People’s Empowerment, Poverty Eradication and Good Governance: A Vision for Development Strategy for Bangladesh

People’s Empowerment, Poverty Eradication and Good Governance: A Vision for Development Strategy for Bangladesh1

Afreen Alam
Master degree Candidate, School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University
August 2004

To critique any country’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), one must first and foremost concede to and understand one fundamental point: it is a strategy paper that does not envision eradication of poverty but rather asks the respective countries to limit their vision to the reduction of it. In essence, embedded within the approach are the acceptance, promotion and aspiration to strive towards a poverty level that is tolerable and ensure the perpetuity of the international economic order that has managed to keep the developing countries in their woeful conditions to begin with. PRSPs are written not out of aspirations indigenous to the local people but out of obligations to the World Bank and the IMF. Hence, to promote this as a country-owned, people driven initiative is not only fallacious but also absurd. While many contend this to be a useless attempt to alter the results of a game that has been fixed, there could be some value in understanding a document that bears the immediate future of a nation. Thus, we propose an alternative to the current I-PRSP that is based on the principle that abject poverty is a violation of human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes: ‘The right of all people to participate in government (Article 21), the right to health and well being (Article 25) and the right to education (Article 26). Bangladesh, as a signatory to the Declaration is obligated to fulfill its commitment towards attaining these goals. The foundation of this proposal is based on three points: 1. the definition and measurements of poverty as used by the multilateral organizations are limited and inadequate for strategies that are more appropriate and visionary for poverty eradication in Bangladesh, 2. it is critical to look inward to unleash the potential for eradicating poverty by focusing on people’s empowerment for a people centered PRSP and. 3. Unless there is political will, this, along with other development planning will he a meaningless exercise in futility.

The 1-PRSP of Bangladesh has been widely criticized for omitting components vital for people’s empowerment, lacking ownership and finally, for failing to go beyond the traditional path of neo-liberal economic agenda that is known to be inadequate in addressing development issues. The document which is currently titled “National Strategy for Economic Growth, Poverty and Social Development”, includes medium term plans for the country and contains popular rhetoric from mainstream developmental discourse, such as “pro-poor economic growth, “human development of the poor”, “to strike realistic balance between the livelihood requirements of the people and sound environmental management”, etc. Ultimately, the critics agree that it does not create a vision for eradicating or even reducing poverty but succeeds only in fulfilling an administrative requirement by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to receive concessional loans. It is contained within the vernacular of the elite donors and succeeds in flaunting goals without realistic implementation strategies. Contrary to what has been publicized it fails to illustrate the extent of the lack of political will, corruption and governance failure. There is also a disconnect between the priorities discussed and the policies recommended in the document. While the priorities represent to some degree, the outcome from a hasty consultative process, the recommendations do not. This paper will explore some of these issues while proposing alternatives.

I-PRSP Fallacies: Issues of Participation, Definition and Measurement of Poverty, Inequality and Economic Growth


The document opens with the proof of ownership and states, “Consultations with different stakeholders has been a key element for ensuring right priorities on competing claims .” It further claims that recommended policies and strategies incorporated suggestions and views expressed in dialogues with various civil society groups. A well-known NGO Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAG) was hired by the Government of Bangladesh to hold a total of 20 consultative workshops in a very short period of time for the

first stage of consultation. The consultation was organized in three levels: Upazila, Divisional and National. Below are some vital statistics of the this consultation:

Total # of participants’617
Rural Poor (excludes extreme poor)153
Urban poor29
Average male to female ratio among the poor40:60
Literacy rate among the poor64.3%

Each workshop was moderated by one of the members from the Core PRSP team who initiated and led discussions on the following themes:

  1. Areas of improvements in the last 5-7 years
  2. Areas of Deterioration in the last 5-7 years
  3. Identifying pressing problems in the specific areas
  4. Recommendations

The areas of achievement revealed in these discussions included education enrollment, access. to credit, increased wage employment opportunities and goods and service delivery through the NGOs. Most pressing of the issues were deteriorating law and order situation including rampant corruption and increasing incidents of violence and crime. Connection of the political powers with the criminals deterring law enforcement and justice significantly added to the vulnerability of the poor. People were also frustrated with the deprivations they suffered due to government’s failure in delivering services such as health facilities, ensuring quality of education, developing new and maintaining existing infrastructures such as roads, electricity and water supply and its inability to assist the poor during crises. Concerns abound regarding growing regional inequality, depleting employment opportunities, especially for the educated youth, urban migration and overall moral degradation of the society. Subsequently, the recommendations focused on effective law enforcement, functioning government institutions especially local governance instruments and essential facilities that are accessible by the poor.

The consultative process was very hasty as BRAC had to organize 20 workshops in 2 weeks. While 617 is not a representative sample in a country of 13 crore people, it was a commendable effort reflecting a set of valid recommendations. Further consultations took place at the ministerial level in the second round of the 1-PRSP consultation.

Unfortunately even though the law and order situation was the most pressing issue and the document recognizes it to be a growing concern, the recommendations to address it is formulaic and not nearly as forceful as the situation. There are no concrete plans laid out to combat proposed steps such as “Educational institutions will be Jived from violence and disorder” or “Actions will be taken to introduce the legal system through implementation of World Bank TA Project”.[4] Furthermore, measures such as ” steps to remove undue political and other interference in performance of duties that are complex and links most of functionaries of the administration and thus calls for a drastic overhaul of the entire bureaucracy are not elaborated further. In other words, while the recognition of perhaps what is currently the leading challenge for the country exists, the document lacks specificity to powerfully address this issue. This is another telling indication of the lack of political will necessary for bold institutional reforms.

Similarly, priorities are set for good governance and they include important measures such as strengthening the Parliamentary Committees, separating the three branches of the government especially the judiciary from the executive, creation of a Citizen’s Charter for protection and dissemination of information on citizen’s rights, establishing the office of the Ombudsperson and Anti Corruption Commission for a competent public administration, decentralization and strengthening local government, etc. Each of these reforms is included in the Medium term agenda as well. The proposed recommendations do not address the more complex picture of strong political interests vested in obstructing the implementation of these reforms. Implementation of any of these reforms will require intense and intelligent political negotiations and support from the bureaucracy and political parties and significant maneuvering of the tangled web of vested interests and “lobby” groups. None of these are mentioned in the IPRSP and hence there exists a disconnect between the indicated priorities and the proposed policies.

Poverty, Inequality and GDP Growth:

The vision of the current I-PRSP in terms of defining poverty eradication strategy is rather limited. The first priority, as stated in the document is “Remove the ‘ugly faces’ of poverty by eradicating hunger, chronic food insecurity and extreme destitution”. It adheres to the poverty line of US$1/day, corresponding to 2112 calories per person per day, using the fixed-bundle approach. Human poverty is measured in deprivations in three areas: health, education and nutrition and uses the Head Count Index for poverty reduction target setting. These approaches are problematic in several fronts, the most glaring being its inability to capture the essence of deprivation suffered by millions of Bangladeshis and undermining their rights to a life that is beyond the minimum physical sustenance. A poignant anecdote from a rural area in Bangladesh goes something like this: once a destitute beggar was asked what he would do if he was given a donation that significantly increased his income for the day; would he buy more food, clothes, save for the rainy day or do something else. He desired none of the above. Instead he wished to spend a few paisas to go listen to some music. This captures the heart of what the development discourse followed in the I-PRSP lacks– that material poverty as defined by the economists is not the only deprivation that people suffer from and that people have a need for social, intellectual and spiritual nourishment and the right to a life of dignity. In fact, no consultation took place with poor persons, the people who are supposed to be benefiting from this paper the most, if and why they consider themselves poor and what poverty entails for them. Such an incomplete measure of poverty and hence poverty reduction is the Achilles Heels of the current I-PRSP.

There is some debate about the validity of the 2110 caloric standard as well. This is a higher standard than other South Asian countries and some argue that it potentially overestimates poverty trend (World Bank 2002a). Bangladesh Nutritional Council on the other hand recommends a higher caloric standard of 2280 with higher proportion of protein and micronutrient requirements (BIDS 2001). Many argue that 2110 caloric norm equates poverty with malnutrition and is inadequate in measuring deprivation of the poor.8 In addition, changes in activity level, tastes and preferences call for a revision of the current caloric norm, which has not changed in the 25 years, to be adjusted to the national age-sex-activity. The Head count Index (HI) tells the percentage of the population that live in households with per capita consumption below the poverty line of US$1 a day. While this is a methodologically convenient a measure, it does not reveal anything qualitative about the incidence of poverty. To further probe the measurement issue ideologically, the question arises about not why the poverty line is set at US SI/day but why it is not measured in deprivations suffered by the millions. Additionally, why isn’t the investigation of deprivation look beyond that of health and education as measured by the Human Poverty Index (HPI) and also look into quality of life?

It is a well known fact that poverty in Bangladesh, as in many developing countries, is multidimensional and the poor in Bangladesh is not as homogeneous a group as the conventional approach of poverty measurement implies. Poverty in Bangladesh constitutes vulnerabilities and a wide range of deprivations that are both qualitative and quantitative and have both income and non-income attributes. Most importantly, the goal of poverty reduction should not be limited to decreasing the number of people living under poverty line by 50% but increasing the number of people that live a quality life. Quality of life should be measured not only by access to the basic.needs but also by the extent of how much the goods and service delivery are demand driven, how many people have the opportunity to lead a life to their full potential and have the freedom to make choices for themselves. Finally there exists poverty of political will and the right kind of international assistance that are not captured in the poverty measurement or the I-PRSP.

Attaining macroeconomic targets, GDP growth in particular, drives the poverty reduction agenda in the I-PRSP. In order to reduce the incidence of poverty by half by 2015 (as set by the Millennium Development Goals), the paper targets a rate of 7% GDP growth over the next 11 years. This translates to accelerating GDP growth from 1.5% per year as seen in the 1990s to 3.3% per year for 2000-2015. This is calculated by taking into consideration the relevant elasticity coefficients, measuring the responsiveness of poverty reduction to GDP growth. The idea behind this is that macroeconomic policies that increase investments will spur GDP growth and hence should be the policy objective. Privatization and liberalization for increased efficacy in productive sectors also follow the same line of argument of stimulating GDP growth. However, thirty years of worldwide experience has proven that there is no guarantee that high GDP growth will stimulate poverty reduction. Empirical evidence has shown that high poverty reduction rate has followed both moderate and high GDP growth rates and it fluctuates in various periods within the same country depending on the policies pursued.` Bangladesh experienced higher degree of poverty reduction rate, (51.7%) as calculated by percentage of population living below the poverty line during 1986-1991 when GDP growth rate was reported at 2.46% per annum. In contrast, the 1996-01 period reported a lower incidence of poverty reduction rate (49.8%) when GDP growth rate was 5.29% per annum. Similarly Ethiopia reported moderate growth rate with low poverty reduction rate while Indonesia before the financial crisis reported slower rate of poverty reduction accompanied by decline in growth and elasticity of employment.[10] This indicates that poverty reducing impact of growth will depend on characteristics of growth patterns. Degree of employment generation, the ability of the poor to benefit from these opportunities and establishing strong linkages between farm and non-farm sectors are especially important in reaping the poverty reduction benefits of growth.[11]

This has significant policy implications when combined with growing income inequality between farm and non-farm sectors. To fight incidence of higher poverty rate in agricultural sector while creating and stabilizing more accessible wage earning job opportunities there needs to be a systematic structural change in both agricultural and manufacturing sectors. Thus simply concentrating on GDP growth without robustly considering distributive aspects is ineffective and imprudent.

The current document reports poverty trends in terms of income and human poverty. For income poverty measurement, consumption expenditure is used and defended as a better indicator of permanent income status. Based on this, it reports a faster rate of poverty reduction in the nineties compared to the eighties, a trend attributable to increase in consumption expenditures. It also reports a rise in inequality that is comparatively higher in the urban areas than in rural. Rural inequality is driven by rise in non-farm enterprises, property income, earnings from non-farm employments (most disequalizing), and remittances from abroad. All of these are highly GDP elastic. On the contrary, factors that are equalizing and GDP inelastic include farm wages (most equalizing) and non-farm wages (although the latter is relatively small in proportion of total income). Sources of urban inequality are income from non-farm employment, income from rent of land and other assets, non-farm enterprises and income transfers in the forms of gifts and remittances. Equalizing factors include wage income, farm income, agricultural wages and rent from housing. Additionally, the poverty trend shows a 1% reduction in income poverty per year between 1991/92-2000 and a 2.1% rise in inequality per year in the nineties. Per capita GDP growth doubled in the nineties, increasing from an average of 1.57% to 1.01%.13

Since a tremendous amount of emphasis is given on GDP growth strategies, a discussion on the rising inequality is unavoidable. As mentioned in the document, the rise in inequality in the nineties was markedly higher than in the eighties with urban inequality rising at a considerably higher rate than rural. This inevitably offsets the achievements gained through GDP growth and poverty reduction rate and given the past performance and targeted GDP growth rate of about 7%, the number of poor people will actually increase. Kuznet’s theory on inequality is used to justify the rise of inequality during a period of accelerated growth and the manufacturing sector is given policy preference for stimulating GDP growth despite its disequalizing attributes. Nonetheless, the I-PRSP bears only an anticipatory tone in regards to combating inequality. The appropriate alternative would be to adopt a redistributive fiscal policy that emphasizes equalizing factors instead of the disequalizing factors for the sake of GDP growth. For example, non-farm enterprises could be made labor intensive, especially unskilled labor and shares of employment and wages can be increased in agricultural sectors particularly by redistributing resources among the small farmers. Non-farm economic activities are critical

in generating growth but establishing strong linkages between large and medium scale enterprises with small and informal enterprises can minimize their inequality generating attributes. Furthermore, if access of the low-income group to rural non-farm employment opportunities is ensured and prices of agricultural production is stabilized in favor of the small producers, the effect of GDP growth will be more fairly shared: “…Emphasis should be on the expansion of wage-employment and sell-employment. Widening access to should accompany the development of skill-intensive activities which are socially profitable”. 1 4


The proposed alternatives are based on organizational experience, empirical evidence and dialogue with eminent political scientists, economists, politicians, and academics.b The focus is on capacity building and ownership of development process and is based on the principles of rights, entitlements and freedoms. They fall under three major categories:

  1. People’s Empowerment
  2. Good Governance, including economic governance
  3. Demand driven quality services for the people

People’s Empowerment

This is the fundamental principle of the proposed alternatives and is the guiding element for implementation strategies. People must believe that they are the ultimate authority in determining their development destinies and they have the right as well as the power to enforce that authority. They have unlimited potential as human beings, which if nurtured will lead to enormous achievements for the nation. Decades of charity assistance and donor driven development agenda have stunted the growth of such potential by paralyzing the minds of Bangladeshis. Dependence on donation has become ingrained in the culture and people have lost faith in their own abilities. This is intrinsically linked with the most challenging problem of corruption facing the country today. When people are empowered and have ownership of the development process, they will be accountable to each other and their actions will be governed by social and moral responsibilities, which is the ultimate antidote for corruption. Thus. the nation needs to be reawakened, reminded, empowered and transformed into people who take charge of the country’s problem and solutions through creating a vision of their own. In order to depart from the traditional development paradigm, local knowledge, resources and creativity need to be capitalized and incorporated in the development strategies. Thus, for a development strategy to be truly effective and sustainable, it must emphasize on people’s empowerment and include policies that prioritize an enabling environment where they can thrive. “A person (or a group of who is (are) committed to create his/her (their) own destiny on the basis of
his/her (their) realization about latent potential can proceed to equip and enrich himself/herself (themselves) through consciously selecting the areas of action and experience in order to create ,space, for entitlement and empowerment.”16 Such a process can become self-generating and can expand into designing services that are demand driven and high in quality.

Recommended Strategies:

A.1 Incorporating Empowerment Training Program: A training program that will challenge the mindset of donor dependency through consciousness raising, confidence building and critical thinking of the self and the society need to be designed and implemented at a large scale. This program wilt be based on people’s empowerment and social responsibility and focus on their capacities and unleashing their potential as nation builders. Such program should be designed so that it is relevant and specific for people of all socioeconomic status and education levels and launched in a massive scale. It can become a standard practice in all types of civil service and government training programs as well.

Implementation: Such a program can be designed by taking best practice cases from the organizations that use such paradigms. Incorporating organizations active in different levels of the society can make the program more accessible and relevant to a wider range of people.

A.2 Informing people of their constitutional rights: People of Bangladesh are entitled to quality lives and ensured by the Constitution the rights to food, quality education, safety and well-being. This should be widely publicized and people need to be educated in citizens’ rights so that they become household information to be empowered by. This can help mobilize people to demand for fair distribution of resources and services as well as organize to take charge of their development destinies.

Implementation: Using local government institutions such as the UP will be critical for this strategy. Print and electronic media will be a powerful and necessary tool. Finally, l’or rights based approach to be fully manipulated to secure people’s access to the basic necessities. the constitutional rights, the citizen’s rights as well as the judicial and legislative mandates should become part of the standard curriculum in the educational institutions starting at an early level (primary) and gradually expanding in the subsequent stages.

A.3 Encouraging and Enabling sustainable self-employment opportunities: This should start at the union level by creating enabling institutions at the local level and including providing market access to sustain these employMents. Collective action for community improvement and development can be encouraged through the self-help group mechanism that can also generate income.

Implementation: Local government functionaries can be used to promote the idea of self-employment as well as creating an enabling environment. They can be the conduits for delivering the resources necessary for encouraging and sustaining these practices. Finally, these self-employment opportunities need to be well documented in order to strengthen and further these practices.

A .4 Overcoming Gender Injustice: Women suffer from severe discrimination, violence and abuse in Bangladesh and this is one of the key vehicles through which poverty and malnourishment is transmitted through the generations. They are marginalized as producers despite playing critical roles in both the agricultural and manufacturing sectors. It is a widely recognized fact that even though women bear equal, if not the majority share of caregiving responsibilities while actively participating in income generating activities, they receive far less than equal share of the welfare and benefits. Bangladeshi women are prime examples of feminization of poverty brought on particularly by the current global trade regime. As the major part of the labor force in the Ready Made Garments (RMG) sector, they will be affected directly once the Multi Fibre Agreement expires in 2005. Their access to education, health, credit and legal services and ability to participate in community life are also more limited than men and positively correlated with their social status. They are targets of physical and sexual violence and abuse at every level of the society and at every stage of life. Thus overcoming gender injustice and inequality requires a multi-prong, multifaceted and simultaneous strategizing. Gender sensitive strategizing is especially important for a patriarchal and religious country like Bangladesh where women bear the brunt of fundamentalism and traditional gender roles.

Implementation: Emphasis on women’s access to education, health care and credit services need to continue. Local government functionaries can play a key role in ensuring and delivering these services. While the priorities set in the I-PRSP regarding combating gender inequality are clear, there needs to be much stronger implementation of each of these priorities. For example, enforcement of the verdicts in cases of violence against women and girl children need to be speedy and forceful. In particular punishments for rape and violence against girl children need to be swift, severe and precedence setting to reduce the rapid escalation of these crimes. Recruiting more women in the police force is also very important in this regard.

In order to institutionalize gender respectful environment, remove discrimination in employment and economic opportunities and implement affirmative actions at various levels to compensate for the opportunities lost in decades of discrimination, the Judiciary and the Ministry of Women and Children’s Affairs need to become more proactive. They need to foster an environment of social movement to create awareness for women’s equal rights and prevention of violence against them.

Women need to be targeted for skills training that will enhance and formalize their income generating opportunities. Retraining the RMG sector workers is especially important at this point. Labor laws need to be strengthened further to ensure business practices that are gender sensitive. Finally women need to have fair and direct market access since they often work from home through middlemen.

A .5 Strengthening Women’s leadership: Women’s political representation is of critical importance in attaining women’s empowerment. In order to increase women’s political participation. reforms at every level of legislature need to occur. Political parties should also be required to cultivate women leadership within their parties.

Implementation: There needs to be more reserved seats in the parliament for women. Direct elections for women candidates from political parties should be gradually instituted. The reservation of one third of the seats for women in local government is a good beginning, but they are yet to be allowed effective voices in the decision-making processes. In most cases they are “show pieces” and are excluded from full participation in regular local government activities. Thus the legal provision for women’s reservation must be strengthened, and extended to include reservations in the chairs of elected bodies. One idea rotate Women’s seats on the basis of a lottery. Political parties should be required to take active roles in recruiting and encouraging women candidates to run for elections for public offices as well as within the parties.

Good Governance

Good governance is the anchor of all development activities and the lack of it is the greatest challenge facing the nation today. Governance failure has created a predatory environment penalizing those with lower means. With rampant corruption, increasing violence. break down of law and order and severe lack of political will to fight these maladies are leading the country towards a failed state. To attain an onerous goal of good governance, strategy needs to be multi-prong. The following are necessary:

Recommended Strategies:

B 1 Strong Local Democracy: Due to the closest proximity to the people, only local government institutions. especially of the lowest echelon, can be the conduits for participatory democracy at the grassroots. They must be the focal point for empowering and mobilizing people while delivering critical resources needed for an enabling environment. Government resources, power, authority and accountability must be transferred to locally accountable bodies to expand and meet the entitlements of individual agencies. NGOs and GOs should coordinate their work with such local bodies. A multi-tier system of democratic local government, designed on the principle of subsidiarity – enshrined in the United Nations World Charter of Local Self-Government where the maximum authority is vested at the lowest level must be instituted. The system should be designed to facilitate effective participation of the people in decisions that affect them. The primary responsibility of the local governance institution needs to be to awaken, mobilize and empower people for self-reliant actions using their own creativity and initially their own resources.

Implementation: The primary and most autonomous governance entity in the multi-tier system will be the Union Parishads for rural areas consisting of 5 Wards and Pauroshovas for urban areas consisting of 10 Wards. The second tier ought to be at the Upazila level consisting of 10 Unions or the District level consisting 100-150 Unions. In addition, the voters will be included in every Ward for important decision- making processes in the form of Village Forums. This Forum will meet at least once in every 3 months and will be organized by the UP. Local priorities and plan of actions will be determined and decided upon at these meetings. In addition, this will be the space for open dialogue on budget, accounting, thus ensuring accountability and transparency. The UPs will be responsible for ensuring the following:

  • Primary health care
  • Primary and secondary schools
  • Safe water
  • Sanitation
  • Skills training for income generating employment
  • Equal rights
  • Public safety.
  • Infrastructure development and communication
  • People’s participation and accountability

In addition to the above the Pauroshavas or the Municipality will be responsible for environmental conservation and parks and recreation facilities.

The Upazila Parishad will be responsible for helping the UPs execute their responsibilities. provide technical assistance, arrange for trainings for the officers and members of the UPs, conduct relief and emergency rescue operations manage Upzila hospitals and provide general assistance to the UP.

B .2 True local autonomy: Each level of local government must be free from interference from the “above,” reflecting the constitutional commitment to make elected local bodies autonomous and self-governing (Articles 9, I I, 59 and 60). As long as local government bodies are meeting basic requirements of transparency and financial accountability, they must be free to make their own decisions without interference from the bureaucracy or the Members of the Parliament (MPs). The authority of the MPs must be limited to their national legislative role, as specified in Article 65 of the Constitution, to allow true local democracy to flourish.

Implementation: Documentation, record keeping and transparency are of critical importance in ensuring insulation of the UP from the MPs. There needs to be serious punitive repercussions in the event of undue interference and violation of the Articles 9, I I, 59 or 60.

B .3 Devolution of functions and resources: A dramatic reallocation of functions and resources should be made to move them out of the central government and into the hands of local government. Funds to the local bodies should be untied and on the basis of a constitutionally mandated, predetermined formula, administered by an Independent Finance Commission.

Implementation: One bold suggestion is to allocate 40% all central revenues to the Unions, 30% to the Upazilas/District, and 30% to the Central Government. The allocation should be from a single source rather than from many Ministries, as is practice now. Funds can also be transferred to trusts set up for each local body and the access to the trust funds can be made contingent upon meeting specific transparency and accountability criterion.

A formula for transferring funds from the Center must be created taking the following four factors into account: (a) level of deprivation in the Union, (b) level of integrity of the elected leaders as determined by public accountability and expenditures, (c) funds mobilized locally, (d) a baseline minimum based on people’s rights to access to public funds.

B .4 Local tax authority and Public accountability: Unions, Paurashavas and Upazilas/Districts should have distinct authorities for levying taxes appropriate for implementing local services and development initiatives, and the Central Government should have no authority over the utilization of these funds. The local government system must be made more transparent and accountable to the people through a strong freedom of information act covering all aspects of budgeting and expenditure and requirements for quarterly public assemblies

Implementation: Open budget meetings should be held regularly where people can participate directly and exercise democratic principles in determining expenditures. Similarly, regular public forums should be held to determine priority areas and plan of actions. Taxation rates and mechanism should also be determined and exercised locally through open public meetings and should be subject to annual reviews by the same body. Each level of government will be subject to publicly disclosed independent audits supervised by an Independent Finance Commission.

B .5 Economic Governance: Good economic governance requires allocation of resources based on policy-directed priorities rather than on whims of policymakers or to provide patronage to the vested interest. Thus, in order to successfully reduce poverty the priorities set under the PRSP must be translated into actual allocations of funds.

Implementation: The best way for fair economic governance is decentralized allocation of resources based on needs and performance. At the grassroots, the UPs will receive a federal budget to run its programs and administration as determined by the people. Similarly, the Upazilas or the districts will receive adequate funds to run bigger facilities, etc.

B .6 Coordination of NGO action: All NGOs will be encouraged to make the local bodies the locus of leadership for mobilization and action to empower the people including encouraging to do everything they can to strengthen the capacities of local government institutions.

Implementation: All local government bodies will be encouraged to provide a forum for civil society organizations and coordinate their activities.

B .7 Establishing Rule of law: Good governance requires rule of law and equality of opportunities for all, especially for the less privileged. Rule of law includes but not limited to ensuring personal safety and freedom and enabling people to pursue their visions and aspirations. Absence or lack of proper enforcement of the law tends to favor the rich and the powerful and marginalize the resource poor population the most. Unfortunately, neither transition from autocracy to democracy nor changes in regimes have brought about qualitative changes in governance in our country.I7 Thus the establishment of rule of law must become one of the highest priorities of the proposed strategy.

Corruption is the most persistent challenge facing the country today. Transparency International has ranked Bangladesh as the most corrupt country in the world, three years in a row. Corruption undermines democracy and hinders economic growth. Democracy cannot thrive without effective mechanisms to remove and prevent corruption. The persistence of corruption reinforces a feudal, anti-democratic mindset and erodes confidence in state institutions. Corruption also leads to distorted allocation of resources and waste of material resources hindering economic growth. According to some estimates, elimination of corruption could add 2-3 percent to Bangladesh’s GDP growth. The World Bank reported that every year the country loses $500 million in revenue income, $100 million in power sector and Tk. 30-45 crores in public procurement due to corruption. Cost of doing business is high due to informal tolls collected at various levels and by various people, as well as the extensive bureaucratic red-tape that requires bribes and extortions to hoop through.

Corruption also discriminates against the less privileged. Owing to corruption and inefficiency, costs of basic services to the less privileged in many cases are higher than that for the rich. For example, according to a recent survey, slum dwellers in some areas of Dhaka get access to illegally supplied electricity from evening until 5 AM at a monthly cost of Tk. 50 per bulb, whereas the people living in the affluent neighborhoods such as Gulshan residents pay Tk. 13-15 for the same service but for 24 hours. Similarly. slum dweller without regular and legal water connections pay Tk. 2 for each bucket of water while the rich in Baridhara pay only Tk. 4.33 per 1,000 litres.” Gas prices for the fiscal year 2003-2004 was also increase indiscriminately. The rates are based on the number of burners reported by the households. In essence a restaurant that uses a two-burner stove all day will pay the same price as a low-income family that turns on their two-burner stove once a day. Thus elimination of corruption in the policy making process must be of high priority if we are to be serious about eradicating poverty.

Implementation: An Independent Anti-Corruption Commission and Appointment of an Ombudsman with direct access to the judiciary for rapid review and action against any acts of corruption. They should be insulated from political influences and strictly protected from private interests. It must be pointed out that the appointment of an Ombudsman is a constitutional mandate. There should be transparency of income sources of government officials to reveal and prevent corrupt practices. Finally, decentralization and devolution of the bureaucracy with direct accountability to the immediate constituency will help check corruption.

B .8 The Parliament must be mademore effective: Vigorous Parliamentary oversight is needed to combat many of the ills that engulf our structure and process of governance. The MPs need to concentrate on their legislative duties instead of getting involved themselves in political mudslinging.

Implementation: The Parliament can be made more effective by forming Parliamentary Standing Committees and arming the legislators with the necessary training and required facilities. Again. an independent judiciary is critical so that the MPs can be held accountable to their constitutional mandates and penalized when they are not.

B .9 Separation of Powers and Reform in the three branches of the government: The three branches of the government need to be separated immediately. Although prioritized in the PRSP, the separation of the Judiciary is yet to be pursued in a meaningful way. The latter is of utmost importance in attaining an activist court system necessary for combating corruption and holding government officials and public servants accountable.

Implementation: An independent Judiciary is of urgent necessity for the country. There needs to be powerful Parliamentary Standing Committees in order to hold the Executive branch accountable. The legislators need to be trained/re-trained of their obligations and constitutional mandates. Punishment for violation of the rules of conduct should be serious. Finally the MPs should be obligated to reveal their assets and income sources every year.

B .10 Electoral Reform: Although Bangladesh has held regular elections at different levels, there were political manipulation, extortion, corruption and violence in almost each of them. The recent public assassination of popular MP Mr. Ahsanullah Master during his election campaign is a prime example of complete anarchy that sometimes pervades in the politics today. There are critical reforms necessary to ensure free and fair elections.

Implementation: The Election Commission needs to be strengthened first and foremost. It should have financial and personnel independence and have complete insulation from partisan politics. They should be given the authority to dispatch law enforcement troupes during elections, designating specific duties.

Candidates running for offices should be required to reveal information on their assets. sources of income, criminal records and qualifications. This should be widely disseminated before the elections so that the electorates can make informed decisions. The list of their assets should be updated annually. Candidates with previous criminal records should be prohibited from running for public offices. India has set a remarkable precedence in this regard by requiring information of candidates to be made public before the elections. It is currently investigating its ministers and MPs and persecuting the officials with criminal records and/or allegations.

Political party registration is another necessity to ensure against graft and corruption. Every political party should be registered and the renewal of their registration should be contingent upon satisfactory performance annually. Their performance will include audit reports showing their finances, sources of income and expenditures and the quality, of elections within the parties. The Election Commission can be in charge of overseeing this annual registration procedure.

Finally, women’s representation needs to be increased at the local governmental level as well as in the parliament. All the strategies outlined in the I-PRSP to make women’s representation meaningful need to be strongly enforced. Reserved Parliamentary seats need to be increased for women and direct elections should be an important goal to work towards.

B .11 Reform of the law enforcement agencies: Law enforcement agencies are known to be corrupt and inefficient in Bangladesh with direct political patronage. As a result, there is very little public safety and injustice is rampant. The Judicial reforms can be effective only when its enforcement arm is honest and bold. The magnitude of corruption in the police force is severe and demands immediate reforms.

Implementation: The system of law enforcement must be reformed to increase the local accountability and supervision of the police by locally elected civil authorities, per Article 59 (2) of the Constitution. The quality of training, both in police work and in the understanding of the role of the police in a democratic society based on human rights must be enhanced. The law enforcement agencies should be insulated from any political manipulation and be allowed to pursue criminals without any hesitations.

Community policing should be encouraged. A locally owned and managed group that oversees public safety is an innovative way to provide public safety for a community. This entity can be accountable to the residents of the UP or the Municipality it is located in and will he linked but remain separate from the police precinct.

There should also be good rehabilitation programs for people released from the prisons as well as employment opportunities for “economic criminals”.

B.12 Re-education of the Civil Service Personnel: In order to catalyze true devolution of the bureaucracy, the civil service officers need to be shifted to different roles. Hence, they need to be retrained and a large number of Dhaka-based civil servants will have to be absorbed by the local government.

Demand driven quality services for the people

Education, health care, credit access, skills training, infrastructure development and market access should be demand driven and not designed by the elite government officials and academics only. Needs assessment should be a regular component of annual budget, review and evaluation of programs and services provided by the government. Currently the critical services where the government plays indispensable roles are of very poor quality if not at the brink of collapse. These include but not limited to public health, public education, environmental management, transportation and postal services.

Recommended Strategies:

C .1 Primary and secondary education: Rural education system has been collapsing rapidly as the quality and administration have been deteriorating. The schools in the rural areas receive very little resources and the teachers are often very poorly trained. The teachers take on the role of administrators and bureaucrats and they are not accountable to the local people but to the education ministries. The Madrasa curriculum is isolated and antiquated, depriving and paralyzing the minds of thousands of children. The standard of Bengali medium school is very poor and inadequate to meet the demands and challenges of the twenty first century. There needs to be an overhaul of the curriculum, harmonization of the curriculum of different types of education, i.e., Madrasa. English and Bengali mediums and enforcement of local accountability.

Implementation: Placing greater resources for education and increased local accountability in the hands of local government will greatly improve the quality of rural education. Special training materials should be provided to Upazila/District level Education Boards to support them set standards and enhance the quality of primary and secondary education.

Parent-Teacher Associations (PTA) need to be instituted at every school so that the parents can be an active component of their children’s education. The teachers need to be prevented from playing administrative roles and be accountable to•the local School governing body and the PTA.

An Institute of Excellence needs to be created for higher education to ensure quality at the University level as well as identify, reward and foster well functioning, successful educational institutions. The curriculum of the public school system needs to undergo serious review to raise standards of education at each level. Currently the pedagogy encourages rote learning and offers no room for critical thinking. It is far behind in science and technology instruction. Vocational education needs to be mainstreamed and should be one of the choices available starting at the secondary level. Technical educational institutions should be as attractive an option as any other mediums if the trainings are relevant and demand driven and job placement opportunities are provided

C .2 Primary health: A good public health care system is the best insurance against health related vulnerabilities that the poor people suffer from. A diverse range of preventative and curative health care measures are necessary to address Bangladesh’s public health needs. As with education, greater local accountability and more resources under the control of local bodies are critical to improving the quality of health care. Central government should set standards and provide resources to ensure delivery of the primary and emergency care. The spread of H1V/AIDS is a growing concern as the country is very ill equipped in dealing with this dangerous disease. There needs to be large-scale public awareness campaign to prevent the transmission of the virus. Currently there is no serious public health policy regarding the prevention of a disease that can easily turn into an epidemic.

Implementation: Again, the UPS can be critical in ensuring quality public health and delivering services to people. Decentralization of resources should be contingent upon the UPs fulfilling requirement that they establish and supervise a Health and Family Welfare Center and that every Upazila/Zila establishes and supervises a Health Complex. Publicly employed medical professionals must be prohibited from private pracitces, and Upazila/Zila-level inspectors must be held publicly accountable to ensure these regulations and the enforcement of standards. Unions and Upazila/Zila Parishads can be encouraged to contract with NGOs and other civil service organizations for the provision of health and educational services through a publicly transparent cost/benefit decision process.

C .3 Efficient development and utilization of infrastructure facilities: Impact of infrastructure development on poverty is well documented. Investments in roads and electricity will be beneficial at many levels. For example electricity helps reduce irrigation costs, modernize rural industries, and contribute to more efficient work hours in commercial enterprises. The poultry sector especially benefited from electricity expansion in the nineties. Thus electrification of the country needs to be prioritized especially in the areas where roads are developed in order to promote market access, facilitate trade and strengthen urban-rural linkages. Improved road access can increase the diversification of product cultivation as better transport can contribute to the trading of perishable items. In addition, we need to efficiently use some of the existing infrastructure facilities. Currently many of those facilities are serious drains on the national exchequer. For example, because of the mismanagement of Chittagong port, the country loses about $900 million a year, which is nearly 14% of our yearly proceeds from exports.

Implementation: Whether it is constructing Upazila/District-wide storage facilities. feeder roads, or rail and water transport Upazila/Zila Parishads should be given the authority to form Development Commissions to optimize infrastructure development for maXimum economic growth. Emphasis must be given to higher-level infrastructure such as electricity and information technology rather than the traditional wheat-based brickwork and earth \\ ork. Upazila/Zila Parishads should have the authority to issue interest-bearing Upazila/Zila Development Bonds supported by tax levies as a vehicle for mobilizing local savings and foreign remittances for development.

C .4 Universal access to rural banking services: Rural people can only generate wealth when they are supported by reliable facilities for savings and credit. Microcredit facilities need to be improved to reach the extreme poor and the programs need to be checked against illegal, abusive and manipulative business practices.

Implementation: Microcredit institutions should publish public annual reports stating their income, business practices and policies. Small-scale urban enterprises can especially benefit from microenterprise loans which can also help reduce urban-rural inequality by generating wage employment. The Finance Ministry and the Bangladesh Bank must specify a pathway by which grassroots people and/or local government structures can establish informal village banking structures and then develop them over time into formally recognized banks. Finally, the larger banking institutions can widen their lending program by adopting microcredit programs. This will help broaden credit access to the population yet to benefit from microcredit facilities, vis a vis the extreme poor .

C .5 Communication/Information technology: Better access to marketing and trading opportunities and information is critical especially for the rural population. Technology is needed to integrate local economy with the national economy and the international market. Finally Bangladesh is in dire need of research and development in developing better quality seeds, labor-intensive manufacturing with backward linkages, and prevention of common infectious diseases.

Implementation: A Task Force must be convened to adopt public standards for Bangla on the internet. Universities and colleges must be encouraged to bring information technology to the people. Business houses must be encouraged for establishing Bangla-language trading sites. Rural people must be educated in computer operations and be given easy access to computers and the information superhighway.

C .6 Sustainable use of natural resources and Environmental Management: The link between poverty and environmental degradation is a direct one. It is no surprise that Bangladesh is experiencing rapid environmental degradation ranging from severe air, water and noise pollution to erosion, deforestation, depletion of the mangrove forests in the Sundarban•. severe sedimentation of the rivers and river basins, etc. The damages caused by floods are becoming increasingly extensive as the rivers and flood plains are not managed and taken care of properly.

Additionally, the river tributaries in the urban areas are being filled up and developed, sometimes illegally by the real estate developers, blocking off all the water outlets. All of these threaten public health and the sheer existence of the country. Therefore, the conservation policy is of utmost urgency.

Implementation: Experiences in South Asia and elsewhere show that when natural resources like the forests and water are better used and protected when managed by local people and user groups. Local committees of people who are most directly affected by the depletion of these natural resources must be given the rights, responsibilities and necessary support for their management. The vast amount of water resources can be used creatively to generate energy, income-generating opportunities and provide better irrigation system especially during the dry season and in the northern areas. The National Environmental Management Plan (NEMAP) needs to incorporate measures to prevent dangerous and illegal occupation of water bodies by businesses and prioritize a permanent solution to floods by using local experiences and knowledge. Bilateral negotiations with India are also very important for water management.

Summary of Alternative ,Strategies

IncorporatingEmpowerment Training Programs.Compiling strategies from Best Practice cases from organizations involved in people’s empowerment initiatives to design acomprehensive program-Overcoming the sense of dependency and resignation and develop a sense of social responsibility-To generate socialmobilization based on rights and entitlements-Create a populace educated in their constitutional rights and responsibilities-Collective actions for community betterment through self reliant and sustainable employment creationA broad based campaign to create awareness to transform the conditions of women
Incorporate these trainings at various governmental, non- governmental and private training programs
Massive implementation using local government institutions
Informing people of their constitutional rightsIncorporate information on Constitutionally mandated rights in the curriculum of the public school system
Use local government institutions to inform people of their rights and responsibilities
Use print and electronic media for massive dissemination of information on rights and responsibilities of the State and the citizen
Encouraging and enabling sustainable self-employment opportunities.Organize and enable people to identify income generating opportunities in their own communities
Use the UPs to help mobilize resources for starting localbusinesses which should include facilitating fair credit access and market access to make these businesses sustainable
Publication of Union-wise periodic list of individuals and groups creating income generating self-employment and self-help groups
Strategies Overcoming Gender Injustice.ActionsCreation of a strong Affirmative Action program to ensure • preferential access to healthservices. education andemployment for women. This should include a quota system at higher education opportunities and employment in both public and private sectors
Expeditious enforcement of the Speedy Trial Act for violenceagainst women and children need to be more expedient and thepunishments severe. The families of the victims who often suffer threats from the perpetrators also need to be protected
Expeditious enforcement of the verdicts of these trials
Strengthening Women’s leadershipIncreasing women’s reserved seats in the Parliament
Requiring nominations of women candidates by the political parties in party elections to encourage women’s leaderships
Work towards direct elections of women representatives
Strong Local Democracy –Passage of a comprehensive local government law incorporating a bold program for decentralization and devolution of authorities and functions. public accountability, strengthening the system ofwomen’s reservation, elimination of supervision and control of the bureaucracy and of the MPs-Strong local governance, decentralization of resource management and service delivery-A democratic government that encourages participatory and accountable practices, local leadership and action
Cancellation of the Official Secrecy Act, 1923
A comprehensive training program to enhance the competence and capacity of local bodies
True local autonomyTransfer of specific functions and responsibilities to local authorities and insulating these bodies from political influences from the MPs and other government functionaries. Use of strongpunitive measures for unconstitutional interferences of the MPs and government officials
Devolution of functions and resourcesTransfer based on a set of transparent criteria, a • constitutionally mandated, predetermined proportion of national resources to local bodies
Local tax authority and Public accountabilityRegular Open Budget Meetings at Union and L:pzila levels
Audits by the Independent Finance Commission
Economic GovernancePassage of a Right to Information law requiring disclosures of expenditures and operations of all government programs
Holding quarterly publicassemblies at Unions to ensure transparency and accountability
Coordination of NGO actionUse of NGOs as part of the service delivery mechanism. Coordinating and organizing their actions by sectors are essential. The NGO bureau can help streamline their activities
Establishing/Enforcing Rule of lawCreation of a strong Independent Anti-Corruption Commission
Making local bodies responsible for maintaining public order
Effective ParliamentCreation of stronger and more accountable Parliamentary Standing Committees through actively relegating more responsibilities. The committees should be responsible for checking and assisting the Executive branch
Disclosure of the sources of income and assets of the MPs on a regular basis
Separation of PowersImmediate separation of the Judiciary
Restricting the Legislative branch from interfering in judicial issues
Electoral ReformsStrengthening the Election Commission in order to make it truly independent and impartial
Mandatory political partyregistration contingent on annual audits
Mandatory disclosure of assets and income, criminal records and qualifications of candidates running for public offices
Reform of the law enforcement agenciesInsulation of the law enforcement agencies from political parties, MPs and government officials through transparent practices and severe punitive measures when such involvements are revealed
Educating law enforcementofficials in human rights and rights of prisoners and detainees
Community policing that is locally administered. managed and monitored
Educational ReformsAnnual Needs Assessments for every Union conducted through the UP bodies-Actual allocation of resources for the people in poverty-A program to impart skills training to the rural people-Fair and dependable banking system serving the rural people- Elimination of inefficiency and indiscipline at ports and other important facilities- Actual user groups managing and protecting natural resources
Periodic report cards byIndependent Citizen Bodies and public accountability of inspectors for education and health careservices
Use of NGOs to provide services on contract basis
Primary HealthProhibiting health professionals from providing private services
Efficient development and utilization of infrastructure facilities .Formation of Development Commissions at local level for local level planning of infrastructure development. This body should conduct needs asses and make direct recommendations to the government to mobilize resources for specific projects.
Universal access to rural banking servicesExpansion of microcredit programs for extreme poor
Requirin2 microcredit service providers to publish annual reports
Expansion of financial services to encourage local enterprises
Communication/Information technologyActively use the world wide web for dissemination of critical information on market access, agrobusiness and international trade
Making information available in Bangla and/or local dialect
Sustainable use of natural resources and , Environmental ManagementCreation of a strong Environmental Protection Agency
Use of the judiciary and the law enforcement agency to prevent and contain exploitation of natural resources


[1] This paper is an elaboration of the paper Poverty Reduction. Local Government and El/W(111’0’171CW of the People: in Alternative Development Strategy for Bangladesh by Dr. Badiul Alam Majumdar prepared for The Hunger Project Bangladesh

[2] Bangladesh: A National Strategy for Economic Growth, Poverty Reduction and Social Development: Chapter 1: Introduction, pg. I .

[3] Total includes government officials and members of the civil society, not shown in this table. From Consultation with the Poor and with Representatives of the Government, Civil Society and NG0s., pg. 4.

[4] Bangladesh: A National Strategy for Economic Growth, Poverty Reduction and Social Development. Executive Summary, pg. 64.

[5] Bangladesh: A National Strategy for Economic Growth, Poverty Reduction and Social Development. Executive Summary, pg.35.

[6] Bangladesh: A National Strategy for Economic Growth, Poverty Reduction and Social Development. Executive Summary, pg. vi.

[7] As narrated by Dr. Anisur Rahman at the Annual conference of Bangladesh Economic Association, Dhaka, June, 2004.

[8] Poverty in Bangladesh: Extend and Evolution by Quentin T. Wodon, The Bangladesh Development Studies, Vol XXIII, Sept-Dec. 1995, Nos. 3 & 4

[9] Islam, R.,(2004) The ,VeNits- of Economic Growth, Employment and Poverty Reduction: in Empirical Analysis.Draft paper for Recovery and Reconstruction Department, ILO. Geneva

[10] Rahman, Rushidan and Islam, N., Employment Poverty Linkages: Bangladesh: Issues in Employment and Poverty, The World Bank and Bureau of Economic Research

[12] Islam, R.,(2004) The :Nexus of Economic Growth. Employment and Poverty Reduction: Empirical Analysis. Draft paper for Recovery and Reconstruction Department, ILO, Geneva

[12] Khan, A.R., What. Can Be Done to Contain Rising Inequality in Bangladesh? Seminar on Accelerating Growth and Poverty Reduction in Bangladesh, The World Bank and Bureau of Economic Research, University of Dhaka, 2003

[13] Osmani. S,R„ Mahmud, W., Seri, B.,Dagdeviren, H., Seth, A., The .Macroeconomics of Poverty Reduction: The Case Study qf Bangladesh by UNDP, Pg. 19. September 2003.

[14] Khan„A.R., What Can Be Done to Contain Rising Inequality in Bangladesh? Seminar on Accelerating Growth and Poverty Reduction in Bangladesh, The World Bank and Bureau of Economic Research, University of Dhaka, 2003, pg. 15

[15] Includes Dr. Muzzaffer Ahmed. Dr. M.M. Akash, Mr. Nitin Desai, Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, Dr. Anisur Rahman.

[16] Muzaffer Ahmed, “Changing a Limping Mule into a Fighting Horse: Local Governance in Bangladesh,” October 2002 (mimeo), p. 9.

[17]  See “Pauper Politics Piques Good Governance,” The Daily Star. October 15,2002.

[18] The World Bank Country Director, Frederick Temple, quoted in “Pauper Politics Piques Good Governance,” The Daily Star, October 15, 2002.

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