The corruption watchdog is also concerned over the inadequate allocation to the health sector
The Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) has cautiously applauded the government for not keeping the provision to legalize black money in the proposed national budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
Calling such a provision discriminatory and an unconstitutional benefit to honest taxpayers, the TIB said it should not be included in the Income Tax Ordinance in any other way, in a press statement issued on Thursday evening, in immediate reaction to the presentation of the budget proposal.
At the same time, the corruption watchdog expressed concern over the lack of a clear roadmap to ensure transparency and prevention of corruption in the overall budget implementation, as well as the lack of sufficient allocations to critical sectors, such as the health sector, to control Covid-19.
In a statement issued on Thursday, TIB Executive Director Dr Iftekharuzzaman said: "Despite strong objections and protests from all quarters, the finance minister’s decision not to reannounce the opportunity to legalize black money can be taken as an understanding of the government.
“We want to believe that the authorities, respecting the prime minister's statement of “zero tolerance against corruption,” will not allow this unethical benefit to continue in the end even if they face any legal scrutiny or pressure from any vested quarter."
Concern over insufficient allocation for healthcare
Dr Iftekharuzzaman emphasized the importance of announcing a participatory budget that may assure people's wellbeing and save lives.
"In the proposed budget for 2021-22 fiscal year, the allocation for the health sector has been increased to Tk33,000 crore - which is about 7% of the total budget - but it is still much less than what is needed," he added.
According to the World Health Organization's most recent data, patients bear 74% of treatment costs and the government bears 26%, which is a shame for Bangladesh as a signatory to the UN Universal Declaration of Health, said Dr Iftekharuzzaman.
"Again, due to persistent corruption and a lack of fair spending capacity, there is a strong risk that this allocation will not be spent properly. But there is no alternative to reorganizing the health sector to curb the deeply rooted corruption in this sector," he added.
Although he lauded the government's investment in a nationwide vaccination campaign to combat the pandemic, and setting an allocation of Tk10,000 crore in the new budget as emergency response fund for the pandemic, Iftekharuzzaman said it was still not enough.
"This allocation is not enough to deal with coronavirus. In this case, this allocation should be spent with transparency, and it must be ensured that the corruption in the health sector doesn’t take advantage of this allocation."
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Similarly, when acquiring coronavirus vaccines, the government is obligated to follow a transparent procurement process and prioritize the public interest, he noted.
He also commented that the tax exemption for rural hospitals for 10 years was a timely decision to increase the scope of hospital services outside the city. This will create opportunities to ensure quality healthcare in rural areas, he added.
Iftekharuzzaman expressed concern over the news that the underdeveloped sector would receive about 60% of the total proposed budget.
"Considering the Covid-19 reality, the government was expected to reduce unnecessary expenditure and make realistic allocations to the emergency services sector," he added.
"But in terms of the total allocation, public administration received the fourth highest allocation (7.6%), and when defence expenditure was added with that, the amount exceeded about 14%. Although the allocation increases every year, the lack of effective strategies to ensure transparency and accountability as well as increase the efficiency of public administration is disappointing," he added.