Lessons from Decentralization in Rwanda


Various development institutions and Western governments have held up decentralization in Rwanda as fairly successful. A study commissioned by the government and development partners showed that decentralization had improved economic growth averaging 10% since early 2000s, reduced region inequalities, increased community participation, improved service delivery and made local government more responsive to citizen needs. (United Nations Development Programme, 2012) While the country has gained a reputation for being a development model case held up by many development institutions and Western governments, we find a few challenges that Rwanda may need to consider. Firstly, decentralization seems to have increased central government control of local governance processes. Secondly, substantive public participation in governance is lacking. Finally, there is absence of a top-down accountability framework for government officials.

Beginning 2001, Rwanda legislated and began the implementation of decentralization to address the social, political and economic marginalization of communities that precipitated the 1994 genocide. (Gaynor, 2013) The decentralization would achieve this by increasing the voice of the people to have a say in the running of their affairs, as evidenced by consultative efforts which had revealed that 70% of the people demanded more participation in public affairs. (Ministry of Local Government, 2004) This would be done in three phases: the first phase (2001 to 2005) would set up the institutional and administrative structures; the second (2006 to 2010) would entrench public participation in planning, decision-making and implementation of plans; the third phase (2011 to present) would consolidate gains, enable fiscal decentralization and improve on challenges encountered in previous phases.(Ministry of Local Government, 2011)

Greater control of local governments

The process of procedural participation through electing local leaders at the village and cell (collection of villages – collection of cells is called a sector) levels is fairly transparent and free of political influence by the central government. However, in the higher level, particularly the Vice-Mayor and Mayor positions constitute “strategic political appointments”. (Gaynor, 2013) Those who get to be formally elected are first vetted and put forward by contacts in the police and the army. At the district level, the elected Mayor and the appointed Executive Secretary who reports to the President are occasionally on opposite sides of decisions. Due to this, conflict of authority arises where for instance, the Mayor decides one thing and a central government official blocks it.

Moreover, government policy shifted from reconciliation and nation-building to “fast-track and equitable local economic development” to achieve fiscal autonomy. This shift has necessitated greater central government planning and decision-making in order to accomplish the goals and targets more effectively and efficiently. The officials at the district level implement national policies and district resolutions with the planned activities and programmes taking place at the cell and village levels.

Lack of substantive public participation

Community participation was envisioned as one of the benefits of decentralization as citizens sought greater input in matters affecting them. However, participation remains only of procedural kind (electing local leaders at the village, cell and sector levels) and through cost-sharing i.e. local taxation to pay for services and communal labor sharing. More substantive participation through engaging in planning processes, community agenda prioritization and decision-making is all but missing.

The Community Development Policy document emphasized the mobilization of resources and community effort in cost-sharing to improve their own development, with little emphasis on decision-making. Article 47 of the Constitution of Rwanda states, “… All citizens have the duty to participate, through work, in the development of the country; to safeguard peace, democracy, social justice and equality and to participate in the defence of the motherland.” (Constitution, 2003) Cell committee meetings for instance, are used for the communication of directives from the upper levels, which are then implemented through mobilization at the village level. Where the elected members bring issues to the upper levels for discussion, it is not clear how prioritization is done and how the final decision is made. Ubudehe, an innovative public participation forum, transformed from a tool of substantive citizen participation, to one used for citizen poverty classification.(Gaynor, 2013) Further the law is very ambiguous in entrenching the protection of the community planning process, and rather focuses on communal mobilization of labor and finances as participation.

Lack of downward accountability

The Rwandan government implemented imihigo performance contracts that are signed by all leaders at all levels (village, cell, sector and district) with their supervisors.(Gaynor, 2013) These signed agreements increase pressure for the leaders to meet the targets set by their supervisors. The government encourages them as a means to foster competition among communities and improve service delivery. However, increased pressure to produce results set at higher levels consolidate upward accountability, thereby reducing opportunity for top-down accountability and public participation. This means that district mayors have a huge incentive to perform well for their central government reporting, and little incentive to increase accountability to the lower levels. While elected councillors at the cell and sector levels regularly attend umuganda (communal labor-sharing) meetings, those elected at the district level rarely do so, and are naturally therefore more out of touch with their constituents.(Gaynor, 2013)

Even more concerning, is the shrinking civil space in Rwanda. There has been an increase in imprisonment, legal intimidation and attacks on journalists and political opposition presenting a dissenting view of the government. The government uses the Genocide Law and NGO laws to restrict liberties of expression. (International Service for Human Rights, 2016) This is especially true during elections when political dissidents have been forcibly disappeared and many have been killed. Without protections in the laws and the misuse of laws to threaten media freedom, a regression towards a totalitarian state is imminent. This may prove fatal and threaten the entire development agenda of the government.


These are a few of the numerous implementation challenges facing the Rwandan government in efforts towards decentralization. Some recommendations to the challenges include the following: entrenching and protecting the envisioned tenets of decentralization in the law; reinstituting nation-building and reconciliation as the underlying end goal of the decentralization process;

It is clear that some of the processes for achieving public participation such as the local planning forum ubudehe was structurally altered and rendered ineffective in responding to the needs of the community. There’s no evidence that the process was protected by law. Participation is now more procedural through electing local leaders, communal labor sharing and local taxation. The government needs to protect the gains made in engaging citizens in community development by entrenching this through national policy guidelines and in the law. Moreover, it needs to ensure that these are implemented. As outlined in the National Decentralization Policy 2013, the government needs to integrate the central government strategic planning with citizen prioritization to ensure that the scarce resources are put to the best use. (Ministry of Local Government, 2013)

Secondly, the Rwandan government seems to have relegated to the background the process of nation building and reconciliation. The focus is on state building through fast-track development. While this may be admirable in the short term, the government risks alienating people and regressing to the pre-genocide feeling of marginalization. Efforts need to be made to ensure that the voice of the people is heard in planning and making decisions that affect the development of their communities. Further, as Basabose suggests, the government needs to coordinate between district, sector and forum community dialogue in order to build reconciliation. This process will “help restore destroyed relationships among people…” (Basabose, 2015)

Finally, civil society needs to engage the government and keep the government honest. However, for this to be meaningful, donors need to step in and engage the government in guaranteeing civil liberties. As development partners fund economic development and growth in the country, they can tie funding to specific achievements by the government towards protecting the civil space. McDoom states that “Freezing aid, in full or in part, is a method for signalling disapproval of government behaviours that violate international obligations and other important normative standards. Enforced consistently, it can help build and sustain an international legal and moral order.” (McDoom, 2013) However, donors need to implement such measures to ensure that they do not end up hurting the same people they are meant to protect.


Basabose, J.D. (2015, June). Strengthening community-level peacebuilding in Rwanda. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from https://www.insightonconflict.org/blog/2015/06/strengthening-community-level-peacebuilding-rwanda/

McDoom, O.S. (2013, April). To Aid, or Not to Aid? The Case of Rwanda. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from https://unu.edu/publications/articles/to-aid-or-not-to-aid-the-case-of-rwanda.html

United Nations Development Programme. (2012). Local Governments In Eastern Africa (pp. 1-17, Rep.). United Nations Development Programme.

Gaynor, N. (2013, July). Decentralisation, Conflict and Peacebuilding in Rwanda. Retrieved June 22, 2017, from http://doras.dcu.ie/19184/1/Report_final.pdf

International Service for Human Rights. (2016, March 17). Rwanda: Participation and protection of civil society is crucial to development. Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://www.ishr.ch/news/rwanda-participation-and-protection-civil-society-crucial-development

Constitution. 2003. Retrieved June 26, 2017 from http://www.rwandahope.com/constitution.pdf

Rwanda, Ministry of Local Government, Community Development and Social Affairs. (2004). Rwanda Five-year Decentralisation Implementation Programme. Kigali: Ministry of Local Government.

Rwanda, Ministry of Local Government. (2011). Decentralisation Implementation Programme 2011-2015. Kigali: Ministry of Local Government.

Rwanda, Ministry of Local Government. (2013). National Decentralisation Policy. Kigali: Ministry of Local Government.

Leave No Voice Behind

Leaving No Voice Behind: Taking Community-led Development to National Scale

Within country-owned strategies, NGOs have a competitive advantage in community-mobilization and capacity building. How can we work together to ensure that all people enjoy the right to take charge of their own development through country-owned programs of community-led development? Participants engaged Davos-style with leaders from across the spectrum of actors in both rural development and post-crisis reconstruction.


Amy Coughenour, NCBA/CLUSA

Rebecca Nelson, America Solidaria

Susan Wong, World Bank/CDD Global Practice

Moderator: John Coonrod, The Hunger Project

World Development Report 2017 and Community-Led Development

The flagship World Development Report 2017 by the World Bank Group highlights the need for continued collaboration between governments, citizens, civil society and private sector to improve governance and produce “life-improving outcomes.” This is in the midst of declining development assistance and strained government budgets. The movement for community-led development (CLD) in particular helps to support these endeavors, to guarantee that local constituencies lead reform efforts and promote more sustainable development. The report also discusses the role of providing financial resources to support participatory and demand-side initiatives that promote collective action by communities.

The report says that development is necessarily messy and nonlinear, and therefore, stakeholders in development work need to be more agile, adaptive and develop frameworks for feedback mechanisms and citizen engagement in order to meet the expected opposition to these initiatives. The following areas are particularly relevant to CLD: decentralization, social organizations and induced public participation.

Decentralization provides opportunity for social and economic experimentation of policy choices at the local level without risking the entire country. This attracts competent outsiders into leadership who spur innovation in providing alternative solutions to challenges at the grassroots. Competition and demand for competent leaders provides incentives for incumbents and new leaders to perform well, because their political careers depend on it. Further, success at local levels can lead to national adoption of policies. This provides an incentive to local leaders who may want to step up into national leadership  to demonstrate their competence.

The place for citizen engagement in leading development is at the front. Citizens have the opportunity to effect change in governance through various complementary mechanisms. The process is long-term, uncertain and difficult and requires patience and building of coalitions to meet the challenges. Social organization improves coordinated action among citizens around specific issues and push for policies and laws to bring new issues to prominence. Many countries in the world have adopted democratic norms which encourage and protect the formation of autonomous civil society that promotes civic activism. Moreover, the availability of communication technologies has increased access to information and enabled easier and less costly tools for coordination across the globe.

Induced public participation provides communities with the space and process for discussing and weighing in on policy alternatives and helps to rebalance power for marginalized groups by giving them a voice in deliberations. Improving the participatory process requires existing mechanisms for downward accountability. The media has a particular role in providing information and promoting participation through political deliberative forums. In Kenya for instance, evidence suggests that a weekly panel discussion on politics and governance increased knowledge and citizen engagement. Backed by a range of actors including community-based organizations, the media and nongovernmental organizations, there has been an increase in the number of transparency and accountability initiatives, which have resulted in reduced corruption in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, and reduction in under-5 mortality in Uganda.

Despite the gains made, challenges exist that engender inequality. For instance, local elites at decentralized governments can capture participatory processes and exclude minority and dissenting voices. Evidence suggests that more wealthier, educated and politically connected males are more likely to participate in governance processes. Secondly, increased availability of digital technology does not automatically improve the situation unless efforts are made to increase access to poorer people. In Brazil for instance, online voters in municipal budget proposals were significantly wealthier than offline voters. Finally, there have been increased government efforts to limit the democratic space by media censorship citing national security concerns, and using regulations to limit civil society activities and financing.

The movement for community-led development remains a relevant stakeholder in meeting the challenges of development. It is evident that decentralization, social organization and public participation are having an impact on efforts to improve governance. The CLD movement needs to redouble its effort, seeking novel and dynamic ways to tackle developmental challenges by building new coalitions.

Localizing the SDGs in Bangladesh: An Innovative Community-led Approach

Executive Summary:

The Hunger Project (THP) has developed a systematic methodology for supporting rural communities to achieve the SDGs. This paper describes the methodology, using the experience of the Betaga Union Parishad as an illustrative example, and identifies policy recommendations appropriate to taking this approach to national scale.

Click here to download pdf version.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aMkAvyKMFxs]


During the period of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), Bangladesh achieved “remarkable progresses in the areas of poverty alleviation, ensuring food security, primary school enrolment, gender parity in primary and secondary level education, lowering the infant and under-five mortality rate and maternal mortality ratio, improving immunization coverage; and reducing the incidence of communicable diseases” (UNDP, 2015). Such achievements are largely attributable to the resilience and creativity of the Bangladeshi people in finding innovative and low cost solutions and empowering individual “agency,” especially of women (Mahmud, Asadullah & Savoia, 2013).

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are more ambitious and will be more challenging to achieve. In addition, Bangladesh faces many daunting challenges, including climate change, automation, corruption, governance failures, institutional weaknesses, confrontational politics and growing violence which threaten its future progress. Thus, for achieving SDGs, institutions will have to function, communities will have to work together, peace and justice will have to prevail, governance will have to improve and environmental sustainability will have to be ensured.

Why “localize” the SDGs?

Although primary accountability for the SDGs belongs to nations, the SDGs explicitly call for action by local authorities. At least 12 of the 17 SDGs – all excepting9, 12, 13, 14 and 17 – require integrated strategies at the community level to overcome the interlinked challenges of poverty, ill-health, social ills, poor governance and environmental destruction. Fortunately, Bangladesh’s constitution wisely placed key responsibilities for social and economic development, including “the preparation and implementation of plans relating to public services and economic development” at the level closest to the people,” with the local government bodies, particularly the Union Parishad (UP), the body at the doorstep of the people (Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, 1971, Article 59(2)(C)).

This constitutional mandate makes it imperative that Bangladesh localize the SDGs – that is, it must equip the UPs with the skills and resources to analyze their local situation, set priorities for each of the relevant SDGs, and track and report their progress.

The Local Government (UP) Act of 2009 strengthens local government by incorporating global best practices for direct participation by active citizens in planning and social accountability, through ward shava for participatory planning, citizen charter, open budget meetings and annual reporting.

SDG 16 – the goal that makes all goals possible – explicitly calls for “peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels” (which includes the community level). Target 16.7 is to “ensure responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.” Goal 16 is therefore the crown-jewel of the SDGs and the achievement of other goals depends on it.

SDG Target 16.7 requires citizen voice in decision making, which for most citizens can only effectively happen at the UP and village levels. (Coonrod, 2016).

Achieving SDGs in light of SDG 16

The Hunger Project-Bangladesh (THP), which played a role in pioneering the reforms incorporated in the 2009 UP Act, has set itself the task of working in partnership with local government to develop a package of community mobilization and capacity-building interventions known as the “SDG Union Strategy” to demonstrate how fully implementing the Act can achieve the SDGs. THP has been demonstrating the working of this innovative model in 185 Unions, 61 of which are supported by BRAC, as a low-cost and sustainable means of achieving SDGs.

The SDG Union Strategy calls for a partnership between: (1) the people, (2) their elected representatives at the local level, (3) a civil society created from the ground up, and (4) the government functionaries responsible for delivering services to the grassroots. These stakeholders are brought together by a shared vision to achieve SDGs at the Union level.

Role of the people. People in SDG Unions, including women and youth, are awakened and mobilized to make them active as citizens and take action to achieve SDGs. Mobilization of people creates “social capital,” which can make up for lack of “financial capital,” and can be used for solving many social problems through social movements and social resistance. Community members carry out various campaigns to combat social ills such as child marriage, violence against women, substance abuse, and environmental degradation. Using the Participatory Action Research (PAR) methodology, the poorest of the poor are also mobilized to become “barefoot researchers” to identify the causes of their poverty, form “self-help groups” and take other action necessary to end their own hunger and poverty. Mobilization of the poor is designed to ensure that no one is left behind, which is an inspiring aspiration of SDGG.

Role of the UP representatives. UP representatives, receiving both statutory and transformational training, provide catalytic leadership not only to mobilize people, but also to ensure that the services people are entitled to actually reach them. UPs belonging to the SDG Unions sign an MoU to make the achievement of SDGS their priority, make the entire UP body functional, make standing committees effective and ensure social justice. The UP works in partnership with the citizens to hold Ward Shavas, Open Budget Meetings and prepare Five-Year Plans.

Role of the local civil society. Civil society is built up at the Union level, and consists of approximately 150 trained volunteers, including Animators, Women Leaders, Youth Leaders, PAR facilitators, champions for good governance and Peace Ambassadors. The members of the civil society on the one hand act as watchdog over the UPs and at the same time work in partnership with them. They also empower and mobilize the community members to ensure inclusivity and arrange skills training to help them become authors of their own future.

Role of the government functionaries. Local level government functionaries work with the community members to give them access to the available government services, make those services affordable and deliver those with accountability so that an “enabling environment” is created for people to succeed (THP, 1994).

These four stakeholders, working together, constitute a Community-led Development Approach to achieve the SDGs (Coonrod, 2016). A recent study by four professors of Columbia, Princeton and Cambridge Universities, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, found that “community trust,” created through this approach in our working area, positively affect the poor’s economic decision making and thereby their poverty (Jachimowicz, Chafik, Munrat, Prabhu, & Weber, 2017). In addition to achieving better lives, one unique contribution of this “whole society” approach is peace at the local level since people working together transcend their differences and diminish conflicts (Majumdar, 2014).

Process of creating an SDG Union

The work of creating an SDG Union begins through transforming the mindset. For the citizens of Bangladesh who live in conditions of poverty, meaningful participation in decision-making seems like an impossible dream. For government functionaries operating within highly centralized, top-down ministries, the concept of direct accountability to citizens seems like an impractical nuisance. However, countries that have successfully implemented bottom-up planning and social accountability have found that it must begin with a profound shift in mindset of both functionaries and residents, from “benefactor/beneficiary” to “public servant/active citizen.” To achieve this, the SDG Union Strategy begins with a “Vision, Commitment and Action” workshop and the training of approximately 150 grassroots volunteer animators and other volunteers in each Union committed and skilled in facilitating bottom-up development.

Village Development Committees – Building Civil Society from the Bottom Up. Exercising citizen voice is a collective process; active citizens from each segment of society (women, youth, the ultra-poor) must form community-based self-help groups to make their voices heard, and must work together to put forward a concise set of shared priorities. In addition to the body of Animators, the SDG Union Strategy trains Women Leaders, Youth Leaders, champions of good governance and girl’s rights, and PAR facilitators who create groups among the ultra-poor. The leaders of each of these village groups meet together as a Village Development Committee (VDC) to coordinate activities.

Transforming Gender Relations. The SDG principle of “No One Left Behind” has special meaning in rural Bangladesh, where adolescent girls and women often are not permitted to participate in public life. Trained Women Leaders from the village therefore organize “court yard” meetings where all family members can participate and discuss sensitive issues, such as halting domestic violence including child marriage, keeping girls in school, good nutrition and other human rights.

Active Partnership with Local Government. UP representatives and functionaries participate in a five-day training that both transforms their mindset and provides them with statutory information, especially on implementing the bottom-up reforms of the 2009 UP Act. Based on this new approach, the UP:

  • Works in partnership with the VDCs to mobilize participation in Ward Shava for generating awareness of service standards under the Citizen Charter, and setting local priorities.
  • Makes Standing Committees Functional by including trained volunteers and other interested citizens.
  • Develops and publishes a 5-year plan based on ward shava input.
  • Launches mass action campaigns to achieve goals in the plan.
  • Reports annually through Open Budget Meetings and on progress on the plan.

Sustaining Peace and Social Harmony. The recent rise in violence, often exploiting religious and ethnic differences in hopes of partisan gains, is one of the greatest threats to progress on all the SDGs, and is central to SDG 16. For this reason, the SDG Union Strategy has begun creating Peace Facilitator Groups and training local Peace Ambassadors who can analyze the local situation and carry out actions that promote peace and social harmony. The Peace Ambassadors and other volunteers lead Citizenship and Social Harmony workshops to promote civic rights and responsibilities and peace at the local level. In 10 Upazilas, this process has resulted in the three major parties signing a Code of Conduct for peaceful resolution of any differences, collective action to halt violent extremism and promote pluralism to address identity-based prejudice.

Betaga Union: An Illustration of SDG Union in the Making

The Hunger Project has put into practice its innovative Community-led SDG Union model in 185 Unions, one of which is Betaga Union of Fakirhat Upazila of Bagerhat district. Betaga Union has 12 villages and population of 16,280, of which 8,120 are female and 8,160 are male. The literacy rate of the Union is 83%. The Union has four high schools and nine primary schools. Source of income of 56% of the people of the Union are from agriculture, followed by 18% from business, 4% from government service, 6% from non-government service, 7% from fisheries and poultry and 9% from daily labour.

The Union Parishad is an elected body of 13 individuals – elected for a five year term –headed by the Chairman. Swapan Das is the Chairman and he was elected five times in a row, which is very rare in Bangladesh. He has a Bachelor of Science degree and he was qualified to be a government bureaucrat but opted instead to engage in public service. He was picked as best Chairmen three times nationally and 13 times in the district and received many awards for his outstanding public service.

In 2003, Swapan Das took the 5-day Animators training of THP in Dhaka, which helped him take a stand to end hunger and poverty of his Union. In the following year, he had an opportunity to go to West Bengal and Kerala to see the workings of Gram Panchayat there with a group of other Chairmen and Members trained by THP. After returning from India, he organized an Animators training in his Union, offered by THP, to create a group of volunteers in order to put into practice the ideas of Gram Shava – the village assembly – to promote inclusive decision making and mobilize the people of the Union.

In 2010, THP launched its MDG Union Strategy, aimed at forging a partnership between the people, the UP representatives, a local civil society and government functionaries to make concentrated and integrated efforts beginning in an initial set of 110 Unions, including Betaga to help achieve the MDGs. Swapan Das signed a MoU with THP, in which he, on behalf of his Parishad, expressed commitment to work toward achieving MDGs, and THP committed to assist in this process without providing any financial resources.

As part of this effort, a group of volunteers were trained in Betaga. At present, Betaga Union has 253 Animators, of which 129 are female and 124 male 124, and 36 Women Leaders. The Union also has 177 Youth Leaders, of which 55 are female and 122 are male and 18 Girl Child Advocacy Group members. Betaga also has a committee of respected citizens championing good and effective governance. THP trained a total over 500 volunteers, some of whom already moved out of the area, and they constitute the civil society at the local level. These volunteers help organize the Ward Shavas and Open Budget Meetings to ensure the transparency and accountability of the Union Parishad. They also work closely with the elected representatives in mobilizing the people and carry out campaigns on various social issues.

UP Chairman Mr. Swapan Das says: “I am an Animator, trained by The Hunger Project – an organization committed to end hunger and poverty by unleashing the human spirit. In Betaga Union there are many other animators and volunteers who work with the UP body to achieve SDGs. I have learned from THP, particularly from its Country Director the concept of “social capital,” which comes from the mobilized efforts of the people, the importance of participatory decision making and to think outside the box to become successful.”

The volunteers mobilized other community members, especially women to form self-help groups. There are now nine such groups with collective savings of Tk. 3,07,522, which they use to loan out to each other. They also meet regularly to identify the actions they need to take to improve their lives and also deal with the issues, such as violence against women, child marriage, dowry and other social ills.

The volunteers, coming from all 12 villages, formed 12 Village Development Committees comprised of 245 member, of which 143 are male and 92 female. THP has no staff in Betaga Union other than a paid volunteer overseeing two UPs. The paid volunteers’ job is to keep other volunteers active and keep track of their work.

As part of their activism, the volunteers in the last 5 months (January – May 2017), for example, engaged in the following activities:

  • Conducted 12 Citizenship and Social Harmony workshops;
  • Held nine Vision, Commitment and Action (VCA) workshops with more than five hundred participants;
  • Held 12 village development planning workshops with Village Development Committees;
  • Youth Ending Hunger members organized `safe school campaign program for girls,’ in which 637 students participated;
  • A PAR workshop was conducted with 17 women facilitators;
  • Campaigns organized to ensure birth registration of 112 female and 45 male citizens;
  • Courtyard meetings were held on nutrition and health issues with 133 female and 14 male participants;
  • Organized 18 campaigns in schools for the prevention of dropouts from school where 185 female and 53 men students took part;
  • Twelve meetings were held with 107 participants to create awareness regarding vaccination of pregnant mothers;
  • Seventeen meetings were held on safe sanitation where 166 female and 48 male took part;
  • Twenty five meetings were held on prevention of child marriage where 278 female and 103 male were present;
  • In addition, the Ward Shava, Union Development Planning Meeting, Union Development Co-ordination Committee Meeting, pre-budget meeting and Open Budget Meeting were held during this period, in which the volunteers were involved.

In addition to THP volunteers , other government and non-government organizations, such as CSS, JJS, BRAC are active in Betaga. The World Bank funded LGSP project and other government departments provide very useful support to the Union Parishad and the people of the Union.

In Bangladesh, Union Parishads are usually Chairman-centred institutions, with the other twelve members usually playing very minor roles. Betaga is an exception where all the members of the UP body are active and function as a collective body. All the UP representatives received a Special Animators training from THP and they also work closely with other THP trained volunteers who form the civil society from the ground up.

In Bangladesh, Union Parishads have 13 Standing Committees (ST), the effectiveness of which are essential for improving the lives of the people. However, in reality such Committees are usually formed in name only. In Betaga, THP volunteers and interested community members with relevant experiences were inducted into the STs to ensure their effectiveness. STs in Betaga not only make recommendations to the UP body for decisions, but also monitor the functioning of schools, health clinics and other important activities within the Unions. In addition to the existing 13 STs, the Betaga Union Parishad formed another ST designed to cater to the special needs of the persons with disabilities. The activism, dedication and effectiveness of its STs makes Betaga different from other UPs in Bangladesh.

Animators Training Inspired Krishna Das to Create Self-help Group. Krisna Das, a housewife, participated in the 1,784thAnimator Training held in 2011 in Betaga UP. Through the training, her mindset changed. She developed the commitment and confidence to take action improve her own conditions and conditions of the people around her. Her dream was to have her son become an agriculture engineer, but it seemed an impossible dream as they were not well off.

Krishna formed her self-help group, named Samata Nari Unnayan Samity, in June 2012 with 20 other women, and to date they have saved Tk. 51,000, which they now give out as loans to their members. Several women have already taken loans with very low interest rates. They started initiatives such as sewing, dairy, and poultry farming. They have become a formidable group aspiring to initiate big income generating projects.

In the last few years, Krisna started vegetable gardening, poultry, and fisheries projects to increase her income. Her son was recently admitted to Patuakhali Agricultural University. She has found a way to pay for her child’s education. This has inspired the members of the self-help group to be united and take action as a collective.

The Union Parishad celebrates Betaga Day every year with much fanfare. It is intended to celebrate the successes of the people of Betaga and prizes are given to those who make important contributions in various fields. Every Standing Committee and Organic Betaga Project set up stalls in the day of the celebration to display their work. The day features sports, cultural events and other fun activities.

SDG Achievements of Betaga Union

SDG Goal Activities and Outcomes
  • Betaga has no industrial employment as such. However, there are many self-employment activities in the Union. Some of the self-employment activities are generated by the skills training that THP volunteers had organized. At present 18% of the people of Betaga eke out their living from petty businesses. Savings catalyzed by self-help groups are used to finance self-employment activities.
  • Betaga is ahead of other Unions of Bagerhat in poultry farming. It has 94 layer farms, 64 broiler farms and 28 duck farms. Total number of poultry and ducks in the Union are estimated to be 1,54,278 (Betaga Union Parishad Budget 2015-16). At present 300 families are involved in poultry production in the Union. A Poultry Farmers’ Cooperative assist and regulate their activities. Everyday 70,000 eggs are sold from the Union to other areas.
  • Fish farming is widespread in the Betaga. There are 785 ponds in the Union which produce approximately 70.64 tons of fish per year. In addition, Betaga has 924 shrimp farms and number of canals producing fish. The total fish production in the Union during 2015-16 was 1,050 tons. A total of 778 individuals are involved fish farming. Everyday fish farmers of Betaga send over two tons fish to other areas for sale.
  • Dairy and cow rearing and goat farming are important sources of income for the people of Betaga. There are 13 registered dairy farms and 23 registered goat farms in the Union. The total number of cows in Betaga are approximately 3,784. The total amount of milk produced is 3000 litre milk everyday.
  • Using the government sponsored employment generation scheme for the poor, 272 poor workers were employed in the past year for the construction of new roads, reconstruction of old roads, paved roadside development and drainage construction.
  • No one goes to bed hungry in Betaga. Although there has not been any measurement of hidden hunger, no visible sign of malnutrition exists in the Union. Betaga is a food surplus Union, producing 3,117 tons and consuming 2,456 tons per year. It produces protein much more than its own needs.
  • Betaga Union Parishad selected 925 families for receiving support under the social safety net schemes last year. From the selected persons, 355 persons (of whom 188 are women) received monthly 300 taka each as old-age pension, 221 divorced women/widows received monthly 300 taka each as allowance, 276 women received monthly 30 kg wheat/rice under the Vulnerable Group Feeding (VGF) program, 1,300 families get 10 kg rice each twice a year. In 2015-16, Union Parishad handed over 1,15,16,878 taka to 1166 persons under the government supported safety net scheme.
  • Last year Union Parishad returned 60 tons of rice received under VGF because enough qualified people were not found in the Union.
  • Betaga has three community clinics. Although the physical facilities of the clinics are not very good and the medicines available are very limited, they function in a transparent manner and provide useful services to the community. THP trained volunteers are involved helping the clinics provide services to the people. Union Parishad ensures financial contributions for clinics especially for safe delivery for mothers.
  • Members of the Standing Committee monitor conditions of sanitation and safe drinking water, mother-child health and breast feeding conditions in the community. Members of SCs also monitor the functioning of various health centers. The THP volunteers motivate the families to use birth control measures.
  • UP organizes free medical and eye camps every year to treat impoverished patients.
  • Schools arranges sports and and other competitions routinely. Cultural activities are a regular phenomenon in the Union.
  • A Mandap for congregation was set up for the Hindu community and dedicated to the memory of martyrs of our war of liberation.
  • 23 youth leaders of Betaga Union, supported by other volunteers, formed 2013 Muktodhara Society to carry out campaigns on water, sanitation and hygiene related issues. They have been saving 50 Taka each per month, having saved 4,870 Taka so far. The Muktodhara Society supports the poor and serious students with these savings.
  • Education, especially improving the quality of education has been highest priority of the Betaga Union Parishad. As part of this effort, the Union Parishad supported the construction of three schools (two secondary and one junior high) with resources received under various government schemes and its own resources, and another junior high school is now under construction.
  • The literacy rate of Betaga Union is 83%, which is much higher than the national average. THP trained youth volunteers carry out adult literacy classes in the Union.
  • The Education Standing Committee has been playing critical role for improving the quality of the education in the Union. Since 2011 it has been monitoring logistics support to schools, functioning of the school management committees, ensuring the hiring of qualified teachers, reducing the dropout rate and ensuring that schools are safe for girls.
  • On the recommendation of the Standing Committee, Betaga Union Parishad initiated Betaga Union Higher Education Support and Extension Project to help poor and meritorious students with scholarships. The UP, under the leadership of Mr. Swapan Das raised Tk. 47,11,420 for this purpose. The local educated and wealthy members of the community donate funds to support this cause.
  • Under this scheme, 15 students pursuing higher education in various institutions received as scholarship Tk. 43,000 per month in 2012; 23 students received Tk. 49,500 in 2013; 29 students received Tk. 59,500 taka in 2014; 29 students received Tk. 63,000 in 2015; and 29 students received Tk. 73,000 in 2016. In 2014, the Standing Committee started giving scholarships to Junior and Secondary School students who score A+ marks.
  • Union Parishad has taken a special initiative named Konnaa Bortica to encourage girls to be enrolled in schools and stay in school, prevent child marriage, and prevent violence and abuse of girls and women. Families who have one or more daughters but no sons are covered under this program. The girls are given education support until age 18 and their families are given support under various social safety net schemes.
  • Last year the Union Parishad carried out a survey and found that 5 beneficiaries of VGF were involved in child marriage, and their food assistance was cancelled to set an example for the community.
  • THP trained volunteers and the relevant ST not only carry our campaigns against child marriage, but also take the help of authorities to stop such marriage. They also work with marriage registrars for this purpose.
  • Union Parishad has created a fund of Tk. 23,00,000 to ensure access to safe and affordable drinking water and sanitation for the community people. Again, this money was raised from the wealthy individuals who have roots in Betaga.
  • All the people of Betaga have access to safe drinking water. As part of it initiative to ensure safe water, Union Parishad supplied piped water to 400 families.
  • Every family in Betaga has access to sanitary latrines. The UP, with the help of HYSAWA fund, set up 30 community latrines along with the supply of safe water. It has also created a rolling fund of Tk. 11,00,000, which it has been loaning out without interest to the community members to upgrade their sanitary latrines.
  • At present, 52 families and business houses use solar energy. Union Parishad is involved in the making it happen.
  • All the households have access to electricity provided by the Palli Biddut Samity.
  • Betaga Union Parishad has been encouraging income generation from non-agricultural sources, especially using modern digital technology. The Betaga Union Digital Centre (UDC) is quite active not only to creating income from non-traditional sources for a group of young entrepreneurs, but also provide many useful services to the citizens using internet. According to the UP, from July 2015 through June 2016, the earning from the UDC was Tk. 1,79,426.
  • With the help of Annual Development Program (ADP) grants, other government grants, support from the LGSP project and Zila Parishad (district level elected body), Betaga Union Parishad has developed the necessary infrastructure and carried out development work throughout the whole Union. Part of these resources were received in the form of rice and wheat. The total amount spent on development work during the 2015-16 (until May) was Tk. 1,11,33,721.
  • Religious institutions of both Muslim and Hindu communities received support from the UP for infrastructure development.
  • The UP has taken participatory social forestry initiatives since 1998-99. This is designed to protect the environment, preventing soil erosion and also create income for the Parishad. As a result of this initiative, the whole Union has become green. The UP has so far planted 60,000 trees and last year earned about Tk. 6,00,000 from the sale of the pruned branches.
  • Organic Betaga is a unique initiative of the Union Parishad. Under this initiative farmers are producing organic food and vegetables in nearly 60 acres of land using vermiculture and other non-chemical fertilizers with support from the Upazila Agriculture Extension Department. The Department is also taking initiative to set up separate market for these products.
  • The Department is also helping the individual farmers throughout the Union to produce products without pesticides. The Union level agriculture functionaries visit the farmers regularly. There are 13 Integrated Pest Management (IPM) and a number of Integrated Crop Management (ICM) clubs, with 25 to 50 members, who receive regular training for producing safe food. THP trained volunteers have been helping in this effort.
  • People with influence used to cultivate Bagda shrimp in the land of the farmers using salt water, which would destroy the cultivable land. They were driven out by the collective efforts of the farmers. Now farmers themselves produce different types of fish using sustainable process.
  • The UP has invested Tk. 2,00,000 to support the farmers to produce 100% organic, safe, healthy, pesticide-free fruits and vegetables for customers. It has also invested money to import new varieties of saplings such as for producing coconut.
  • The Union Parishad, under the leadership of Swapan Das, played the catalytic role in the progress of Betaga Union. It not only worked as a team but also worked in a transparent and accountable manner. In fact, good governance has been an important priority of the Parishad. Regular Ward Shava and Open Budget Meetings have been the means through which transparency and accountability have been been practiced in the Union. Inclusive decision making has been the hallmark of the Betaga Union. THP trained volunteers played important role for the implementation of SDG 16 in the Union. People’s participation was ensured through the activism and effectiveness of 14 Standing Committees, which also includes people from opposition political parties.
  • Betaga Union Parishad, with assistance of its 14 STs, delivered the services that citizens are entitled to from the Union. People receive the services irrespective of caste, creed and religion, which ensures social justice.
  • All births and marriages are regularly registered in Betaga Union.
  • There is no sectarian or political violence in Betaga. In fact, peace and harmony prevail in Betaga. There is also no political interference from the ruling party over the activities of the UP.
  • The holding tax collected by UP is assessed in participatory manner. In this process, the defeated candidates who contested elections and against the Chairmen and Members and local civil society members are involved. They assess the tax in consultation with the property owners. The tax collection of the Union is 100% every year.
  • The Village Court is functional in Betaga and ensures justice.
  • Betaga Union has internet service. The internet service is used in the Union Digital Centre, which is actively providing very useful services to the citizens.
  • Every family of Betaga has at least one mobile phone.

An Inspiring Example to Follow

Although we are into the second year of SDG era, Betaga Union Parishad already achieved some of the SDGs and on its way into achieving others. This has been possible by the gender-focused community-led development initiative created through the partnership of the people of the Union, their elected representatives, a group of volunteers acting as civil society from the ground up and the government functionaries responsible for empowering the citizens with services they deserve to have. The transformative leadership of the Union Parishad and particularly its Chairman has made the successes of Betaga a reality.

The achievements of the Betaga Union owe much to a functional, active and transparent Union Parishad and effective Standing Committees. It is also largely due to the integrated approach, society-wide mobilization and campaigns carried out jointly by the UP and a group of THP trained volunteers acting as ground level civil society. The assistance of various government functionaries made critical contributions in this endeavor. The creation of an SDG Union is not a money centered or staff-driven initiative, the constitutionally mandated body, namely the Union Parishad, took ownership of it and the entire community is involved in it. It is a low cost venture which likely will be sustained. No one is also likely to be left behind in the process of creation of SDG Union. Since in this initiative, people of all color, creed, religion and political persuasion work together for better collective future, it is likely to mitigate conflict and promote peace and harmony among the people.

Towards a National Program to Leave No Citizen’s Voice Behind

The MDGs were designed to get us halfway to a world free from hunger and poverty. The SDGs aspire to finish the job. This makes it necessary to transform promising gender-focused community-led development approaches such as the SDG Union Strategy into full national programs. Since the process of achieving the 2030 goals will take many years, we recommend that Bangladesh take urgent steps to bring gender-focused community-led development to all unions by 2020. This is consistent with the recommendations of the well known study by Jachimowicz, Chafik, Munrat, Prabhu, & Weber (2017) that the policy to end poverty “should move beyond a sole focus on the low-income individual and instead provide additional emphasis on the low income community.” Bangladesh’s broad collection of NGOs possess the skilled facilitators and trainers needed for such a community-based approach. Other countries, such as South Korea, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Kenya and Brazil have already done this to great effect, and Bangladesh can do the same.

Policy Recommendations: To enable Unions to fully implement their constitutional responsibilities in key sectors required to achieve the SDGs, we recommend the following:

  1. Further devolution of public resources, ensuring UPs manage at least 20%. Currently, only 18% of public resources are devolved across all sub-national levels.
  2. Devolution of all the government functionaries who work at the Union level and additional personnel to work with Standing Committees.
  3. High-level mandates for line ministry personnel to embrace the concept of active citizen participation in the activities of Union Parishads, including training in gender-focused, community-led development.
  4. International support for strategic planning at the district level between District level government officials and NGOs for campaigns to mobilize active citizenry and Ward Shava participation in every Union.


Bangladesh Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development & Cooperatives. Local Government (UP) Act of 2009 (Amended 2010). Retrieved from http://www.lgd.gov.bd/LGD_FILES/local_government_union_parishad_act2009.pdf

Betaga Union Parishad (2016) (2015), Budget 2015-16 and Budget 2014-15, www.betagaup.bagerhat.gov.bd. (in Bangla)

Betaga Union Parishad (2016), The Standing Committee on Agriculture, Fisheries, Animal Resources and Economic Development, www.betagaup.bagerhat.gov.bd. (In Bangla)

Betaga Union Parishad (2016) (2015), Budget 2015-16 and Budget 2014-15, www.betagaup.bagerhat.gov.bd. (In Bangla)

Betaga Union Parishad (2016) (2016), Encouragement, Betaga Union Higher Education Assistance and Extension Project, www.betagaup.bagerhat.gov.bd. (In Bangla)

Constitution of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh (1972). Retrieved from http://bdlaws.minlaw.gov.bd/sections_detail.php?id=367&sections_id=24613.

Coonrod, John (2016). Participatory Local Democracy: Key to Community-Led Rural Development. Development, 58(2-3) 333-340.

Jachimowicz, J.M, Chafik, S., Munrat, S., Prabhu, J.C. and Weber, E.U. (2017). Community trust reduces myopic decisions of low-income individuals. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A. 14(21).

Mahmud, W., Asadullah, M.N., & Savoia, A. (2013). Bangladesh’s Achievements in Social Development Indicators: Explaining the Puzzle. Economic & Political Weekly, 48(44) 26-28.

Majumdar, Badiul Alam (2014). Partnership Between the People, Local Bodies and the Government for Achieving MDGs in Bangladesh. XXIII IPSA World Congress of Political Science. Retrieved from http://paperroom.ipsa.org/papers/view/31371.

THP (1994). What constitutes an enabling environment for the poor to succeed in their own development? Retrieved from https://communityleddev.org/1994/04/01/what-constitutes-an-enabling-environment-for-the-poor-to-succeed-in-their-own-development/

UNDP (2015). Bangladesh MDGs Progress Report 2015. Retrieved from http://www.bd.undp.org/content/dam/bangladesh/docs/MDG/MDGs%20Bangladeh%20Progress%20Report_%20PDF_Final_September%202015.pdf

Do Public Services Actually Reach the Public?

Local governments play a key role in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals through the delivery of public services. Yet, few systematic indicators exist to determine how effective local public sector spending is on a country’s development (i.e. economic growth, poverty reduction, improvement of infrastructure and services). The Local Public Sector Initiative (LPSI) is attempting to solve this problem through developing a set of measures to analyze and compare dimensions of local public sectors around the world.  

LPSI metrics measure varying aspects of the institutions and finances that comprise the Local Public Sector (LPS). LPS is understood to be “part of the public sector that regularly interacts with residents, civil society, and the private sector within a localized setting”. The metrics used to profile the LPS are a combination of qualitative and quantitative measures related to government structures, allocation of responsibility, and financial records that can be compared across countries.

lps-metrics-e1496420455558.pngLPSI offers a template for persons interested in creating a country LPS profile. The template is accompanied by an easy-to-follow guide for filling out and interpreting public sector information in Excel.

By evaluating four distinct metrics, we can gain insight into the how accessible public services are to local residents, and how development is impacted as a result.

Organizational/Governance Structure

An understanding of governmental hierarchy, especially below the national level, can reveal how the public sector is structured. This structure may indicate a relationship between coordination of governance levels and delivery of public services. For example, larger jurisdictions may have larger economies of scale, while smaller jurisdictions allow residents more voice.

Organization refers to the structure of authority below the central (federal) level. Organization is measured by the number of administrative tiers/levels thatLPS Organization exist, and the jurisdiction of each level. If jurisdiction falls within a high-level tier, as well as a sub-administrative tier, this information should be recorded for comparison.  

Governance refers to function, legal status, and budgetary responsibilities. These dimensions are measured by the types, features, functions, and governance of each tier, such as administrative hierarchy, existence of elections, and functional profile.

For more information on measuring the Organizational/Governance Structure of the local public sector, please visit http://www.localpublicsector.org/docs/LPSCP_Handbook.pdf

Functional Responsibilities

Function refers to the responsibilities of each level of the LPS. The focus of this metric is to determine which governance or administrative tiers are responsible for delivering certain public services.

LPS FunctionUsing the the Classification of Functions of Governments developed by the IMF, functional responsibilities are measured by reporting the services each tier is expected to deliver. It is also important to note if multiple levels/tiers share responsibility to perform a function or deliver a service.

For more information on measuring the Functional Responsibilities of the local public sector, please visit http://www.localpublicsector.org/docs/LPSCP_Handbook.pdf

Fiscal Profile

Comparing governance level revenues, intergovernmental transfers, and borrowing to LPS expenditures provides a better understanding of how effective public services are on economic growth.

To form a clear image of a country’s public sector finances, we want to compare local expenditures and revenues. Public financial information on the national, state, and local government can be found in the IMF Government Finance Statistics (GFS) Yearbook, but this data exists for very few developing countries. The tiers or levels of local government often report their finances, as well, and are sometimes found in the national budget reported by the state or country.

LPSI considers four types of community-level expenditures:

Central expenditures are funds and services provided to local communities by the federal government directly. Using IMF financial statistics and national budget documents, we can measure the amount of money spent by the central government on each sector (i.e., Health, Education, Agriculture, Sanitations, etc.). Economic classification of funds are also used to measure these expenditures, including payrolls, interest, subsidies, and grants.

Devolved expenditures are funds and services provided by local governments. Devolution, also known as decentralization, is defined as, “the transfer of authority for decision-making, finance, and management to quasi-autonomous units of local government with corporate status.” Thus, local governments are given responsibility for Expenditure Breakdownproviding certain public services to residents. Financial information regarding local government expenditure is reported by the IMF GFS Yearbook, and by local governments directly.

Deconcentrated expenditures are the expenses of deconcentrated entities. These entities are a hierarchical part of a higher-level administrative tier or governance level. Often considered a weak form of decentralization, deconcentrated entities do not have political leadership, but are able to shift responsibilities from officials in the capital city to local districts or provinces. Deconcentrated entities are formal entities within the national budget, and therefore financial information for deconcentrated expenditures are easy to extract.

LPS Exp Profile
Panel C above shows a complete LPS expenditure profile (divided into columns by sector). Central expenditures (grey) are compared to spending by local governments and entities: devolved expenditures (dark blue), and deconcentrated and delegated/direct expenditures (light blue).

Delegated/Direct expenditures come from entities that exist outside the public sector, but work closely with local residents to deliver public services. These entities are often parastatal organizations, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or outsourced entities from the private sector. The central government delegates responsibility to these entities to provide certain services. The only expenditures considered to be delegated/direct are those from localized government services delivered through close interaction between the public sector and citizens.

Compare LPS
The image above shows the LPS expenditure profiles of ten different countries with 100% equaling the total expenses of the local public sector.

In creating a fiscal profile, LPSI also considers revenues, intergovernmental transfers, and borrowing across governance levels or administrative tiers in the public sector. This information reveals how LPS spending is financed, and can inform us about the efficiency and accountability of the LPS in question.

Revenue consists of local, or own source, taxes, social contributions, grants, and miscellaneous non-tax monetary sources.

Intergovernmental Transfers can be general or conditional. General-purpose transfers are not targeted, whereas conditional transfer are targeted. Examples of conditional transfers include recurrent transfers (i.e. wage grants) and capital transfers (i.e. capital grants).

Borrowing is an important indicator of local government finance capability. Net lending/borrowing records allow us to measure the net result of transactions.

Revenue, intergovernmental transfer, and borrowing information is most commonly found in national budget documents, documents from local government ministries, and other documents reporting LPS finances.

For more information on measuring the Fiscal Profile of the local public sector, please visit http://www.localpublicsector.org/docs/LPSCP_Handbook.pdf

Institutional Profile

The local public sector’s arrangement is important in assessing institutional and intergovernmental relationships between subnational levels. Autonomy in these areas can affect a government’s ability to adapt to local needs. Poor arrangements can also lead to corruption and misuse of local resources.  

Political arrangement is used to evaluate political decentralization in the LPS. Because decentralization brings decision-making capabilities directly to the people, it is a central part of delivering public services. Political arrangements in the public sector are documented through the types of power structures, the structure and quality of local electoral systems, the nature of political party systems, and the local participation and accountability at each governance level or administrative tier.

LPS InstitutionsAdministrative arrangement is imperative in the actual deliverance of public goods. However, the ability of local governments to respond to public needs is reliant on a government’s administrative autonomy and power. The effectiveness of administrative arrangements in the LPS is measured by the amount of authority a local government has over local financial management, procurement, human resource administration, and public service delivery at each level.

Fiscal arrangement is defined by LPSI as “the assignment of revenue sources;  the provision of intergovernmental fiscal transfers; and the institutional framework surrounding subnational borrowing and debt.” Assignment of revenue sources is measured the degree of local control over the tax rate and base. The design of intergovernmental fiscal transfers includes the formula allocation of resources, as well as timeliness and completeness. Subnational borrowing of a LPS is measured by the authority and autonomy of a government to borrow money.

For more information on measuring the Institutional Profile of the local public sector, please visit http://www.localpublicsector.org/docs/LPSCP_Handbook.pdf

Future Implications

Expanding local public sectors brings decisions and finances closer to the people, effectively encouraging empowerment, individual ownership, and improved economies. Moving forward, the LPSI metrics offer a systematic way of evaluating local public sectors. This methodology makes it possible to  identify which local communities effectively receive public services, and which do not.  In turn, we can learn from these observations and promote community-led development that improves access to local public services.


Photos courtesy of The Local Public Sector Initiative

Featured Image Courtesy of the Asian Development Bank