Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's speech to the nation has infused new hope into the people and corporate Bangladesh. She has been quite open in acknowledging the stiff challenge that coronavirus poses and she has also offered the much needed lifeline to the common citizens, mostly from the low-income group, who would be hit hardest by the pandemic.
We warmly welcome the PM's offer of a Tk5,000cr incentive to the export-oriented industries. The innovative side of this offer is that it can only be used to pay wages to the workers. This newspaper had pointed out just a day before that wage support was now the call of the moment.
A clear guideline has to be drawn up now so that the money is properly channeled to the workers and not otherwise. Also which factories get the benefit has to be determined based on a well-thought-out matrix.
Now that the government has come forward to announce the package, it also requires close scrutiny of how the industries, many of which have accumulated big reserves, spend from their own pockets to take care of their workers. Businesses also have their own responsibility to look after them.
The prime minister has justifiably said many people have lost their jobs because of the virus and we have to stand by them. And she has rightly urged the rich to stand by the poor. When one makes money from this society, it is also their obligation to give back to the people when they are in need.
Her offer of building houses for the landless and providing food and cash for six months are also going to be lifesavers for many. Her offer to the people to go and stay at Bhasanchar is also very innovative.
The PM's announcement of continuing VGD, VGF and low-priced rice also reflects the pragmatic welfare side of her thinking.
Meantime, the Bangladesh Bank has also taken quite some laudable steps, and very timely too, to ease cash flow to the banks. People will need money now. That people can delay their payment of utility bills is also an innovative step.
All these steps will put an extraordinary pressure on our expenditures and strain our financials. It needs a careful and prudent review of the whole ledger book to decide how to chip out the extra money from the annual total. It is time for austerity, as the prime minister herself has reminded us in her speech.
And lastly, one important category of the hard-hit people may be missing from the list – the self-employed ones, those who sit on the footpath and sell small items like socks and fruits, or the guy who takes you to work every morning on his rickshaw, or the CNG three-wheeler driver. Most of them are helpless today and need state support as well. We hope the Prime Minister's generous offer would include them as well.