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POST TIME: 20 June, 2018 00:00 00 AM
Opportunities for rights-based work
Most of the budget will go for the benefits of agricultural farmers who are by norm poor and marginalised in Bangladesh
Shazzad Khan

Opportunities for rights-based work

It is really encouraging to see that the present government has allocated the highest amount of budget ever in the history Bangladesh for the next 2018-19 fiscal year, which is Taka 464,753 crore. Although there is clamouring around the budget that it is lofty, yet it is really welcoming that the government has raised hopes of the people by setting a growth rate of 7.8 percent and targeting to curb the inflation at 5.6. This year’s budget wears a new identity because Bangladesh has stepped into middle-income status. This means the GDP which is calculated as 2,537,849 crore based on the predicted growth rate does not look ambitious at all. The budget also commits widening of social safety-nets, which has brought relief for the marginalised and excluded groups. The development budget has been allocated as 173,000 crore which is an indication that the government is serious in meeting the criteria to acquire the certificate of middle-income status without fail by 2024.

In this write-up no attempt has been made to analyse the whole budget itself which normally is the task of think-tank organisations and unarguably it is their job to do. But in case of this write-up attempt has been made to explore or to find out the cut-outs that may be of use to the development organisations committed to making government services available to the poor and marginalised having their rightful entitlements. As equal citizens of the country the poor, marginalised and excluded people may have very little to do with the budget analysis, but what they essentially need is – taking out maximum benefits from the budget for their survival with dignified life and livelihoods. In this regard role of the rights-based organisations is very high because they play the key brokering role between demand and supply sides of development efforts. Therefore, if they are aware of what the allocations and provisions in the budget are for the poor, marginalised and excluded, then they can knock the relevant service providers to realise the benefit in favour of them. Below are some of the areas that affect the life and livelihoods of the poor, marginalised and excluded and the allocations thereof, so that the rights-based NGOs can pinpoint where they should concentrate their energy on.

In the next fiscal year the government has committed Taka 37,714 crore for agricultural development focusing on crop and livestock productions and diversifications; development of rural areas and of institutions for climate adaptation; improvement of water resources including irrigation facilities; supply of agricultural inputs; introduction of new technologies; development of database of fisher-folk; etc. Most of this budget will go for the benefits of agricultural farmers who are normally poor and marginalised in Bangladesh. In addition Taka 5,075.6 crore will be spent for agriculture related infrastructure development including market development, which will contribute to overall population engaged in agriculture directly and indirectly. Against this budget allocation for agriculture development the task of the rights-based organisations will be to negotiate with the relevant government service providers to ensure that the farmers are getting their entitled services for smooth production and for improving their life standard.

The NGOs working for improving the quality of education and reducing dropouts can work on the provisions offered by the government in the next fiscal year under primary education. The NGOs can monitor whether government’s claim of maintaining quality education, enrolment rate (98%) and dropout rate (18.8 percent) are seriously maintained. They should also monitor whether teacher-student ratio is maintained as 1:39 for better learning environment in the classes.

In order to retain hundred percent enrolments the government has promised to cover school feeding programme in all the primary schools in the poverty-pocket areas of the country. In Bangladesh poverty-pockets exist in Haors, Chars, coastal belts, CHT and plain-land Adivasi concentrated areas. School feeding programme is very important for ensuring not only enrolment percentage but also for reducing gender disparity in primary education. NGO workers have a strong role to play in monitoring this programme and its effectiveness.

In the budget statement the government has promised that it will set up 7,000 new primary schools with separate wash blocks for boys and girls, 65,000 classrooms and 10,500 teachers' rooms in the areas where there are ardent needs for primary schools. The development organisations should monitor using RTI facilities whether the schools have been constructed as per allocated budget. Moreover, the government has committed to enrolling as many disabled children as possible in the primary schools, which needs to be rigorously monitored as part of ensuring their equal right to education. In this fiscal year the proposed budget for primary education is Taka 8,312 crore.

The NGOs working for ensuring healthcare services for the poor and marginalised can monitor whether the promises made by government are fulfilled and the plans implemented. They can also persuade the authorities of community clinics, Union health complexes and Upazila health complexes in proper and optimum utilisation of resources allocated by the government for the poor, marginalised and excluded people.

For the next fiscal year the government has raised its proposed budget against Social Safety-net Programmes (SSNPs) to Taka 64,656 crore, which is 2.55% of GDP and 13.92% of the total budget. Currently 28.7% of poor and vulnerable families are enjoying the benefits of SSNPs. The government wants to continue to maintain this percentage or makes it higher to address the vulnerable and excluded families at the grassroots.

SSNPs are the areas where NGOs have greater role to play. SSNPs are meant exclusively for the poor, marginalised, vulnerable and excluded communities, which cover a wide range of poverty-stricken people.

In the next fiscal year the government has proposed to widen its safety-net coverage enhancing the number of beneficiaries for old age allowance to 40 lakh; forwidow, abandoned and destitute women allowance to 14 lakh; and for insolvent disabled persons allowance to 10 lakh. The number of disabled students receiving stipends will be increased to 90 thousand. Side by side, the amount of stipend for disabled students will be increased to Taka 700 per month at primary level, Taka 750 at secondary level and Taka 850 at higher secondary level.

In this fiscal year the appreciable side of SSNP allocation is that the government has increased the target beneficiaries of Bede and other underprivileged communities (Dalit, fisher-folk, etc.) to 64,000 from 36,000. These people will receive special allowance under SSNPs. The student stipend for these communities at primary level will be Taka 700, at secondary level Taka 800 and at higher secondary level Taka 1200.

The number of beneficiaries under VGD (vulnerable group development) programmes has been raised to 10.4 lakh. Also under SSNPs 7 lakh poor pregnant mothers will receive Taka 800 per month for 3 years and 2.5 lakh lactating mothers will receive the same amount per month for 3 years as well.

The finance minster has claimed in his budget speech that the nation-wide disability survey has been completed and the incorporation of disability data is going on in the DIS (disability information system). He has also expressed his happiness that the number of disabled persons found is less than what was anticipated. This is serious claim to be monitored because as per the World Bank at least 10% of the total population in Bangladesh is disabled while the 7th five year plan of the government says it is around 9 percent. Although we estimate that in Bangladesh at least 16 million people are disabled, we still do not know as per finance minister’s version what number of disabled people has been found in the survey. Therefore, in the next fiscal year it will be a task for rights-based disability-focused NGOs to explore the correctness of the disability survey findings.

The government has taken up pre-primary and other child-related activities for the disadvantaged children of Sylhet, Sunamganj, Habiganj, Moulvibazar, Mymensingh, Gazipur, Narayanganj, Patuakhali and Sathkhira districts through establishing 2,109 child centres. Under this programme, 20 day-care centres, 515 children development centres and 740 pre-primary education centres are being set up. Since FY 2015-16, an on-going process of preparing child budget is in place which brings to the fore how much allocation is provided for child development and what policies and strategies have been adopted for their development. The coverage of the child budget for FY 2018-19has been widened to include another 15 ministries or divisions. In this regard the relevant NGOs should take on advocacy work to ensure that the budget allocated for child development has been effectively utilised.

 Under women development programme the government has been preparing gender budget for almost all ministries since FY 2009-10 and at the end of this fiscal year an evaluation will be done to see the progress of last 10 years’ performance. A committee will be formed to prepare a full report in this regard. They will give recommendations to improve or to reform this initiative by analysing the full procedure employed so far.

To conclude I want to say that right-based development workers should always explore the opportunities in the fiscal budget with the view to tapping available resources and services that may bring in benefit for beneficiaries they work with. Thus it will contribute in reducing poverty and ensuring rights and eventually the disparity between rich and poor.

[The writer is a development worker).

E-mail: shazzad@manusher.org]