Poverty destabilizes societies to a large extent and has been one of the major problems of the twenty first century. Poverty deprives human beings from dignity.
It aggravates social exclusion and disaffection. Not surprisingly, hunger, unemployment, homelessness, and illiteracy provide powerful emotional appeals for separatist movements and those seeking to wrest control of state power, even by illegitimate means. There is a direct relationship between poverty and good governance. Since the early 1990s, the notion of “Good Governance” as being necessary for sustainable development and poverty reduction has gained widespread currency, especially among international organizations. To attempt to capture the many dimensions of ‘good governance’, researchers at the World Bank Institute have ranked countries with respect to certain qualities: voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, and control of corruption.
The link between good governance and poverty eradication is premised on the presumption that good governance promotes economic growth and development. Good governance has an instrumental value, as a means to an end. This raises the question, ‘good governance for what?’ The standards of good governance ought to be applied within the national, global and corporate domains to serve the goals of poverty reduction, sustainable growth, social equality and participation. The assumption is that accountable and transparent government, free and fair elections, the rule of law, and a vibrant civil society are necessary governance qualities for successful implementation of poverty alleviation strategies. These criteria form the core of the ‘good governance’ agenda embraced in a number of policy documents.
Developed countries and multilateral lending institutions conclude that good governance is a necessary prerequisite for poverty reduction. Without good governance, the scarce resources available are generally not put to their best use in combating poverty. Good governance alleviates poverty only in middle-income countries, not in least developed ones.
The Constitution of Bangladesh provides clear directives for formulating pro-people development strategies and goals. To fulfil the fundamental commitment, in recent times, Bangladesh is undertaking a number of planned strategies to eradicate poverty and extreme poverty from the country. For lifting poor section of the society up, Bangladesh is now enlarging the social protection strategies which could impact on poverty reduction through a series of direct and indirect channels. Bangladesh has laid reasonable foundations for building a comprehensive social protection strategy and has set a vision to eradicate extreme poverty from the country by 2021. In fact, over the last two decades Bangladesh has experimented with a series of new approaches and institutional frameworks for addressing poverty. The donors working in Bangladesh have also tended to follow diverse models in addressing the issue of poverty. The dominant model followed by western donor agencies is rooted in the ‘neo-liberal market framework’.
Regarding poverty and extreme poverty reduction, in recent years, Bangladesh is being tagged globally as ‘the land of impossible attainments’. The country has already achieved the targets meant for a hunger and poverty-free society under the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The Government has set the target to bring down poverty to 13.5% by 2021.
Recent years have seen a perceptible increase in interest in social safety nets in Bangladesh. Social safety net efforts in Bangladesh have clustered around the twin themes of food rations and post-disaster relief. The third cluster has been informal safety nets at family and community levels to address issues of demographic and social shocks. There has also been pension scheme for state employees. In recent years, however, safety nets have transcended these historical moorings and have graduated to a mainstream social and developmental concern.
Bangladesh has already finalized the ‘National Social Protection Strategy’ (NSPS). At the same time, steps have been taken to prepare a list of hard-core poor and a ‘National Population Register’ for proper identification of beneficiaries of social safety net programmes. Social Safety Net Programmes (SSNPs) in Bangladesh address basic needs of the people namely food, shelter, education and health. The prime programs covered under SSNPs are: Food for Works (FFW), Vulnerable Group Development (VGD), Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF), old-age allowances, allowances for retarded people, allowances for widow and distressed women, grants for orphanages. There are also micro-credit programmes, allowances for freedom fighters and so on. Distressed people particularly women, children and disabled persons have been given priority under Social Safety Net. The SSNPs have been broadly categorized into two: Social Protection and Social Empowerment. They are implemented through both non-development budget and development budget. Social protection encompasses: cash transfer allowances; cash transfer (special), food security, new funds for programs. Social empowerment includes: stipends, housing and rehabilitation, micro-credit, miscellaneous funds, development programs.
Poverty rate has dropped 7.2 percentage points to 24.3% in six years. The initial findings of the 2016 Household Income and Expenditure Survey conducted by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics states that the poverty rate in rural areas is 26.4%, while urban poverty is 18.9%. The current rate of extreme poverty is 12.9%, compared to 17.6% six years ago. The poverty rate in the 2010 survey was 31.5%. In rural areas, the poverty rate was 35.2% and in urban areas 21.3%.”
Non-food expenditure rose from 45.11% in the 2010 survey to 52.30% in the 2016 survey. The latest survey also found that average monthly income stood at Tk 15,945. In rural areas, the monthly income is Tk 13,353, while it is Tk 22,565 in urban areas. In 2010, the average monthly income was Tk 11,479. Average monthly expenditure stands at Tk 15,915. In rural areas, the average is Tk 14,156, while it is Tk 19,697 in urban areas. The average monthly expenditure in the 2010 survey was Tk 11,200.
Poverty exists in a broad range of circumstances and has many causes. Poverty may be due to inclusion or exclusion. Attacking poverty’s systemic, structural or root causes requires political commitment and state capacity to accelerate equitable and sustainable economic development. Good governance alone will not end poverty, but we cannot significantly reduce poverty, especially within a human rights approach, without good governance. Good governance is necessary at all levels, from the global to the local, but it is also necessary to identify those levels of governance requiring special attention.
The writer, an Assistant Professor of Department of Public Administration, Jagannath University, acknowledges with gratitude the different sources of information