WB: Absence of well-functioning authority hampers access to basic needs

Absence of a well functioning local government institution in Bangladesh seriously constrained access to quality education, healthcare, safe drinking water and sanitation, particularly in rural areas, says the Word Bank.

World Bank’s country director for Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan Mercy Miyang Tembon came up with the remarks while she was delivering a speech at South Asian Network for Economic Modelling (Sanem) conference in Dhaka on Saturday.

The two-day conference, titled “Subnational Finances and Local Service Delivery,” was jointly organized by Sanem, South Asia Economic Policy Network and the World Bank.

Planning Minister MA Mannan attended the conference as chief guest, while Sanem Executive Director Professor Selim Raihan presided over the conference.

“Bangladesh is developing successfully. As a result, remarkable improvements have been made in human and infrastructural development,” Mercy Miyang Tembon remarked.

However, access to quality education, healthcare, safe drinking water and sanitation still remains deprived, especially in rural areas, said Tembon.

“There are several factors that hinder progress in the delivery of basic services. One factor is the absence of a well functioning local government institution in Bangladesh,” she added.

Meanwhile, MA Mannan said the present government has come out from prioritising focus on developing urban areas.

“The colonial trend has always been to facilitate the urban areas, 90% of the benefits from development policies would go to the urban areas,” he also said.

“This social structure needed to be changed after the colonial masters left. Our government has been able to change that to a great extent, has addressed the drastic question of poverty and inclusive development, and we take pride in that,” said the minister.

“There are several problems including ensuring pure drinking water, quality education, sanitation, infrastructures, and poverty in rural areas. So we have focus on rural development for inclusive growth, as well as improving local government activities,” Mannan added.

“To this end, government has to improve the standard of various services given to people. In this area, we need cooperation from all.”

He also said that there was a huge gap between rural and urban areas, which came down and we have brought about 95% people under electricity coverage.

Meanwhile the World Bank representative also expressed concerns with the weak capacity of capacities concerns with system of public financial management as resources  are not all well spent.

International experience suggests that the basic services such as education, healthcare, water, and local law and order are often delivered better when their provisions are decentralised, the World Bank official said.

On the other hand, decentralisation comes with challenges and it needs to be done right to really improve service delivery, she added.

Talking on decentralisation, former Bangladesh Bank governor Dr Atiur Rahman said: “Bangladesh remains one of the most centralised countries in the world, where the share of local governance expenditures in the budget in only 7%, although the growth is tremendous.”

Nevertheless, the goals – such as the status of upper middle income, complete eradication of poverty and decentralization – are more important for Bangladesh in the recent context, he also added.