On 23 June 2020, Governance Advocacy Forum-GAF the platform consisting of civil society organizations and networks at the national and international levels, local government platforms, local government experts and an alliance of concerned organizations organized an online discussion meeting titled ‘Role of Local Government During the Period of Corona and Budget 2020-21’. Chairperson of the Governance Advocacy Forum and Chairman of the PKSF Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad had presided over the program. Coordinator of the Governance Advocacy Forum and Executive Director of WAVE Foundation Mohsin Alipresented the article and moderated the meeting. Professor of the dept. of Economics Dr. M M Akash, Professor of Development Studies Dr. Kazi Maruful Islam, Professor of Public Administration Dr. Ferdous Arfina Osman from University of Dhaka; Chairman of Dumki Upazila Parishad of Patuakhali Harun-ur-Rashid Hawlader, Sreekol Union Parishad Chairman of Sreepur Upazila of Magura M M Mostasim Billah Sangram, Coordinator of Manusher Jonno Foundation Ziaul Karim along with the others participated in the discussion. Civil society representatives who were present on that occasion also delivered speeches. WAVE Foundation facilitates the secretariat role for the network.
Since the beginning of the corona outbreak, local government representatives have been as active on the ground as any other front-line fighter. They are delivering government relief to the grassroots level people and giving them the courage and necessary support alongside. Although we are more familiar with the story of the embezzlement of relief by the people’s representatives. In this context, the National Budget announced by the Honorable Finance Minister for the Fiscal Year 2020-21 shows that the proposed allocation for local government and rural development (BDT 39,573 crore) is reduced than the actual allocation of the previous year (BDT 40,473 crore). Similarly, the actual allocation (BDT 35,211 crore) for development (BDT 33,674 crore) has also decreased. As a result, with a budget less than the current fiscal year, it will be difficult to increase the present role of local government institutions in the coming financial year and also to continue the ongoing activities. Therefore, the actual development allocation for local government institutions needs to be increased to at least 4 per cent, not 1.7 per cent, for the purpose of tackling corona and economic recovery.
Dr. Qazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad took part in the discussion and said that unlike the people are affected due to corona, similarly, they are affected economically. But the budget has been conventional. Although there is a lot of talk about the importance of local government from higher levels of government, it is not being implemented. But since this epidemic is not a common epidemic, everyone must work together. In this case, the role of local government is the most. Professor Dr. M M Akash said the discussion was a timely initiative, but the question remains as to whether the proposal in this budget will be right in the end. So, the government could make an interim or disaster special budget. The special allocation announced by the Prime Minister due to Corona needed to focus on how it would be implemented. There is no substitute for the importance of local government in order to properly enlist new poor people for assistance. It is not possible only with bureaucracy, the government has to understand it. Local government bodies need to be responsible for overseeing government assistance while maintaining transparency and accountability. Dr. Kazi Maruful Islam said that the acting type of corona disaster cannot be accommodated within the existing disaster related legal or regulatory framework. It is necessary to consider the compatibility of the legal activities of the local government with this disaster. The food or other assistance that is needed now has been started by the government through administration or other means. Therefore, in this context, everyone needs to look at what the local government can do in the future. That is why it is necessary to make recommendations through new research. Dr. Ferdous Arfina Osman said the existing disaster management committees in local government bodies could have been strengthened apart from forming new corona prevention committees. In order to control such disasters, the country’s public health system needed to be coordinated with the local government system. Japan has succeeded in this way. Looking at the national budget this time, it does not seem that we are in a state of emergency. At this time, the revenue collection of the local government will naturally decrease, although their work and responsibilities will increase due to various reasons including health. So, in this case, the government may think of increasing the allocation for them. Harun-Ur-Rashid Hawlader said any disaster, including corona, can be easily tackled by building a ‘teamwork’ minimizing the discrimination between the administration and the people’s representatives at the field level. In this case, instructions have to come from the Prime Minister’s Office or the Cabinet. Job creation is very important for the large number of people who have moved to the villages during the Corona period. There is no alternative to strengthening the local government to implement the promises made by the government to take the benefits of the town to the village. Considering the revenue issues, If the government gives a share of the annual development allocation to the local government institutions, the institutes will be more motivated to increase their revenue.
While presenting the paper, Mohsin Ali said there is no alternative to strengthening local government in the view of democratic decentralization policy for equitable development. The national budget also needs to have effective guidelines for implementing the government’s election promises and overcoming the ongoing Corona crisis. And in implementing these, the local government institutions have to be given the responsibility, collecting the assigned works accordingly and confidence must be kept. In this context, the following recommendations on behalf of the GAF has made to take specific steps at the initiative of the government: 1. Increase the actual development allocation of local government institutions from 1.7 percent to at least 4 percent for preventing corona and economic recovery; 2. Ensure accurate database of all extremely poor, destitute and vulnerable people in the next financial year through the joint efforts of local government, local administration and social representatives; 3. In the context of Corona, special initiatives should be taken by the government to raise public awareness for compliance with health regulations, social security and proper implementation of government relief programs, with the joint participation of local administrations and local governments as well as all parties; 4. Strengthen local government institutions in view of decentralization policy and take special initiatives by the Ministry of Local Government to review and amend existing laws to ensure balance of power between public representatives and government officials; 5. To give specific responsibilities to the local people’s representatives in implementing and supervising the activities taken by the government to overcome the Corona crisis and to safeguard transparency and accountability of activities, ensuring punishment for those involved in corruption in any sector.