Learning from Context: Participatory Budgeting in Bangladesh
Since I was young, I have been observing the pain of poor and marginalized people and trying to understand where the problem really was. With time, I understood that the problem is the politics behind each and every economic activities and decisions which only serve the powerful people but not the poor and marginalized people. I also realized that the problem is there but the solution is there as well! This is when I made the commitment to fight for social accountability so that poor and marginalized people can get a better life. In October 2014, I participated in the GPSA Knowledge Platform E-Learning Course on “Fostering Strategic Social Accountability”, which have been and will be helpful for me in my journey. I believe that the module on Political Economy Analysis was the most useful module of this E-Course, especially in a developing country like Bangladesh. This module helped me identify the main factors within my socio political context that could influence the outcomes of my social accountability (SAcc) initiatives.
The research paper From Political Economy to Political Analysis by David Hudson and Adrian Leftwitch shed light on many questions that had been disturbing me for a long time. I am from a developing country where political culture is very much confrontational, which makes it very important to understand the politics behind every economic decision. SUPRO, my organization, is currently working to ensure the participatory and decentralized budget in Bangladesh. However, political analysis is related to local government and many political decisions which make it tough for organizations like SUPRO to get involved. There are many factors within our socio political context which are influencing the outcomes of our SAcc initiatives such as the ones below:
- In Bangladesh, two political parties share the power. This situation makes it easier for them to act in disrespect of accountability principles. The lack of accountability from our politics constitutes the main factor which is influencing the outcomes of our initiatives.
- The black box within policy formulation processes, which is basically an attempt to bias the policy by political leaders, is also a very relevant factor which needs to be taken into account. It limits the influence of CSO’s on policy formulation and policy makers formulate policies without really considering the well-being of the people.
- We have also been facing a challenge in the traditional mind set of citizens, who are not aware of their rights. They think that the government is doing them a favor by providing essential services. We have to change this misconception. We have to make them understand that getting these services is their right, that they can make the government accountable and demand the improvement of these services.
- The excessive bureaucracy is another problem. Most of bureaucrats want to keep their power of position which makes it really tough to make them or the system accountable in the context of Bangladesh.
SUPRO believes that participatory decentralized budget is the pre-condition of economic development. But in Bangladesh, the budgetary process is totally centralized and bureaucratic. Since 2001, SUPRO has been working to change this practice. After a long fight, in 2013 the Bangladesh government implemented the Tangail district budget. However, this budget is more of a budget allocation than a participatory budget. According to our analysis, some political factors are responsible for this. To ensure participatory decentralized budgeting, local government is one of the main stakeholders and needs to be powerful. However in Bangladesh, local governments are not so powerful. After the liberation war, Bangladesh faced many political and economic problems, which we overcome slowly. From 1975 to 1989, the government introduced the Upazila (Sub District) in local governments, which seemed to be the most effective solution to ensure participatory decentralized budgeting in Bangladesh. However, change in state power brought many changes at the local level and in BNP (Bangladesh Nationalist Party) regime, resulting in the dissolution of the Upazila system. This attempt therefore hampered the power analysis of our local government. In 2008, a new change in power brought an innovative Awami league government, which established the Upazila (Sub District) system again. Currently, the upazilas are active but they are still struggling for their prerogatives to be put into practice as mentioned by the law. So far, this context hampered SUPRO’s efforts of campaigning and advocacy to ensure participatory decentralized budgeting in Bangladesh, which could help improve social accountability in the country.
The paper by David Hudson and Adrian Leftwitch showed me how political analysis enables one to dig down to the messy, everyday politics and how a development activist can strengthen her or his social accountability initiatives through a meticulous political analysis. The e-learning course’s first module on political economy analysis gave me the basis to understand the critical dynamics of the development sector. Now that I have a better idea about how to make a political economy analysis, my next steps in my project will be to do the political analysis in an improved way to ensure a participatory and decentralized national budget in Bangladesh.
 Dil participated to the GPSA Knowledge Platform E-learning course on Fostering Strategic Social Accountability and completed the course among the most dedicated participants.