Although the budget has done a very good job of identifying the problems of the common people, it has offered little in the way of solutions, experts said.
During a budget dialogue organised by the Center for Policy Dialogue (CPD) on Thursday, experts said no steps were taken to make life easier for the poor and low-income earners by raising the ceiling for tax free income, relaxing import taxes or reducing Value-Added Tax (VAT).
Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director, CPD, presenting the keynote address, "National Budget for FY2022-23 Addressing Six Challenges: Measures Proposed and Measures Required", said the government's estimates in the budget did not match the reality, pointing out that the government had estimated inflation - the most burning issue at the moment - to be 5.6%, but there was no plan to control it.
He added the government promised to increase investment, but did not show any plans for this in the budget.
Moazzem also said the increase in fuel prices would have a negative impact on the country's economy in many ways.
He further pointed out that government allocation for both the health and education sector had been reduced compared to last year's budget.
In the last 20 years, these allocations had been less than 1% of the GDP, with Bangladesh lagging behind all LDC countries, he said, urging for proper allocation.
Speaking as the chief guest, Planning Minister MA Mannan said the amount of subsidy being given in agriculture, gas and electricity in the proposed budget was right as a large portion of society had been deprived of its fair share.
"Under the leadership of the prime minister, we are working to reduce inequality. Taking food security into consideration, we cannot just pull subsidies from the agriculture sector," he said.
He added that there was a lot of potential in using VAT to increase revenue.
Terming social security programmes a temporary measure to alleviate poverty, he said there were still plans to introduce ration cards for workers in other industries such as tea.
Amir Khasru Mahmud Chowdhury, the former commerce minister, said the budget did not reflect the much talked about free market.
He said a lot of money earned through corruption and tax evasion has been smuggled abroad, but there was now an opportunity to legalise those by paying a flat 10% tax while honest traders were obligated to pay 25% tax.
He termed the proposal discriminatory against honest citizens and unconstitutional, saying it was done to help black money earners.
Anisul Islam Mahmud, the former environment minister, said no member of parliament had been consulted before the budget was presentation, but further discussions were merited.
He also said the allocations to health and education should have been increased.
Zafarullah Chowdhury, founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra, said, "In the proposed budget, we see that the allocation for social security has been reduced, excluding pension allowance. On the other hand, I see that the tax-free income limit is Tk3 lakh. This was foolish, as it means the government wants to bring rickshaw pullers under the tax net."
He suggested raising tax-free income limit to Tk5 lakh.
Dr Fahmida Khatun, executive director, CPD, said the financial and monetary measures for the poor were inadequate in the budget.
Apart from giving tax rebates on various imported goods, there was also an opportunity to do so in the domestic sector.
She said although there was a need to increase the volume and quantity of products sold in the open market, there was no initiative in the budget in this regard.
She also suggested increasing the tax-free income limit to Tk3.5 lakhs.
Fahmida agreed that this would reduce the government's tax revenue, but pointed out that rich businessmen have been given a number of opportunities to reduce taxes.
Labour leader Rajekuzzaman Ratan said there were 6.5 crore working class people in the country but no discussion was held with any of them before making the budget.
Shusmita, Anis, vice-president, Bangladesh Employers' Federation and managing director of the ACI Formulations Limited, said the middle-income and lower-income earners were yet to recover from the pandemic while prices had gone up, suggesting the tax-free income be raised to Tk5 lakh.
Rizwan Rahman, president, Dhaka Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said it was a big challenge to make a budget which pleased both the people and businessmen.
He pointed out that the huge amount of deficit would make it difficult to increase credit flow to the private sector as banks would be more willing to lend to the government.
GDP, inflation figures raise questions
At the event, Amir Khasru said the quality of statistics was deteriorating despite spending a lot of money due to the government's lack of sincerity and pressure from the ministers, adding there was controversy over the figures - especially data on GDP and inflation - on which the budget was based.
According to the World Bank, Bangladesh's position in the statistical capability index is 10 points below the South Asian average.
Khasru blamed the government for showing development by manipulating the statistics, saying no one would believe that inflation was 6%.
"Some economists say inflation is 12%. I think it is more than that," said Khasru.
The planning minister Mannan said it would not be possible to build Padma bridge, metro rail or Karnaphuli tunnel by manipulating statistics.
He, however, admitted that there were flaws in the country's statistics system, adding that the government alone cannot be blamed for it.