In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune's Ibrahim Hossain Ovi, Planning Minister MA Mannan has said that the vision of the national budget for 2020-21 financial year is rescuing the economy from the Covid-19 pandemic crisis, as well as rehabilitate the poor under a strong Social Safety Net Program with adequate allocation
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown the health sector’s vulnerability. What is the plan to strengthen this sector in the budget?
In the budget, health and agriculture have been given the highest priority. Last week, the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council approved two Covid-19 projects — the Covid-19 Emergency Response and Pandemic Preparedness Project involving Tk1,128 crore and the Covid-19 Response Emergency Assistance Project involving Tk1,365 crore.
Under the projects, Intensive Care Units will be established at all hospitals in the districts and supply of oxygen will be ensured to those.
On top of that, the allocation for the health sector will increase significantly so that authorities can ensure services to all and effectively fight the crisis.
What kind of measures will be taken to ensure food security in the next budget?
We are self-reliant on food security as agriculture production, especially Aus and Boro rices, are very good. Right now, agriculture is in good shape and the better indicator for the economy. Still, the government has given the sector top priority through more allocation.
As policy measures, importance will be given in mechanizing the sector to ensure harvesting in proper time and to cut post-harvesting losses.
What is the vision of the budget for FY21?
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, as the chief executive of the government, already has declared her vision to make the economy vibrant and rehabilitate the underprivileged, who are suffering most because of the pandemic. So, the vision of next year’s budget is rescuing the economy from the crisis and ensuring the proper rehabilitation of the poor people.
For economic recovery, the focus will be on export-oriented industry, while special attention will be given on expatriates so that the growth in remittance inflow can sustain.
Also, there will be special measures for the new poor, who fell below the poverty line after losing income due to the pandemic, to safeguard the livelihood.
The pandemic has pushed the poverty rate up. How is the government going to address this in the budget?
The Social Safety Net Program is the biggest tool, through which the government alleviates poverty. To eradicate poverty, the government gradually increases allocation for the program, and this year, it will get more to feed the new poor. You know, the government already has taken the step to feed people from five million households by providing Tk2,500 to each of them.
So, safeguarding the livelihood of these new poor will be ensured through the Social Safety Net Program with adequate allocation.
The government has a good number of ongoing development projects. As there is a fund crunch this year, which projects will get priority?
The development projects are taken not only based on the economic ideology, but there are political issues tied to them. But priorities of the ongoing projects will be redefined. On top of that, the necessity of the projects in people’s lives and the economy will be taken into consideration. The prime minister will make the decision to this end.
This year, the budget deficit is set to go up. How are you planning to cover the deficit?
Every year, there is a deficit and it is tackled with loans from domestic and external sources, such the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and others. This year, we will go through these sources and we can also borrow from a single country like China.