The Local Governance Support Project (LGSP) is the centrepiece of a broader program to strengthen accountable forms of local governance across Bangladesh. The LGSP provided matching grants and capacity building support to Union Parishads (UPs), which is the lowest tier of rural local government bodies. The project was initiated in July 2006 and in the final year (FY11), it has covered nearly 97% of the 4500 UPs. Each year the UPs are audited, and those that receive a clean audit received an expanded block grant. The LGSP is the first project of its kind in Bangladesh that supported systemic, country-wide reforms in the system of local governance.
Learning from the field:
An implementation support mission was carried out in October 2010 that included intensive field visits, discussion with UP functionaries, communities, reviewing UP documents and visiting schemes implemented by LGSP funds. Mr. Shykh Seraj, a renowned TV journalist accompanied the team for learning about this activity. Mr. Seraj is broadcasting a weekly program called “Amader Union” or ‘Our Union’ that showcase how UPs are supporting rural development and empowering rural poor to hold UPs accountable for better services.
These visits revealed that the UPs have become the focal point for local development activities; they are being responsive to community demands and promoting participatory planning, implementation and monitoring process. In fact, the UP functionaries and communities felt that the main LGSP objectives of establishing accountable and responsive local governments are being achieved. First, the UPs become responsible as they receive discretionary funds directly in their bank accounts and are subject to annual audits that measure their performance. LGSP also mandates participatory budgeting, scheme formulation and implementation, thereby established deeper engagement with communities and the behavior of both UPs and communities have changed for the better. The discretionary funds enable UPs to discuss with communities for fulfilling local needs on an urgent basis, which was not possible before.
Secondly, the annual UP audits, conducted by private CA firms has been a great learning experience. During the first year of LGSP, majority of UPs were apprehensive of audits based on previous experiences with C&AG audit, where the findings were not shared with them and they did not know what they were doing correctly and where they made mistakes. Many UPs left their areas. On the other hand, the LGSP audits by private sector Chartered Accounting (CA) firms shared the detailed finding with UP, indicating the mistakes and how to make corrections. The UPs now welcome the auditors and these indicate the systemic and behavior changes of UPs and national level agencies. Chartered Account firm audits also cover all UP funds and are accepted by other agencies and this reduced duplication of efforts. The UPs are also conducting tax assessments and tax collection has increased during the LGSP period.
Innovative activities by UPs for employment generation:
It was heartening to see innovative activities undertaken by the functionaries of Majidpur UP in Titas Upazila. Titas is a floodplain, where vast area goes under water during monsoon. During meeting with the community, one elderly man Mr. Mobarak Ali stated that “we have only two seasons – flood and drought.” During monsoon, most area goes under water and houses become like island and there are no agricultural activities. In the winter, the mighty river Gomti become lean and drought sets in. Deep tubewells (DTW) are not allowed in this area due to high level of arsenic in the ground water, so farmers use low-lift pumps for getting irrigation water from river for their land. The chairman of the UP, used LGSP funds and voluntary labor to improve livelihood of the villagers.
One of the activities undertaken in Shahapur village was to build roads connecting isolated house and this created lot of ponds. The UP established cooperatives of unemployed youth and who turned these ponds into fish farms. They are also cultivating drought resisting vegetables and crops during winter. Zainab Begum, a resident of Shahapur village said during consultation “before we had to take boats to a long distance to towns to buy vegetables and fish for our consumption. Now we have our own vegetables and fish, and are able to sell surplus to other places.”
The local market, known as Lalpur Bazaar has become a bustling commercial area. LGSP funds were used to construct market shed, market roads and infrastructure. To serve women’s needs, the UP also built secluded bathing place with steps for women by the river. Women said that before they had to walk in knee-deep mud to get to the river, now they can easily take their bath and wash clothes in the clean bathing place, constructed by LGSP funds.
Communities demanded LGSP practices in other UP activities:
In Sundalpur UP, Daudkandi Upazila, communities complained about a road that was constructed with other government funds. They stated that though there was need for a culvert for drainage, it was not built due to fund shortage. Now there is water stagnation during winter and villages are not able to cultivate winter crops. They stated that if participatory process of LGSP were used, this could not have happened. Some also complained that they have not received Farmer’s Card. The UP chair explained that the farmers who have shallow pump will receive these cards on a priority basis. Communities were happy with UP for their various services, especially LGSP process and its need based schemes, birth registration and conflict resolution services. The UPs organize weekly village court and resolve local disputes.
UP level coordination: The Jagatpur UP, Titas Upazila, has established a UP level coordination committee, consisting of 19 members. This was facilitated by JICA funded PRDP-2 project. Though the project has ended, the UP is continuing with the process, as they are able to discuss the local development issues and take decision together. The UP functionaries are satisfied to have deeper engagement with the community, as the local leaders are no longer perceived as “touts”.
Coordination with line ministries:
The communities mentioned that before LGSP, UP functionaries usually did not come to office regularly and coordination with staff of line ministries, especially, agriculture, livestock, fisheries, heath, education, water and sanitation was limited. However, as LGSP fund is given directly to UP bank account, the responsibility now lies with UPs, and they are in office every day. As a result, extension staffs from other ministries are also working from the UP complex and coordination has improved. We found UP complexes bustling with different activities such as training on fisheries, vaccination of livestock, distribution of safety net (VGD, VGF, and elderly allowance), birth registration, and it seemed UPs have become the center of local development activities. Based on local needs, some UPs are allocating funds for activities of other ministries – e.g. vaccine for livestock and poultry, schools and clinic repair, furniture for schools, furniture and books for local libraries etc.