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More resources and empowerment for local government


OVER 90 per cent of the people of Bangladesh live in rural areas who are currently bypassed by developmental activities because of the concentration of power and authority in the capital city. Centralisation of decision making means the creation of economic opportunities in the few urban areas where the elites of the country are concentrated to the relative exclusion of the greatest number of people who live away from the cities. The present increasing migration of people to Dhaka where conditions are turning from bad to worse, is a reflection of no progress in local governance. If socio-economic opportunities were created amply in the non-urban areas at a reasonable rate, then hardly Dhaka could be found so overpopulated today with its huge slum population.
Participants in a recent workshop in the capital city have examined in details the lack of a strong local government structure that is hindering developmental efforts in the non-urban areas. Thus, according to the workshop's findings, the cause of the uniform development of the country is getting frustrated. When the formulation of policies and their execution are concentrated under a centralised system, the obvious consequences of the same -- noted everywhere -- are perpetuation of bureaucracy, neglect of local views and needs, red tapism and corruption. Unfortunately, the issues affecting local government continue to be neglected in Bangladesh in the context of its centralised administrative machinery and decision making.
The present ruling party is seen keen to introduce its model of local government, the Gram Sarkar. But even this model has not been introduced or fine tuned and only about three months remain of its tenure. Thus, there is now uncertainty about when the country would be blessed by an adequate system of local governance. The dithering in respect of taking a conclusive decision about the form of the local government or the amount of time that will be necessary for the next political government to devise and introduce their own brand of local government, could cost the country dearly. People, meanwhile, have been suffering due to there not having a strong local government system in place. The sufferings will likely continue if the bickering and indecisiveness in relation to the form of local government is not settled at an early date.
Clearly, there are vested groups who would want to see the establishment of a strong local government system defeated because it goes to their benefits. The present centralised system provides extraordinary powers to some bureaucrats to control purse strings and delay local plans and their executions. Under a revitalised local government system, the bureaucrats would be losing these powers. The members of parliament (MPs) are now the overlords at the local levels. They would also experience curbs on their present powers and privileges if strong local government is established. Therefore, it is imperative that the highest policy planners in the government start realising the prohibitive role now being played by the interest groups to foil the establishment of a strong local government system in line with the country's developmental expectations.
When a strong local government system would be established, the government must be prepared to channel adequate funds to it. The present distribution of governmental funds to various tiers of the local government are peanuts, really, which can not even enough to meet the requirements of paying employees regularly. So, there is a powerful case to substantially increase governmental funding to local bodies. Besides, these bodies should be empowered to raise their own funds by taxing local commercial enterprises and persons with surplus wealth.