Eminent citizens said raising allocation for the health sector alone will not be adequate in fighting the coronavirus crisis
The Citizen's Platform for SDGs (sustainable development goals) has called for enhancing the capacity of the country's health sector and ensuring accountability.
They said raising allocation for health in the national budget alone will not make the government better able to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
If you get lost in numbers after making big allocations for the health sector, it means you really tend to get disconnected from the ground reality, said Economist Rehman Sobhan Thursday as the president of a webinar.
In his speech at the virtual dialogue on new challenges in achieving SDGs and budget for FY2020-21, Prof Rehman Sobhan said apart from raising allocation for health, one should have a clear idea about what one is going to do with the money.
The renowned economist said, "I would have wanted a public commitment to raise the standard of at list 20 district-level public hospitals to that of the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) to deal with the pandemic."
Dr Shamsul Alam, member (senior secretary) of the General Economic Division (GED) of the Planning Commission, said the pandemic could prolong to the end of this year.
"A humane lockdown should be continued to save both lives and livelihoods," he noted.
Dr Shamsul Alam said accountability and capacity building in the health sector should get priority over raising allocations.
Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said although allocation for the health sector has increased slightly in the proposed budget for FY21 when compared to the previous budget, but there is no specific guideline on maintaining transparency in expenditure.
"Some influential people will plunder the block allocation for the health sector, making rule of law questionable further," he added.
Rasheda K Choudhury, a noted educator and former adviser to a caretaker government, said the education sector did not get due priority in the budget.
"Allocation for the education sector is not enough. Private teachers do not get their salaries now. Besides, it is not logical to increase the price of internet now," she noted.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, said the budget for the next year does not have any new plan for minimising gender discrimination.
"Women are in more sufferings during the pandemic. They are facing more domestic violence while child marriage is on the rise. The proposed budget does not have any structural support for them," she added.
Meantime, Asif Ibrahim, chairman of the Chittagong Stock Exchange, urged the government to simplify the borrowing process from stimulus packages.
CPD Distinguished Fellow Professor Mustafizur Rahman said the new budget has moved its focus to the health sector leaving the root-level issues.
"We had to redirect. For example, being too much obsessed with health, now we are not focusing on environment," he further said.
He added, "The raised allocation for the health sector provides a chance for us to work on universal health coverage. If we can do this, it will help to alleviate poverty, income inequality, consumption inequality and other factors."
He warned that the Covid-19 crisis could push Bangladesh into debt trap which would widen up budget deficit further in future.
Dr Debapriya Bhattacharya, convenor of the platform and Distinguished Fellow of the CPD, presented the keynote paper at the programme.
He said around 1.75 crore people of the country are at risk of sliding into the poverty line and 1.3 crore people are at risk of losing their jobs.
"We notice a weak financial structure in the proposed budget. Even after that, a proper action plan is needed to implement it," he added.
Debapriya said the government should use the structure of SDGs in the national reconstruction plan and include all new challenges in the 8th Five Year Plan.
"We strongly urge the government for making divided information to meet the challenges. Transparency and accountability in all sectors of our society need to achieve the challenges of SDGs," the noted economist also said.