Two crisis time budgets under Bangabandhu and his daughter Sheikh Hasina
The year is 1972. Bangladesh has barely emerged in the global map as a free, independent and sovereign nation. The war ravaged country was short of almost everything, resources, funds, skilled manpower to raw material to whatever comes in mind. It was also the first fiscal year for the new nation and for the country's first Finance Minister Tajuddin Ahmed. The country's first total budget for the fiscal year 1972 - 73 stood at a mere 786 crore Taka. Undeniably, the amount was too little for a small country with seven and half crore people while almost all its infrastructures were badly destroyed by the Pakistani occupation army during 1971 War of Liberation. The budget's focus then was to rehabilitate people and rebuild a new country with a new independent identity under the visionary leadership of The Father of The Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his Awami League government.
In the midst of all destruction around and fresh wounds inflicted by the War of Liberation. The People's Republic of Bangladesh began its fiscal journey to reconstruct the country with whatever financial resources it could muster. It was not a normal time budget, but a budget born out of a serious humanitarian crisis against the backdrop of decades of discrimination, destruction, looting and plundering by successive Pakistan military and non military forces. But Bangabandhu's iron-will, determination and charismatic leadership to reconstruct the new born Bangladesh had begun with the first budget.
Now the year is 2020. Exactly 49 years later, the country emerged out of uncompromising will and determination of Bangabandhu, yet again faces another unprecedented crisis. This time the enemy is not a visible occupation army, it is not a war of attrition either but the enemy is a lethal invisible virus turned into a global pandemic-the Coronavirus.
Astonishingly enough, the health calamity has posed the nation a massive challenge - similar to the challenge to rebuild a war torn country. The difference, however, it has returned in the form of an incurable deadly disease taking Bangladesh-nay the entire world to an unprecedented crisis. Prevention is now the only cure as an effective vaccine is yet to be invented.
Bangabandhu is no more, but it is his post - Liberation War spirit, determination and courage that has become the key observant elements in crisis management by his visionary daughter, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
In a queer twist of destiny, fate have entrusted both leaders to deal with challenges of two separate crisis time budgets. In Bangabandhu's time the challenge was to rebuild the country and rehabilitate millions of people with limited resources, while in Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's time the challenge is to swiftly recover from the unprecedented health hazards and economic fallout due to the Corona onslaught. However, there is also another significant difference in terms of the length and breadth of Bangladesh economy of 1972 and 2020.
In 1972 Bangladesh economy was fairly a small and aid depended economy, but the scenario has vastly changed under the astute leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. Despite numerous political, natural and economic challenges, the country has made significant strides in its economic performance during her rule. The economy has been heading towards the precise destination of prosperity, envisioned by our founding father and martyrs of our War of Liberation.
Today the Bangladesh economy is a developing market economy. In fact, it's the 39th largest in the world in nominal terms, and 30th largest by purchasing power parity. Moreover, the country is classified among the Next Eleven emerging market middle income economies and a frontier market.
The father had dreamt and began the new born country's modest journey for his daughter to realise it big. The recently announced enormous Tk 5 lakh 68 thousand crore budget of today's Bangladesh has come a long way , compared to a mere Tk786 crore first budget in 1972. The natures of challenges have also been different for the father and the daughter. But it's the identical bold leadership to face a national crisis of the two leaders what amazes us. The 1972 budget aimed at post Liberation War rebuilding and rehabilitation while the 2020 budget focused post Corona war economic recovery. Both are presented by Awami League government.
The proposed budget of Tk 5,68,000 crore with record deficit of Tk. 1,90,000 crore aims at realising revenue earning of Tk 3,82,103 crore and targeting bank loan of Tk 84,980 crore. It aims at recovering loss in economy wrecked by Corona pandemic, generating income and expenditure, creating employment and achieving 8.2 percent growth. Education sector has received the highest allocation while educationists are sceptical of the quality of education. Facing Corona pandemic the budget has proposed Tk 10,000 crore emergency fund for the health sector when many yet believe the health service is yet to come out of its weaknesses and limitations.
The budget gives stimulus packages to industrial sector but it lacks definite guideline to create employment in the wake of millions of jobless labourers returning from abroad and millions feared to be victims of job cuts in the RMG sector and service sectors. The revenue collection target is Tk 3,82,013 crore when there will be a shortfall of 15000 crore in realising the revised target of 3,00,500 crore in the current 2019-2020 fiscal.
It seems the proposed budget is bulky but not healthy. The ruling party and pro-government business leaders have termed the budget as challenging to ensure post-Covid economic recovery. But other party leaders and many economists termed it over ambitious, imaginary and not implementable.
Facing the challenges the Finance Minister in post budget press conference said that it is not a normal budget in view of the unprecedented and unpredictable transitional situation. To allay fear and frustration he asserted "we have the ability to implement the budget as we have to save and feed people."
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who remained steadfast and indomitable during the Corona crisis guiding and encouraging people to combat the pandemic and overcome the Covid-19 economic fallout reiterated "we won't accept defeat against invisible force fearing death. I want people to maintain their trust and confidence."
There is a saying that where there is challenge, there is opportunity. William Shakespeare wrote "Time and hour runs through the roughest day." So we hope the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina will lead the country through the roughest day with courage and confidence. It is often said that a crisis tests a leader. Crisis also makes and breaks a leader. On good days, a leader's job is simple: Keep the country running, ensure the government functioning, and make people happy.
What distinguishes a great leader is how he or she responds at times of crisis. Seeing uncertainty and crisis ahead does the leader fear, fumble and tumble? Or does the leader vision the future? Our two iconic leaders, the father and the daughter, have exclusively focused on courage and confidence in making crisis management.
The Prime Minister's response to the pandemic has been exemplary and she has been often praised at home and abroad. Her regular engagements with health authorities and frontline workers have repeatedly confirmed her sincere commitment to march forward by making the pandemic a part of life.
We believe, similar to her father she can face all the economic challenges with the latest budget while taking Bangladesh ahead.