The Financial Express

Covid-19 stimulus and governance  

| Updated: February 22, 2021 22:32:59

Covid-19 stimulus and governance   

A recent study by the Centre for Policy and Dialogue (CPD), a report on which was carried by the Financial Express last Tuesday, revealed that the government's Covid-19 stimulus package is having a skewed pattern leading to mixed results. While the big firms and public sector entities tended to take the path of faster recovery, because of their direct liaison with the government and the banking sector, the smaller ones fell behind. The fallout of all this has been on the middle classes, who failed to take advantage of the over one trillion-taka package that started soon after the coming of the pandemic last March 2020.

The study came up with several important suggestions including preventing conversion of working capital support into long-term lending and paying greater attention to smaller firms and the poor. As everybody knows, this year's budget surplus is due to weak programming; and while revenue spending remains up to the desired levels because of its very flat disposition, i.e., mostly payment of pay and allowances, the development budget this year was destined to lag in implementation because of the pandemic that deterred people's activity and therefore put a limit on actual work. Although the political leadership in the Ministry of Planning is ostensibly commendable and forthright, a lot remains to be done on issues of governance at the mid and lower levels.

The governance issue is not only a problem for a particular ministry or division of the government. It is prevalent in various degrees in the endless labyrinth of the public structure. That the CPD study only raised the issue of public banks is due to the study's focus on the stimulus package that is largely bank-driven. That the poor and lower middle segments of the economy fell behind in taking advantage of the stimulus package is also because of different aspects of governance. Nobody knows the figures relating to the benefit derived from the stimulus package by the small and informal businesses that operate in the economy leading to the biggest chunk of employment generation. Not only in numbers, but these sectors also contribute to gender equity and environment complement. All the banks have earmarked desks for small and medium enterprises. Some have also functionaries detailed for women. How much they worked and contributed during the past calendar year is a matter to be studied and examined for the stimulus to be put in the right perspective. People mostly representing the high-ups, descending from an elitist background have a greater access to facilities than those toiling in the depravity of slums and casual entities. These gave rise to what the aforementioned CPD study termed 'K-shaped recovery'.

All this may not fit into what the World Bank in a recent comment termed Bangladesh as one of the 'top performing' economies. Indeed, the prime minister's early awakening to the problem and prompt actions as soon as the pandemic spread could take much of the credit for such a performance. Economic growth is no doubt this country's major aim, but an equitable distribution and ensuring jobs to the millions of unemployed people who wait for two morsels of food every day are no less important. The stimulus package cannot be allowed to give rise to more loan-defaulters in the brouhaha of the pandemic. All the money belongs to the people. And people's money must be guaranteed the best use.

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