The success or failure of Awami League’s electoral promises are likely to be evaluated in the upcoming budget statement, as the grand alliance government it heads nears the end of its five-year tenure, finance division sources said.
The ruling party’s election pledges included 17 major development projects, the construction of a bridge over Padma River, district-wise budget allocations and one-stop services for investors.
“Finance Minister AMA Muhith will give an explanation on AL electoral promises and how the issues will be addressed. Progress and failure on fulfilling the promises will be included in the next budget announcement, as the tenure of the present government will end on January 14, 2014,” a senior official of the finance division, involved with budget preparation, told the Dhaka Tribune.
The official also said huge progress has been made in the “digitalisation” of Bangladesh, poverty reduction, employment of young people in national service, and the development of roads and highways across the country.
However, the AL-led government is yet to execute district budgets, amend the national building code, create an investor-friendly environment in the country, or start work on the Padma bridge project, which is mired by allegations of corruption, said another official of the finance division.
A permanent pay scale for government employees, as per AL’s election pledge, has also not been implemented. Seventeen priority projects likely to be stated in the next budget speech are: a one-stop service centre for investors; formulation of a shrimp policy; expanding national nutrition programmes to 123 upazilas; raising the doctor/nurse ratio; undertaking an integrated programme to solve growing traffic congestion; addressing water supply, sewerage and environment-related problems in Dhaka; establishing a tax tribunal, as well as tax information, management and research centres.
Meanwhile, in accordance with the budget speech for the current fiscal year, the government vowed to start construction of the Padma bridge in September. In a pre-budget meeting with members of several parliamentary standing committees on March 31, the finance minister also declared the government would float sovereign bonds (with 15 years’ maturity at an interest rate of about 6%)in order to fund the project.
This means that out of an estimated requirement of $1.80bn, with an Indian grant of only $200m as tangible foreign currency in hand, the government plans to go ahead with the much-discussed Padma bridge construction.
Despite the uncertainty of receiving foreign funds, most of the MPs in the pre-budget meeting were in favour of resuming the bridge project as soon as possible to fulfil the election pledge. Without elaborate discussions on the pros and cons of financing the bridge with domestic resources, one lawmaker told the meeting that to win over voters, “at least one pillar” of the bridge should be erected before national elections.
Regarding district-wise budgets, the finance ministry has decided to allocate a district budget for Tangail in the next fiscal year, after four years of struggle. However, the necessary administrative reforms have not yet been completed, sources said.
The sources added that although the government had reformed the anti-corruption commission, it was not consistent with AL’s commitment to ensure the independence and effectiveness of the corruption watchdog.
The Awami League had also promised to strengthen union, upazila and upazila parishads through a decentralisation of power. However, after four years of neglect, reality remains bleak for local government bodies.
“Local governments will be made self-reliant and autonomous,” said the AL election manifesto that many believe greatly contributed to the party’s landslide victory in the 2008 parliamentary polls.
During his second budget speech, the finance minister acknowledged that the government was unable to make much headway on the issue, but promised to decentralise power and introduce self-contained administrative arrangements for local governments.
“Massive administrative reforms are required for a future delegation of power,” the minister said. “I hope we will be able to present an outline on this issue before the end of our tenure, as assured by the prime minister.”