Transparency and accountability is required for the budget process
The usual headlines following any national budget focus on the size of it: Allocations for different sectors, and a proposed list of prices that are likely to go up and down -- in a growing economy that is perhaps the way it is.
What is not disclosed is a comparative picture of how much of the previous budget was actually implemented, and indeed why appropriation bills always have to be approved to run the government till the budget is passed.
The inevitable shortfall of over-ambitious revenue targets is never analyzed, and the just as inevitable overshoot of mega projects as well as underutilization is never talked about.
There are also no explanations about tax on tax and a lack of paperwork that is a citizen’s rights. We have, therefore, dreamy views of how all of these are contributing to the development of the economy.
While most mega project costs will overshoot allocation, the reasons are not disclosed, and on the contrary, more money is allocated towards their completion. So much so that the comptroller and auditor general’s report on such projects are confined to reports submitted to the president, and that’s the end of that.
On one occasion, more revenue was supposedly garnered than actually entering the exchequer and brushed aside as reporting anomaly with no accountability assigned or action taken to look into the matter. Economists also aren’t too bothered by burgeoning costs, putting it down to inflation and rising material costs.
On the other hand, we have a series of projects that can’t utilize the allocation, mostly foreign component, because of the long drawn process, or in simple terms, costing that doesn’t meet requirements. Think-tanks write it down to corruption that is flatly denied.
Year after year, the tax-paying individuals’ numbers are promised to be increased, the current budget promise suggests ten million, but a former chairman of the NBR puts it down to a simple increase of service holders that were cajoled into submission for fear of not getting paid.
With the expansion of the economy, taxation figures will naturally grow, but the so-called tax net increase remains slow and inefficient.
VAT or mushok challans are not being provided unless demanded through the bills. Retail market sellers are in confusion regarding how the new VAT law will work with no training, and paper trails set out and everyone waiting for the electronic cash registers that have not been made available as of yet.
And this is the predicament of introducing science before the arts are understood. Most finished goods are supposed to have VAT amounts stamped on the packaging, the addition coming as it should through the value addition of the sales itself.
That’s where the halkhata paperwork becomes woefully out of date. And it goes naturally that prices going up with or without mushok challans become a reality.
As for prices going down, that’s the biggest anomaly. Producers and sellers will tuck it into the profit margins and put it down to the pre-budget production exercise until the hapless consumers get tired of hearing the same story.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.