For lack of a better term

Courier Report
Thursday, June 7th, 2018
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Abul Maal Abdul Muhith and ambition have never really been strangers to each other.  If anything, over a long and distinguished career defined by public service, Muhith’s impeccable credentials were shored up by a determination and will to succeed – in one word, ambition – that made him one of our most formidable and accomplished civil servants.

 

Perhaps inevitably, it has spilled over  onto his policy- and decision-making avatars as well, and is bound to be reflected in the 12 finance bills (official the annual budget is presented as the Finance Bill) he will have presented on the floor of parliament. Indeed one of the earliest and most persistent charges he faced on his budgets was on the mismatch between his (over)ambitious vision and actual implementation capacity at the state’s disposal.  The finance minister has also come in  for some criticism in this regard.

 

It treads the same, familiar path of yesteryears — projecting high, performing low and leaving gaps between promises and outcomes. And furthermore, it is ‘unsurprising’, because most of its key features — size, targets resource mobilisation and allocation patterns etc., were largely made public before its formal announcement on Thursday last. Why is the proposed budget ‘uninspiring’? It is part of a chain of similar, expansive budgets that avoid difficult choices, as has been the norm under Muhith. And so we may return to the wisdom of Dr Anu Muhammad, the leftist chair of the economics department of Jahangirnagar University in talking about the last budget, where he says that  “it is so (uninspiring), because it broadly admits implementation capacity-related problems that constrain efforts for optimal budgetary outcomes but it provides no practical operational guide, beyond mere scratching of the surface, to help overcome such constraints.” It does not thus move beyond a status quo stance on the same.

 

Muhith has himself noted that he is deliberately opting for an ‘ambitious’ target for revenue mobilisation for the forthcoming fiscal. He is doing this, in order to implement the government’s specific and integrated programmes “to accomplish its goals of transforming the country into a ‘Middle income’ one by 2021 and a ‘Developed’ one by 2041.”

 

Ambition creeps in 

 

2010: He said the proposed budget is not an ambitious one, rather it is a necessity given the size of the population claimed that the budget for the incoming fiscal, 2013-14 is “very much” implementable even though it is highly ambitious.

 

“This budget is highly ambitious. But budgets with such growth rates have been implemented in this country,” Muhith commented while addressing a post-budget press conference in the capital’s Osmani Memorial Auditorium.

 

2016: Finance Minister AMA Muhith has admitted that the budget is ambitious one. “Yes, it is ambitious and it was done deliberately,” he said. Finally he managed to be unapologetic about it.

 

This year early on he was again eschewing ambition: “We won’t keep any ambitious target in the next national budget for FY19 as it will be an election year.the tentative figures for the budget is around Taka 4,60,000 crore to Taka 4,75,000 crore,” he told a pre-budget meeting with the members of four parliamentary standing committees.

 

In his budget speech last year, he said: “This is the last full budget of our current tenure. With the general election scheduled for be held in FY 2018-19, the next budget will have few initiatives or prospects for opening new horizons.”

 

But then all of a sudden around March, and getting stronger through May, he suddenly discovers a desire to produce his  “best budget ever”. Human resources development, education and sanitation will get priority while the highest allocations will go to transport and energy sectors, Muhith told the members of the Economic Reporters’ Forum (ERF).

 

“Allocation will be made for Monthly Pay Order (MPO) in the budget, but the allocation will not only for paying salaries of teachers, it will also include expenditure for the infrastructure development of educational institutions. All secondary level educational institutions will be nationalized in phases and as part of this initiative, some educational institutions will be brought under MPO,” he added.

 

It also seems all talk of his retirement, which he had announced last year, even intimating the seat he holds in Sylhet would be contested by his brother, has gone out the window all of a sudden.

 

 

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