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Budgeting the needs of the marginalized

Jun 25, 2009

The perspective and choice of the ruling class encroach upon the human rights of the marginalised. Analysing allocations and plans for critical sectors in Bangladesh’s current budget, A.K.M. Masud Ali, Executive Director, INCIDIN, notes that ensuring access to resources still remains a major challenge.

Bangladesh’s budget has been the center of discussion not only after July 11 when it was declared; but it was the central issue during the last election. The “call of change” of the present political government as interpreted in the budget is the central agenda of discussion. This idea is not to go into details of the budget or to link it with the election manifesto of the present government.

Rather, this paper relates the budget proposition with few concerns from the perspective of human rights of the most vulnerable – the marginalized communities and people.

The paper defines the marginalized people as those who constitute the 28 million poor who are at the bottom of the 65% people of our country falling below the poverty line. One common feature of these people is that they are unable to meet the illusive nutritional range of 1,800 kilocalories.

It is a simple definition. However, when we break down the “marginalized people” into communities of the marginalized; we find a wide range of diversity including the unemployed rural landless, the slum dwelling population of the urban centers, destitute women, traditional professional groups of minority religious communities, ethnic minority and the adivasis.

The marginalized are unable to influence the space of power due to lack of political clout to ensure that instead of good intention and sympathy - political and policy decisions are taken

Marginalization is not merely an economic status. It is primarily and most significantly a political status (related to class position and class relation with state) which among others is most significantly manifested in the economic position of a group of people. From this perspective, the marginalized people are not merely economically deprived; they are a group of people who are politically deprived of their basic human rights (including the right to meet the lowest acceptable range of nutrition).

We are not talking about a conspiracy theory, rather exclusion and encroachment by the ruling class – the class with political authority and their priorities. The marginalized people are unable to influence this space of power, due to lack of political clout and might to ensure that instead of good intention and sympathy - political and policy decisions are taken, practical interventions are launched and formal recognition of their rights are reflected in the arena of governance!

We are talking about the human rights of those who are most affected by the hegemony of power – those who are least prioritized in terms of overall growth and development of our nation. We recognize that poverty alleviation and development imply the same process and priority of empowerment, emancipation and establishment of human rights in a sustained manner. This includes all including those who are at the very bottom.

Rightful allocation

Budget being an economic tool of great political significance, draws our attention as it reflects how the national priorities are going to affect all of us – including the marginalized.

The current budget has a section dedicated to the “Minorities, People from Less Advanced Regions and Less Advantaged Community”. The proposed budget in this section continues to express the commitment of the present government towards the full implementation of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Treaty. However, this recognition is not enough as the budget in this section does not reflect upon any specific measure and most importantly any specific allocation for the ethnic population of the Chittagong Hill Tracts.

The call for change calls for allocation of financial resources to the ethnic minorities with the constitutional recognition of their adivasi identity - a right proclaimed by the United Nations. The call for change further calls for budgetary allocations earmarked specifically to address “differential treatment and oppression on minority population” – rightfully recognized in the budget proposed for the financial year 2009-2010.

The budget speech assures us, “Aside from ensuring adequate food stock, we have taken sufficient measures for smooth distribution of food.” The issue of “access” demands more than “food stock” and “smooth distribution” – it calls for recognition of equity and rights. From this perspective the concept of food sovereignty becomes more appropriate to ensure the rights of the marginalized to food.

As food sovereignty is the right of people, communities, and countries to define their own agricultural, labour, fishing, food and land policies which are ecologically, socially, economically and culturally appropriate to their unique circumstances

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen has underlined the interdependence of civil and political rights on the one hand and economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to adequate food, on the other: civil and political rights are not only intrinsically valuable, but they are also instrumentally valuable for achieving economic, social, and cultural rights.

This calls for rethinking the whole aspect of pro-agriculture package from the perspective of marginal farming communities and the entire issue of increase in production related to the issue of access of the marginalized to economic resources and entitlement to food etc. Being extremely “marginalized” also in terms of having access to institutions, these sections of population will not be able to reap the benefit of the “increased agricultural loans”.

In relation to agriculture and livelihood, another critical element is land ownership. In this regard, the proposed budget “would like to integrate land survey, land records and land management and bring the whole land administration under digital management.” However, it goes without saying that largely the marginalized people are landless or extremely land poor. Moreover, the adivasis are left out of their traditional land ownership as the mainstream land management system is insensitive towards it.

A People-Public-Partnership model

The budget brings in concepts such as “engendering budget” and “gender responsive budgeting” with respect to gender equity. As far as marginalized women are considered, the budget identifies them as “destitute women”. It proposes the Allowances for the Destitute Women of Tk. 300 per person. with an overall raise in allocation to Tk. 331.20 crore in the next fiscal year from Tk. 61.20 crore from the current fiscal year.

The budget is not visualizing women in adivasi communities in gender analysis with a special emphasis on their dual status as marginalized and as women

Apart from that the budget proclaims, “It is one of the priorities of the government to initiate positive steps to ensure gender equity across the economy. We want to bring women in the mainstream of economic development and good governance. We are going to incorporate gender and poverty related disaggregated data in the budget separately through the Medium Term Budget Framework.”

However, our concern lies in the fact the budget is not visualizing women in adivasi communities or in traditional professional communities in gender analysis with a special emphasis on their dual status as marginalized and as women.

Along with investment in infrastructure development especially, power and energy, ports, communication, supply of drinking water and waste management, the budget also identifies education and health as vehicles to attain higher growth. In this the budget contemplates requirement of a huge investment. However, it leaves out the issue of ensuring access of the children of the marginalized in education program along with the issue of ensuring access of the poor in general to all forms of public and private healthcare provisions.

The budget also proposes that the government is “going to take special initiatives to involve the private sector under Public Private Partnership (PPP) to meet the probable investment gap in infrastructure development and maintenance”. In the name of PPP if these are traded in the market, there lies a grave risk of excluding the poor and the marginalized. We call on our government to interpret PPP as - People-Public-Partnership - to retain the public utilities/services in public sector and not to open them under the service sector liberalization proposition of World Bank and WTO.

The best news for the marginalized people in the budget speech must have been the point when it’s declared that “We have started our work to bring down the poverty rate by 15 percent within 2021.” However, this is a prospective planning for another 12 years. What about this year and daily struggle of the marginalized people for mere survival? Let us not talk about change without taking in the marginalized people as an integral part of any process of change for a better Bangladesh!

Click here to read the full paper.

The writer is the Executive Director of INCIDIN, Bangladesh. The article is an abridged version of a paper presented at a seminar organized by the Marginalized Solidarity Group (Prantik Manusher Shonghoti) on June 16, 2009 in Dhaka.

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