Planning minister MA Mannan has laid emphasis on enhancing budget for social safety-net programmes as many people have fallen below the poverty line due to Covid-19 pandemic.
Replying to discussants during a webinar on Saturday, he said: “I also think that the allocation for social safety-net programmes should be boosted. I’m trying for this in the next budget.”
Mr Mannan was addressing the virtual event styled ‘Covid-19: Social safety-net Programmes and Right to Health’.
The discussion was hosted by the Development Journalists Forum of Bangladesh (DJFB) and the local private-sector development organisation Action for Social Development (ASD).
Bangladesh Institute for Development Studies (BIDS) senior research fellow Dr Nazneen Ahmed presented a keynote on the topic.
Economists, government officials, health service provider, development experts and journalists took part in the programme.
The speakers demanded enhancing social safety-net budget to 4.0 per cent of Bangladesh’s GDP (gross domestic product) instead of the current allocation of nearly 3.0 per cent.
Since many people have become poor afresh due to coronavirus, they said, the government should increase budgetary allocation for social protection.
The speakers also called for doubling the budget for health services as it is only 1.0 per cent of GDP now.
Mr Mannan said they had recommended higher budgetary allocation for social safety-net programmes in the newly-framed eighth five-year plan (FYP).
“I’m from the village. I know how small funds for the poor work. Since poverty has increased for Covid-19, allowances for vulnerable people should be raised.”
“The current allocation of Tk 500-700 for each vulnerable poor is very nominal. It should be at least Tk 1,000. I’m now proposing enhancement of the allocation,” Mr Mannan added.
“This government is working to eliminate poverty. We will eradicate poverty from Bangladesh through attacking (measures) the hunger.”
On the misuse of social protection funds, Mr Mannan said there were some incidents of misjudgment, misunderstanding and mismanagement in distributing the allowances, but they have decreased now.
In her keynote speech, Dr Ahmed said lots of people have fallen below the poverty line for Covid-19. They should be brought under the state-sponsored social protection system.
A lion’s share of the currently allocated Tk 955.74 billion for social protection would be spent on salaries and pensions of public servants while a nominal amount for the vulnerable, she added.
“In addition, there is a lack of governance in the selection and distribution systems of the allowances for the vulnerable. So, governance is must here. For this, a database is very important for the country.”
Although the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics initiated to prepare a poverty database a few years ago, it has not seen the light of day yet, Dr Ahmed said.
The BIDS researcher said that rising unemployment and inequality in Bangladesh had emerged as the new challenges for the country amid the coronavirus impact.
She also laid emphasis on fighting corruption in the health sector and bringing all the people under the public health services for building a better nation.
Mofidul Islam, chief of General Economics Division under Planning Commission, said there were some challenges in safety-net programmes, but the government was trying to ease through implementing the National Social Protection Strategy.
The eighth FYP has been prepared considering Covid-19’s impact on the people, he added.
The government is working to make Bangladesh a hunger-free nation by 2030, Mr Mofidul went on to say.
ASD executive director (ED) Jamil H Chowdhury, DJFB president FHM Humayan Kabir and general secretary Arifur Rahman, Mukti ED Mamtaj Ara Begum, NGO organiser Shah Mobin Jinnah, SM Harun-or-Rashid Lal, Dr Zahid Masud and schoolteacher Rabeya Binte Karim also spoke.