Allocations for agriculture, food and disaster management are not growing at expected levels however, the allocation for the health sector is rising marginally
For more than 12 years, the power and the local government departments have topped the annual development programme's (ADP) list of allocations to implement projects.
The Department of Road Transport and Highways has regularly followed the two sectors on the list.
The ADP for the upcoming fiscal year will continue that run-of-the-mill trend.
The local government department has sought the most money, about Tk31,131 crore, for the fiscal year 2020-21, This is followed by the road transport and highways department with Tk28,465 crore, power with Tk27,350 crore, plus the science and technology ministry with Tk17,325 crore.
ADP allocations for agriculture, food and disaster management are not growing at expected levels however, the allocation for the health sector is rising marginally.
Experts have been recommending increased investments in the health sector, agricultural production, food management, market management of agricultural products, and disaster management to revive the economy from the Covid-19 rampage.
The Business Standard's analysis shows that four ministries and departments have sought an allocation of Tk104,271 crore to carry out development activities in the next year – which is more than half the proposed ADP.
The revised ADP for the current financial year has an allocation of about Tk29,777 crore for the local government department. For the next fiscal year, the department wants over Tk1,354 crore more.
The road transport and highways department wants about Tk3,302 crore in addition to its current year's revised allocation, while the science and technology ministry – which is building the Rooppur Nuclear Power Plant – wants an additional Tk1,416 crore.
The power department has sought about Tk1,513 crore less than the current year's revised allocation for it.
According to sources, the Planning Commission is now finalising an ADP proposal of Tk205,145 crore for the next financial year by adding nominal amounts to the present year's revised ADP.
Allocations dropping for food, increasing slightly for health
The health ministry is supposed to play the biggest role in tackling Covid-19, yet its allocation in the next ADP will see only a slight increase of 1.88 percent (about Tk231 crore).
The agriculture ministry has sought about Tk477 crore more this year.
However, the food ministry has asked for only Tk400 crore, 55-percent – or nearly Tk500-crore – less than its allocation in the revised ADP.
When asked, Planning Minister MA Mannan told The Business Standard that the government's top priority now is to save people's lives, which follows the issue of economic revival.
Any project in this regard will be approved without delay and adequate money will be allocated for it, he said.
The minister further said the government is fairly bound to allocate money for the long-running projects. The Medium Term Budget Framework (MTBF) provides instructions for several-year allocations for ministries.
"Against this backdrop, it is not possible to change the ADP priorities overnight."
Dr Zahid Hussain, former chief economist of the World Bank's Dhaka chapter, said the total allocation to the health sector in Bangladesh is less than one percent of the gross domestic product, which is the lowest among all countries of the world.
Investment in this sector needs to be raised to three percent, he recommended.
"Various institutions and infrastructure for health education and health services are developed through ADP projects. If the government does not increase the health sector's allocation even at this time, when will it?" he said.
The economist added that global food shortages have been predicted. In this regard, priority must be given to projects related to agricultural production, food storage and transportation, plus sales.
Zahid Hussain also recommended the government be careful about financing the projects in the infrastructure sector.
He said adequate allocations should be given to nationally important projects and to those that are nearing completion.
However, politically-motivated and less important projects should be kept out of the ADP, he said.
When asked, Planning Secretary Nurul Amin said health sector projects will be emphasised in the ADP.
The health and agriculture sectors will also be prioritised in approving new projects. Already, a health project has been approved outside of the regular meeting of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council, he added.