The Citizen's Platform for SDGs has called for putting importance on reining in inflation and increasing the income of the poor by creating jobs in the next national budget – without looking at the growth of gross domestic product (GDP).
"Due to the global and regional situations, there will be many challenges in the coming financial year," said eminent economist Debapriya Bhattacharya, the convener of the platform.
"In such an unusual time, the government has to formulate an exceptional budget. For this, before placing the budget, its draft policy structure should be published," he said at a concluding discussion meeting on "People's Expectations on Upcoming Budget" organised by the platform on Sunday.
He said if the detailed information about the budget is published before it is placed in the parliament, people from different walks of life will be able to express their views according to their problems, needs and wants.
The eminent economist said the prices of almost all types of products have risen in the world market. Lower- and lower-middle-class people are having a hard time as a result of rising transportation costs along with materials like fertilisers and fuels.
The event, hosted on the online platform, was moderated by Avra Bhattacharjee, joint director of Dialogue and Outreach at the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
At the event, representatives of various sectors placed their expectations and arguments with the budget in view. Debapriya Bhattacharya summarised the views of all.
Professor Robaet Ferdous, of the mass communication and journalism at the Dhaka University, spoke on behalf of an organisation called Friends Social Welfare on the issue of transgender people.
He said an appropriate definition of hijras has not been formulated. As a result, it is not clear what is being allocated for whom in the budget. A census is needed to know the number of such people.
"Transgender people need SME loans and alternative housing," he said and demanded that steps be taken to ensure a share in their inherited property.
Tony Michael Gomes, director of Technical Program, Advocacy and Communications at the World Vision Bangladesh, said children's education has been severely damaged due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Although the city-centred schools were open, educational activities were closed in the countryside or remote areas. For the same reason, both child labour and child marriage have increased in the last two years.
"Those who drop out for various reasons are less likely to return to school. Therefore, to solve these problems, the children's budget needs to be formulated in a new way," he added.
He further said that direct participation of children in the budget formulation should be ensured.
Saddan Kumer Sarker, the headmaster of the private Bogajan Adarsha School in Bhaluka, described how the school teachers were affected by the pandemic, saying the teachers in the private schools are neglected in society.
He suggested allocating funds for the nationalisation of private teachers in the forthcoming budget to ensure job security and improve the situation.
Khandekar Jahurul Alam, executive director at the Centre for Services and Information on Disability (CSID), said the budget for the disabled refers only to the budget of the Ministry of Social Welfare. On the other hand, people with disabilities are given a monthly allowance of only Tk750 under the social safety net, which is Tk25 per day. Demanding an increase in the amount of this allowance, he said that although the number of beneficiaries is increasing every year, the amount of allowance remains unchanged.
Shakeb Nabi, the country representative at Cordaid, said the majority of small and marginal farmers are currently engaged in unofficial agricultural work.
"As a result, they are being deprived of various facilities provided by the government. As a result, they need to be formally involved in the agricultural sector," he demanded.
Md Mostofa Ali, senior programme officer at Oxfam in Bangladesh, said the government should formulate more planned policies on agriculture.
He noted that there is a dearth of required agricultural officers in the region. Therefore, coordination among all the ministries related to agriculture is very important to solve these problems.
Khokon Suiten Murmu, the national consultant at Kapaeeng Foundation, said the debt burden of the aborigines living in the plains has increased due to the pandemic. On the other hand, there is no specific allocation for tribal people in the national budget.
He, therefore, proposed to include a specific section in the budget for the tribal people to overcome this fragile situation.
He demanded that indigenous people be included in all kinds of stimulus packages.
Shedding light on the long working hours of transport workers, Ahasan Habib Bulbul, general secretary at Socialist Labor Front, said due to the engagement in work for extended hours for professional reasons, transport workers lose their performance at a very young age. Moreover, they are more prone to various diseases.
Because of this, he demanded the introduction of a health-card system to ensure healthcare at subsidised rates for the transport workers.
Shima Moslem, joint general secretary of the Bangladesh Mahila Parishad, said, in a patriarchal society, all women are somewhat in a marginal position.
She said the participation of women workers in the readymade garment industry has been declining in recent times due to the advent of automated technology in the manufacturing system. Therefore, she suggested making the existing women workers efficient in line with the advent of new technology.
Debapriya Bhattacharya, in his concluding remarks, said that a draft policy should be made available to the public before presenting a budget proposal to ensure public participation.
He added that it is important to formulate an expansionary monetary policy to keep the economy afloat.
Considering the current context, he suggested that the people, especially the backward people, should be brought directly under various incentives as well as economic security and food incentives.