The Constitution of Bangladesh assigns virtually all public services most important to overcoming hunger and poverty to the level of government closest to the people – the Union Parishad (UP). The Hunger Project has made strengthening the effectiveness and responsiveness of UPs a cornerstone of its SDG Union Strategy and its policy advocacy.
“Governance” is not just government. Good local governance requires the partnership of three key groups:
- democratically elected UP representatives,
- government functionaries responsible for providing public services, devolved from the line ministries such as health, education and agriculture.
- active citizens, who directly participate in setting priorities, planning, implementing and monitoring public services.
Despite the call for strong decentralization in the Constitution, the UPs have been very weak, with only a tiny share of public resources and little local autonomy in decision making. The Hunger Project strongly advocated for policy changes to strengthen the UPs, and in 2007 our country director was appointed to a task force to rewrite the law. Several innovations that we had pioneered in Unions where we worked were incorporated in the law:
- Ward Shava (assemblies) for participatory priority setting
- Creation of UP Five-Year Plans based on ward priorities
- Publication of Annual Reports on progress against plans
- Open Budget Meetings
- Right to Information
- Citizen Charter (publication of service standards and contact information
- Citizen membership on UP Standing Committees for each public service.
Governments rarely voluntary implement participatory and social accountability measures. We made demonstrating their success central to our then-MDG now SDG Union Strategy. We developed transformative workshops and other activities for all three groups (Representatives, Functionaries, Active Citizens) to break the old Top-Down mindset and deepen democratic values. These include:
- A 5-day UP Workshop for both representatives and functionaries, building on our Animator training and adding statutory information.
- A 1-day Citizenship Workshop
- A 2-day training for Right to Information Defenders.
- Mobilizing participation in Ward Shava, Open Budget Meetings and other public forums.
- Mobilizing Mass Action Campaigns to achieve priorities that can be met through “people-power” self-reliant efforts, such as repairing roads, improving sanitation and refurbishing classrooms.