Prime minister remarks in a meeting with business leaders on Thursday reinforced the planning minister’s position a day before that fuel oil prices should not be lowered. “You are used to these prices. It should not be a problem for anyone,” Hasina said to top business lobby FBCCI leaders The prime minister is in favour of cutting down Bangladesh Petroleum Corporation’s accumulated losses instead of a price cut. Oil prices in Bangladesh were last adjusted with the international market in 2013. Per litre price of octane was hiked to Tk 99, petrol to Tk 96, kerosene and diesel to Tk 68. A shortfall in supplies of natural gas means the government is forced to burn oil – a more costly option – to generate electricity. However, the international prices have been falling for the last year and the government has taken no initiative to review its rates again. Last week, just a few days before the government hiked gas and power prices, Finance Minister AMA Muhith said the government had plans to review fuel oil prices this month. But his colleague at the helm of planning ministry, AHM Mustafa Kamal, on Wednesday took a stand against any reduction of the prices. The issue of oil price revision came up when the newly elected board of directors of the FBCCI, the leading body of businessmen and industrialists, met Hasina. “Some people are asking why fuel oil prices are not being cut in the local market despite a drop in international prices,” she said. The prime minister pointed out that the government had subsidised oil prices when international prices were high. “The result is Tk 380 billion of liabilities. After the prices went down, we are able to earn some money.We are being slowly able to clear our liabilities. But not much has been cleared until now.” Hasina added the state-run BPC still needed to pay up debts to the tune of Tk 290 billion and asked, “Why should we shoulder such liabilities?” She also said the government would lower fuel oil prices if the businesses ‘clear’ the due amount. BPC Chairman AM Badrudduja said they were making profit selling oil since December last year. “We had to subsidise a large amount before.” According to BPC data, the country’s expenditure on oil imports declined to Tk 170-180 billion in 2014-15 FY from Tk 380 billion in the previous FY. The government has also raised the retail prices of gas and electricity by 26.29 percent and 2.93 percent, respectively, from this month. After the energy price hikes despite the year-long fall in global oil prices, different quarters had criticised the government move. From general people to businesses and many political parties including a senior leader of ruling Awami League had protested. MP Suranjit Sengupta dubbed the decision ‘unjust’ and called for a rethink. Prime Minister Hasina at Thursday’s meeting agreed with the demand of the businesses for a cut in the interest rate on bank loans. She said, “We’ll try to bring it down to a single digit.” The average interest rate on bank loans was 11.93 percent at the end of March this year. She urged business leaders to take more initiatives to export ‘halal’ meat to the Muslim countries and to take more interest in marine fishing. The prime minister asked them to create more domestic markets. “Domestic markets will thrive if people’s purchasing capacity rises.” She encouraged all to pay income taxes properly. “If you pay tax, it will help you. When you ask for incentives, where will I find money for that?” FBCCI President Abul Matlub Ahmed promised the government full cooperation.
Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith made the disclosure at a pre-budget meeting with representatives of NGOs on Tuesday in Dhaka. He said: “The size of the 2014-15 FY budget was Tk 2.50 trillion. Now we’ve downsized it to Tk 2.38 trillion.” Explaining the reasons, Muhith said: “Until December, I used to believe firmly that our (GDP) growth will be above 7 percent. “But due to the violent politics of the BNP-led alliance now it seems that it will not be possible. That’s why we revised the budget.” The government has already cut the Annual Development Programme (ADP) to Tk 750 billion from Tk 803.15 billion. Budget deficit will remain below 5 percent Muhith said the 2015-16 FY’s budget would be around Tk 3 trillion. “We have to announce a deficit budget this time too. And that (deficit) will remain below 5 percent like the current financial year’s budget,” he added. The government projected a 5 percent budget deficit for the 2014-15 FY and 4.6 percent for 2013-14 FY. The deficit of 2013-14 FY, however, swelled to 5 percent in the revised budget. Priority on human resources, social development The finance minister will attach highest importance to human resources and social development in the new budget. Muhith said: Until now we used to give priority to the energy and communication sector. This time we want to shift it (priority).
“A preliminary design of the coin has already been made,” acting executive director of the currency management department, Shuvankar Saha. He added they were awaiting clearance from the Bangladesh Bank Note Design Advisory Committee and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina before going into production. The nearly two inch diameter coins would be available coated with silver or gold. One side of the coin would have an image of Bangabandhu giving the speech and the other a quote from it. The coins are planned to be releases before Victory Day. The initial pricing puts the silver-coated one at Tk 3,000 and the gold-plated at Tk 4,000. The denoted price, however, is yet to be fixed. The central bank, has, until now, release 17 such commemorative coins, notes, and folders, marking a number of major incidents in history like the 25th Olympic Games and Internaional Mothers Language Day.
The budget for this fiscal is Tk 2.5 trillion and, according to Akram’s claim made on Monday, the losses stand at more than Tk 1.25 trillion. The apex trade body’s claim echoes that that of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who told parliament last month that Tk 1.2 trillion had been lost due to the agitation marked by vandalism, arson and firebombing of vehicles and property. BNP Chief Khaleda Zia called for an indefinite transport blockade from Jan 5, demanding the government’s resignation paving way for an interim poll under a non-partisan administration. The government, in turn, snubbed the 20-Party alliance demand, terming it illogical and unconstitutional. From February, the agitation was stepped up with shutdowns on every weekday. Over a hundred have died from the violent political standoff and thousands of vehicles have been burnt, taking toll on communications in the country. Despite government assurances that the situation would soon become calm, businessmen are worried about the unrest’s long-lasting effect. Shamsul Alamin, president, REHAB, the body of real estate business stakeholders was also taking part in the discussion, said their sector would collapse if the political stalemate did not end soon. “The tourism sector was first affected, and we have made several appeals,” said Bangladesh Tourism Development Association chief Jamiul Ahmed, adding they now had nowhere to go. CNG Owners Association chief Masud Khan said, “We are about to die and are passing our days in constant anxiety. We need political stability to survive. We urge the government to restore stability anyhow.” Chairman of the Bangladesh Tariff Association, Mojibur Rahman, said, “We want freedom. We hope the government will do what is needed, be it democratic practice or dialogues. We want safety.” “It’s not that dialogue is the only way to solve it, many countries have progressed through strict control. We want security and steady development whether it is through dialogues or strict controls.”