The concept of development is continuously changing comprising many dimensions, like, economic, social, political and administrative etc. Economic development means raising national income, reducing poverty and more equitable distribution of wealth and income. Political development refers to the capacity of a political system to deal with its own fundamental problems more effectively while responding to the changing political demands of the people. On the other hand, social development indicates bringing about improvement in the social being of the people. It lays stress on provision of health services, education, housing, cultural amenities etc. Administrative development covers both the development of administration and the administration of development. The former refers to strengthening and improving administrative capabilities and the latter is concerned with the organisation and management of development. There are some basic components that serve as a conceptual basis for understanding the inner meaning of development, such as, life sustenance, the ability to provide basic needs that include food, shelter, health and protection and self-esteem. It means a sense of worth and self respect that includes identity, dignity, respect, honour or recognition; and freedom from servitude. It means freedom or emancipation from alienating material conditions of life and from social servitude to nature, ignorance, misery, institutions and dogmatic beliefs. Development to be meaningful needs to be effective which means the results of development should be enjoyed by the wide section of the people and the process ought to be inclusive and sustainable. It is believed that effective development largely depends on good governance. Good governance signifies a participative manner of governing which is responsible, accountable and transparent based on the principles of efficiency, legitimacy and consensus for the purpose of promoting the rights of individual citizens and the public interest, thus indicating the exercise of political will for ensuring the material welfare of society and sustainable development with social justice. A set of criteria of good governance is imperative for effective development and should guide efforts to strengthen the relationships between the government and the citizens. These are accountability that refers to adhering to an established set of criteria in measuring the performance of governing institutions; transparency that requires that the system for designing rules and regulations be open, that the regulations be simple and clear, and that financial, supervisory and enforcement institutions have strong disclosure requirements.
Transparency of operations and functions are essential for ensuring credibility to the electorate; responsiveness that indicates a measure of accountability wherein leaders and public servants address the needs of the public; participation that ensures that people are closely involved in economic, social, cultural and political process that affects their lives. It involves the people in the process of problem identification, prioritisation and plan preparation. This process promotes the sense of transparency and accountability; management innovation comprises reforms successfully implemented in various areas of administration, e.g., administrative procedures, resource mobilisation, political reforms, economic sustainability, environmental preservation, community participation, etc.; public-private partnership meaning actively forging joint working arrangements between public and the private and civic sectors in the programmes of development; decentralised management by delineating and delegating responsibilities to various local government units of responsibility; and networking that includes the ability to forge cooperative relationships with other entities to build infrastructural capacities and co-produce services.To achieve the above, now a day, wider participation of the people in decision-making process is considered essential, and decentralisation has been advocated as a means in ensuring the said participation. Firstly, decentralisation is necessary to accelerate the pace and spread the benefits of growth, integrate diverse regions and use scarce resources more efficiently to promote development in poverty stricken or economically backward areas; and secondly, poorest groups are to obtain a larger share of government services and means must be found to decentralise public service delivery and involve the beneficiaries in planning and decision making at local level.
Local governments are integral parts of the decentralisation process. Like the central government the local government institutions at different levels perform many of the similar functions within their legal jurisdictions. The scale and scope of these activities are however, limited. But being closer to the community the development activities and the services provided by the local government institutions have immediate impact on their lives. The division of functions between the central government and the local government bodies also can ensure productivity and efficiency and cost effectiveness for both. Moreover, as local government institutions are nearer to the community these can ensure participation of them in the planning and implementation of development programmes and projects; supervision of various local institutions and mobilisation of local resources. On the other hand, local government institutions as the representative organisation of the people can ensure better accountability. The more aware, vigilant and active the community becomes through their participation in the local government units; greater will be the pressure on these institutions to become transparent and accountable.
Decentralisation system of governance is being practiced in Bangladesh for quite a long time. But the system still has some constraints and limitations. Some common challenges to the decentralised system of government in Bangladesh are limited institutional capacity; overlapping of roles and functions of different decentralised bodies; weak local resource base and lack of clear cut policy on fiscal transfer system from central government to these bodies and insufficient human resources. Considering the above, some measures could be suggested for Bangladesh to ensure effective development through decentralised system of governance. These include development of a comprehensive national decentralisation policy with an implementation plan in line with the policy with specific time frame; people’s participation at all decentralised levels and spheres of governance and initiating stakeholders’ movements for effective development and good governance at all levels.
(The different sources of information are acknowledged with gratitude)
The writer is the Professor and Chairman, Department of Public Administration, University of Dhaka and Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh