Finance Minister criticized for dismissive responses at post-budget press conference

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Finance Minister criticized for dismissive responses at post-budget press conference

Rayhan Rafi:


On Friday, Finance Minister Abul Hassan Mahmood Ali expressed disappointment over certain questions posed by journalists during the post-budget press conference held at the Osmani Memorial Auditorium in Dhaka. His responses have sparked mixed reactions from the public, with many criticizing his approach as dismissive and evasive.

Journalists’ questions spark Minister’s ire

During the press conference, a business journalist from Ekattor TV questioned the minister about the budget increase, inflation rates, and the depreciation of the Bangladeshi Taka. The journalist pointed out that the budget had only increased by 4.67%, which is less than half of the inflation rate announced by the government. He highlighted the discrepancy between the government’s claimed 9% inflation rate and the 15% inflation rate reported by BIDS, a government-funded research institute. Additionally, he noted that the Taka had depreciated by 37.3% over the last two years, which has pushed millions of people into poverty.

In response, Finance Minister Ali expressed his disappointment, saying, “I expected a bit more mature question from Ekattor Television. I am very disappointed.” He accused the journalist of oversimplifying the situation and advised him to “read a little more before asking questions.”

Accusations of avoiding accountability

When a journalist from another television station questioned the absence of strong measures against corruption and for good governance in the budget, the Finance Minister responded irritably. He stated, “We are speaking openly before the audience and our people. We didn’t make a fuss. So why are you just going back to the same words?” He criticized the journalist for what he perceived as repetitive and simplistic questioning.

An English daily reporter raised concerns about the imposition of duties on capital machinery and raw materials for private sector investments in economic zones. The Finance Minister interrupted the reporter, referring them to statements from the FBCCI and Dhaka Chamber, suggesting that the business community had not raised such issues.

Mixed public reactions

The press conference concluded with a question from another private television reporter about the cancellation of duty-free car import facilities for MPs. The reporter praised the Finance Minister before asking when the law would be amended. The Minister appreciated the question but criticized the overall quality of questions posed during the conference.

The Finance Minister’s dismissive attitude and use of the “Begging the Question” fallacy have drawn mixed reactions from the public. Many have taken to social media to express their dissatisfaction with the Minister’s responses.

Rickshaw driver Mofizal Islam voiced his frustration, saying, “I drive a rickshaw to cover the expenses of the family, and now it costs a lot of money to call home everyday for the high rate of voice calls on mobile. Prices of daily necessities, including cigarettes, are increasing. Our lives are becoming very difficult.”

Afsar Khan, a private company employee in Dhaka, criticized the tax policies, stating, “From now on, I have to pay 30 percent tax from my earnings. Meanwhile, those who earn through illegal means will pay only 15 percent to legalize their black money. It seems better to earn illegally than legally.”

Social media outrage

The Finance Minister’s remarks have ignited a wave of anger on social media platforms. Comments on news outlets’ Facebook pages and YouTube channels reflect widespread dissatisfaction.

Md. Saiful Islam commented on Somoy TV’s Facebook page, “If the honorable minister has honest courage, if the question was wrong, then point out the rationale. Don’t be unnecessarily angry and cover the fish with vegetables. People are aware and understand everything.”

Azam Faruq added, “It is right that the economy is shrinking, it is right that the value of money has decreased, it is also right that the common people are poor because of the politicians! Still, the Minister is disappointed about Channel 71?”

Selim Ahmed commented on Jamuna TV’s YouTube channel, “What will I do with your inflation rate? My inflation rate is 40%. 5 taka tea is now 10 taka, 15 taka potato is now 50 taka, 140 taka chicken is now 250 taka. How do you calculate inflation?”

Historical context of Ministerial discontent

It is worth noting that Finance Minister Mahmood is not the first to exhibit frustration with journalists. Former Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith displayed similar behavior on June 8, 2018, during a press conference at the Osmani Smriti Auditorium. When journalists questioned him about reducing corporate tax in the banking sector, increasing registration fees for small flats, and income inequality, Muhith dismissed the questions as “silly” and “meaningless.”

Muhith criticized journalists, saying, “You are not looking into the budget. You are not at all criticizing the budget. You have some set criteria, you have come with that to present here.”

The recent press conference has highlighted the growing disconnect between government officials and the media. While journalists aim to hold public figures accountable, the Finance Minister’s responses suggest a reluctance to engage in detailed discussions on pressing economic issues. This event underscores the need for more constructive dialogue between the government and the media to address the concerns of the public effectively.

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