Finance Minister AMA Muhith came under strong criticism from senior lawmakers in Parliament on Monday for increases in excise duty on bank accounts and VAT rates and a reduction in the interest on saving certificates.
Senior treasury-bench lawmakers made the criticism of the minister’s proposals during a discussion on the national budget proposed for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The minister was absent from the discussion.
They demanded that the government should review the proposals before the passage of the Tk 400266-crore budget.
They observed that the budget that Muhith placed in parliament on June 1 drew fierce criticism from the people over his proposals.
It will put a negative influence over the upcoming general election due in 2019, they pointed out.
Taking the floor, senior Awami League lawmaker Sheikh Fazlul Karim Selim asked the finance minister to withdraw the increased excise duty as the people are in a state of panic over the issue.
“Some of your statements have made the government embarrassed. You should speak less. As you are growing old, you do not have control in delivering statements. You must be alert right now,” Selim said.
“It is good that you have placed the budget. But the Awami League, which does politics for the people, cannot accept public sufferings,” he added.
Selim, a presidium member of the ruling AL, also asked Muhith not to make the government embarrassed any more by being rigid on the issues.
“Do you forget what you said about the Hallmark scam? You said that Tk 4000 crore is nothing. And now Tk 1 lakh is so much,” he said.
Selim said it was the duty of the finance minister to place a budget while the House comprising 350 public representatives would decide which aspects would remain and which won’t in the budget.
He slammed the minister for his proposal to reduce the interest on saving certificates to go by a prescription of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
“The IMF never wants the best. Once they asked for reducing subsidy in agriculture sector. What would happen if it was implemented?” he said, adding that no suggestions would be taken from them.
Selim also came down heavily on Muhith for uniform VAT. “You can increase the VAT net. But uniform VAT is nowhere in the globe.”
Brushing aside a BNP’s demand for a poll-supportive government, the AL leader said, “Such word is not in the constitution. Despite her threat, the next national election will be held in line with the constitution.”
“Khaleda Zia has to participate in the polls under Sheikh Hasina administration. There is no alternative to this.”
The people will give BNP a befitting reply if the opposition party tries to carry out firebombing in the name of movement.
Taking the floor, Major (Rtd) Rafiqul Islam said that lawmakers do not have any role in passage of the budget as they just turn around hands under the direction of the chief whip.
“If the budget is passed in such a manner, it will not be implemented,” he said.
The former minister proposed that the House bring an amendment to Article 70 of the constitution to pave the way for MPs to cast vote freely.
“If such an opportunity is created, the finance minister must hear lawmakers,” he said.
Bitterly criticising the budget, Mahbub-Ul Alam Hanif said it should have been an election budget.
“But I do not know why the finance minister makes it an anti-election budget.”
“The finance minister said it was not an election-oriented budget. If so, when will you place the electoral budget? When the next budget will come into effect, it will be in July while an election schedule will be announced in November. So, the next budget will not become effective for the party,” he said, adding that the people made strong criticism of the budget proposal.
Hanif raised a question about allocating Tk 1,000 crore to BASIC Bank.
“Why does the finance minister allocate the money? Instead of investing the financial scam, he allocates the money. It is no way acceptable,” he said.
The AL leader was also critical of the excise duty on bank accounts. “I think the duty should be withdrawn,” he also said.
Abul Kalam Azad, Sahara Khatun, State Minister for Power Nasrul Hamid, State Minister for Fisheries Narayan Chandra Chanda, State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam, HN Ashiqur Rahman and Israfil Alam also spoke about the proposed budget with Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury in then chair.