Local Government Institutions (LGIs), Local Administration (LA) and local Community Based Organisations (CBOs) evolved, emerged and developed throughout the globe as manifestations of a historical conjuncture particularly situated at time and space. There are universal elements too in the shaping and reshaping of the growth and development of LGIs, LAs and CBOs. In modern times, one of the elements dominantly present in all the streams of local organisations and institutions is their developmental role and functions. The relevance and the existence of those entities are very much embedded in their role and function of socio-economic and cultural development in their respective localities. Local Economic Development (LED), Local Service Delivery and Local Governance – the three inter-twined roles are pre-dominant in the functioning of LGIs in almost all the countries having territorial and functional arrangement of state activities within their respective systems.
The local governments are often identified as local states. It only differs in degree from country to country, not in kind. In the developed countries of West Europe and North America, a few routine urban services are considered inseparable and in the context of the developing countries, socio-economic and infrastructural (especially micro infrastructure) developments, along with poverty focused programs are getting prominence. Among some of the welfare states of the west, LGIs share greater management role on behalf of the central state for looking after citizens in a comprehensive manner that starts from the 'conception of a baby at mother's womb to the funeral after death'.
The LED is a new development approach being promoted by many national and international development agencies keeping the local development need and potential in the focus. The Commonwealth Local Government Forum (CLGF) is one of prominent LG forums promoting the LED among the CLGF member countries. The CLGF Summit in Aberdeen, Scotland held in 2011 adopted the Agenda for Commonwealth member countries with elaboration of 'Local Economic Development, known as the Aberdeen Agenda. The Aberdeen Agenda was re-affirmed in the Cardiff Conference held in 2012 and the declaration, known as Cardiff Consensus, was approved at the Local Government Minister's Summit held at Perth, Australia in the same year. Bangladesh is one of the signatories to the document.
The LED is basically a developing country innovation. Among many, South Africa may be considered a model worth reviewing. The municipalities in SA enjoy a clear mandate to prepare and implement LED. There are clear functional and financial guidelines for LED to implement. The entire pro-poor development initiatives, especially the MDG related programs become the exclusive domain of the municipal plan in the SA.
The development initiatives may come from various levels such as national , regional, local and even individual entrepreneur levels , the end result or impact( positive or negative) ultimately affect the individuals and families of a certain locality. It is not justified and moral to impose any development initiative without proper consent and agreement of the locality that is going to be impacted. There are specific development needs which deserve to be generated in the locality. At least, local, regional and national level cooperation and co-ordination can make development efforts more equitable if not equally beneficial, economically rewarding and morally justified.
The GDP-GNP-GNIs are generally calculated nationally but local actions contribute in the process of growth too. In many countries, side by side with national level aggregated growth calculations, regional and local level disaggregate growth calculations are also made separately. In our country as well, growth in urban centres and cities, and sector wise calculations are in practice. But the local economy and local economic development as such had not got any formal consideration in any plan document rather the term is loosely used in an informal way. The reasons are also obvious. There exists no comprehensive or integrated development effort or local economic development plan devoted to promote local economy. In some specific areas, because of special natural endowment or local /spatial advantage, local economy is a natural outgrowth, not a deliberate creation of planned development. There are ample scopes and avenues for local economic regeneration, which, irrespective of rural and urban LGIs, can take lead to more consistent growth in the national economy.
In Bangladesh, most of the economic development ideas and initiatives are generated centrally either through specialised agencies or through special donor supported projects. There are local initiatives of different natures too, but no proper mechanism is in place for concerted effort to record and promote local economic development efforts. Even the national documents such as the Annual Development Plan (ADP), Five Year Development Plan and Perspective Plan (2010-2020) do not clearly recognise local economy and local economic development plans.
The constitutional mandates for local economic development Planning (Article 59 of the constitution) and subsequent acts of parliament made for all the LGIs to make economic development plans at their respective levels (UP, UZP, ZP, municipalities and city corporations) have been neglected for all these years. The national budgetary process also does not recognise the local plans and budgets made at those levels. The national planning agency as well as all development and service sector agencies of the national government do not take cognisance and in most cases override the planning and service mandates of the LGIs as embodied in the acts of parliament.
About seventy Upazila Parishads attempted annual development plans under a five year vision and projection with the support from a UNDP supported Upazila Governance Project (UZGP). The main challenge those UZPs faced was in making the transferred departments of the respective upazilas to agree to share the departmental information for creation of a sectoral vision such as, a vision on education, health, agriculture, fisheries, livestock, social forestry, safe water supply etc. The departments at upazilas do not have any sectoral vision and plan of their own; when UZPs initiated such an exercise of making sectoral data base, vision, plan, and budget, necessary co-operation was not extended to the parishads or it was not properly understood. Still about 70 such plan books were published which can be used as reference in the future for having full-fledged UZP level development plans. Similarly, UPs as well as pourashavas and city corporations are also entitled to have local economic development plans and they are making and implementing their plans. Those need to be linked with national level goals and strategies with formal recognition.
The LGIs can justify its existence by being able to bring changes and comfort in people's lives and livings. In the West, cities compete with each other for creating more jobs by creating business friendly environments so that entrepreneurs are attracted to that particular city to invest. The city infrastructures are created to make industries and businesses competitive. The LGIs through their service infrastructures and welfare provisions minimise the 'variable' cost of entrepreneurs. They take care of health, housing, transportation, amusement arrangement of the city. This attracts both workers and investors. The workers choose a city to work where there are quality services and living expenses are comparatively less. The city councils normally remain very keen on creating a pro-growth service infrastructure to make cities attractive to both. In our case, LGI's more intensive involvement in social services and economic development is a national commitment. The problem is the lack of proper understanding of the role and function at both levels - local as well as central. The legal framework of LGs still is not congenial for them to take 'entrepreneurial approach' in performing their role and function. It is rather locked in a regulatory–bureaucratic framework. The national development documents such as Five Year/Perspective Plans still are not clear about the approach to be followed in respect to local service delivery and local economic development. The local bureaucracy and LGIs maintain parallel existence with identical mandates. The bureaucracy enjoys mandate with money and manpower support, the LGIs without fund and functionary, suffer the pains of having similar mandates. An environment needs to be created to harness the growth potentials of local representative bodies by creating a synergy among the line department of government, LG bodies and different private sector actors.
The writer is Head of Politics Democracy and Governance Cluster, Brac Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), Brac University. He can be reached at email@example.com