Mid­dle class of Bangladesh can’t seem to catch a break as politi­cians drag heels

The China Post - - COMMENTARY - BY PI­NAKI ROY

It takes about three hours to cross the Padma river by ferry. So, Rezaul Karim, a pri­vate job­holder, was happy to hear the Bangladeshi fi­nance min­is­ter in­sist­ing that the Padma bridge will open to the public by 2018.

It will be a big achieve­ment of this gov­ern­ment, he thought.

The 50-year-old sat in front of tele­vi­sion to watch the bud­get ses­sion with a hope that Muhith would pro­pose some in­cen­tives for the coun­try’s mid­dle-class fam­i­lies like his, who make up 21 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion.

But af­ter lis­ten­ing to the whole speech, he had the im­pres­sion that the up­com­ing bud­get would hardly ben­e­fit the mid­dle-in­come group.

In fact, in his hours-long speech, the min­is­ter ut­tered the word “mid­dle” just twice — once to say the gov­ern­ment would ar­range day­care cen­ters for lower and mid­dle-in­come work­ing women and then to an­nounce Bangladesh would be a mid­dle-in­come coun­try by 2021.

Rezaul, a fa­ther of two chil­dren, one of whom stud­ies in a pri­vate uni­ver­sity, was shocked to know he would have to pay more for his son’s ed­u­ca­tion as the gov­ern­ment is set to in­crease duty on pri­vate uni­ver­si­ties.

Also, the duty im­posed on raw and re­fined sugar will mean a rise in prices of many com­modi­ties.

And as the gov­ern­ment is go­ing to waive the tax hol­i­day on in­comes from poul­try and shrimp sec­tors while im­pos­ing tax on poul­try and fish feed, the price of poul­try chicken and farm fish might in­crease as well from next month.

Many be­long­ing to the mid­dle-in­come group would find the pro­posed bud­get un­friendly also be­cause prices of con­struc­tion ma­te­ri­als would go up.

Im­pos­ing higher duty on bikes and cars run by elec­tric bat­ter­ies looks to be a good ini­tia­tive as it would de­crease traf­fic jam and nui­sance caused by reck­less bik­ers. But it would also push up the price of CNG-run au­torick­shaws. As a re­sult, auto-rick­shaw fare is likely to go up.

While sip­ping at a cup of black tea, an­other item to get pricier, Rezaul tried to think of some­thing that would cost him less in the next fis­cal.

The first thing that came to his mind is gar­ment prod­ucts, and then plas­tic prod­ucts, mos­quito coils, aerosols, jams, jel­lies, toi­let pa­per, tooth­brushes and frames of spec­ta­cles.

But un­for­tu­nately, peo­ple don’t buy any of th­ese items very of­ten.

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