pressure on the income tax and customs collectors. As a result, mass people especially the business community could face tough treatments from the NBR people. At the same time, single rate VAT collection has been proposed with a waiver list which is offering a relief to some identified groups but in general poor people have to be brought out from this VAT net. It is not clear how the government is planning to do so.
This budget has an over dependency on foreign aid and foreign loan. There are many examples of our inefficiency in utilising existing foreign assistance. But in the proposed budget these sources have shown a 3 times growth. How such a large amount of foreign assistance will be managed and how we could utilise those with our existing project implementation capacity remains a big question. Therefore, how the budget deficit of Tk. 1.12 trillion will be made up is remaining a very prominent grey area. If the government borrows unusual amount of money from the local sources than the private sector entrepreneurs could face credit deficit.
I am afraid of the proposal of imposing Tk. 800 as excise duty on bank deposits of Tk. 1-10 lakh. This decision is completely at variance with the government move for inclusive banking / financing. At the same time, it would be a pocket cutting decision for the low income group who are maintaining bank accounts with one lakh taka just to face any inconvenient situation or emergency. Therefore, this slab for imposing excise duty could be raised to Tk. 10-20 lakh. Less than Tk. 10 lakh should be exempted from imposing excise duty; otherwise poor people will lose interest in saving money and depositing them in banks.
As the number of unemployed higher educated youths in the country is rising day by day, we were expecting a special move from the government to address this issue through this budget. But relevant initiatives to generate employment or develop entrepreneurship are not visible in this budget though the honourable minister could defend himself by the GDP growth projection conducive to job creation. But still job creating projects deserve extra care in current situation of unemployment. Special allocation or mechanism is required for employment generation and entrepreneurship development.
A very good decision has been taken by reducing corporate tax rate and inspiring green industrialisation. But personal income tax slab also deserves to get hiked because people’s living cost is rising throughout the country due to inflation and other developmental effects. As the living cost of the mass people is rising, the personal tax-free income slab should be raised further.
Finally, we would like to conclude this brief evaluation on the proposed budget 2017-18 with a hope that, the honourable parliament members will evaluate the proposed budget and propose adjustments in some areas like increasing the slab of bank deposit to impose excise duty in line with the vision of inclusive banking, increasing the personal income tax slab due to rise of living cost of the mass people etc. And finally the most experienced finance minister will rethink few issues to make this budget more people-oriented, pro-poor and pro-development budget.