supro may 14 2012The national budget is a reflection of government priority and policies. SUPRO believes that establishment of domestic ownership over development policies is one of the most important prerequisites for successful implementation of pro-poor policy reforms and good governance in Bangladesh. Proactive engagement of civil society and stakeholders in the process of policy design and implementation could address the challenges of eliminating poverty and inequality in Bangladesh.

It is in this light that SUPRO, which has been working for a participatory budget since 2003, organized a National Pre-budget Seminar on May 11, 2012 at the Dhaka Reporters Unity involving 45 districts in the country. Representatives of SUPRO's network, SUPRO-Dhaka Campaign Group, Budget Alliance Group, other civil society organizations, members of parliament, journalists and other stakeholders participated in the activity.

General Secretary M A Quader moderated and chaired the seminar while SUPRO Coordinator Mousumi Biswas delivered the welcome remarks. Kazi Shafiqur Rahman, Coordinator-Training & Capacity Building and Saif Uddin Ahmed, Campaign Coordinator jointly presented a pre-budget discussion that articulated demands related to the budget.

Colonel (Rtd.) Shawkat Ali, the Honorable Deputy Speaker of the Bangladesh National Parliament, was the chief guest of the seminar. He said that since people want government to respond to their needs and expectations, the budget should address current issues.

Meanwhile, Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SUJON) Secretary, asserted that corruption and management deprive people of the budget's benefits. He added that the budget is not decentralized hence local governments are unable to spend it as per their requirements. "The benefit to the masses will be ensured if transparency and accountability is attained through decentralization of the budget," he said. He also criticized the proposal to reduce corporate tax, saying that income disparity is on the rise despite the economy's gradual growth.

On the other hand, former State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism Abdul Mannan said the government could not serve the people because it has to spend a major portion of the budget for interest payments of foreign loans. He proposed that government stop this practice, bring all eligible incomes under the tax net and increase the budgetary allocation for agriculture, education and health.

Honorable MP Golam Faruk Khandaker Prince said: "Management is a big problem. We are all involved in some form of corruption. What is the use in blaming the government?" He also expressed concern over the low number of taxpayers in the country.

Honorable MP Al-Hajj MA Jabbar said farmers are being deprived of the just prices of crops and do not benefit from the insufficient number of government projects. Meanwhile, Darina Ch Kadunkova, a development worker from Bulgaria raised the importance of people's participation in crafting the budget.

The participants in the seminar included: SUPRO Executive Board Member Manju Rani Pramanik, Sharifa Khatun and KGM Faruque, National Council Member Mustafizur Rahman Khan, M.A. Salam, Shamima Akter Moonmoon, Hosne Ara Hasi, District Secretaries Abdul Halim, Moynul Ahsan Munna, Anisur Rahman Biton, Jahid Hossain, and Dipendra Nath.

Among the demands raised by the participants were:

• Immediately implement the proposed district budget.

• Allocate 20% of the budget to health sector and 10% to the education sector.

• Stop privatization of the health sector.

• Increase subsidy for agriculture to ensure more production. Bring marginalized and landless farmers under direct subsidy coverage.

• Allocate appropriate budget and undertake an action-plan to build up a sustainable agri-system at Chor, Haor, Hill-track, Northern and Coastal Area.

• Ensure actual beneficiaries under the Social Safety-net Program.

• Increase production of electricity under the public sector rather than a private company. Ensure control of PDB over DESA, DECO and REB.

• Decrease indirect taxes, especially VAT, and increase the direct taxes.

• Ensure the right to access and information under the education curriculum.

• Government rather than the private sector should initiate the development of a communication system.

• Increase budget allocation for communication and vehicles like railways and naval routes that are accessible to the poor. Do not allow the World Bank and IFIs to interfere in the communication system.