Devolution for development

Both the BNP and the Awami League stated in their last election manifestos that they would work for decentralisation and development of local government on going to power. But these commitments were made ritualistically, it seems, as a matter of course signifying no special importance attached to them.
It appears that successive governments have had no intention to change the old way of running things at the local level. The electedupazilla chairmen have been wasting their days without offices, responsibilities and other set ups to be able to do their expected developmental works with any effectiveness. Upazillanirbahi officers (UNOSs) and other higher officers in the central bureaucracy are in charge of running things at the local level. Furthermore, the members of parliament (MPs) have been made the bosses of the upazilla chairmen and upazilla council members in all respects and the former are breathing down the necks of the latter. The local government ordinance adopted by the caretaker government was rejected by the incumbents in power to retain very much the status quo at the local level. So, the question cannot help but arise : why the upazilla elections were held at such costs when elected persons are now prevented from discharging their due responsibilities. Why this great waste of resources and finances ? Why this farce ?
It has crystallized over time that devolution of the powers of the government is very necessary in the context of Bangladesh. The devolution must not be understood also as a way of only loosening central controls in administrative matters to more empowered local authorities. The devolution, to get any benefits from the same, must be essentially of a developmental nature. The same should lead to more resource mobilsation at the local level ; much greater channeling of resources to enabled and empowered local governments and institutions to utilize well the flow of resources ; the greater use of local awareness and expertise in planning exercises for local developmental projects, etc.
But it does not seem that the leadership of successive governments have given enough thoughts to these issues and even formed a rough plan about a development oriented decentralization plan to be firmed up soon after taking over the reins of government.
However, governmentcan perhaps be sensitized afresh by the media, think tank bodies and others to reprioritize to push up developmental decentralistion higher up in their agenda. This could lead to formulation of concrete plans at the earliest so that the same can be implemented within the tenure of the present government. The main part of the plan should concentrate on allocation of resources, the adequacy of such resource flows and their proper use by the local government authorities to be readied for the purpose.
Some proponents of stronger local government see the merit of raising resources locally as a way of substantially solving the problem of insufficient resources to undertake developmental activities at the local level. But this is not a very realistic approach perhaps given the fact that the local areas in many cases are not so well off to permit the harnessing of enough resources to meet their developmental needs. So, there will be no effective substitute to much increasing resources from the centre to the local authorities for the latter to meet their needs.
The great importance of promoting stronger development oriented local government should be obvious. Nearly 90 per cent of the population of the country have an existence in the rural areas. But the developmental activities at their points of origin are meager in most cases . Hardly finding economic opportunities where they have always lived, these people in great number have been migrating to the few big cities in the elusive hope of a better life and livelihood contributing to the congestion and squalor of the cities mainly. There is noted hardly any uniform development of the country with the development activities getting concentrated in a few urban centres and their hinterlands bypassing the vast rural population.
The way to positively change the lives of this vast and neglected rural population is through taking economic activities or opportunities to their doorsteps. And this would be attainable mainly through a process of devolution for development.


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