Sustainable rural development initiative: Practices and learning of LGSP
In 2000, the Government of Bangladesh and different development partners (UNDP, UNCDF, DANIDA and EU) decided to implement a sustainable rural development project based on good governance, transparency and accountability. The thinking led to initiate the Sirajganj model of rural development project and implemented successfully. The aim of Sirajganj Local Governance Development Fund Project (SLGDFP) was to create community participation, higher level of accountability, improved quality of service delivery and low level of fund leakage in the Union Parishads (UPs) under Sirajganj district.
The success of the pilot project has created a broader space to start more people oriented rural development project through empowering the UPs and the idea of Local Governance Support Project (LGSP) under Local Government Division (LGD) was generated.
The Government of Bangladesh and World Bank (WB) on a number of occasions has emphasized to strengthen decentralization process through improvement of governance and take service delivery system to the grassroots level. The two Local Governance Support Projects (1 and 2), jointly financed by the WB and Government, has so far provided a solid foundation for deeper decentralization of Local Government Institutions (LGIs).
The objective of LGSP is to ensure good governance at the union level by establishing transparency and accountability. In addition to providing direct allocation to more than 4500 Union Parishads (UPs) by the project, initiatives have been taken to enhance their skills and capacity so UPs can be effective institutions.
The Basic Block Grant (BBG) and Performance Base Grant (PBG) allocations are being transferred directly to the UPs special accounts. The project has introduced PBG to good performer UPs that demonstrate improvements in key governance and financial management areas. These areas include: revenue enhancement, enhanced peoples participation, planning and budgeting etc. PBG is intended to reward the better performing UPs with additional fiscal resources.
In LGSP, there are 10 different main sectors under which about 35 numbers of sub-sectors for scheme implementation. During three consecutive phases of LGSP, a series of initiatives have been taken for improving the governance in UPs. Over the period, UPs have undergone significant improvement in managing their business in terms of preparing periodic plan, annual budget, selection and implementation of schemes. Formula based fund transfers has become an established system for the UPs. The UPs have increasingly been accountable to people for their performance and also become better responsive to people's need. The following are the few good practices and innovations of LGSP in brief:
(i) Formula based fiscal transfers: A well recognized formula based fiscal transfers system to UPs has been introduced by the project. The fiscal system is now in the process of institutionalization and mainstreaming.
(ii) Regular audits of UPs: The mandatory annual financial audit of all UPs by deploying private audit firms was introduced with a view to ensure a transparent financial transaction. This contributed a lot in strengthening UPs as transparent and accountable LGIs. The UPs have gradually adapted well with the audit culture on regular basis.
(ii) Citizen engagement: Ward Shova, Open budget meeting, for ensuring community participation, has been introduced. All the UPs have been found functional in holding Ward Shovason regular basis. A remarkable achievement also is the formation of Ward Committee and Scheme Supervision Committee.
(iii) Maintenance of asset registers: In the past, maintenance of Asset Register was hardly practiced by the UPs. But this has been set as one of the performance indicator for receiving grants. This is also being followed up during UP audit. It has a good impact in avoiding duplication/ overlapping of schemes.
(v)Practice of procurement process: LGSP has successfully introduced procurement methods for UPs. UPs have to follow UP Operation Manual in implementation of development schemes under LGSP funds.
(vi) Environmental and social safeguard compliance: Previously UPs had a tendency to avoid the issues. But UPs now take extra care to avoid the schemes that have negative impact on human lives and biodiversity.
(vii) Empowerment of women: The LGSP has taken initiatives to empower women through its in-built implementation strategy.
(viii) Writing UP report: Prior to the introduction of LGSP, UPs were not used to in writing reports on regular basis. Previously, there was a lack of experience in this area.
(ix) Monitoring of UP activities through MIS: A well established MIS system exists under LGSP. The field level activities under UPs are being monitored by using that MIS.
The LGSP in general are based on the assumption that social capital can ensure accountability through practicing different ways like regular Uthan Boidhak, Ward Shovaand other participatory process. All these can be considered as modes of engagement and ownership of stakeholders in rural development planning. The issue can be raised that to what extent such interventions are operationally effective or functional. The three consecutive phases of implementation of the LGSP shows that not only financing but creation of demand side likes participatory process and transparency in activities can establish good governance at the local level, alleviate poverty, promote public awareness and empower the public representatives also.
The issue of improving local government system and local level planning has no alternatives for achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The experience of LGSP has generated the idea that without strengthening and empowering UPs, sustainable rural development will be a difficult task.
Enamul Habib is working as Project Director, LGSP-3, Local Government Division. He is a Joint Secretary to the Government of Bangladesh.