Domestic Economy

Iran Budget Bill Becomes Talk of Town

Never Have Ordinary Citizens Sounded So Concerned About Iran’s Most Important Financial Document; But How Accurate Is Their Scrutiny?
The absence of professional media, particularly an impartial broadcaster, could be the reason for the lack of understanding on the part of the public about the budget bill.
The absence of professional media, particularly an impartial broadcaster, could be the reason for the lack of understanding on the part of the public about the budget bill.
The budget blueprint is a text loaded with specialized, complex phrases, which should be clarified to the general public to moderate the social media messages

There has barely been any reaction by ordinary citizens to budget bills proposed by governments to the parliaments over the years until recently.

Only a few economic elites, market experts, or technocrats would talk about the most important financial document of the country. This year, however, the budget bill has stolen the limelight and transformed into a challenging issue.

Articles of the budget bill for the upcoming fiscal year (March 2018-19) have been grabbing headlines and you hear people talking about it every day ever since the bill was presented by President Hassan Rouhani to the parliament on Dec. 10.

The Persian weekly Seda published a commentary in its December 23rd issue by Mohammad Fazeli, Iranian sociologist and assistant professor at Shahid Beheshti University, in which he looks at the budget and people’s reactions from a sociological perspective. Excerpts of his write-up follow:

Is it unfavorable for people to become sensitive about the figures in the budget bill? Is it unfavorable for a specialized document to become the talk of the town? What lies behind such hypersensitivity to and reductive understanding of the budget?

I believe people have the right to be aware of the country’s budget plan. Budget is the very epitome of the rationality of a country and spotlights the government’s objectives and priorities. But the problem is that the budget blueprint is a text loaded with specialized, complex phrases, the meanings of which are unclear to many.

Two Pitfalls

Two approaches might represent genuine threats to people’s take on the budget.

First is that a non-inclusive, one-sided knowledge of an issue like budget that only highlights one part and fails to notice other aspects might color people’s perception. Reactions to the rise in departure tax falls into this category. A section out of hundreds came to the fore after the budget bill was revealed. Analysts are now claiming that the government has targeted the middle class based on the rise in departure tax. Messaging services such as Telegram, in which short texts are normally read, do not provide a platform for scientific, complex discussions.

The fact that people have longstanding grievances and are inclined to vent their feelings at the slightest excuse triggered rapid reactions toward issues like departure tax. It is highly likely that even people who have never travelled overseas or won’t do so in the foreseeable future have also reacted against the newly proposed regulation.

A group of people might have even voiced their criticisms toward the government, which would later, after accurate analyses, turn out to be the beneficiary of the policy.

The second risk about public understanding of the budget is trite, ill-informed and generalized analyses and remarks replacing in-depth analyses.

These days you can see a number of text messages stating, “The government’s budget remains reliant on oil revenues and makes people’s food basket smaller; that the government taking into account the economic growth in the bill is praiseworthy; the government has taken little notice of the Resistance Economy.”

You can go on writing hundreds of such sentences, but the fact of the matter is that they are void of analytical substance. A careful reader would learn little, if anything, from these phrases.  

Absence of Professional Media Analysis

The absence of professional media, particularly an engaged, impartial broadcaster, may explain the phenomenon described above.

The Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting is still incapable of producing a program that would explain sections of the budget bill to the people. On top of that, many don’t place their trust in IRIB, so they don’t take their economic analyses seriously.

Also, the jargons in the budget bill are ambiguous to most people. They don’t know what “ownership of capital assets”, “ownership of financial assets”, “transition of capital assets”, “government’s exclusive revenues”, “public budget” or “budget for public companies” mean.

Despite its significance, economics does not have interpreters to explain its principles in simple words.

Compare economics with medicine. Physicians have used different tools to make the science of medicine tangible for people, by taking part in TV programs and using social media. Some of the physicians have now turned into celebrities who explain medicine to people in simple words. The realm of economics lacks such personalities.

In view of the above, people are missing out on a significant part of the economic discourse. Articles, amendments and tables of the budget bill bear no meaning for common citizens. People may see a link between a column or two of the budget and their lives in few topics such as fuel and dollar prices or an issue like the rise in departure tax, but not any further.

The failure to interpret the technical language of the budget bill to people would help moderate social media messages. Contents, which are either detail-oriented at the expense of key points or generalized statements, mean nothing to the reader.

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