Demographic dividend is the biggest asset of Bangladesh and the budget should pay special attention to human development to tap the opportunity, former commerce minister Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury shared his view on the issue with the Dhaka Tribune’s Ibrahim Hossain Ovi in an exclusive interview.
Next parliament election is set to be held by 2019. It is said this budget will focus on political promises of the government. Do you think a political budget can ensure desired economic growth?
The present economic growth data presented by the government is highly questionable. Because the unemployment rate is rising, with real income going down, remittances falling, export growth slowing and the investment is stagnant. How will the economic growth take place?
However, according to Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) data, Bangladesh per capita income rises to $1,602, which was $1,466 in the last fiscal year.
While the government is taking up mega projects with extra budget than necessary which is being siphoned off to Swiss Bank. Expenses of development projects are exceeding the European standard in terms of cost, but the quality of works is far away from an expected level.
Is it a development model? It is oligarchy and plutocracy. In bringing real benefits of the budget, there should have democracy in the country and a peaceful transition power through neutral election.
When Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) was in power, every indicator of the economy was in upward trend. Export growth was 25% while manufacturing growth 11%.
Like the previous budget, the government is going to provide recapitalisation fund for state-owned banks. Is it logical to provide fund to revamp the government bank?
Providing further fund for the government banks to bring vibrancy is totally illogical. Because, banks are being looted by the party cronies and the shortfall is met up by the tax payers’ money. Since banks are being run by the party men, financial sector is totally in disarray. As a result, the country’s economy is bleeding.
What should be the main focus of the next budget?
Demographic dividend is our big asset. Most working people are young and aged between 15 and 64 years. The demographic dividend will help accelerate economic growth that may result from a decline in the country’s birth and death rates and subsequent changes to the age structure of its population.
But if we look into the Human Development Index (HDI) of Bangladesh, it is not at a desired level. Bangladesh ranked 139 in the HDI in 2015 which means that the government did not invest enough in human development.
As a result, 40% youth are unemployed, and taking the advantage, people of neighboring countries have occupied the jobs here. They are taking away $5-$6 billion.
Bangladesh has ranked 139th on a par with Ghana and Zambia out of 188 countries in the Human Development Index of 2015.
According to the UNDP’s Asia-Pacific Human Development Report 2016, 66% population of Bangladesh age between 15 and 64 year and the proportion of working-age people will increase to 70% or nearly 130 million by 2030.
The number of old population is now 7% in the country which will triple in size to 22% by 2050.
If your party had announced the budget, what would have been the focus?
Our focus would have been on human development, education and health. Secondly, the concentration would have been on making Bangladesh a welfare state.
In vision 2030, BNP has given importance to human development and free treatment. You cannot cash the demographic dividend unless you make investment in their development. They have failed and their budget priority is anti-people. To remove income disparity and reduce poverty and increase purchase power, welfare state is a must.
There has been an endemic corruption in the name of mega projects. As a result, the growth rate is stagnant and hovering around 7%. There is no relationship between mega projects and economic growth. Without public-private investment, it is not possible to register economic growth.
Private sector investment remains stagnant. What should the government do to attract new investment?
Bangladesh is going through political and democratic deficit. Where there will have political and democratic deficit, and absence of rule of law, business people won’t dare make any investment.
As a result, private sector investment will not be here. Only, people, who want to exploit, will step into business.
People are siphoning off money abroad as they cannot make investment here. While some are not showing their money as it has been made through exploitation and corruption.
The only way to attract investment is ensure rights of people, business friendly and corruption-free investment atmosphere in the country. In this regard, removing political deficit is a must.
Democracy should be functioning to attract investment from home and abroad while to keep the export growth afloat, there must have the rule of law in the country along with civic rights.
What are the major challenges to effective implementation of budget to achieve target growth?
Budget is not being implemented due to corruption and wrong development model. There is a huge income disparity in Bangladesh while poverty alleviation has gone slow.
The government’s development model concept is wrong. As a result, implementation is not up to an optimum level.
On the other hand, the government is taking up mega projects, which are not viable and pragmatic.
Projects are being awarded through corruption and their costs are set too high. An extra amount of money goes to their party men while the delay implementation of projects pushes their costs up several times than anticipated. Such procrastination also shoots the cost of products up. Look at the tariff of electricity. It has been increased several times.
The cost of mega projects means mega income and mega corruption. That is why mega projects are being shown as part of economic development.
There is no relation between this development and economic growth, nor do we see any link with that of economic indicators. That is why, we believe that this is just made-up data.
Will BNP present a shadow budget for the Fiscal Year 2017-18?
No, but the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) will come up with comments on the budget for the next fiscal year. We will also describe the myth of government development budget model.