ABOUT the book and the study: The book contains the findings of an in-deep study into the Local Governance and Decentralization with an analytical approach and perspective of politics and economics, distribution of power and wealth and overall governance of the local system. The book also contains the existing scenario and suggested possible reformations that might bring major changes to attain the visionary ideas as documented in the Constitution of Bangladesh. This book is the first attempt to project most appropriate and practical ideas that suit the genius of the nation for the local governance and decentralization of power derived from the voices of the people who matter. It has examined the system prevailing in the Union Parishad, Upazilla Parishad, Zila Parishad and Paurashava. In precise, the study has covered both rural and urban taking sample from almost half of the country's geographical areas, interviewing 210 Union Parishad Chairmen,100 Upazila Parishad Chairmen, 48 Paurashava Mayors and1218 households in rural and 552 households in urban .
Bangladesh is a unitary system of state with the constitutional provision for Local Government Institutions (LGIs) to provide all amenities that people need. In fact, local government institutions should be represented by peasants, workers and women to ensure its administration and maintain public orders and act for empowerment and enrichment in quickest possible time. This critical issue was the major thrust of study to come forward with possible reformations.
The study design and research methodology adopted were visionary to derive practical outcomes based on examination of demographic, social & economic profiles and political affiliations. The existing system of resource mobilization and its utilization including local revenue generated for development expenditure were examined in details in the study. The importance of free and fair elections to ensure instrumental governance was emphasized keeping in view the policy agenda for effective decentralization.
The way forwards towards empowering and improving local governance were examined critically in the study.
Key findings and recommendations:
Based on the findings and analysis in fourteen chapters some key recommendations were forwarded for consideration of authorities and key stakeholders. These were on structural, resource mobilization and utilization, transferred department, people's participation, local government election, governance etc. The findings as elaborated and justified in the book containing recommendation that local governmental institutions at present functioning like service delivery institutions but the spirit was always to act as local government with three features of executive, legislature and judiciary. The need for independent Local Government Commission was recommended emphatically. Paurashavas were found relatively better organized and enjoying more autonomy in the form of devolution. Regarding the Upazila Parishad having jurisdiction over all Unions, unwanted interventions by MPs were visible telling upon the spirit and principles of governance. Salary and honorarium presently received by union Parishad elected representatives was considered as inadequate and ignominious. Infrastructure and capacity building were found inadequate. Resource mobilization and utilization were found not based on modern transparent accounting system and the principle of value for money ignored totally. The Village Court was considered as an important institution and a crucial agenda for formation and suggested to strengthen significantly to ensure transparent governance. People's participation and involvement of civil society were found inadequate and exclusion of women in decision making was found as a practice followed almost everywhere.
Decentralization and devolution of power to local government institutions is a constitutional obligation and declared priority areas of reformation.
The LGIs are centuries old institutions but not empowered with capacity building and transfer of resources as expected due to highly centralized character of the governance of the country.
This book through an exhaustive study with appropriate methodology with sufficient samples came out with pragmatic suggestions for decentralization of power and authorities emphasizing arguments and reasons thereof. Although total size of the book is 693 pages but main texts are only in 348 pages containing exhaustive deliberations with examples and illustrations. The writers were not biased or suffered from any prejudice while drawing conclusions and making recommendations out of lesson learnt from analysis.
The sources of data used are primary data, those derived from grassroots level during discussion and collection. The Research Team visited physically and discussed with Deputy Commissioners and Thana Nirbahi Officers, Union Parishad Chairmen, Paurashava Mayors and Secretaries and organised stakerholders' consultations at local and national level at length.
So much of exhaustive and in depth study with empirical evidences is rarely found in any study seen so far. The study in precise advocated strongly in favor of effectiveness of local development and pursuing the decentralization and local governance reforms to ensure young democracy to settle and to make development efforts sustainable.
Thanks are due to Dr Abul Barkat and his team for their strenuous work and outstanding contributions towards effective local governance through decentralization.
It is also my privilege to express gratitude to Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC for their generous support to HDRC financially and by sharing the experience of Switzerland where decentralization of power to local LGI s is the way of public administration and empowerment of people.
I suggest that GOB should urgently accept all these recommendations for implementation and incorporate in the 7th Five year plan under preparation as strategic interventions to attain the objectives of turning Bangladesh into middle income country by 2021, the year of golden jubilee of our independence.
The reviewer is Former Secretary to ten Government and Adviser to the former Care Taker Government.