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        Volume 11 |Issue 24| June 15, 2012 |


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The Bold and the Improbable

Sushmita S Preetha

This country works in mysterious ways. I know, I know, many of you are disillusioned with the current state of affairs – perhaps you are frustrated with the debilitating poverty, cocky corruption, unapologetic inequality or consistent failures of successive governments to implement pro-people budget and policies. Maybe you find yourself wondering if there is any merit at all to this illusive thing that we call and cherish as democracy, when the parliament itself is a joke and 'choice' merely a theoretical possibility. Perhaps you struggle to go through each day with the meagre wages you earn as a CNG driver in the face of rampant inflation. Maybe you are beginning to question the merit of a system that is so flawed and so unjust.

To all those agnostics and atheists, I say: have a little more faith, ye naïve disbelievers! This country is going places. Look how very far we have come in constructing dams, highways and high-rise shopping complexes. We have KFCs, Pizza Huts and even fancy Korean restaurants where you can get private lap dances if you so choose! You can stash away sackfuls of black money on the weekends to turn it white over the weekdays, and even buy yourself a Royal Bengal Tiger for your holiday villa. Don't be so lustful, dear children of Bengal; think of how much this nation has aided your quest for power and wealth, before you complain about traffic jams and load shedding. They are small prices to pay to be able to afford BMWs and 6000 watt generators.

This system has been kind to the poor and the needy, too. It has enabled them to make money through drug peddling, prostitution, stealing, and other illegal means. Remember the saying, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”? This system has done just that – instead of spoiling them with social benefits and safety nets, it has taught the vulnerable to be self-sufficient and resourceful. How many states give that kind of thoughtful support to its citizens?

Of course, none of these auspicious developments would have been possible without the ingenious vision of our finance ministers, each more prophetic than the next. They have grand plans for the present and future of the country. Each year, they diagnose the nation's symptoms and illnesses and write prescriptions to improve its health. The prescriptions come in the form of indecipherable financial jargon, embellished with paragraphs after paragraphs of hefty promises. They may not make much sense to the ordinary citizens who wonder how they would possibly deal with rising costs or more taxes, but they can go to bed (which probably now costs a few hundred taka more) with the reassuring thought that our finance ministers have the best interests of the country and its people at heart.

Take, for instance, our current financial guru, the loquacious Muhith. He may not have an academic background in Economics or Finance, but his Harvard and Oxford degree in Literature does allow him to express his sentiments in the most heartfelt of ways. Behold his magnificent prophecy!

You may please recall that, in the first budget of this Government, I gave an outline of a new Bangladesh, where economy will be driven by innovative technology and high performing growth. Where commodity prices will stabilise, income-poverty and human-poverty will come down to the lowest level, all will have access to education and health and people will find ways to demonstrate their creativity. There, social disparity will disappear and social justice will be established. In that cherished land, participatory democracy will be firmly rooted and capacity to tackle climate change disasters will be enhanced. That Bangladesh will emerge as 'Digital Bangladesh' through innovative use of ICT. This journey towards development and prosperity will help Bangladesh attain middle income status by 2021. All our budgets are instrumental to realising that dream.

He is a big man with a big dream. And men with big dreams need big budgets. The hike in spending would help us be “self reliant and self dignified”, to say nothing of fulfilling election pledges at the last minute. Yes, true, there is the small matter of how this big dream will be financed; resorting to domestic financing again would trigger inflationary pressure for the worse, hampering private investment and increasing the cost of living. And, please, let's not make a big deal about the fact that the IMF bailed us with a $1 billion loan package only a few months ago. So what we had to cut a few concessions – hiking prices of oil, power and fertiliser to bolster the country's balance of payments? It will affect the poor, sure, especially the poor farmers, but they have relied on subsidies for far too long now anyway. It's time they learnt to stand on their two bare feet.

It's the same principle which justifies the cut in spending in agriculture and social welfare schemes, which, as a percentage of both total budget and GDP, is lower than the previous fiscal year. The allotted budget for education, at 11 percent, also lower than last year's, might seem alarming, but let's not forget, our government is all about teaching its citizens practical life lessons. With declining safety nets, increasing unemployment and lower rate and quality of education, people will be encouraged to hone their innovative and entrepreneurial skills. In no time at all, we will beat China and Japan as the most pioneering nation in the world!

The government treats all its citizens equally. As such, it has made sure that the rich and the poor will pay the same amount in taxes, levying flat, instead of progressive, taxes on income as well as goods. The minimum tax payable by an individual has increased to Tk 3,000 from Tk 2,000 and a uniform trade VAT rate of 4 percent at all levels of wholesale and retail sales. Of course, that means it will be the lower and lower middle classes who will take most of the burden. But perhaps from the government's perspective, the proportional increase was a way to prove that all men are equal, but some are more equal than others.

Our finance minister has shown great creativity in levying taxes on djuice prem of the young lovers, and even more so in proposing tolls for vehicles carrying less than four people. You can say all you want about the improbability of the latter to sort out our transport problems, given the difficulty in its implementation and the acute shortage of public transport, but it takes a real visionary to proposition the preposterous.

And the finance minister is nothing if not a visionary. With promises of containing inflation at 5 percent and growth rate at 7.5, he is well on his way to implement the impossible. But Muhith must not feel discouraged by the raging criticism from all sectors; after all, people have always doubted and questioned those who dare to dream.


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