Officials of the finance and planning ministries had already begun working on the matter
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday announced that unutilised funds from the Annual Development Programme (ADP) allocation will be redirected to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.
Addressing a session in parliament on Saturday, Sheikh Hasina said, "We have already announced a stimulus package of Tk95,619 crore. We will also redirect funds allocated to development projects towards tackling the coronavirus pandemic."
Meanwhile, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal and Planning Minister MA Mannan on separate occasions told The Business Standard that the ADP funds can be used to fight the Covid-19 outbreak if the prime minister permits.
According to sources, officials of the finance and planning ministries had already begun working on the matter, but they were awaiting the final decision from the highest level of the government.
The officials will formally begin the process of redirecting ADP funds to tackling the Covid-19 outbreak as per the prime minister's announcement.
According to the officials from the two ministries, the government declared an ADP of Tk215,114 crore for the 2019-20 fiscal year, which was later revised to Tk201,198 crore.
Of this allocation, Tk121,056 crore remains unutilised, a large portion of which can be used to battle the Covid-19 pandemic.
The officials added that bills of contractors, who worked in many projects, remain unpaid. Their payments can be set aside from the allocation, and then the rest can be used to handle the virus outbreak.
Finance ministry officials have said the government exchequer's unutilised funds for the development projects is Tk78,373 crore, which the government can redirect to any sector at any moment.
The amount of unutilised foreign aid in various development projects is Tk36,519 crore. This fund can be used in other projects with permission from the development partners.
Meanwhile, foreign aid in social safety net and health sector projects can be used to fight Covid-19 under such circumstances.
Besides, project implementing agencies have their own unutilised funds amounting to Tk6,164 crore, which can also be used to fight the novel coronavirus.
On the other hand, planning ministry officials said Tk981 crore has been set aside in the current fiscal year for approving new projects or giving special development allocation in ongoing projects. Of the fund, Tk534 crore is from the government exchequer, and Tk447 crore is foreign aid.
Asked whether the unutilised funds for the development projects will be used to fight Covid-19, Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal last week said, "The decision will come from Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
"If she wants, the allocations for development projects will be redirected."
Planning Minister MA Mannan on Saturday told The Business Standard, "The Prime Minister's Office is taking different measures to fight the coronavirus pandemic. Many development projects are not being implemented because of the pandemic.
"This issue is raising the possibility of ADP allocations remaining unutilised. The decision to use ADP funds to tackle Covid-19 will come from the Prime Minister's Office and the finance ministry."
He continued, "A sum has been set aside for approving new projects and making special development allocations to ongoing projects. As no new projects are on the horizon now, the funds can be redirected if the government decides in favour of it.
"The decision [to redirect funds] will not hamper the payment of bills in any ongoing projects."
Besides, the finance ministry has started collecting the surplus funds from different autonomous and semi-autonomous institutions, statutory bodies, non-financial corporations, self-governed institutions in the public sector to meet the expenditure pressure amid the coronavirus crisis.
The accumulated amount of the surplus funds of such 61 institutions stands at nearly Tk212,100 crore.
The finance ministry on March 22 this year sent letters to 10 of the institutions asking them to deposit their surplus funds to the national treasury.
Deputy Secretary of Treasury and Credit Management Subdivision Md Firoz Ahmed told The Business Standard that the 10 institutions have submitted Tk5,500 crore. Those institutions include Bangladesh Chemical Industries Corporation (BCIC),
Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission, Bangladesh Agriculture Development Corporation (BADC), Petrobangla, Bangladesh Power Development Board (BPDB), and Rural Electrification Board (REB).
In a letter sent to the BCIC, the finance ministry had asked the institution to deposit Tk600 crore as surplus money from its fund to the national treasury by March 25 and send the copy of chalan to the finance division. Similarly, Bangladesh Energy Regulatory Commission was asked to submit Tk25 crore within the same deadline.
Finance ministry officials said the institutions have deposited their surplus funds within the stipulated time frame. Funds will be collected from other institutions in phases and according to requirements, they added.
The finance ministry officials went on to say that at this moment the government has to move ahead shedding the idea of revenue generation.
The government has to take initiatives to protect the economy from the devastating impact of the coronavirus alongside arranging funds for meeting the huge operational expenditure. To this end, the government is left with no other alternatives but to take out loans from foreign sources and collect money from surplus funds of these 61 state-owned institutions, they concluded.
Terming the decision to redirect ADP fund to tackle Covid-19 positive, Dr Zahid Hussain, former chief economist of World Bank Dhaka Office, said, "There might not be an opportunity to redirect the total unutilised funds from the ADP allocation, as bills for some contractors are still pending.
"And, the government does not have the entirety of the unutilised funds. The government would have more money available following the revenue collection."
He continued, "However, a large amount of money will become available if the funded projects are properly scrutinised. This money is a good way for the government to tackle the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic."
When asked whether the unutilised funds from foreign aid can be used to fight the coronavirus, Zahid Hussain said, "There is an opportunity to redirect these funds after discussing the matter with development partners.
"Foreign aid in various social safety net and health sector projects can be used for this purpose. The Bangladesh government must start discussions with the development partners immediately."
PM reiterates call to follow health codes
Prime Minister and Leader of the House Sheikh Hasina today reiterated her call to all to follow the health codes and instructions properly to contain the novel coronavirus.
"I would like to urge the people of all walks of life, including elected public representatives and party leaders and workers, to obey the directives on health consciousness that are being given time and again in view of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country," she said.
Sheikh Hasina continued: "Please everybody follow the (health) guidelines. If you do it you can keep yourselves protected and others and the life of anybody will not be put at risk."
"For your little mistake, you may be infected by the virus and you can also transmit the disease to others. So remain careful so that it doesn't happen," she added.
The prime minister made the remarks while taking part in the discussion on obituary reference and delivering her valedictory speech in the seventh session of the 11th Jatiya Sangsad.
The Leader of the House said: "We're repeatedly requesting the people to stay at home so that the virus cannot spread further and we're gathering information every moment from every place."
The prime minister said the members of the law enforcement agencies are also working hard round the clock in this regard.
"But we don't know why the people don't want to maintain … we see that (violating the directives) they're roaming and gossiping here and there," she said.
The premier said the people of the country have become more courageous. "It's seen that breaking the lockdown, they along with their wives visit the father-in-law's and travel to other places later," she said.
Sheikh Hasina said her government has undertaken various plans and measures to keep up the pace of the country's economy and so that the country does not experience any famine.
"We've taken various steps and plans to keep the country's economy dynamic in the next three years and the country doesn't fall into famine," she said.
In this connection, the prime minister urged the people not to worry and tackle the situation with courage instead.
"(It's natural) cyclones and disasters will come. But there is nothing to worry and be frustrated. It'll have to be faced with courage from the respective position of everybody and we'll have that preparation," she said.