The monthly inflation data it releases does not spell out the real price shocks felt by the poor. It could not prepare the national household database in nine years which could help the government identify the real poor and support them directly.
Yet, 94% of the money allocated to the Statistics and Informatics Division is claimed to have a role in poverty alleviation, according to the medium-term budgetary frameworks presented in the House along with the FY2022-23 budget.
Around half of the division's budget is for staff salary and allowances, while other spending sectors are administrative spending, foreign trips and training, fuel and vehicle maintenance and security.
Analysts struggle to find a remote relation of the national statistical agency with poverty alleviation. Rather they point to the agency's failure to perform its mandated duty of collecting and analysing quality data essential for policymakers to devise effective strategies to reduce poverty.
According to the Finance Division, out of the proposed Tk6,78,064 crore budget for the next fiscal year, Tk3,88,527 crore – or 57% of the budget – will be spent on poverty alleviation.
Analysing the allocations for 62 ministries and public agencies, it was found that the Bridges Division will spend the maximum 96.93% of its Tk9,297 crore allocation on poverty alleviation.
The Bridges Division works for socio-economic development by ensuring an integrated transport system through construction and maintenance of infrastructure such as bridges, tunnels, flyovers, expressways and subways.
Of the Tk9,297 crore allocation, the division will spend around Tk8,995 crore on nine projects.
The allocation for the Padma Bridge project is around Tk2,203 crore in the next fiscal year. The bridge, which is awaiting inauguration on 25 June, is expected to reduce the poverty rate by 1 percentage point indirectly.
Apart from this, two elevated expressways in Dhaka, a bridge over the River Payra, a two-storey road from Panchabati to Muktarpur bridge in Narayanganj, construction of a tunnel under the Karnaphuli and construction of a bridge over the Meghna have also been allocated Tk6,793 crore.
"I do not understand how projects like bridges, tunnels and flyovers directly contribute to poverty alleviation," economist Ahsan H Mansur told The Business Standard.
"As per the government estimate, about 20% of the people are currently living below the poverty line. Would not anyone else use these infrastructures outside of the poverty group?" he wondered.
He further said the main objective of building large-scale transport infrastructure is to create a better business and trade environment. Traders are the main beneficiaries of this, while such projects in the long run may create some jobs for the poor.
He said it would never be right to claim that such infrastructure has been created only for the sake of the poor.
He also expressed surprise at the fact that more than 94% of allocation for the Statistics and Informatics Division is playing a role in ending poverty. "They do not even have the exact number of poor and unemployed people. How their spending on salaries, electronic gadgets or motor fuel could contribute to poverty alleviation?"
Railway jumps on poverty alleviation bandwagon
According to the medium-term budgetary frameworks, around 87% of the proposed Tk18,852 crore allocation for the Ministry of Railways will directly contribute to poverty alleviation. With indirect contribution, it hovers around 90%.
The ministry shows Tk17,065 crore of its proposed allocation to have an impact on ending poverty.
But there is no separate quota for the poor in trains. With half of the train tickets being sold online, the chances of the poor getting tickets have also decreased. People who transport goods by rail are usually big traders.
As a result, questions arise as to how a large part of the railway allocation will contribute to poverty alleviation.
Analysis shows the ministry will spend Tk4,326 crore for operational expenses. It will spend Tk1,261 crore in salaries and allowances, Tk317 crore for administrative expenses, Tk61 crore for tours, Tk667 crore for honorarium, Tk410 crore for repairing, Tk40 crore for paying interest, Tk890 crore for job related cash support and Tk81 crore in block allocation.
A large chunk of the annual development programme for the next year will be for collecting 20 metre-gauge locomotives and 150 metre-gauge passenger carriages, construction of rail lines from Khulna to Mongla port, construction of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib railway bridge, dual gauge rail track construction from Dohazari to Cox's Bazar via Ramu and Padma bridge rail link project.
Economist Ahsan H Mansur said such development projects mostly benefit foreign consultants, contractors and skilled workers, while those offer some low-wage jobs for local workers.
"It is illogical to show the cost of such projects in poverty alleviation," he told TBS.
Even foreign ministry funding obsessed with ending poverty
Around 31% of the proposed allocation for the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division is said to have an impact on poverty alleviation.
Around half of the allocation for the Ministry of Industries is said to be spent on poverty alleviation. The ministry ensures job creation through institutions like the Bangladesh Small and Cottage Industries Corporation (BSCIC) and Bangladesh Industrial Technical Assistance Centre (BITAC).
More than 72% of the allocation for the Ministry of Commerce will help reduce poverty, it is claimed .
It has been claimed that 40% of the expenditure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who even does not have much work inside the country, will help alleviate poverty.
However, the allocation for the Economic Relations Division (ERD), that is responsible for managing foreign loans and grants, will contribute only 1.85% to poverty alleviation.
Meaningless poverty tagging
Zahid Hussain, former lead economist of the World Bank Dhaka office, said the government's allocations had included the poverty alleviation goal without any assessment.
"During the allocation, it is being said that this much is for the poor. Whether it actually goes to the poor is never analysed. There is no such verification attempt too," he said, terming the tagging process completely meaningless.
Professor Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), said, "The share of government allocation that goes directly into the hands of the poor should only be considered a contribution to poverty alleviation. This can be through product support or cash through the social safety net."
He said the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics does not implement any cash aid programme. "I do not understand how poverty can be alleviated by paying salaries to public staff."
He said a precise evaluation is needed on how much the budget is contributing to poverty alleviation.
"Not average reports, the government's poverty alleviation policy would be strengthened if the actual accounts of poverty could be compiled," he added.