The national budget, 2012-13 is set to be placed before the Jatiya Sangsad shortly. Pre-budget discussions held by finance minister A M A Muhith with different stakeholders and concerned groups had brought to the fore real issues of the economy. The interactive sessions were serious, matter-of-fact and productive. The question of whether it is going to be typically an election-year budget or a purely priorities-driven one exercised the minds of most people. Yet, given the challenges facing the economy, the concern per force centred around a deft, pragmatic formulation of the upcoming budget.
In this backdrop, the Forum has attempted a preview of the budget through its own lens. The volume and quality of public spendings are reflected through the utilisation of Annual Development Programme. While the size of the total budget has increased from Tk 784 crore at independence to a whopping Tk 1.64 trillion, public expenditure at 14.15 percent of GDP is among the lowest in the world. The ADP has been growing at 12 percent over the last six years on average, but implementation remains a nagging problem. Disbursement of external grant/credit ranged from 10 to 90 percent. On the one hand we ask for more money but on the other our absorption capacity is limited.
The delays in projects implementation result in 'a highly bunched pattern' of ADP expenditure in the last quarter affecting in turn quality of public expenditure. The project backlogs lead to cost escalations, and sometimes, costly abandonment. There is no silver bullet to accelerate ADP implementation except through achieving uniformity in absorptive capacities of line ministries, greater transparency and accountability on their part and decentralisation and delegation of decision-making processes with deeper involvement of the local bodies.
The inflation rate, expected to be single digit by the end of the current year remains problematic. The pressure to complete mega projects, utilisation of lump allocations, including expenditure on new projects, likely relaxation of tax measures, some reduction on subsidy coupled with increase of fuel prices could induce inflationary pressures and higher prices across the board. Supply side would have to be strengthened along with a lid on government borrowing to keep inflation down.
Inherent strength of the economy lies with agriculture by way of having 'rice in the pantry'. But then allocation to this sector fell from 11.06 percent in 2008-09 to 7.65 percent in 2011-12. Fair price to the farmers needs to be ensured if we are to sustain ourselves on the path of food autarchy.
Disaster preparedness is yet to be accorded the priority it deserves. Aila is a glaring example of how a natural hazard has turned into a man-made disaster through lack of accountability and inclusiveness in disaster management.
A gender-friendly budget has been advocated for the sake of providing an equal opportunities society. Implementation of Women Development Policy 2011, linked to education, health and child development policies as it is, entails injection of resources into the undertaking.
From brittle ship breaking, 'Making a ghost of a city' and dire law and order handling through youth-focused interactive session with Hillary Clinton to our seasonal flowers showing a pathway to build six cities marked by local varieties and paying authentic tributes to two literary giants named Carlos Fuentes and Prof Joseph T. O' Connell, both of whom died last month, this issue of Forum is a synergy between the topical and the delectably aesthetic.