Vaccination and healthcare should be sole focus of budget: Bangladesh economists

The coming Bangladesh budget should focus on fast-paced vaccination, rehaul of the health infrastructure and extensive social protection to bring the crisis created by the Covid pandemic under control, say economists

May 15, 2021
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Vaccination and healthcare in Bangladesh

The coming Bangladesh budget should focus on fast-paced vaccination, rehaul of the health infrastructure and extensive social protection to bring the crisis created by the Covid pandemic under control, say economists.

"Vaccination should be the number one priority," said Zahid Hussain, former lead economist of the World Bank's Dhaka office.

Ahsan H Mansur, executive director of the think-tank Policy Research Institute of Bangladesh warned if the pandemic was not tamed the entire fiscal year would be wasted in managing wave after wave of Covid-19.

"We have to get rid of the coronavirus at any cost. Otherwise, there will be wave after wave of infections and the entire fiscal year will be spent in managing the crisis," said Mansur.

The warnings from the economists came amid the rising number of infections in Bangladesh, which is battling the second wave of the pandemic, The Daily Star reported.

Finance Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal is set to unveil his third budget on June 3.

Referring to the way the pandemic has battered India, Mansur said: “There is no alternative for us. We have to put our all focus on addressing the coronavirus."

Hussain recommended the budget focus on crisis management, prioritizing spending on health and targeting fiscal support to distressed families and enterprises.

"A business-as-usual budget like last year will miss the boat again," Hussain said. 

Tax revenue mobilization will depend on rate rationalization and administrative improvements through digitalization, said Hussain.

Mansur said the budget had to be prepared in sync with the current situation.

"This means it would not be wise to unveil an ambitious revenue generation target because it will not be attained."

He said the whole population had to be brought under the coronavirus vaccination drive as quickly as possible. For this, there should be a budget allocation.

"Vaccinating three lakh people a day will not work. We have to increase it by 10 times. If we can do that, we will be able to bring the situation under control," he said.

Economists emphasized on expanding the government's social safety net programs to cover both the old poor and the new poor during the pandemic.

"If we spend to protect the poor and vaccinate the people, it will shield them from the pandemic and redirect the economy to a higher growth trajectory,” said Mansur.

There should be more focus on social protection and employment rather than economic growth, said Mustafizur Rahman, a distinguished fellow of the Centre for Policy Dialogue.

The health sector should be given priority. "The allocation did not go up as expected in the 2020-21 budget. The expenditure has also been much too low."

 (SAM)

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