Bangladesh is one of the few countries in the world to have introduced 'Child Budget', thanks to the leadership of the Finance Minister. Article 4 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) requires all countries to use their resources to the 'maximum extent' in implementing child rights. As a means towards its achievement, the General Measures of Implementation (GMI) of the CRC recommends making children visible in the countries' budgets. The GMI states: 'Some States have claimed it is not possible to analyse national budgets in this way. But others have done it and publish annual children's budgets". Happily, Bangladesh is one of those 'other' countries, reflecting our strong commitment to secure a better future for the children of the country.
The budget for fiscal year (FY) 2017-18, together with its third Child Budget, is going to be placed before the parliament soon. In the current year's budget (for 2016-17), 14.6 per cent of the total allocated resources was earmarked for children. We also observed a significant increase in the allocations for children by 29 per cent over allocation for FY2015-16. The Child Budget itself went through further reconciliation with a guideline that provided a methodological basis for identification and inclusion of individual allocations into it.
Notwithstanding the progress, there are still a few outstanding issues with the Child Budget that are expected to be addressed in the upcoming one. First, the current Child Budget does not reflect all allocations for children as allocations from only seven ministries were included. There are other ministries/divisions making expenditures on children that need to be included, e.g., Ministry of Youth and Sports, to make it a comprehensive one.
Second, the Ministry of Finance did not reveal individual allocations but lumped them together at the ministry level. This has created a lack of transparency of the Child Budget not allowing for third-party tracking or analysis. The full details for the upcoming Child Budget should be made public - if not as part of the printed budget documents -- at least in digital form uploaded on the website of the Ministry of Finance involving a little initiative and nearly zero cost and effort.
Third, an implementation report of the Child Budget needs to be published, which has not been the case so far. We hope to see such an implementation report for the ensuing Child Budget.
Fourth, and most importantly, there needs to be a reflection of what children want in the Child Budget. The budget for children for the current year follows a framework that incorporates a lifecycle approach, starting from the very first step of 'children's need assessment'. The report itself states: "Children are traditionally considered unable to know and express their opinion, and therefore, are seldom consulted. This makes the children voiceless. It is important that processes and mechanisms are in place to seek their opinions." The upcoming budget should try to incorporate a 'voice of the children'. This year, for the first time, the Ministry of Finance with the support from Save the Children in Bangladesh took the initiative and went for a formal consultation with children as part of the budget-making process. This initiative should become a regular feature of budget preparations.
Media reports say that a budget of around Tk. 4,003 billion (about US$ 50 billion) is likely to be proposed for the upcoming fiscal year. This will mean that the next budget will be 17.5 per cent larger than that of the current fiscal year - the third largest annual increase observed since FY 2004-05. Three factors need to be taken into consideration. First, although fuel prices in the global market are projected to go up in the coming months compared to its current state, no significant increase is expected in the next year. This means we are not going to be overburdened with subsidy demands. Second, the next budget anticipates no revision of the salary scale for government officials. If the impacted years from such revisions are excluded, the upcoming budget will actually mark the highest annual increase since 2004-05. And third, inflation expectations are steady given the absence of any major volatility in exchange rate movements. There is a favourable global commodity price outlook and the expected moderate growth in money supply is underpinned by recent monetary policy stance of the central bank together with the prevailing private investment scenario.
In the backdrop of these three anticipated developments and the resulting fiscal space, the expected budget can be termed as fairly large but, in no way, over-ambitious given the investment requirements of the country, both in social and physical infrastructures. From this perspective, the next budget offers an opportunity to make greater investments in these critical areas. In this emerging opportunity, the upcoming budget should prioritise the children - their health, their education, and their protection.
UNESCO suggests to allocate 20 per cent of a country's budget for education, and we are currently investing only 14.4 per cent. To realise Bangladesh's Vision 2021, which relies heavily on building strong human resources, we need to make a conscious effort in making the suggested level of education investment. In order to do so by 2021, we need to increase the share of education sector in the total budget by around 1.5 percentage points in each remaining years, with due attention to quality aspect along with access and equity.
Investment in the health sector has remained a major concern for Bangladesh with the allocation of only around 5.1 per cent of the current year's budget. According to a WHO estimate for 2015, $60/person public investment is required to ensure basic life-saving services in low/lower middle-income countries like Bangladesh. For the current year, our health allocation amounts to around $20/person. To reach the level of $60/person health investment by 2025, we need to maintain an annual growth rate of approximately 22 per cent (assuming trend in population growth and current exchange rate). Obviously in real terms, we need higher rate of increase to adjust for inflation. At the same time, we need to properly prioritise children in our health budget. According to the current Child Budget, only 26.2 per cent of the health budget is 'child focused' while children constitute about 42 per cent of the country's population.
According to an ILO estimate, in 2014 social protection allocation for children in Bangladesh was only about a quarter of the global average. In the current national budget, direct and indirect social protection allocations for the children constituted only around 2.6 per cent of the entire budget. It is essential to make greater investment in social protection programmes for children to protect their rights and interests, especially the most vulnerable ones living in urban slums and hard-to-reach rural areas through extended school feeding and stipend programmes.