Kamal’s maiden Bangladesh budget far from ‘smart’, packs little ‘surprises’


The budget for fiscal 2019-20 proposed by Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal is just the banal continuation of the past.

In the run-up to his big day, Kamal spellbound the media with his promise to bring in something new for the next fiscal year. That sent the media speculating on what’s next. Those who follow this annual ritual closely are clearly disappointed.

The budget speech, however, shone a light on Kamal’s own ambitions, as he said his life would have “remained unfulfilled” without his new job as the country’s finance minister.

The national budget has been structured around the “spectacular achievements” of the government during the last 10 years, which “surpass even the fairy tales”, he said.

But he was conspicuously silent on mounting loan defaults, one of the fault lines in the economy. It appears the banking sector went from bad to worse after he took over as the finance chief in January. Kamal has since been presiding over the worsening conditions of the banking sector. But he vowed to punish the wilful loan defaulters and mentioned the formation of a banking commission to reform the sector.

Agrani Bank Chairman Zaid Bakht believes strategic reasons led to the lack of details on taking the banking sector out of trouble. “Not all things can be said in the budget,” he remarks.

Palli Karma-Sahayak Foundation or PKSF Chairman Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad agrees but hopes the formation of a banking commission may ease the problem.

‘NOTHING NEW’

In an immediate reaction to the budget, FBCCI chief Sheikh Fazle Fahim said: “This is a continuation of the previous 10 budgets presented by the last two governments headed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.”

The Centre for Policy Dialogue or CPD Distinguished Fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya agreed as he found “nothing new” in the budget. “It’s a budget of continuation,” he said.

“We haven’t seen in the proposed budget how things are going to be different in the coming days,” said Selim Raihan, a Dhaka University economics teacher and executive director of South Asian Network on Economic Modeling (SANEM).

Prime Minister Hasina, in a rare turn of events, took over presentation of the budget from Kamal who was struggling with his health, fumbling through the beginning of his speech before being allowed by Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury to deliver his address sitting down.

It was a new thing for the people. No head of government had earlier presented budget in parliament

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