Representatives of rights-based civil society say the proposed budget does not include government initiatives to curb money laundering, which is a kind of injustice and contrary to the spirit of the liberation war.
The revenue-raising strategies mentioned in the proposed budget, are conventional and inadequate in tackling the Covid-19 epidemic, speakers said at a virtual press conference titled "National Budget 2021-22: Illicit Financial Flows and Good Governance in the Finance Sector," organised by Equity and Justice Working Group Bangladesh (EquityBD) on Saturday.
Speakers said there was no direction to ensure justice in the redistribution of the proposed budget resources. They demanded a comprehensive overhaul of the banking sector to curb illicit money laundering from the country and to increase revenue from internal sources.
Ahsanul Karim of EquityBD said the government has proposed collecting Tk3.30 lakh crore in revenues through the National Board of Revenue (NBR) and to expand the tax and VAT net in rural areas. But the proposed budget does not have a strategy to cope with rising costs and declining incomes of the poor and the middle class affected by Covid-19.
He added that the budget was not fair in terms of balanced resource allocation at a time of rising unemployment. The government should reduce the VAT burden on at least daily necessities to ease livelihood pressures on the poor and middle class.
He has also made other specific demands, including reforming the banking sector in particular, to ensure good governance in the financial sector to prevent under-invoicing and money laundering, to equip the NBR with modern technologies to strengthen income tax collection, to declare VAT exemptions for at least 10 essential commodities for the poor and the middle class, to provide special allowances or direct financial assistance to the unemployed, and that the government should take steps to prevent corruption in government offices, especially in the procurement process.
Campaign for Good Governance (Supro) Chairperson, Abdul Awal, said the development philosophy and budget plan of the government is not able to reach the poor and marginalised in any way. The rich, engaged in tax evasion and money laundering, are being given more benefits. So tax evasion should be stopped first and the government should work with the NBR to that end.
Hasan Mehedi, founder and Chief Executive of the Coastal Livelihood and Environmental Action Network, said the country's debt burden is now about 40% of GDP and the debt proposed in the budget will increase the burden further.
He added that the health sector received about Tk37,000 crore in loans in the last financial year, but failed to address the Covid-19 crisis.
Aminul Haque of Coast Trust said the banking sector is one of the "collaborators" in money laundering so overall reform of the banking sector is needed to prevent money laundering. To prevent excessive profits, it is necessary to create an environment of balanced competition in the field of trade and commerce.
Rezaul Karim Chowdhury, Chief Moderator of the Moderator Council, EquityBD, conducted the programme.