Role of local government institutions in achieving MDGs

Out of eight goals set in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by the United Nations, Bangladesh has made remarkable progress in reducing child mortality (Goal 4). Achievement in combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases are also quite satisfactory (Goal 6). Other areas that will probably reach the targeted goal by 2015 include; eradication of extreme poverty and hunger (Goal 1), achieving universal primary education (goal 2) and promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women (Goal 3). Goal 5 i.e. Improvement of Maternal Health is lagging far behind and there are worries that Bangladesh may not be able to achieve the target.

Although net enrollment in primary education (Goal 2) is quite satisfactory, other two sub-targets– proportion of pupils starting in grade one who reaches grade five, and adult literacy rate of 15-24 years old is moving forward at a slow pace. Again employment to population ratio (Goal 1) which aims at achieving full and productive employment and decent work for all, including young and women still needs a big leap to attain target. Other two areas need more or less attention to reach the target by 2015.

local govtIt is pertinent to mention that major beneficiaries of the MDGs live in the urban and rural areas and this vast big population is yet to reap the benefit from development activities relating to MDGs. This happened due to the fact that they have never been a part of the development process and that their voice was unheard. With only four years left to achieve MDGs, Bangladesh needs to strategise ways so that development reaches the people who live at the bottom of the pyramid. Here comes the role of local government institutions (LGI) to come up with local development agenda that reflect the aspiration of the urban and rural people, the marginalised in particular who comprises the major portion as MDG beneficiaries.

Present role of LGI: Bangladesh like most other countries of the world is organised in a decentralised manner. Important public services are delivered at regional and local levels by LGIs. But LGIs often are unable to provide these services in a satisfactory manner as they lack from adequate resources and proper control on public service delivery agencies. LGIs in Bangladesh neither have their own development agenda nor have access to the national one. It is due to facts that planning process is too centralised, LGIs at the same time lack from the capacity to formulate their own plan or contribute or influence the national planning process. Conflict of interest between local and national and intra local stakeholders are other two major obstacles that restrain LGIs from owning the national planning process.

Translating ADP into local agenda: Presently annual development plan (ADP) being a top down approach often lacks local agenda. Status of progress toward MDGs suggests that ADP should take a broad look of local needs and ensure that development works are in consistence with the local needs and benefit the urban and rural people, particularly the marginalised. On the other hand, LGIs do not have enough access to resources and planning process. There also exists a wide gap between level of duties and amount of resources. If well equipped, LGIs can play a pivotal role in translating ADP into local agenda. For example, creation of employment for all (only 59.3 in 2009) by 2015 will be quite impossible to achieve as both private and public employment opportunities are largely city centric. So it is a felt need that the large unemployed population living in districts, upazilas and unions must be offered decent job opportunities. It is not possible for city centric private sector to create such large scale job opportunity and only LGIs in collaboration with private and development sector can do so.

MDGs and redefined role of LGIs: The present status of MDG achievement suggests for a more effective and efficient local development policy and redefined role of both central and local governments. The 2010 global forum on local development opines for a central government that will set explicit local development objectives, build multi-level governance system and provide exogenous intervention. At the same time local governments need to assume increased responsibilities to foster local development and accelerate progress towards the MDGs.

There are at least six key areas in which local governments have a strong comparative advantage to deliver on both local and national objectives. These are: (1) delivering services, (2) fostering local economic development, (3) building climate change resilience, (4) achieving food security, (5) supporting state-building and democratisation in post-conflict settings, and (6) promoting gender equality. It is high time for Bangladesh to think of a redefined role of LGIs i.e. decide on concrete steps local government can take in partnership with the central government, private sector and the community to advance the MDG agenda.

The way forward: There are strong evidences from around the world that a local approach may not be solution to economic, social and environmental challenges but certainly can be part of the solution. We can imagine a future Bangladesh where rural areas will thrive, districts will act as hubs for development and growth benefits will reach the poor and marginalised. The government, therefore, needs to act strategically and deliberately from the national level to local level by translating the local agenda into national agenda. A bottom-up and LGI-led MDG centric development initiatives will ultimately result in effective decentralisation that has been an agenda for successive governments.

(This article appeared in the financial express on 2 January 20112)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: