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HDI ranking: 146/187
HDI score: 0.515
Bangladesh has gained momentum in participatory local governance development over recent years. The country was established as a parliamentary democracy, but then was under military rule until 1991 when a democratically elected government was reinstated. Fluctuating regime, party, and caretaker government control have led to a series of local government system reforms with greater success in recent years to create deeper participatory local governance. Recent reforms of 2011 introduced mandatory mechanisms for citizen participation in local government. This included citizen charters, ward assemblies, five-year plans and the right to information (LGA, 2009).
Local governance at a glance
- The country is broken into 64 administrative districts, or zilas, under which local government is divided into rural, urban, and hill districts (CLGF, 2011).
- Bangladesh has a four-tiered structure of governance:
- 7 regions (appointed)
- 64 zila parishads, or districts (appointed)
- 484 upazilas, or sub-district bodies (indirect elections), and
- 4,451 union parishads, or village clusters, (elected) of 9 wards (CLGF, 2011).
- The ten largest urban areas are administered as city corporations and 310 other urban municipalities are administered as paurashavas (CLGF, 2011).
- Members of the zila parishads are elected by an electoral college; five seats are reserved for women. There are also reserved seats for women in urban units, for which mayors and councilors are directly elected. Members of the upazila and union parishads are also directly elected. (CLGF, 2011).
- The Local Government Division within the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development and Cooperatives is responsible for all local governments. The only exception is the hill district parishads, for which the Ministry of Hill Tract Affairs is responsible (CLGF, 2011).
- Three directly elected women’s seats, each representing one of three wards, are added to each union parishad (Quota Project, 2014).
Civil society actors include
- The Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC) was started as a relief operation in a rural Bangladeshi village in 1972 and has grown to be a large-scale development organization that works to organize and empower poor populations through using their communities’ own human and material resources. The BRAC seeks to build sustainable, social, accountability mechanisms through its Active Citizens and Accountable Local Government (ACALG) project. It works toward citizen participation, improvements in capacity of local government representatives, and increasing engagement between civil society, local government and the media (BRAC, 2013).
- SHUJAN, facilitated by The Hunger Project, is “organized at both the national and district levels to press for policy reforms to reduce corruption and strengthen local democracy” (THP, n.d.).
- Trinamul Unnayan Sangstha is an organization working for community development specifically assisting the disadvantaged and marginalized communities of the Chittagong Hill Tracts in Bangladesh. With support from the UN Democracy Fund, TUS conducted the Strengthening Ethnic Communities’ Access to Information in Bangladesh project that aimed to increase the population of Chittagong Hill Tracts’ access to information regarding public services offered by their local governments and increase active participation in the governance process (TUS, 2013).
Capacity building institutions
- The Association of Union Parishads, the Association of Upazila Chairmen, and the Association of Pourashava Mayors provide support to the chairpersons of union parishads, upazila parishads, and pourashavas regarding the rights and privileges associated with their positions (CLGF, 2011).
- The National Institute of Local Government trains elected and appointed local government officials from rural and urban areas and facilitates interaction between government officials and local government bodies (NILG, 2012).
- Although local governments collect revenue from income taxes, tolls, fees, rates, rents and profits from property, funding from the central government totals 90% of all local revenue (UCLG, 2010).
Key initiatives for participatory local governance
- Constitutional amendments made in 1972 and 2011 mandated that the state encourage “effective participation by the people through their elected representatives in administration at all levels” (Constitute Project, 2014).
- In 1976, the Local Government Ordinance mandated elections for Union Parishads, formerly led by appointed ministers, composed of one chairman and nine elected members including two nominated female members and two peasant representatives.
- After the military took power in 1982, local government was reorganized through the Upazila Parishad Ordinance which created stronger Upazilas (Fox, Menon 2008).
- The Participatory Rural Development Project, a collaboration between the Bangladesh Rural Development Board and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, was instituted in four Unions in Kalihati Upazila between 2000 and 2004 to establish the Link Model, a framework that incorporates the needs of rural populations in the process of development by linking villagers with their government institutions on matters of rural development (RDCD, 2012).
- From 2000-2005, the Sirajganj Local Governance Development Fund Project (SLGFDP) piloted approaches to capacity building via block grants, social mobilization, public score cards, complaint books, open budget meetings, and ward-level bottom-up planning. This project was conducted through the UN Capital Development fund and the UNDP at the request of the Bangladesh government. (World Bank, 2007).
- The SLGDFP mandated in 2009 that each Union Parishad to create five-year plans, form a budget through participatory processes and Open Budget Meetings, conduct two annual public assemblies for each ward, and publish a Citizen Charter (LGA, 2009).
- Additionally in 2009 elections were held for members of the Upazila Parishads for the first time since the restoration of a democratic government in 1991 (Ahmed et al, 2011).
- In 2007 the government launched a national decentralization program funded by the World Bank called the Local Government Support Program (LGSP) to improve local governance and local service delivery. This project included a component to enhance the basic service delivery capacities of the lowest tier of local government in rural areas, the Union Parishads. Due to the success of this project, in 2011 the UNCDF and UNDP launched additional projects, the Union Parishad Governance Project and the Upazila Governance Project, to increase the scale of the previous pilot program (UNCDF, 2013).
- The Access to Information Programme was also established in 2007 to provide accessibility and transparency of the government via information and communications technology (THP, 2014).
Challenges for participatory local governance
- The World Bank report “Strengthening Local Governance” identifies several challenges for Bangladesh, including the gap between the desire for political decentralization and the extent to which the current local government system provides real power, functions, and resources for local governments to operate and allows meaningful citizen oversight of local governments and their services. Local representatives may be elected, but they often do not have de facto authority or the resources available to successfully meet the needs of their constituents (World Bank, 2012).
- Though strong support for local government is mandated in the Constitution, the central government continues to exercise control over local governments and starve these agencies of resources (UNESCAP, 2005).
- As noted in an interview with Dr. Salahuddin M. Aminuzzaman, a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Dhaka, the great degree of corruption in the government system inhibits the spread of information and transparency regarding what services are available to citizens as it may be risky to share this information.
- The lack of funding for local governments also remains a challenge as they are limited in their ability to expand current service delivery and implement new projects to meet their citizens’ demands. “Local government institutions have been struggling for sufficient fiscal and administrative power. They are also constrained by lack of transparency, low capacity, excessive bureaucracy, political interference, limited authority, lack of accountability of service providers, and weak financial resources and have limited orientation toward local communities” (World Bank, 2007).
- Each new leader who comes to power in Bangladesh attempts to nullify [all] efforts of the previous leader. This instability hinders significant progress in decentralization (Fox and Menon, 2008).
- Most local government employees are also central government employees. This prevents decentralized units from becoming truly established (Martinez-Vasquez and Vaillancourt, 2011).
Recent posts on this website about this country:
- Improving Access to Services through Technology in Bangladesh (2014)
- Innovations in Citizen Participation (2013)
- The role of rural women in local governance : case study on socio-economic context in Bangladesh (2012)
- Dimension of decentralization process and rural local government in India : a comparison with Bangladesh (2012)
- Money, corruption, and political competition in established and emerging democracies (2012)
- Expert advocacy for the marginalised : how and why democratic mediation matters to deepening democracy in the global South (2011)
- Community driven development in Bangladesh : factors behind the reality (2011)
- Citizenship learning, participatory democracy and micro-financing : the case of Grameen bank’s peer-lending system in Bangladesh (2011)
- Bangladesh : food security and land governance factsheet (2011)
- BRAC’s non-formal primary education programme : scope, growth, achievements and factors contributing to its success (2011)
List of sources:
Active Citizens and Accountable Local Government (ACALG), 2014: http://www.brac.net/content/community-empowerment-strengthening-local-governance#.VAYqfmRdWgd.
Dr. Salahuddin M. Aminuzzaman, a Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Dhaka, consulted with The Hunger Project (Interview).
BRAC, 2013: http://www.brac.net/content/what-we-do#.U8Auh1VX-uZ.
Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF), 2011: “Country Profile: Bangladesh.”
Constitute Project, 2014: “Bangladesh’s Constitution of 1972, Reinstated in 1986, with Amendments through 2011.”
Fox, W.F. and B. Menon, 2008: “Decentralization in Bangladesh: Change has been Illusive.”
Government of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, Rural Development and Cooperative Division (RDCD), 2012
Martinez-Vasquez, J. and F. Vaillancourt, 2011: “Obstacles Decentralization: Lessons from the Developing World.”
National Institute of Local Government (NILG), 2012: “Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (1972, as amended 2011)” English translation.
Quota Project, 2014: “Bangladesh.”
The Hunger Project (THP), n.d.: www.thp.org/what_we_do/key_initiatives/fostering_government_accountability/overview.
The Hunger Project (THP), 2014: “Improving Access to Services through Technology in Bangladesh.”
Trinamul Unnayan Sangstha (TUS), 2013: “Good Governance”
United Cities and Local Governments, 2010: “Local Government Finance: The Challenges of the 21st Century.”
United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), 2014: “UNCDF in Bangladesh.”
UNESCAP, 2005: “Country Reports on Local Government Systems: Bangladesh.”
World Bank, 2007: “Empowering the Marginalized: Case Studies of Social Accountability Initiatives in Asia.”