Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Local Government in Bangladesh note 5
Local Government in Bangladesh
Pranab Kumar Panday
Bangladesh has repeatedly experimented with decentralisation in the post-colonial and post-independence period. Every successive regime between 1957 and 2001 attempted to reform the local government structure. The induction of local government, however, failed to ensure access and participation to the poor. The absence of tangible rewards for participating in local affairs often resulted in apathy and frustration to the villagers. The main concern of this essay is to evaluate the process of decentralisation that took place under different regime in Bangladesh and analyse to what extent decentralisation has been ensured.
Local government is part of overall governance. Local government institutions, being nearer to people, can involve them in various ways: (a) planning and implementation of projects
(b) supervision of educational institutions, hospitals and other government financed units (c) mobilisation of support for new initiatives like campaign against dowry, child labour etc. (d) enforcement of laws regarding gender discrimination, violence against women, environment protection (e) mobilisation of resources in the form of taxes, fees, tolls etc. Popular participation also assumes importance because of its potential for holding the local government institution accountable to the community. On the other hand, local government institutions can enforce accountability of the central/national government authorities. The more aware, vigilant and active the community becomes through its participation in local government bodies, the greater is the pressure on both local government institutions and the government authorities to become transparent and responsive (Z. R. Khan: 1999). The potential of local government institutions can be realised more effectively where there is decentralisation and devolution of power. Accountability, transparency, participation, empowerment, equity and all other attributes of good governance can become a part of the daily work of both the government and local bodies when decentralisation and devolution take place. Without decentralisation and devolution, local government bodies remain paper organisations without any effective role. It is no exaggeration to say that it is in a decentralised local government system that most of the attributes of good governance have a chance to survive and prosper. Strengthening of local government institutions can, therefore, be seen as a positive trend towards good governance. All successive governments in Bangladesh felt the need to have viable local government for ensuring effective governance. As a result, we have seen 'decentralisation' as an important policy agenda of all governments. The repetitive process of local government reform has been handed down to Bangladesh from Pakistan as a post-colonial extension. However, the necessity to reform the existing structure of local government by various successive governments in Bangladesh indicates their failure to create effective institutions for enhancing local democracy and delivering development programmes. In order to analyse the process of decentralisation in Bangladesh and its justifiability, the following questions need to be addressed: 1) To what extent have the governments of Bangladesh been successful in ensuring decentralised local government? 2) What are the major issues associated with the decentralisation of local government in Bangladesh?
In some countries, the local extensions of the central government, and in others, traditional local power structures utilised for supporting field administration, have been misconstrued as being equivalent to local government. At times local government has been mistakenly considered an insignificant segment of the government. However, in industrialised countries, the number of civil servants at the local level is much larger than is commonly believed. In the United States, for example, there are four times as many local government employees as federal employees; even in a developing country, like India, the number of local level employees is as high as 40 percent that of federal employees (Siddique, 1994: 2). With a view to avoiding confusion, it is better to differentiate ‘local government’ from ‘local politics’ and ‘local administration’. Local politics is a wider term and covers a host of areas besides local government. On the other hand, local administration means implementation of decisions by not only local government institutions but also national/ provincial government units operating at the field level. In South Asia, local government is widely known as local self-government1. For the purpose of this essay, local government is defined essentially in terms of some attributes: first, its statutory status; second, its power to raise finance by taxation in the area under its jurisdiction; third, participation of the local community in decision making on specified subjects and administration; fourth, the freedom to act independent of central control; and lastly, its general function, in contrast to the single-purpose character of many autonomous bodies. Constitutional and Legal Basis of Local Government
In any democratic polity, local government is given legal recognition either by an act of Parliament or by incorporation of relevant provisions in the Constitution (Khan, 1996: 1). Bangladesh's Constitution of 1972 clearly spelt out the legal basis and responsibilities of local government. Article 59, Chapter III of the Constitution states that, 'Local government in every administrative unit of the Republic shall be entrusted to bodies composed of persons elected in accordance with law’. Article 60 of the Constitution states 'for the purpose of giving full effect to the provision of article fifty nine, Parliament shall, by law, confer powers on the local government bodies referred to in that article including power to impose taxes for local purposes, to prepare their budgets and to maintain funds (Constitution of People's Republic of Bangladesh, as modified up to 30th of November, 1998). It is necessary to mention the constitutional and legal basis of the local government of Bangladesh because if the duties and responsibilities of the local government institutions are not demarcated by the Constitution or by the act of the parliament, or if there is no scope for the government to decentralise powers to elected local bodies, it is difficult to devolve powers. It is evident that the legal basis of the local government is clearly spelt out in the Constitution and the Constitution through Article 59, Chap III has ensured the devolution of power to local government bodies.
The institution of Local Government (LG) in Bangladesh goes back a long way. The origin of the existing local government institution can be traced back to the demand for self-government in British India. Initially local government was developed by the British to maintain law and order in the rural areas with the help of local elite backed by local police (...