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“All Citizens are Equal before Law and are Entitled to Equal Protection of Law”-Article 27 of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh

Issue No: 97
December 13 , 2008

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Municipalities must be given adequate funds
Needed a policy framework for adequate resources for better city governence

Shaila Shahid

Improving governance and service delivery through transparency and accountability is one of the issues that most governments in the developing countries have been concerned with. It is also a well-understood fact that the quality of governance can improve only when there is a strong demand and participation from the citizens. Simultaneously, governments and public agencies are mainly responsible for providing essential services to the people. They spend huge amount of resources to provide services such as drinking water, education, health care and sanitation as well as electricity, roads and transportation. Citizens depend on these services for their security and livelihood.

In Bangladesh, delivering urban services are the responsibility of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives (MOLGRD & C). According to the Municipal Administration Ordinance of 1960, the Pourashava Ordinance of 1977 and the City Corporation Ordinances for different City Corporations, Municipalities and City Corporations (CCs) are charged with providing basic services. However, urban policy to address the poverty gaps between the Municipalities, MOHFW and MOLGRD&C and lack of adequate financial resources devoted to sustain livelihood have resulted in understaffing, absence of community health promotion, and limited coordination among the private (for profit), government and NGO service providers. Consequently, these limitations have prevented public services from keeping up with municipal needs. As the cost of living in towns and cities soars and due to migration from rural area for livelihood - a category of urban poor is emerging who cannot afford basic essentials such as shelter, food, health care, and education etc. for a decent living. At the same time it is to be mentioned here that the municipality budget always remains inadequate or most often no budget allocation is awarded to meet the increasing need of the growing urban population particularly the emergence urban poor (slum dwellers) to maintain the existing basic services and facilities.

The context
Bangladesh has a total population of 144.2 million, with 36% people living below US $ 1/day. The population density in Bangladesh is perhaps the highest of any country in the world. Officially, 23% (30 million) of the population was living in urban areas in 2001, and the urban population growth rate is more than double the national rate. The actual population of these slums may be much higher. Migration to towns and cities for income and employment mainly due to river erosion leads to chronic shortages of housing and families living in overcrowded conditions. If this trend is set to continue: in future large and concentrated population in towns will require basic services such as water supply, sanitation, transport and electricity. Potable water and sanitation is a very basic problem in the life of the slum dwellers. Though the sanitation coverage in Bangladesh has increased from 20% in 2003 to 65% in 2006, there are no signs of this in the various slums in different district. In areas, where these programmes have been piloted by local governments and NGOs, there are emerging issues of proper maintenance and resources to sustain hygienic practices. Under the national sanitation strategy, the line ministry directed municipalities to spend 20% of their annual development budget for the promotion of sanitation. Under this initiative municipalities gave subsidy in constructing sanitary latrines. Most of the slum people have no legal land tenureship and also there are constant threats of eviction. This insecurity restricts further investments on services both from the municipalities and by the households.

The status quo and why policies are needed
In identifying the most significant environmental problems in developing world cities, Hardoy (et al, 2000: 9) reminds of the over-riding importance of links between poor urban environments and ill-health. Urban populations in South Asia are expanding rapidly, placing enormous pressure on urban services. The proportion of urban residents who live in slums is very high in Bangladesh. A study of health data found that the prevalence of diarrhoea among the urban poor was greater than among the rural poor in seven of eleven countries studied. In Bangladesh, infant mortality rates in slums are more than double the national average (Chowdhury 2004, P. 78).

With increasing urbanization and decentralization of administration, urban governance has gained more importance including manifold responsibilities and new dimensions. However it may be said that efficient governance is linked to greater resource mobilization with efficient use and minimum wastage. In an era of neo-liberal economics predicated on market-led growth, inadequate investment in financing reflects recognition of the limits of public expenditure. It also reflects the failure of public planning and delivery systems to keep pace with rapid urbanization.

The urban local government bodies are entrusted with a large number of functions and responsibilities relating to civic and community welfare as well as local development. Pourashavas (Municipalities) and City Corporations constitute two types of urban local governments. The functions of Pourashavas and City Corporations are basically similar with one important difference: the 1997 Pourashavas Ordinance categorized the functions of Pourashavas as compulsory and optional.

Nowadays, foreign or international project funds also contribute a significant share of a corporation's budget. At the same time it is to be mentioned here that the municipality budget always remains inadequate to meet the increasing need of the growing urban population. This paucity of funds is mainly caused by poor and non-collection of taxes from the inhabitants, non-realization of taxes from the government, semi-government and autonomous organizations for a prolonged period and meagre government grants. Even the charges and the fees for rendering services are too low. As such most of the ULBs are unable to increase their sources of income although they are now empowered to generate revenue from their own sources. On the other side there is a lack of adequate guidelines or policies for municipal budget to address the urban poverty.

Realizing the necessity, the total 277 Pourashavas have also been carrying out an additional function (on project basis) of slum improvement. The funding for this is coming from different national and international development partners. Based on the people's demand and continuous advocacy some municipalities have even made the slum improvement an integral part of their activities.

Although the full autonomy of urban local governments is yet to be achieved, there can be an ample scope to work on poverty issues at municipal level. The National Government enacts legislation on local bodies and formulates detailed rules relating to the conduct of election, business, powers and duties of chairmen, assessment of taxes, preparation of budget, making of contracts, appointment and service matters of local government employment, accounts and audit and many other important areas. Even when local governments make regulations, these are to be approved by the central government. Here an effective inherent practice or model can influence the central government to look into the issue of urban poverty. Unfortunately, present programmes and projects tend to address only the visible effects of urban neglect. Here the policy options can add significant dimensions by allocating adequate resources in the municipal governance to address urban poverty. The example of Faridpur municipality can influence others. Faridpur municipality has been convinced by the learning and practice of the IUD project (Integrated Urban Development Project by Practical Action Bangladesh) and thus allocated specific budget in the year of 2006-07 and also in the present financial year from their revenue budget to work for urban poor. Furthermore, they created a particular budget head for slum improvement in their annual development plan which has not been practiced earlier in the district.

As observed by Bamberger, Yahie, and Matovu (1996, p. 40), local government as a political institution to ensure public participation in development activities is yet to take proper shape in Bangladesh. Here inadequate political will is also responsible for lack of development in municipalities. Consultations and studies reveal that many municipalities do not have poverty reduction as the central focus of public policy. This is evidenced by low levels of budgetary allocation for services that benefit the poor. The major issue here is that it seems local governments have political difficulty in orienting the allocation of public expenditures towards poverty reduction. Proper management of resources is the key to bridge the gap. It is also suggested that along with GOBs initiative involvement of private sector in all possible service deliveries (e.g. power/gas supply, sewerage/waste management, water supply) including billing and tax collection should be encouraged. This would produce greater transparency and accountability in the budgeting/expenditure system. Political commitment to achieve targeted success within specified time may facilitate the process.

The most vulnerable group of citizens that resides in urban slums should not be thrown away and be forced to start all over again somewhere else. They are, in their own way, valuable, desirable and necessary fellow-citizens who are experts, skilled at jobs that most people dislike and will not do. A slum must not just be patched up and it must not be pushed to another waste place to become another slum. Sustainable financing is very important to address the issues of slum dwellers. A proper guideline for allocating specific budget in municipal governance needs to be in place that ensures the development of long-term, sustainable strategies for eradicating urban poverty. At the same time, urban planners and managers must accept the fact that eradication of poverty is an integral part of development and must be incorporated into their annual development plans.

The writer is senior program officer- Policy Advocacy, Practical Action Bangladesh.


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