Agriculture and small businesses have a significant contribution to the economy, but these sectors have not been given priority in the proposed budget, speakers said on Thursday.
At a discussion titled "The 2021-22 national budget in the eyes of conscious citizens", economist Hossain Zillur Rahman said the agricultural sector was where people found a way to make a living even in the pandemic. "We should discuss allocations [proposed] for agriculture and small businesses".
The GDP growth shown in the budget is not consistent with the economy wrecked by Covid-19, Zillur said.
The discrimination in healthcare has been widening, he said, raising questions over the absence of a government plan and data to overcome Covid-19.
The government had initiated a move to bring down healthcare expenditures between 2012-2032, but the cost jumped in 2021 instead, Zillur said. Though government statistics depict an increase in year-on-year allocations for health, the implementation rate has gone down.
"We are hoping to become a high-income country from a middle-income nation but we do not have any major sector other than the readymade garment industry and remittance. We have to reduce our dependency on these two areas and create new avenue [for income]."
As the chief guest, founder of Gonoshasthaya Kendra Dr Zafrullah Chowdhury said, "The budget proposes a high allocation for bureaucrats. To ensure their benefits, general people have been brushed aside."
Salaries of the bureaucrats have been hiked, he said.
Referring to a research, Zafrullah said 65% of the bureaucrats rented their personal vehicles to ride-sharing company Uber and used government vehicles for personal purposes. "They take Tk50,000 from the public fund as fuel cost."
To establish the rule of law and democracy, the governing system has to be decentralised, he said, insisting that taking bribes and corruption should be put an end to.
Zafrullah also said the government should provide free or subsidised food to the poor for six months, without giving much emphasis on the numbers.
Economist Reza Kibria said, "The finance minister in the new budget only protected the interests of a vested quarter."
"A company earned Tk231 crore in commission by importing Covid vaccine. The deal [to import Astra-Zeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India] finally failed. Now Beximco [Pharma] should pay a penalty because the government is now having to buy vaccine doses at a higher price."
A higher allocation is required for the education sector to recover the learning loss endured by students, Reza Kibria added.