Published in The News Today on Thursday, 28 April 2016
National Budget for 2016-17: No to CPD’s 3 commissions, consider observations
By Muhammad Quamrul Islam
The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) held press meet in Dhaka on April 17, 2016 on Budget for next fiscal 2016-17 reported in our national dailies on the following day has naturally drawn the attention of our contemporaries and expressed feelings from respective positions in interpersonal discourses and others. At age 75 of Dhaka University Economics batch 1961 I feel obliged to furnish reactions on the subject with due respect to my teacher Rehman Sobhan as teacher, in spite of different perceptions about him by different strata of people as chairman of this think tank, former caretaker adviser, NGOs/ civil society leader and other positions held outside academic domain. He lectured in our classes on Growth theory that Politics not economics is the important determinant of economic development, government is an obstacle or a facilitator, there is no use to play jugglery of figures but observe how development trickles down to people and so on, which I followed still haunt my mind. In our four years as resident of S M Hall we were under the enlightened care of our full time devoted teachers having no colour/ party imparting knowledge to the students in the University Departments, and pursued democratic culture under the guidance of Provost held annual elections to Hall Union-Dhaka University Central Students Union (DUCSU) participated by students organizations who were always on friendly terms. A serene academic and cultural atmosphere prevailed, turned out future leaders of the country. After passing 54 years of career, of which as economist in different responsible positions in public service till 1987, resigned and joined reorganized National Awami Party (NAP) led by Barrister Abdul Haq, a founding member of NAP in 1957 led by Maulana Bhashani to revive it as an alternative main stream party along with Awami League in traditional Bhashani-Mujib line and new Bangladesh Nationalist party (BNP) needed for democracy as in neighboring country; but it could not unify different factions for obvious reasons was wound up in 2006. By the grace of Allah my activism in columns of national media is continuing thanks to our journalists and responsive readers. In this context what transpires to us CPD has asserted the obvious truth of gross mismatches between estimates and actual over the fiscal years, and budget making process lacks transparency. It denounced the scams in the financial sector, of late Bangladesh Bank reserve heist. Who are responsible what are the ways out in their thinking that are the questions tormenting the minds of general citizens yet to be answered. Like others it might be waiting for Inquiry report by committee set up by the government and legal proceedings when it would end; meanwhile no solace from any quarters to remove the frustrations of commoners! What is to the point is the call for an open Parliamentary hearing over BB heist amounting to US $101million out of which US $20 million recovered luckily as the name of the recipient NGO in Sri Lanka was miss spelt as well as the alertness of Sri Lankan authorities. How come the concerned BB Governor resigned and returned to join his post of Professor at Dhaka University? He was on deputation, now under the care of Teachers association who can enforce work abstention program if need be! Philippines’ Senate acted promptly held hearings effectively. There are so many Commissions, what purposes they serve await assessment by the political level. A statement to this effect may be given by Finance Minister. As such, how far proposed three separate commissions for financial sector, statistical reform and public expenditure review would be effective in the light of experience is a point to ponder. Each commission will cost the public exchequer, re employ former or retired officials or professors on deputation would come out with report to be shelved by the executing authorities or writing something to meet their requirements! In the alternative, the work indicated by CPD for each commission may be given to the concerned Departments of the University under an agreed arrangement, which would be fruitful as they have the expertise as well as may involve the students in the research along with their academic program to groom them for future leaderships. This will increase the prestige of University Professors due to them. The representatives of the Govt. in the ministry of finance, CPD and University concerned may sit together to be chaired by respected teacher Rehman Sobhan who will dispose off the matter expeditiously. In next few weeks we would see seminars called by different civil outfits with their recommendations. We will get reactions of government time to time. Well, it is quite obvious each trade and business bodies would try to protect their interests, it is up to Government to dispose off the matter mutually in the interest of all. What is vexing civil societies lost the trustworthiness, deemed to please either one of the two-party, ruling AL or Opposition BNP as the case may be suiting their interests? It would hardly say rising per capita income does not mean income is distributed equally among people and suggest definitive measures to reduce extreme unequal distribution of income. Let us wait to see what they say as it is apprehended they have vested interests in confrontational politics to live on at ease. The overriding concern would be education sector from University to Primary, for which big budget is allocated each fiscal but general student and guardians do not get benefits commensurate with expenditures; for campus violence of various sorts, corruptions at different levels, increasing burden of expenses per capita on guardians, session jam and closure of classes etc reported regularly in media. It is intriguing no Students Union elections at higher levels but introduced in lower level; and primary school certificate examination only increased burden which the guardian and well meaning teachers of that level want to dispense with. Let Minister of Education Nurul Islam Nahid respond and address instead of shifting this responsibility on this and that pretext. We wish to have serene academic atmosphere which he had in 1960s and not put the progeny in jeopardy. CPD may monitor this situation, which can only ensure qualitative changes in Budget. — The writer is an economist and socio-political activist.