The annual national budget is not merely a financial account of a country; rather it is the most crucial government statement of its socio-economic policy for the coming year. To put it simply, a national budget not only bears out the vision of a government to a significant extent but provides for its political and philosophical sense of direction towards economic development. The country’s new budget, unveiled last month under the stewardship of a new finance minister, has been passed in parliament this month. With the total outlay of Tk 5,231.9 billion the national budget for the 2019–2020 financial year very well subsumes the political and philosophical directions of incumbent management of the country.
As regular as clock work, the budget met with mixed reactions with some branding it an investment and business friendly while some others a lofty and unrealistic. Whatever actually the case is, drawing a budget for a country like ours soothing all stakeholders, is undoubtedly a tall order. In fact, a complete satisfactory budget seems to be too far-fetched. So, this essay neither intends to sing the praises of the budget, nor does it like to pick holes in it, rather looking at the bright side of things, it aims to provide a tour d’horizon of the budgets for ICT and related sectors.It goes without saying that the role of three sectors—Post and Telecommunications, and Information Technology (IT) both under the Post, Telecommunications and Information Technology ministry; and Science and Technology under the same name of ministry—is all important in materializing the vision of Digital Bangladesh. In light of this fact, a hefty Tk 21,804 crore has been earmarked for these three sectors. Apart from this, Tk 100 core is said to be allocated from development budget, along with providing incentives for encouraging creative cultures from next year, according to FM’s budget speech. An additional fifty crore has been allotted for research and development. In order to keep abreast of information about the governments’ activities and services, analyze and make reports as well as exchanging it on demand among international agencies, taking effective steps in making up a robust information management systems (MIS) and rolling out of 5G network are also stressed in the budget speech.
Primary education is a foundation stone that skills and developments of the children of today largely rely on; taking this fact on board, the budget on primary education has been raised by almost Tk 4000 core, a significant rise comparing with that of outgoing fiscal year. More importantly, with aim to make primary education system into full-fledged digital through building capacity and adding quality to it, a project title “Digital Primary Education” is in the pipeline. Under the project some 503 model primary schools of the country are expected to be furnished with interactive classroom.
To digitalize various activities of our life, different sustained entrepreneurships are being emerged day by day. For effective implementation of these efforts, Tk 100 crore has been set aside for the local start-ups in the proposed budget. Digital currency system is inevitable in this age of information technology. Over the years, blockchain has been a reliable and secure medium to exchange digital currency and financial information across the world. Looking on this aspect, a proposal has been drawn up in the budget for an experimental launch of the blockchain in the next financial year. And taking advantage of crowdsourcing by creating a Facebook user group—Blockchiain User Group Bangladesh—interested individuals and organizations are urged to come up with ideas and solutions in this regard.
To take the hassles out of receiving pensions by the government service holders, all the pensioners are said to be incorporated in the electronic fund transfer (EFT) activities within the tax year of 2019-20. Once the plan comes into operation, pension money will be automatically transferred to all the pensioners’ bank or mobile account. Another good aspect of the digital budget is a proposal to give the moth-eaten archaic National Savings Department a new shape through digitalization under a project titled “National Saving Scheme Online Management System”. Once implemented, all operations of savings scheme such as sale, purchase, cashing would be run in a digitized system and up to minute information regarding this would be available online. At a time, it would be possible to pay the return on the investment and invested money to the customers automatically through EFT. Besides, the plan for brining all proceedings of courts including the Supreme Court and lower courts under automation and network referred to the budget. Apart from setting up cyber tribunals in seven divisions, e-judiciary activities would be launched at full throttle to bring dynamism in managing legal proceedings.
Despite all these positive aspects of digital budget, some provisions may be regarded as self-contradictory and may cast a shadow over its good intentions. Imposing seven percent tax on ecommerce and ridesharing services, or fifteen percent VAT on voice call can be cited as examples. Furthermore, on the one hand, the government spurs citizens into savings and is taking all out steps in that direction by modernizing and digitalizing the savings department, it has put up tax on the source investment of different instruments of savings schemes to ten percent, on the other, the contradiction which would probably put a dampener on the entire purpose of the effort.
Moreover, the budget proposes the legalization of undisclosed money by way of investment in economic zones and hi-tech parks with a 10 per cent tax. Such a budgetary provision does not go with a pledged-bound political party like Awami League and is a breach of its electoral pledges. So, it is hoped that the government would put its best foot forward to make some minor amendments to the existing digital budgets or rectify the anomalies in it to build a truly digitized welfare state.
The writer is an Associate Engineer, Thakral Information Systems Pvt. Ltd;
Email: [email protected]