Most of the social accountability institutions in the country are non-functional because of political influence, financial constraints and incapacity of citizens, but they need to be effective to ensure people’s meaningful participation in the development process, according to a study.
A sustainable solution lies in “a synergy of state-NGO-community collaboration, in which NGOs will nurture the citizen engagement process,” said the study report launched yesterday at Brac Centre Inn in the capital, arrended by Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives minister Tazul Islam.
The study, done by Brac Institute of Governance and Development at Brac University, focuses on the functionality of social accountability forums in Union Parishad and the education sector.
The main objective of social accountability institutions is to make development and service delivery processes more efficient, equitable and participatory. Policies and institutions dealing with this philosophy have been introduced in the country in recent decades, except for school management committees.
Ward committee and scheme supervision committee were formalised in the Union Parishad Operational Manual 2012.
Moreover, the Local Government Act 2009 provided the basis for initiating ‘ward shabha’ and ‘open budget meeting’, said the report titled “The State of Governance Report 2018”.
These platforms, if functional, should give citizens an opportunity to engage in dialogues -- influencing development policies, which is why they can be recognised as deliberative democratic spaces.
The study found that all these institutions “tend to remain largely dysfunctional unless they are activated and nurtured by non-government organisations”. But NGOs’ interventions are time-bound.
“When NGOs’ interventions are over, the social accountability forums start losing steam,” the report said.
However, speakers at the event argued that whether NGOs’ interventions would have lasting impact or not depend on how and what kind of interventions they put in place.
If NGOs train locals to work as volunteers, they will continue the work even after the end of donor-driven projects, speakers said.
Badiul Alam Majumder, country director of the Hunger Project Bangladesh, said there was no need to create parallel institutions for ensuring good governance at the local level. Rather, constitutionally mandated bodies should be made effective.
He also questioned the condition of the Union Parishad being self-reliant in terms of resources and funds. Government funds should benefit all, reaching the grassroots, he said.
The study cited that though the government had established the institutions, it did not allocate central funding for their operations.
There is also a lack of awareness among people. While UP members pay more attention to the opinions of influential people, the marginalised believe they don’t have the right to hold UP members accountable.
Shaheen Anam, executive director of Manusher Jonno Foundation, said it was important to challenge the long-perceived notion that those who provide services are more powerful and those who receive them are less powerful.
It is the service providers’ responsibility to give services and people’s right to receive them, she added.
Rasheda K Choudhury, executive director of Campaign for Popular Education, said citizens’ engagement was necessary to ensure proper services.
The main obstacle to turning Union Parishad effective, as per the study, is that UP members are less likely to be competent, committed and representative of the community, which the minister acknowledged.
Minister Tazul Islam sought support from civil society members, NGOs and researchers to formulate guidelines on how to address the issues and ensure good governance at the UP level.
Mirza M Hassan, senior research fellow and head of governance and politics cluster at the BIGD, presented the study. He also spearheaded the study.