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Protect low-income groups from soaring prices

Debapriya Bhattacharya urges govt to take immediate steps
Staff Correspondent
11 Mar 2022 00:00:00 | Update: 11 Mar 2022 09:10:55
Protect low-income groups from soaring prices

In the face of soaring prices of essential commodities, Citizen’s Platform for SDGs, Bangladesh called for steps to protect the purchasing power of low-income group with top priority by controlling the cost of living and also by enhancing income opportunities.

Debapriya Bhattacharya, convener of the platform, came up with the call at an event titled “What impact will pandemic have on SDGs delivery in Bangladesh?” held in Dhaka on Thursday.

“The immediate focus must be on protecting the purchasing power of the disadvantaged people by controlling the cost of basic living and enhancing income opportunities,” said Debapriya.

He suggested that the government should immediately reduce duties, tariffs and taxes to make prices of essentials more affordable and provide access to basic commodities at “fair prices” by expanding open market sales (OMS) operations of TCB.

He also advocated for expansion of public works, social protection programmes and food assistance, and increase in tax rebates for job creation by the government.

Public resources will need to be redirected for subsidy to protect prices of electricity, fuel, food and fertiliser, the eminent economist observed, saying that given the resource constraint, the government will need to use public money under the ADP more efficiently and accelerate investment in the rural public health system and address the education loss.

According to the platform, the budget for Fiscal Year 2023 should be designed in the context of following recent developments which threaten to raise vulnerabilities of the disadvantaged. The overall policy approach should be towards using SDG as a framework for post-pandemic recovery by prioritising public expenditure on education and health in view of Covid losses. Additionally, the SDG tracker should be updated urgently, it added.

Professor Mustafizur Rahman, another distinguished fellow of CPD, said due to rising commodity prices more poor people need to be included in the social safety net programme.

The government is currently running 120 social security programmes.

Recently a universal pension scheme has been formed but it is unknown what will be the linkage between the scheme and social safety net programme, he added.

The keynote article presented at the event assumed that the implementation of SDG in Bangladesh would be delayed due to the impact of Coronavirus; it will take at least three years for the infection and mortality rate to come down to a zero.

It said pandemic has had the biggest impact on economic, social and environmental indicators among the SDG’s goals, and the poorest and most backward people have suffered the most.

Maternal mortality rates, which are at the forefront of the SDGs index, could rise again as poor people are under pressure, and the number of malnourished children is also expected to increase, as per the keynote speech.

Zakir Hossain, chief executive, Nagorik Uddyog on Informal Sector, stressed that the high prices of essentials are not adequately addressed by the policymakers.

He also gave importance to conduct an independent mid-term review of SDG implication as the world is crossing the mid-point of 2030 timeline.

Education has suffered the most on social issues. Children who have dropped out and who have been victims of child marriage need to be brought back, he pointed out.

Program Manager Mostafizur Rahaman, Campaign for Popular Education (CAMPE) on Education, recalled the fact that the poorest and most disadvantaged children were deprived of the online-based education during the pandemic. The children who are more at risk of dropping out should be provided with more fiscal incentives in the next budget.

In his address, Khandekar Jahurul Alam, executive director, Centre for Services and Information on Disability on Rights of Persons with Disabilities, specified that education, health and employment are the three areas where persons with disabilities have been mostly affected.

He informed the event that more than 40,000 children with disabilities have dropped out during the pandemic.

Raju Bashfor, general secretary, Horijon Eikko Parishad, Thakurgaon District on Dalit, said a large section of Horijon children dropped out of school while child marriages have increased.

He stressed that providing mid-day meals at schools influences the Horijon students. Poverty affects women across all dimensions, especially those working for the informal sector. Hence the upcoming budget should be focused on allocating more finance for social safety net, according to Raju.

Maleka Banu, general secretary, Bangladesh Mahila Parishad on Women, observed that the pandemic increased inequality, including the gender inequality, and lack of good governance has further constrained when it comes to addressing this issue.

Budgetary allocations for environment and climate have declined in recent years, said Syeda Rizwana Hasan, chief executive, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) on Climate Effect.