National budget and some ethical issuesby M Mahbubur Rahman
THE nation is now in a serious economic crisis. Macro-economy is in bad shape. There is high inflation, hitting double digits, which is unprecedented in the national economic history. Banks — private, semi-government and government — have shown symptoms of an alarming lack of liquidity. The taka has drastically depreciated vis-à-vis the US dollar, which has been on the decline against other international currencies. Prices of essential commodities are skyrocketing beyond the reach of the poor and common people. There is no investment coming. Due to shortage of electricity, power and gas, industries are closing, unemployment rising, export depleting. There is rampant corruption in all sectors of society, more so in the public sector and in the high echelon of the government. Suranjit Sengupta had to step down as the railways minister recently on charge of corruption. There is a scam in the stock market. Millions of taka has been swindled and siphoned out of the country. Thirty-three lakh poor and small investors have been put to ruin, many of them, out of extreme frustration, having taken refuge in suicide. In the energy sector, a huge amount of money has been plundered in the guise of rental and quick rental plants without proper tender, which were then covered up with an indemnity law enacted in parliament. Due to allegations of high levels of corruption in the Padma Bridge project, the World Bank has refused to finance it and so have other international agencies. The government has been compelling local banks to lend money.
Against these backdrops finance minister has to propose next year’s budget. It will be indeed a challenging task. Last year he placed a very big budget amounting to 1 lakh 63 thousand crore takas. It was an ambitious, unrealistic budget based on wishful thinking. The government targeted 7.5 per cent GDP growth but fell much too short. According to the International Monetary Fund’s recent forecast, it can achieve a maximum 5.5 per cent growth.
There is a competitive culture of hedonist lifestyle that has taken roots in society and it is proliferating in leaps and bounds. The rich here are filthy rich and they are getting richer and the poor are mercilessly poor and becoming poorer. The gap is widening dangerously. The rich amass wealth by illegal means, by corruption, graft, tax evasion, drug trading, human smuggling, women and children trafficking and what not. It is said in Bangladesh all big wealth are stories of big crimes. You check up their cupboards and you will find human skeletons there. The finance minister once admitted that 70 per cent of money in circulation is black money, illegally earned and hoarded. I strongly believe that if corruption is checked, national wastes are controlled, grafts are minimised, administration is brought under transparency and accountability, GDP can be increased by another 3 per cent.
Recently we observed that permission had been given to open nine new banks adding to the mushroom growth of banks and they were granted permission entirely on political consideration (not economic). They were doled out to party leaders and influential MPs. It is not known wherefrom bank chairmen got the required amount of Tk 400 crore, from which source. People doubt that these may be illegal money earned through corrupt means.
As a simple citizen, my honest advice to the finance minister, whom I respect as an erudite and honest man who believes in simple living and high thinking, who speaks about values and ethics, is that instead of doing futile exercise of mathematical permutation and combination, instead of seeking refuge to math magician ‘Shubhankar’ to find an elusive solution to this complex riddle of Bangladesh budgetonomy, please do not go for reckless borrowing to buy ghee with the borrowed money. Please pursue the dictum ‘honesty is the best policy’. Please follow the catchphrase ‘cut your coat according to your cloth’. Go for a small manageable budget within your means. Stop wanton corruption. Stop import of luxury cars and luxury items. Promote austerity at all levels and in all national sectors. Allow no waste, encourage no spoils and leave no provision of whitening of black money. This is unethical, illegal immoral. National parliament is a most sacred institution. It should not be abused, desecrated. We observe that the practice is being repeated in every budget session every year irrespective of governments. Enough is enough. We should stop it right now. We should avoid branding Bangladesh as corrupt and immoral.
M Mahbubur Rahman is a retired lieutenant general of the army and former chief of army staff.
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