The key to addressing some pressing issues related to governance, development and balance of power lies in strengthening the local government system. Yet, as recently highlighted by discussants at a conference on “LG: Reflections on Agenda for Reform,” our local government system is in a mess.
The local government in Bangladesh isn't empowered enough to take autonomous decisions. Elected officials at local government bodies are still controlled and dictated by mid-level bureaucrats at the ministry. They don't receive enough funding, while their authority and functions are often undermined by district-level public servants. After the local government elections began to be held with party symbols, experts have observed, they are now forced to toe the official party line.
In addition, their rivalry with local influential lawmakers—who eye development projects despite having an entirely different jurisdiction—is the most damaging for them. The lawmakers need to understand that it's not their primary job to oversee development projects in their constituencies. Their first and foremost job is to debate policies and enact, repeal or modify laws to suit the public interest, not to govern.
The benefit of having an effective rural government system is that, through bottom-up planning, it helps spread the fruit of development to the masses.
As promised by the ruling party in its Vision 2021 manifesto, the AL-led government should focus on decentralising the governing system. It should take measures to overhaul the local government system, perhaps, by forming a commission, as suggested by the experts, so that the system can live up to its name and function as a real government—not as a subordinate agency of the central government.