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Jack Of All Trades

Conceding criticism is a must in democracy

Published : Wednesday, 13 June, 2018 at 12:00 AM  Count : 336

Nizam Ahmed

Nizam Ahmed

The reactions to the proposed Tk 4.64 trillion national budget announced in the parliament on June 7 setting the GDP growth target at 7.8 per cent in the upcoming fiscal year 2018-19, seemed to have concentrated mainly on the irregularities in banking sector. Following the apex trade organisation, the Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) the parliamentarians from the treasury and the opposition benches joined the chorus against the Finance Minister AMA Muhith for his indifferent attitude towards bank looters, who in the garb of taking loans, had embezzled billions of taka from different banks over past several years.

As the Finance Minister failed to respond their criticism until Monday, most people mainly those who are out to magnify errors and mistakes of the government to blunders, have started saying that not only the Finance Minister, but also the higher up in the government are involved in the racket. Most members in the parliament were astonished as the Muhith avoided responding to his criticism, despite a senior minister in her speech earlier said the Finance Minister would be answering the questions regarding irregularities in the banking sector.

People don't understand why an experienced octogenarian member of the cabinet, who made a record on June 7 this year by placing the 12th budget in the parliament, should be such an awkward position shouldering the mismanagement in the banking sector. Of the 12 budgets, he placed 10 budgets in the parliament in the consecutive two terms of Awami League (AL) since 2009. In the first term of AL from 1996 to 2001, late then Finance Minister SAMS Kibria announced the budget.

A number of parliamentarians from both the benches on Sunday blaster the Finance Minister for not stating any measures in the proposed budget against irregularities in the financial and banking sectors. Though Muhith earlier had said the government would form a banking commission to restore discipline in the banking sector, he did not mention the issue in the proposed budget, the lawmakers alleged during a discussion at the parliament.

A lawmaker of the ruling AL said it was important to restore discipline in the banking sector as massive looting was going on in the sector and the loan defaulters looted billions of taka from the banks. As the authorities are indifferent to these plunderers, the defaulters are shamelessly maintaining a posh luxurious life, the lawmaker said.

Hinting at a possible debacle in the upcoming national election due in December or January next, the treasury bench lawmaker said people would not trust the government if it  could not ensure transparency and accountability in the baking and financial sectors.  A Jatiya Party opposition lawmaker alleged that the country's public banks are being rampantly looted.  While an independent member of the parliament said that the entire banking sector has become riddled with corruption. Clients fear to deposit money in the banks as billions and billions of taka is being laundered in the name of loans.

Most of the lawmakers alleged in their deliberations that the government did not take any action against those who had looter the banks. Pointing to the scam at the Farmers Bank of a ruling party leader and a former minister, the lawmakers asked why the government did not confiscate assets of the bank. When such allegations are made public in the parliament session by the members from the ruling party and the opposition bench in the parliament, there is no way for the government to shrug off the responsibility. Bank defaulters, non-performing loans, and siphoning of huge cash out of the banking channels are widely discussed even by the general people, blaming the government of maintaining an underhand deal with the defaulters who are linked with the ruling party and some business firms.

Earlier on Saturday FBCCI leaders at a crowded press conference demanded stern punishment for the people involved in misappropriation of money from the country's banks. They said FBCCI would not be lobbying to save those people who are involved in the misappropriation of money from banks. The remark has indirectly exposed that there has been a lobbying spree among the certain political leaders to protect the bank looters who deliberately made themselves defaulters.

The recovery of defaulted loans and bringing discipline in the banking sector have been the prime demand of the people in the country, including the activists and supporters of the incumbent government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. However, the budget reaction among the general people has been mild as there was no drastic imposition of taxes on different consumer items. But still the budget has been criticised for ignoring the poor and middle class people and facilitating the rich to be richer. In a gist the budget was not harsh as it was announced for the election year, people involved in party politics said.

As the budget apparently did not put any extra financial burden on the general public, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP), the arch rival of the ruling AL, in an immediate post-budget reaction said it was imaginary and aimed to gain popularity ahead of the election. BNP leaders at a press conference held immediately after the budget announcement said the government had designed the big budget only to garner votes in the next general election. They said the government had designed the unrealistic big budget only to garner votes and it would not be able to implement the budget due to shortcoming of its financial capacity.

However, different professional groups and trade bodies expressed their irritations on some budgetary proposals that likely to hamper their enterprises. Among them, e-commerce association Bangladesh (eCAB) demanded a five to ten years of tax holiday for the sector. E-commerce sector has enjoyed tax benefits in all the countries where it is significantly growing or has grown already and for the growth of this sector in Bangladesh such tax benefits are essential, eCAB leaders said at a press briefing.

The Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) strongly opposed the government's move to lower corporate tax rate for banks, insurance and financial institutions by 2.5 per cent in the proposed national budget. The government should not give such facility to the owners of banks and financial institutions without stopping the anarchy which is going in the banking sector," CPD leaders told a post budget press conference. The move may lead to loss of revenues worth about Tk 10 billion and is highly unlikely to increase liquidity, CPD said in a analysis of the proposed budget. The government has failed to give priority to needed reforms to modernise the country's tax system, the think tank said in the analysis.

However, in a democratic and political society no government policies and programmes including the national budget can avoid criticism. But good governments often consider criticisms, advices and suggestions that come up from all tiers including the grassroots.

The author is Business Editor,
The Daily Observer

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