The health sector’s share of GDP needs to be around six percent, according to the WHO, but it is less than two percent in Bangladesh
Experts have suggested a considerate budget for the next fiscal year, noting that saving people is more important than infrastructure development during the Covid-19 outbreak.
They called on the government to cut unnecessary expenditures and stop allocating funds to "unnecessary projects."
At the same time, the economists and development researchers suggested allocating more to health, social security and job creation.
They said this at a pre-budget online discussion organised by the University of Dhaka's Centre on Budget and Policy on Tuesday .
The University of Dhaka's Vice-Chancellor Dr Akhtaruzzaman was the chief guest at the programme which was presided over by its Treasurer Dr Mohammad Kamal Uddin.
Speaking at the programme, Professor Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow at the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said, "This year's budget is not a conventional one. This time we are facing a health, humanitarian and financial crisis. The budget has to be prepared considering these three issues."
"If people survive, the financial crisis will end. So they will have to be protected first," he added.
"The health sector needs to be prioritised. The share of health should be raised in the budget. A life-saving budget needs to be formulated by increasing the coverage of social security to a great extent," he explained.
"To overcome the financial crisis, all illicit financial flows will need to be curbed and the tax net will have to be expanded – instead of the tax amount increased," he continued.
In the same vein, former governor of Bangladesh Bank Dr Atiur Rahman said, "This year's budget will be a budget for survival. People need to be saved with medical and humanitarian help first. After that, we will have to think about overcoming the financial crisis. The package announced by the prime minister must be implemented properly and transparently."
Proposing the annual development programme fund job-creating sectors instead of infrastructure, Dr Atiur said, "We have a huge potential in the agricultural sector. Investing here will create many jobs."
"If farmers' produce can be sold through e-commerce, there will be employment for many young people. Additionally, the budgetary allocation for the agricultural sector should be raised," he added.
Dr Selim Raihan, executive director of South Asian Network on Economic Modeling and professor of economics at the University of Dhaka, said, "Even if this year's budget deficit exceeds the seven to eight percent mark, the expenditure on social security and the health sector will have to be increased. The tax-to-GDP ratio should be raised to more than 15 percent from the existing 10 percent."
President of Dhaka University Teachers' Association Professor ASM Maqsood Kamal proposed a special allocation for facing natural disasters, alongside Covid-19, in the upcoming budget.
Dr Akhtaruzzaman said, "When it comes to the budget, transparency is more important than allocations. There has been a lot of reported ambiguity in the packages declared by the prime minister for tackling the crisis. If this is true then the people in need will be deprived."
"Ensuring proper management is the task of the state. Farmers have spent a lot of money to grow their crops. A fair price must be ensured for them through an appropriate sales management system," he said.
Earlier, the Centre on Budget and Policy Director Professor Mohammed Abu Yusuf, in his keynote address said, "Covid-19 has exposed the problems in our health sector. According to the World Health Organization's (WHO) guidelines, the health sector's share of the gross domestic product (GDP) needs to be around six percent, but it is less than two percent in Bangladesh.
"Although the government does not have a revenue budget now, it needs to increase spending on social security and health," he concluded.