Local government institutions in any country are important components of the total governance process. Good governance is very much dependent on effective governance at the local level.
It has been perceived that the governance environment at the Union level in Bangladesh has four constituent elements such as, the Union Parishad, field level government machineries/functionaries, the local community and the local civil society institutions and organisations. These elements, in one way or the other, influence the governance process. Harmonious and synergic interactions among them are essential for good local governance. These elements or factors could be grouped as internal and the external factors.
The first internal factors that determine the effective and efficient performance of the UPs include the level of awareness. Different research works reveal that there is low level of awareness among the elected chairmen, members and officials of UPs about the actual scope and limitations of the functions, powers and authority of the Union Parishads. This lack of knowledge and awareness hinders effective functioning and role performance by the Union Parishads functionaries both elected and appointed. The second internal factor is management capacity and competency. The Union Parishads are by law required to discharge certain functions. Effective and efficient performance of functions and responsibilities require certain level of management capacity and competency. But the UPs lack adequate management capacity and competency in different areas related to their functions and responsibilities. In many cases, elected representatives lack competencies in office management, budget preparation, planning, implementation and monitoring of development projects, procedural aspects of Gram Adalat and personnel management of the Parishad. The third internal factor is resource constraint. Though the UPs are legally empowered to mobilise resources from various local sources namely, holding tax, licensing fee, land transfer fee etc. The holding tax constitutes the major source of revenue. The collection rate of taxes is still quite low. A number of reasons are thought to be responsible for such situation, like perceived risk of losing popularity, lack of required skills/competency to assess taxes, lack of adequate manpower at the disposal of the UPs to engage for revenue collection and finally, reluctance on the part of the people to pay local taxes. There is also lack of initiative and motivation on the part of the UP functionaries both elected and appointed to identify new local sources of revenue. The other internal factor is lack of skills in management and operation that include office management, record keeping, and personnel management. By law, Union Parishads are required to maintain and preserve a large number of register books (general office management, village courts, test relief programmes, food-for-work programmes, VGD etc.) In reality, not all required register books are actually maintained. Even if maintained these are not updated regularly. The UP office generally is run and maintained by the secretaries under the direction and supervision of the UP Chair. But the secretaries lack competencies in office management, record keeping and even writing resolutions of the Parishad meetings. These seriously undermine the smooth operation and management of the UP administration. Lack of Transparency and Accountability is the other constraining internal factor. Until recent time, the Union Parishad chairmen and members were not aware and familiar with the terminologies of accountability and transparency and their importance. But for achieving legitimacy and public acceptability, accountability and transparency of operations and functions of any institution are essential. The UP legal framework made some provisions for accountability and transparency of UP activities and functions. Transparency can also be achieved through dissemination of information to the general public. But these are seldom adhered to and or practiced.
The external factors those affect the performances of the Union Parishads include stakeholder like the Field level Government Machineries/Functionaries. The national government primarily maintains liaison and also exercises its control and supervision over UPs through its field level functionaries like, the Deputy Commissioner (DC), the UNO, and the Deputy Director, Local Government (DDLG). The Union Parishads are subjected to supervision and control in the areas like, internal operation, personnel and financial resource allocation and utilisation. For all practical purposes the UPs need to interact with them. The performance of a Union Parishad depends to a large extent on how far it has succeeded in maintaining good relationships with the above mentioned government agencies and officials. The Local Community is another important external factor or stakeholder. Local community’s active participation in the management of local affairs is essential for ensuring good governance at the local level. But in most of the cases, the local communities are not fully aware about the role and functions of the Union Parishads. They hold the idea that it is the affair of the elected chairmen and members. But there are provisions in the UP regulation for local communities’ participation in certain activities and functions. It is reported that the chairmen and members of UPs are also not interested in ensuring participation of the local citizen’s in UP activities. The local Civil Society Organisations are also important external elements of the governance process at the local level. In the local government setting, especially, Union Parishad level, there exist a number of civil society organisations. It has been reported that these organisations also lack awareness and proper understanding of roles and functions of the UPs and Vis a Vis their possible role in these. On the other hand, UP chairmen and members are also not aware about the positive roles that the civil society can play with respect to effective local governance. Over the last 30 years or so, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Bangladesh have emerged as important service delivery agencies at the local level. The Union Parishads need to supervise all development activities within their territorial jurisdictions. But the NGOs are reluctant to accept this supervisory role of the UPs. In reality, in many places, as reported, they do not collaborate with each other rather have become contenders for implementing various development programmes. But through the provision of the community participation, these organisations and groups could be involved in various UP functions and activities for their mutual benefits. The Union Parishad is the oldest form of local government institution that is in existence in Bangladesh. The governance environment at this level has certain constituent elements and only effective and collaborative interactions among them are likely to ensure good local governance.
The writer is Professor and Chairman, Department of Public dministration, University of Dhaka and Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh.
The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude.