In Bangladesh, locally-led development delivers what people need

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Grants for local government in Bangladesh has empowered them to build things like rural bridges and deliver what people need In Bangladesh, the World Bank supported the local governments like Union Parishads and Pourashavas are making a real impact with locally led development projects.

In Bangladesh, locally led development is delivering real and much needed benefits. In recent years, Union Parishads, which are rural local governments, have received block grants (discretionary, un-earmarked grants) from a Local Governance Support Project (LGSP) to fund both typical investments such as upgrades to rural roads or extensions to primary schools and more innovative local solutions to development. For example, in Madhyapara Union Parishad, in Northeast Bangladesh, where flooding often cuts off access to public services for small rural communities, grants were used to purchase a canoe to shuttle girls from outlying flooded areas to school. Only a local government closely engaging and working with local communities would know that a canoe would be the best means to bring girls to school. 

Grants for local government in Bangladesh has empowered them to provide canoes for girls to go to schools in flooded areas In Madhyapara Union Parishad, in Northeast Bangladesh, grants were used to purchase a canoe to shuttle girls from flooded areas to school. Photo: LGSP Project Management Unit at Local Government Division

Building on the success of Union Parishad block grants, the Local Government COVID-19 Response and Recovery Project (LGCRRP) is trying to adapt this approach to urban local governments, in particular for secondary cities known as Pourashavas. Pourashavas are responsible for providing a range of infrastructure and services, such as urban roads, drainage, kitchen markets, and school facilities. There are over three hundred and thirty Pourashavas in Bangladesh, providing urban infrastructure and services to over 30 million people. However, Pourashavas face many challenges: a lack of funds, insufficient and under-qualified staff, weak financial management systems, and inadequate planning among others. At the same time, the development needs of these secondary cities are huge.

Pourashavas are now being provided with grants to finance much needed investments as well as with technical support to strengthen their capacities. Grants from the Local Government project are regular – and, very importantly, Pourashavas know in advance the size of the grant they will get and when they will receive the grants, allowing them to plan investments ahead of time. Pourashavas can use their project grants to fund a wide range of investments, giving them the opportunity to identify and respond to a variety of local needs and priorities – and thus use their local knowledge to great effect. Pourashavas have a great deal more leeway to decide how to use their grants. Most of the other grants that they receive are typically tied to particular uses.

The grants, however, are not a “free lunch”. To qualify for their grants, Pourashavas need to meet certain conditions, such as having a three-year investment plan drawn up through local consultations, having key technical and administrative staff in place, getting a clean financial audit report, and developing a local preparedness plan to address climate change and other shocks. These conditions are innovative, simple and achievable, and provide the mayors and their administrations with incentives to improve the way they work and – ultimately – to deliver more and better services to their citizens. Another innovation is the auditing of Pourashava accounts to bring transparency to public finance.

In addition, the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), which manages the project, provides Pourashavas with technical guidelines to help design resilient infrastructure and on how to implement sub-projects through labor-intensive public works, thus generating employment (and income) for poorer people. The project also provides Pourashavas with training so that they can meet the conditions attached to their grants: training in financial management, in planning, and the like. Again, the project’s provision of comprehensive capacity building support is very different than the typical practice in Bangladesh, where Pourashavas receive little in the way of such support.

There are already some promising signs that Pourashavas are using their grants to finance priority investments. In Khulna, a kitchen market serving five local neighbourhoods is being upgraded with better ventilation and hygiene standards, while creating a space for street vendors to sell their wares. In Kaliakair, road repair works are being implemented following labor-intensive public works guidelines, creating employment and skills development opportunities for unskilled workers impacted by the pandemic while improving road safety. In Rajshahi, several Community Development Centers are being constructed that will provide much needed space for local women’s groups to organize micro-finance, training, and income-generating activities for women. 

Grants for local government in Bangladesh has empowered them to build things like community centers which people need In Rajshahi, grants are being used to build several Community Development Centers, which will provide much needed space for local women’s groups. Photo: Huraera Jabeen, LGCRRP Project Team

This experience shows that local governments, when provided with flexible grants, are able to deliver priority infrastructure and services to their citizens. In meeting some basic grant access conditions and in benefiting from capacity building, local governments are also able to strengthen their capacity to do even more.

With contribution from Mike Winter and Kwabena Amankwah-Ayeh.

Mansha Chen

Urban Development Specialist

Shenhua Wang

Senior Urban Specialist

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