No Unpopular Budget, Hints Muhith
Friday, 10 April 2009

The finance minister has hinted that the new government will not risk losing public support as it prepares its first budget.

"No, not at all," was how A M A Muhith responded Thursday to suggestion if the first post-election budget would take the customary advantage of adopting unpopular measures such as shedding redundant jobs.

The minister, however, said at a pre-budget meeting with editors and electronic media executives that the size of the budget for 2009-10 fiscal would be big in current contexts.

The minister elaborated that the recession-hit export-focused industries needed cash injection. The scope of the social safety net schemes also needed to widen and the number of beneficiaries increased. In addition, the government would take up programmes to generate jobs.

He said the government was moving towards a budget that blended both the development and non-development programmes.

Muhith said it will be impossible at the moment to reduce military spending and shed redundant administrative jobs to cut back on government spending.

The top news media managers suggested the cost-cutting measures in the wake of the global financial downturn.

He would not comment on suggestions of a cut in allocations for the military.

He said when he was finance minister in the early 1980s, the size of the ADP was Tk 2700 crore and the revenue spending was Tk 1500-1600 crore. Now, the revenue spending is three times the development spending, he said.

"There's no way we go back to that kind of a situation." Only increasing the assets was not enough, there was a need to maintain them, he said.

The Financial Express editor Moazzem Hossain suggested a hike in the spending to keep up development efforts and asked the government for measures to ensure the ADP implementation starts from the beginning of the fiscal year.

The Independent editor Mahbubul Alam, also a former caretaker adviser, asked, "Why would the people be interested to pay taxes if they are not given services?"

He termed the newspaper industry a service industry and pleaded for a waiver on the 15 percent VAT on newsprint imports.

The Daily Star editor Mahfuz Anam said the government machine should be more geared up in spending because "we toil a lot to collect revenue but wait till the last minute to spend it".

Toufique Imrose Khalidi, editor-in-chief of, recommended the government slash military spending to deal with the aftermaths of the global financial downturn on Bangladesh's economy.

"There are issues like (widened) social safety net (it would be better if the military budget could be reduced). (Public) hospitals are in poor state," Khalidi said.

He suggested retrenchment of redundant jobs to save money. "Does an officer need three-four assistants?"

Daily Manavjamin editor Motiur Rahman Chowhdury said a third of the import duty on capital machinery should go considering the recession.

News Today editor Reazuddin Ahmed asked the finance minister if the government would allow undisclosed income to be legalised.

Daily Jugantar editor Salma Islam MP urged him to give opportunities to use "undisclosed, hidden money".

Muhith said the government will decide on the issue taking into account all aspects.

Prime minister's finance and planning adviser Moshiur Rahman, Daily Prothom Alo editor Matiur Rahman, Daily Sangbad editor Altamash Kabir, Channel I managing director Faridur Reza Sagar, finance secretary Dr Muhammad Tareque, National Board of Revenue acting chairman Nasiruddin Ahmed, Bangladesh Today editor Mahmud Ur Rahman Chowdhury, Daily Inqilab city editor Zakaria Kajal, among others, attended the pre-budget discussion.


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