The current budget (FY10) expects a significant increase in revenue collection, a perennial problem in the country. The target revenue was set at 610.00 billion taka ($8.8 billion) with 261.10 billion collected in the first half and the remaining 348.90 billion in the second. The realization of this target requires a year on-y growth of 16.15%, which, being a notable departure from the trend growth rates was received with sheer skepticism from the economic observers of the country. However, about 33.67% more revenue has to be collected in the second half of the fiscal year as compared to the first half which seems realistic in the light of the fiscal performances of the last 5 fiscal years.
They looked up shyly as I entered the class room. Curious eyes focused on me, as I bend to sit on the jute mat on the floor, careful not to step on all the books in front of us. They were learning about the difference between "ship" and "sheep" – the difference in pronunciation, spelling and meaning.
I stole a look around the classroom – it was a small dingy room with bamboo walls and a thatched roof – but in spite of the surroundings, the children had put in their best efforts to liven things up. Colorful paintings of flowers, fruits, trees and birds were hung up all around – vivid splashes of red, green, fuchsia and sky blue. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a painting of a woman in an orange sari, balancing a pitcher of water on her hips, a plump mango in her hand, a wide grin on her face framed by long flowing black hair.
These must be the images and colors of their dreams, I thought. They were the children of Ananda Schools - Learning Centers known as the Schools of Joy.
|Photo Copyright of Jugantor|
Have you ever tried explaining to non-economists what the consequences of resource misallocation can be for the economy?
What will happen if you invest enough in some sectors and too little in others? The answer is likely to be that you have enough production in sectors where you got your investments right and too little in the under-invested sectors. That may be correct in some cases, but it ignores the interdependence between the adequately invested and underinvested sectors. As a result, you may have too little production in the sectors where you have invested enough because you have too little production in the sectors you have neglected to invest.
In 2000, 192 countries and 23 international organizations agreed to work towards fulfilling the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015. Although progress has been uneven between regions and much remains to be done, global poverty rates have been reduced from 52% of the world’s population living under $1.25 a day in 1981 to 26% in 2008.
Bangladesh has been quite successful through taking a multifaceted approach into achieving these goals. Initiatives such as Notun Jibon which means “New Life” in Bengali not only have emphasized community driven development but also stresses the role of women in education and the community decision making process. The country has already achieved gender parity in primary and secondary schooling and is on track to meet the majority of the MDG’s such as halving infant and maternal mortality rates by 2015.
I moved to Bangladesh 3 years ago with a lot of excitement as I considered it a sort of mini-laboratory for development theory and practice.
My task was to oversee the Bangladesh portfolio from a social perspective. From day one, there was one issue that came up in almost all projects: land acquisition and resettlement. Once can expect this, given high population densities in a small country. Surprisingly, while there is a lot of debate about shortages of power and electricity for Bangladesh development, little attention is paid to the land issue. But all infrastructure has a footprint and access to land is complex.
This huge challenge was matched by a dearth of professionals to manage social risks. While the market for such services is growing, there was no institution to train people in those disciplines in the country. I could have continued to hire foreign consultants, but that didn’t seem very smart in the long run. So I thought: “let’s establish a course in a local university that would create that capacity over time and train a cadre of professionals capable of conducting a serious social impact assessment, carry out a good consultation process or design a solid resettlement action plan”. My intention was to fill a systemic gap. That could only happen over time, and it could only happen via local institutions.
And so I did.
The Bangladesh Local Governance Support Project (LGSP) was initiated in 2005 when local leaders voiced their demand for discretionary funds among others to serve their constituencies at a meeting. Union Parishad (UP) is the lowest tier of rural local government has a history over 170 years and held regular elections, however, UPs never received direct funding.
Funds were previously allocated by line ministries at the Upazila (sub-district) level for certain activities; neither the local government (UP) nor local people had a say on their own development priorities. The UP act of 1983 designated 38 mandates on the UP, but made no fund provision for carrying out those mandates. The average population of an UP was about 35,000 and UPs are the closest service delivery institutes to citizens. In 1998, an UP amendment ensured direct election of women in three seats.
While the Minister of Local Government was supportive of the project, most of the national political leaders (ministers, members of parliament) and bureaucrats were against autonomous local governments. Nationwide consultations were organized between local leaders and communities, supported by civil society, for mobilizing a united voice of local needs and incorporating these in the project design. It was a challenging time with episodes of violence.
Is it an employment program? Is it an anti-poverty program? Is it a safety net? Is it a disaster management program, is it…..? Actually, it’s all of these. Public works programs are both good development and good politics. India’s National Employment Guarantee Scheme (now called the Mahatma Gandhi EGS) , despite its implementation challenges, is fast becoming the stuff international lore is made of.
Demographers talk of the diffusion effects of ideas of low fertility and other behaviors. And while South Asian countries have a history of public works programs as safety nets – a history that actually goes back to the Maurya Empire in circa 3rd century BC - the diffusion effect of NREGS across South Asia is apparent. This is as much due to the urgent employment needs in all countries in the region, as due to the fact that the Congress victory in India was purported to have hinged significantly on NREGS.
Fundamental rights in most South Asian countries include freedom of movement – you can go where you want, when you want within a country. But for the majority of South Asian girls and women the reality is very different – they need permission to go almost anywhere. Now, does this stem from norms of patriarchal control or a rational response to threat of physical harm? I like to believe the two are mutually reinforcing. When families are afraid of what will happen to their daughters when they go out alone, they tend to be over-protective or over-controlling. This is certainly what happened to me and my peers as we grew up in Delhi in the 70s and 80s. While many more women are out in public spaces now, the very fact of this visibility is often a trigger for violence. Fewer than half of married women surveyed in Pakistan or Bangladesh feel safe moving alone outside their village or settlement, even during the day (World Bank 2006, 2008).
Safety and security of women in public spaces is seen often as a right, which indeed it is, but, lack of it is also a huge impediment to accessing a range of services and markets – for instance, health care, education and employment. In Pakistan and India, one of the reasons why girls drop out of school after puberty and especially when secondary schools are located a long walk away, is the fear of violence en route.
After Iraq, South Asia is the second most violent place on earth. Conflict has increased in South Asia during the last decade. Where is conflict concentrated? What can be done about it?
Conflict is a very broad term, which is often defined differently in different contexts and data sets. We can, however, consider two broad classes of conflict. The first category includes conflict against the State. Examples of this include civil war or terrorism, which is an extreme manifestation of conflict, and it reflects a certain degree of organization of conflict. It is carried out by a relatively organized group of non-state actors, and directed against the State. Some researchers choose to focus on terrorism as a measure of conflict, because it has implications for the overall stability of the state itself, and therefore its ability to implement any developmental policy. The second category includes people-to-people conflict, rather than directed against the State. Examples of this include localized land conflicts, religious riots, homicides or other crimes. They too have adverse implications for development, but are probably less severe, compared to terrorism.
In the book, The Idea of Justice, Amartya Sen motivates the discussion on the importance of processes and responsibilities by relying on an example. In the Gita (part of the Mahabharata), on the eve of the crucial battle episode in the epic, Arjuna expresses his doubts about leading the fight which will result in so much killing. Lord Krishna, tells him that he, Arjuna, must perform his duty, that is, to fight. And to fight, irrespective of the consequences.
Krishna’s blessing of the demands of duty is meant to win the argument from a religious perspective. But most of us would share Arjuna’s concerns about the fact that, if the war were to occur, with him leading the charge on the side of justice and propriety, many people would get killed. He himself would be doing a lot of the killing, often of people for whom he had affection.