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Empowerment of local govt bodies key to BD's inclusive dev: Experts

Two-day South Asia Economic Network Conference starts in city

FE Report | September 08, 2019 00:00:00

Speakers at a programme on Saturday stressed the need for empowering the local government institutions through administrative decentralisation aiming to provide quality services for rural people and improve their living standards.

Engaging the country's citizens in the local government activity is also necessary to understand their needs and develop overall service quality, they observed.

The observations came at the inaugural session of the two-day 4th South Asia Economic Network Conference titled 'Sub-national Finances and Local Service Delivery' which began at BRAC Centre Inn in the city's Mohakhali.

The programme was organised by South Asia Network on Economic Modelling (SANEM) in collaboration with the World Bank (WB) and South Asia Economic Policy Network.

Planning Minister MA Mannan addressed the inaugural session as the chief guest. WB Country Director in Bangladesh Dr Mercy Miyang Tembon, WB Chief Economist for South Asia Dr Hans Timmer, former governor of Bangladesh Bank (BB) Dr Atiur Rahman, SANEM Chairman Bazlul Haque Khondker and its Executive Director Dr Selim Raihan were also present and spoke, among others.

In his speech, Mannan said the government is working to make quality services available in rural Bangladesh to uplift people's living standards there.

It is a government priority to equally develop rural areas alongside cities, he said.

"We have to improve various services in rural areas and we want to raise the standard of living in villages like developed countries," he viewed.

The minister said there are some problems in ensuring clean water, better education, sanitation, infrastructure, skilled manpower, electrification and poverty in rural Bangladesh which can be improved through better local government activities.

Speaking at the first session of the conference, Dr Atiur said, "Bangladesh is one of the most centralised countries in the world where the share of local government expenditures in the budget is only 7.0 per cent despite tremendous growth."

The rate of expenditure in other developing countries is around 19 per cent while it is 28 per cent in developed countries, he noted.

The former central bank governor said empowerment of the local government bodies is important for the country's inclusive development and it can only be done by administrative decentralisation of these institutions.

To become a middle-income country within the projected time by alleviating poverty, he said, a vibrant rural economy is essential for raising overall living standards of the country's people.

The WB country director said one factor that hinders efficient local delivery is poor local governance. South Asian countries should and will learn from each other to improve local service delivery, she said.

In a presentation, WB economist (South Asia Office) Dr Robert Beyer said decentralisation offers opportunities for South Asia but different countries face different challenges.

"In South Asia, equity concerns are important. What is important is where the money is being spent. From the data taken across 82 countries over 1970-2016, we can see that decentralisation favours convergence in spending," he said.

Dr Manish Gupta of National Institute of Public Finance and Policy of India, Dr Gopi K Khanal of National Natural Resources and Fiscal Commission of Nepal and Dr Monzur Hossain of Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) presented papers on local government finance scenario of their respective countries.


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