Economists and business leaders at a post-budget discussion on Sunday urged the government to increase the allocation for social safety programmes to give some relief to low-income groups amid growing pressure of price hikes.
"The budgetary allocation for social safety programmes remains 2.8% of GDP in the current fiscal [FY22] but it has been proposed to be cut to 2.5% for FY23," said MA Razzaque, director of Policy Research Institute (PRI) at the programme organised by the PRI and the Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MCCI).
Presenting the keynote paper, he said allocations for the Food Friendly Programme and the Open Market Sale initiative have also decreased. "The government should increase the allocations before passing the budget."
Planning Minister MA Mannan, State Minister for planning, Shamsul Alam, PRI Chairman Zaidi Sattar, its Executive Director Ahsan H Mansur, MCCI President Saiful Islam, and its Vice-President Habubullah N Karim, among others, took part in the discussion.
"Social safety net allocations are made to keep the economy stable, however rich a country is," Ahsan H Mansur said. Echoing the economist, MCCI President Saiful Islam said food security is now really a major concern. He also called for an increase in the social safety net allocation.
On finance, Ahsan H Mansur said private sector credit flow will be disrupted if the government borrows excessively from domestic sources, as proposed in the budget. He also criticised keeping the lending rate unchanged at 9%, not achieving revenue targets, further empowering tax officials, and some other issues.
"Low revenue and low spending capacity are our key challenges," said PRI Chairman Zaidi Sattar.
Pointing out several weak sides of the macro-economy, speakers said keeping inflation at a tolerable level, GDP growth at the expected level, and paying interest on loans are the challenges for the next fiscal year.
Criticising low budgetary allocations for the health and education sectors, they urged the government to backtrack on the proposed amnesty for bringing back laundered money.
Planning Minister MA Mannan highlighted the various initiatives taken by the government to ensure food security.
On declining foreign reserves, he said Bangladesh once had a reserve with which it could meet the import costs of one and a half months. "It is now possible to meet the import costs of five to six months with what we have now."