A roundtable dialogue organized by the Institute of Informatics and Development (IID), in partnership with Dhaka Tribune and Bangla Tribune
The Institute of Informatics and Development (IID) recently partnered with Dhaka Tribune and Bangla Tribune to organize a roundtable on the allocation for the youth in the national budget.
Titled “Youth employment and the budget,” the dialogue was attended by Nahim Razzaq, lawmaker and convener of Young Bangla; Syeed Ahamed, chief executive officer of IID; Md Shariful Islam Hasan, program head, migration - Brac and an online activist; Harun Ur Rashid, executive editor of Bangla Tribune; Shirin Lira, gender and social inclusion adviser at Promoting Knowledge for Accountable Systems (PROKAS) program under the British Council; and Towfiqul Islam Khan, senior research fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
The dialogue was moderated by Munni Saha, senior journalist at ATN News.
Munni Saha opened the dialogue saying: “One of the budget allocations for the youth was in the amount of Tk100 crore.” She added that a natural topic of discussion to follow is youth employment on a national scale.
Shirin Lira, gender and social inclusion adviser, PROKAS, British Council
When making the budget, we need a concrete idea about exact allocations. For example, with regard to the youth, there are subdivisions to think of, such as the marginal youth, the ethnic youth and young women. If we don’t plan for these divisions specifically, the expenditure won’t produce the best results.
In terms of young women working locally and abroad, we need to focus on their skill development. We need to do a thorough analysis beforehand and determine what their exact needs are. In remote areas, women in dire need of jobs have no job openings and no access to information. Consequently, they are being exploited locally and abroad. As a result, the investment process is not being effective, which needs to be addressed and taken care of.
Are we succeeding in creating a female-friendly budget? A big reason behind the decrease in female participation in the job market is the lack of security in transportation and accommodation. Another major reason here is that for thousands of years, our tradition dictates that women will be primarily homemakers. The budget infrastructure needs to account for the fact that with women entering the job market, their household and child-rearing responsibilities need to be shared. Each aspect unique to women needs to be addressed individually in order to make the budget female-friendly. Additionally, the budget needs to be more inclusive in terms of other groups, such as the ethnic, the disabled, and the autistic. This inclusiveness is also crucial to achieving our Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Speaking of people investing in our own country through start-ups, there is a huge obstacle in terms of the extortion that they would have to deal with. Another aspect is the prestige factor associated with moving abroad. These and other factors contribute to people getting detracted from investing in
Nahim Razzaq, MP, convener, Young Bangla
In the 2018 election manifesto, poverty eradication was the No 1 priority, closely followed by a focus on youth. We established 111 district-level training centres and 498 upazila-level training centres, all of which are meant to help facilitate self-employment. A major challenge is to enhance and improve efficiency.
The budget allocation has increased by 2% of the GDP in the education sector and by 4.9% in the health sector. We have noted that we needed to allocate more in the youth and sports sector. Its administration costs have increased, but the total allocation has decreased. The fact that we do not have sufficient details of the plan means we need to address that.
Previously, we achieved success in mass education on the primary level, and now we are concentrating on higher secondary levels, including digitization as well as skill-based education. Along with polytechnic institutes, we now have skill-based education being provided in various districts.
Through the implementation of this budget, we want to see how much we can gear the youth up. Time is of the essence as far as population dividend is concerned. We need to utilize our time wisely and invest in building efficiency over the next 10 years.
Our government has plans to focus on nanotech, biotech, robotics and artificial intelligence. With the fourth industrial revolution around the corner, we need to look for alternative sources of work to prepare for a future where we may lose jobs to automation. The Ministry of Youth and Sports has a national program that provides a three-month training followed by a two-year placement. While the training is more or less going according to the plan, the placements often move away from the areas of training. Subsequently, we are not seeing people becoming self-employed. These training programs need to monitor post-training employment more closely. The private sector needs to share the responsibility of this monitoring activity. Collaborations between the government and the private sector are already in place, but we need to broaden the scope of collaboration since everything cannot be achieved by the government alone.
The current budget can be seen as a positive development, but we need to have much more focus on monitoring. The problem is, our government is accustomed to seeing tangible investments, but when the need for investment is intangible like “monitoring,” we see little allocation.
Eventually, we will receive more details from the Ministry of Education on the budget allocation for education. We will be introducing new programs, find unique sectors to invest in and start moving away from conventional employment trends. The training that we provide needs to account for new equipment as well.
We have taken an initiative where private and public sectors will collaborate. In this endeavour, the private sector will invest in incubation and the government will provide the infrastructure. Afterwards, the private sector will employ these people in their respective industries.
When the Padma Bridge is finished, we need to be fully prepared to maximize the benefits of this new bridge. We cannot afford to take too long or the losses will be too great. The same is applicable to the readiness of the 100 economic zones.
Just like everyone else, we too want to see progress with a target-oriented approach. And in terms of creating 30 million employment opportunities, we are making progress on a number of fronts; for example, we have the 100 economic zones, the Japanese economic zones, the Padma Bridge construction, and Matarbari and Payra port projects. All of these may add up to our target of creating 30 million, but we should have more specific details.
A major obstacle is people’s perception of going abroad being a highly prestigious achievement. People who own good farming and agricultural property are leaving the country instead of developing their national properties to the fullest. This mindset needs to change.
If we are to start including more women in our industries, we need to modify the dynamics of our social structure. It has been modified over time, but we need to keep at it as new obstacles present themselves.
Syeed Ahamed, CEO, Institute of Informatics and Development (IID)
This year’s work on the budget kept the implementation of the election manifesto in mind. A large portion of the manifesto revolves around the youth and their employment opportunities. There are three major issues worth discussing.
While the budget allocation has been increasing, its implementation remains the same. For example, if we required Tk110 to implement Tk100 five years ago, last year, to implement Tk100, we needed to allocate Tk125. This year, the allocation has gone up to Tk140 and yet the implementation is likely to remain at Tk100. The primary reason here is that, due to a lack of capacity, we are unable to spend the entire amount. Therefore, we need to build our capacity and plan on implementing all of the budget allocations.
The budget allocation needs to have a backward and forward linkage. If people complete their training, where do they go from there? The centres at which we plan on training our youth also have a lot of issues that need to be addressed. Although a number of buildings were built with sufficient fund allocation, currently no projects are in the pipeline to utilize these infrastructures.
On one hand, we are talking about the demographic dividend, but on the other hand, our youth unemployment rate is higher than the total unemployment rate. As we enter the fourth industrial revolution, with the advent of automation, people are losing jobs to machines. The industries that our youth apply for work abroad will be shifting to automation within the next few years, a few examples of which are retail sales, taxi, cleaning and security services. So, we will be in trouble if we do not develop skilled labour, since the unemployment rate of our educated youth is going up and available job opportunities are becoming uncertain. We need more focus on this, especially on an inter-ministerial level.
The government provides 4% of our total employment, and the government quota solved only 2% of that. The remaining 98% will have to be addressed not through the quota, but through creating sound career paths and deciding on which industries the private sector employment opportunities should open up in. We can no longer afford to have people feeling proud of standing in line trying to go abroad.
Instead of blaming the people for leaving, we need to do our research, find out exactly why people are leaving, and address those issues. As for the private sector, it is well known that there is a scarcity of capable people for recruitment. The government needs to monitor the many training centres and make necessary improvements, so they produce properly trained and capable people. We need to look to the future anticipating the fourth industrial revolution and focus on developing more capable people.
The future is unpredictable, and it’s very difficult to say where new employment opportunities will open up. So, developing skills in people, rather than training them in technical specialization, is the way to move forward. One of the reasons behind our low efficiency is that the functions of our various ministries have become too disconnected and fragmented. The ministries need to operate in far more coordinated and synchronized ways. If we are to start including more young women in our workforce, the government needs to convince donors and the private sector to provide necessary facilities to women, such as paid maternity leaves.
Harun Ur Rashid, executive editor, Bangla Tribune
The budget was not created out of the blue. There is a continuous long-term policy, and the current budget reflects that. It accounts for which sectors to invest in and which elements to add to it. With regard to employment creation and sound management, perhaps we need to replicate models that are proven effective – like those of Brac and Grameen Bank – and apply them to our country. These models may not be fully applicable to our entire country, and the citizens would then need to make adjustments; the government should be providing support to the citizen with policies.
Md Shariful Islam Hasan, head of migration, Brac
One major issue is that whenever we are investing in training centres, the authorities usually focus more on funds for buildings and transport facilities, than on the effectiveness of the training given. If we look for information on the actual number of people completing the program or getting into jobs after completion, there is none.
Every year, from the 38 public universities in the country, we get around 400,000 graduates and around 54,000 more from our private universities. Of them, around 47% remain unemployed. The primary reason behind this is that our education system is not skill-centric. What we should have done 20 years ago is we should have looked into our industry trends and statistics, and created educational institutes with the sole aim of producing trained people capable of occupying every stratum of those industries. But we see that even in prominent industries like garments, we are losing tons of money to highly paid foreigners occupying the most authoritative positions.
Our national policies need to include plans to place the local manpower in place of foreign employees after a certain period. And the private sector needs to convince the government to create institutes that would train people to specialize in their respective industries. We see people risking their lives travelling by sea to Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia and Libya because they are not getting jobs here. We hear that 2.6 million people in our country are unemployed, 40 million women are not working in any industry, and every year 2-2.2 million people are joining the job market. By 2030, our government will create employment opportunities for 30 million with Tk100 crore allocation for start-ups, but we cannot tell the exact ministries that are in charge of this employment creation. There is no detailed plan for the implementation of the budget.
Our educated youth remain demotivated because the salary that they usually draw despite having a master’s degree pales in comparison to the crores of taka accumulated by an uneducated person through tenders and political leverage. As a result of this demotivation, our educated youth move abroad in three groups: the low-income group moves to Saudi Arabia and Malaysia, the middle-income group to Italy or some similar European country, and the high-income group to America or Canada.
The general mindset is that being able to move to America is the epitome of success. We also have a misguided perception of what is prestigious as a career, and it is stopping many young people to get into vocational or skill-based training. People are not ready to receive training in order to become highly paid farmers, drivers, nurses and caregivers, because these career paths are not deemed respectable. This needs to change, and our government should help convince our citizens to be comfortable with any job. Also, we often see that NGOs are capable of accomplishing the same thing at a 90% efficiency, while our government struggles at 40%. The reason is the lack of proper monitoring and accountability.
Towfiqul Islam Khan, senior research fellow, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD)
It is not entirely true that our budget is being increased primarily because of the government’s lack of capacity. It is not like the entire budget allocation is disbursed at the beginning of the fiscal year, and then spent as required. The budget has a specific direction as to which sector will have what kind of budget allocation, and these grants between sectors cannot be reallocated.
The budget that has been decided upon is not very high, given our economic requirements. In fact, it should be higher. We are allocating 17% of our budget to our GDP when, given our current stage of national development, it should actually be 20%. However, in terms of implementation, we are only managing to achieve 13%. The underlying effect here is that we are not able to allocate as many resources as we need to in certain sectors, such as education and health. Compared to the global trends, we allocate the lowest in health. On the other hand, we are world leaders when it comes to spending from our own pockets. This needs to be addressed. The reason is not just our lack of capacity to spend, but also to earn.
In terms of spending, we need to monitor whether we are spending our funds on the right causes. Finishing the projects on time is also important, because a delay typically raises the expenditure – i.e. paying more wages. Also, other sectors depend on the timely completion of certain projects. A delay in finishing a project means the private sector will hold out on making their own investments to avoid risks. This compounds the problem. Alternatively, a timely completion inspires the private sector to make timely investments and thereby, opening job opportunities quickly.
We have our demographic dividend, but if we cannot use it to the optimum level within the next 20 years, it will be of no use to us. Back in 2013, the inflow into the workforce was 1.8 million. But in 2016, it dropped to 1.4 million primarily due to a decreasing trend in female participation within the labour force. Women were dropping out perhaps due to a lack of proper working environment and a sound, visible career path. There are a few conditions to be met if we want to maximize the use of demographic dividend - for example, more people should join the labour force, and these people should be young and skilled. So, there’s a close correlation between the budget and our national economic potentials.
As far as the vision behind the budget is concerned, it appears sound. Having said that, the budget is not entirely aligned with the election manifesto. The budget for a newly elected government should feel a little pressure for speed of execution, which was not there. There is now a new allocation of Tk100 crore, but how it will be spent is unclear and the details are unknown. We can only maintain pace if the budget is decided with a clear outline. Otherwise, it will take another six months to hash out the details and implementation will consequently lag behind.
The 30-million employment opportunity will not be solely provided by the government. The government will provide the infrastructure and support, while other sectors will have to contribute to the collaborative creation of these jobs. Every year, 1.4 million people are getting into the job market, and around 600,000-700,000 people are moving abroad. Our government has an aspirational plan to bring in a huge number of women into the job market. So, it boils down to whether we can create a solid career path that would inspire more women to join in and help the country maximize on our demographic dividend. Our statistics show that only a handful of women are working for more than 20 years at a stretch. And not just low-income groups – even middle-income groups are often unable to build a career. Peripheral factors are also relevant to women in the sense that transportation and accommodation need to be sufficiently facilitated and safe. So, we can no longer continue to implement the budget in a traditional manner where we simply increase it by 10% to keep the implementation at the same level. Instead, we have to incorporate the new elements currently in play and implement them more cost-effectively. We didn’t really see a structural improvement in the vision of our budget implementation process, and we have to work on that. We have to work at implementing the budget consistently throughout the year as well.