Vaccination of most adults key to saving Bangladesh's private sector: Experts, The Financial Express, 27 June 2021

Vaccination of most adults key to saving Bangladesh's private sector: Experts, The Financial Express, 27 June 2021

Vaccination to the extent 70 per cent of the adult population can help save the private sector from the Covid-induced economic losses, experts said at a virtual discussion on Saturday.

Without vaccination, they said, it would be very difficult to protect the private sector, the main engine of growth, with stimulus packages only.

They urged the government to invest more in vaccination to keep the wheels of the economy running.

The discussants at the webinar also suggested increasing the investment in social protection programmes for the Covid-affected communities so that domestic consumption remains unaffected and the private sector remain afloat during this critical time.

The International Business Forum of Bangladesh (IBFB) and the Bangladesh Enterprise Institute (BEI) jointly organised the webinar titled 'The National Budget for 2021-2022: Private Sector Perspective'.

IBFB president Humayun Rashid moderated the event where planning minister MA Mannan attended as the chief guest.

Taking part in the discussion, chairman of Policy Exchange of Bangladesh, a local think tank, Dr M. Masrur Reaz termed the ongoing vaccination campaign a key to avoiding the adverse impacts of the pandemic.

"If we cannot immediately bring at least 70 per cent of the adult populations under vaccination coverage, we cannot protect our private sector as more waves will come in phases and lockdowns as well," he said.

"So the dynamism of the private sector will continue to decline and the outcome of policy support or stimulus package will be neutralised by the next wave. So, we need investment of some Tk 180 billion for reaching the vaccination target. We did not see such allocation in the budget," Mr Reaz said.

He said the public policy instruments such as budget did not give enough focus on the Covid-19 pandemic although the economy is about to face the third wave of the pandemic.

But unfortunately, he said, the budget allocation for health as percentage of GDP came down to less than 1.0 per cent and the allocation is much below the average spending of 3.0 per cent in South Asia.

He said that raising allocation will be meaningless unless it is implemented properly. "I did not see much investment required to enhance implementation capacity of the health sector," he added.

Former NBR chairman Dr Muhammad Abdul Mazid said the national budget should be a balanced one taking care of businesses and consumers. But that is missing in the proposed budget, he added. He said that people have been talking about more jobs in the special economic zones over the years, but how many of those are ready to make production.

Talking about the reserve money, the ex-revenue board chairman said the country needs to make proper use of the fund. "Giving loans to countries like Sudan and Sri Lanka will not bring any expected result. We need to make its healthy use," he added.

BEI president Ambassador M Humayun Kabir said the private sector is passing through tough time due to the coronavirus in the recent months as private sector credit growth keeps falling over the last few months.

He said the proposed budget was the 50th of the economy. We now need to make budget keepingthe development of the next 50 years in view.

Chairman of Runner Group Hafizur Rahman Khan said the concept of 'Made in Bangladesh' introduced in the budget will certainly encourage local manufactures.

Giving example of light engineering, he said the sectors' global market size is US$ 6.0 trillion and many light engineering players have planned to shift their businesses into countries like Bangladesh.

"So, we need to take the opportunity. For that, we need to create support industries. It will not only help attract investment but also ensure availability of cost-effective products," he added.

Presenting the keynote paper, CPD senior research fellow Towfiqul Islam Khan pointed out a number of areas of concerns of the economy like slow pace of public expenditure, weak private investment and emergence of new poor due to the pandemic.

He said the social protection budget is proposed to be 12.5 per cent higher in the FY'22 budget compared to the corresponding figure of the revised budget for FY'21.

"If we exclude pension for public servants, savings certificate interest assistance and agriculture subsidy, the social protection budget increases by only 2.9 per cent," he added.

Speaking as the chief guest, Planning Minister MA Mannan said the pandemic has badly affected the economies, including that of Bangladesh, all over the world.

But the economy was bouncing back steadily thanks to the private sector and timely policy interventions of the government, he said.

As a result, Bangladesh topped the list of most growing economies in Asia, he said.

"We want to help the private sector from distance. It is also another policy statement of the government. You (business) don't need to come close. We are ready to help," he added.


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