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         Volume 10 |Issue 22 | June 10, 2011 |


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Rice finishes before the salt arrives


They say that 'you can fool all of the people all of the time if the advertising is right and the budget is big enough' (attributed to Joseph Levine), and that jugglery of words and figures, ifs and buts, have come to the (first) aid of every finance minister whatever be the economic condition of the country. Why they have to use a worn out suitcase year after year we will never understand but that surely does not speak well about a country's economy that the minister is trying to portray as having a bright future, well till at least the next budget. For heaven's sake, there are very good homemade suitcases available in the market; and they would probably even gift the minister one if he took off the levy on leather goods.

Finance Minister Muhith shaheb is going to present the country's budget anytime now. Khaleda Zia as leader of the opposition in parliament shall present another one outside the parliament, as in the past. And there is so much of a diametrically opposite viewpoints between the two that you would wonder whether they are talking of the same country and the same people.

It seems that every time every year every political party in the government makes a seriously wrong judgement about the national budget; and those not in the government have all the great bright correct ideas. Even when their roles are reversed, that is yesterday's birodhee is in today's government, the ailment of incumbency survives.

Also noticeable is the dispute between the government and the think vessels (they are not supposed to make so much sound). The similarity of the thinkers' figures on ... and that of the World Bank matches hu-bu-hu. Not strange, but it could be a coincidence of convenience.

For the sake of the country, the finance minister should invite two economists from the opposition, and two buddhijeebis from the thinker group to frame the budget, and one lawyer from anywhere to mess it up. He can then take an entire week to have a good laugh. It will be good for the budget, the laugh, that is.

And, so one blogger has described the budget as an exercise (lots of ups and downs and push-ups) presented by the finance minister, always endorsed by the ruling party and always criticised by the opposition, discussed and analysed by the media, and ultimately paid for by the janagan.

The budget begins long before the actual budget with speculations galore. Tobacco prices will go up, private cars will be dearer (with no reference to a husband's gift to dearer jaanu), apartments will be beyond the reach of middle class (as if the lower-income group is happy along the railway track), onions to skyrocket, milk food to make babies cry... Apparently, the wise men and women at the finance ministry in consulting with wise men and women of other ministries pay no heed to such media deeds, and go about their work as per the set routine of the British; some say the 15th century Portuguese: increase five percent here, reduce ten percent there, and add up to ninety-seven point eight to make it appear confusing and sensational, and thereby intellectual. That in the M.A. Economics class is called balancing the budget. Obviously, the market becomes restless and prices begin to climb.

As the time of the budget gets closer, and we are already having the two-Taka singara at three, the demands of different interest groups begin to surface: ... there should be a reduction in interest rate for education loan... the tax exemption limit should be raised... the emphasis should be on the poor and the underprivileged... this should be made tax free... that should be exempted from duty... The general notion is that the government will bring down interest-free money from the heavens and every citizen's individual and collective undertaking will have a great time making lots of profit.

The government obviously is never above criticism. US president Ronald Reagan elaborated: 'The government's view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases. If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it'.

Long before the finance minister makes his budgetary statement and the opposition makes a mockery of it, as though they know any better, prices will have escalated to new heights much due to ministers, parliamentarians in government and out, businesspeople, media, and the thinkers talking hypothetically. It would be so much better if everybody talked a little less, and waited for the market to find its own economic curve.

We have no hesitation to admit that it is no mean task to scaffold a budget for a country where the rice finishes before the salt arrives for a good part of the teeming population. Our sympathies for the finance minister; and may they have his.



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