The Financial Express

Experts suggest job-based social shield expansion

| Updated: June 13, 2021 21:37:49

Experts suggest job-based social shield expansion

Experts have suggested expanding employment-based social protection in the national budget in tandem with fast vaccination to combat the pandemic-induced crises.

Alongside health infrastructure development, they said agriculture should be a core focus for food security and coping with economic losses due to Covid-19.

The observations were made during a webinar styled 'Post-Budget Analysis 2021-22' hosted by the economics department of Mawlana Bhashani Science and Technology University (MBSTU) on Saturday.

"Mass vaccination as well as the development of health infrastructure should get top priority in the national budget," said economist and BRAC Bank Chairman Dr Ahsan H Mansur.

The government cannot achieve its targeted economic growth without mass vaccination and bringing a massive positive change in the health sector.

Terming health ministry incompetent and ineffective, Dr Mansur said relevant organisations should be involved in the process of vaccinating most of the population.

"We've already witnessed the devastation of the pandemic in India and some other countries, so there is no alternative for us but to get rid of the virus."

Budget and other policies should focus on the pandemic "for a revival of our economy," added Dr Mansur.

On social protection, he said the government should allocate Tk 2,000 per month for 10-million pandemic-induced 'new poor' for the next one year.

It would be very fruitful in terms of the country's socio-economic perspective, the economist observed.

He also expressed concern over poor collection of revenue as the tax-GDP ratio is now only 7.5 per cent in Bangladesh (FY20).

The ratio is 18-19 per cent in neighbouring India and even 22-23 per cent in many African countries.

According to Dr Mansur, the size of the public sector is not expanding amid lower revenue collection.

The size of the national budget in terms of GDP has not grown at all in 50 years, he pointed out.

When the late finance minister Tajuddin Ahmad tabled the country's first budget in 1972, Dr Mansur said, it was above 15 per cent of the then GDP.

"But if we take into consideration the implementation of the budgetary allocation, it might be still within 15 per cent of the GDP," he added.

Economist Mamun Rashid recognised the need for developing the health sector through raising private-sector investment.

He suggested that the government reconsider the decision of imposing tax on private universities.

Prof Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha of Dhaka University said the biggies got tax cuts and loan facility which should be reflected in their investment and job creation.

"A central database on the poor should be made immediately, so the government can bring a maximum of the people under its safety net during this pandemic."

Dr Bidisha put emphasis on projects under social safety net which could also generate employment.

Towfiqul Islam Khan, senior research fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said the budget should be both for lives and livelihoods amid this pandemic.

The economic condition was a little bit better during the first wave of the pandemic but it could be the worst during the possible upcoming waves, he cited.

"But still we lack necessary vaccines, although there are risks of next waves," Mr Khan mentioned.

He said health, agriculture, food, social safety net and employment should get top priority in the budget.

"But in terms of the total budget allocation, the share of most of those sectors hasn't increased."

Prof Jahangir Alam of Bangladesh Agricultural University said agriculture has had buoyancy during the pandemic when industrial and other sectors have been struggling.

Prof Ismat Ara Begum of the same university said easy loans should be disbursed for women entrepreneurs to generate employment during this crisis.

MBSTU economics department chairman Dr Md Nazmus Sadekin coordinated the webinar where vice-chancellor Dr Md Alauddin, Dr Rafia Afroz of International Islamic University of Malaysia, member secretary of Bangladesh Columnists' Forum Mazadul Haque also spoke.

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