Bangladesh proposed the national budget for the 2021-22 FY at a time when a large part of the population had already lost their jobs, many had to shutter their businesses and millions newly slipped into poverty owing to Covid-19 fallout.
Against the backdrop, the budget was supposed to focus on employment and poverty alleviation. But no specific action plan or allocation for employment in the proposed budget was disappointing.
With the tax load eased, the budget tried to relieve the businesses. The corporate tax has been reduced while surcharge has been waived. The measures will certainly encourage the businesses.
If the policy support can reach out to the labour intensive and worker-friendly business entities, it will help generate new jobs.
Supporting businesses is an indirect approach to create jobs. I appreciate the incentives and support in the budget.
Even before the pandemic, there was a controversy that the rate of growth is mismatching with employment generation. Since employment appeared as a monumental challenge stemmed by the pandemic, it required more attention.
But I do not see any specific action plan in the budget. There is no mega-project or programme that can generate the required jobs directly.
The proposed budget just continues the stimulus packages announced last year. But there are no new plans, allocations, or incentives through which the youths and women can be employed.
The budget also lacks steps encouraging self-employment.
The budget has tax exemptions to encourage young entrepreneurs in agriculture and agro-based industrialisation which is positive. If private companies want to set up hospitals outside Dhaka, they will qualify for tax exemption.
These all stemmed from investment support and tax exemption philosophy, which ultimately will facilitate employment.
Last year's lockdown affected the livelihoods severely as this year's movement curbs were relaxed in many cases. Even the public transport has been resumed at one stage. So, the focus of this year's budget could have focused on job retention rather than worrying about job losses.
During the second wave of the pandemic, people resorted to several means only for survival. It is more important to check out if people who lost jobs in the first wave got back their jobs.
I do not see specific plans and initiatives in the budget for different groups such as young entrepreneurs and Bangladeshi expatriates. Many have already lagged behind in academic education for a year and a half which has pushed them back into the labour market. When they enter the job market, there will be a huge pressure combining the old and the new.
The government stimulus packages mainly offer bank loans. Since the situation is different, we could have considered something outside the conventional banking system. For example, the government could have introduced an unemployment allowance for a few months.
If you could give people cash, the crisis in the demand side could be overcome. Besides, various projects such as building or repairing small roads or renovating schools could be taken up in rural areas to generate employment.
If people can manage jobs at their ancestral villages, they will not rush for the cities.
Dr Sayema Haque Bidisha is a Professor of Economics at Dhaka University and research director of Sanem