Baffling remarks by the finance minister: Based on what information is he rejecting the data on new poor?

The Daily Star  June 11, 2021

We are befuddled at the finance minister’s refusal to accept data on the new poor, released earlier through surveys conducted by private research organisations to measure the effects of the pandemic-induced income losses. The surveys were done by researchers working at some of the most reputed institutions of our country, and the data was collected through not one but multiple surveys, thus increasing the sample size. The finance minister’s refusal to accept their findings, in our books, is quite disappointing.

The minister said he was only willing to accept data from the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) and the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies. But the last time the BBS updated its poverty-related data was in 2019. What have the authorities been doing since then?  Wasn’t a national health crisis that would have inevitable economic consequences enough reason to conduct a survey on the number of poor in the country? If the finance minister is unwilling to accept anyone else’s data, then why didn’t he get the BBS to collect and publish its own data for the last few years? Why have they been sitting on their hands? Are people who are poor and suffering supposed to sit around and wait for them to update their data before succumbing to their miseries? With such a large manpower base, the BBS has no excuse for its inaction. And Covid cannot be an excuse either because the authorities could have easily conducted its own surveys with the help of technology.

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What is worse is that the finance minister didn’t even say that he was going to get the latest data on this or what he was planning. He simply refused to acknowledge the statistics on the new poor published by several organisations and that’s it—giving the impression that he doesn’t want to pursue this topic, lest he be asked to increase the budgetary allocation for the new poor or questioned why the budget does not take this most urgent matter into enough consideration.

This denial syndrome must stop, along with this attitude that people are not owed an explanation by their representatives. If the minister is unwilling to accept everyone else’s data, the least he can do is explain on what basis he is rejecting the information and share his own with the rest of us, instead of refusing to even discuss the matter. Such refusal gives the impression that he does not want to acknowledge the extent to which the number of new poor has increased in the country. There is little logic to doubt the findings of these research institutes; instead the minister should find ways to alleviate the pandemic-induced economic hardship faced by the poor, old and new.

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