A budget, of the people
Sitting under a mango tree on a sunny Saturday morning, the wrinkled face of Haider Ali brimmed with pride as a local government official addressed the thousand-strong crowd. "Dear Citizens, now we are going to announce the budget of Devhata Upazila Parishad for FY 2013-2014 before we open the floor and hear your comments and views," boomed the voice over the PA system. For Mr Ali, a freedom fighter in Bangladesh’s War of Independence in 1971, it was an overwhelming feeling to have his opinions, and those of his fellow residents, recognized in prioritizing development spending for his area.
"It's true that we have got a country through the War in 1971 but could not make it as we desired. Many of our dreams that we cherished at that time still remained elusive even after 42 years of the independence,” Mr Ali, who lives in his native Satkhira said.
When Devhata Upazila (upazila is a tier of local governance that presides over a number of unions) announced its Budget for the coming fiscal year through an ‘Open Budget Discussion’ on 25th May, Mr Ali was one of more than a thousand people who attended.
- 362 local government institutions in 6 districts more inclusive and accountable.
- 10 million people benefitted from 10,000 community-managed infrastructure projects.
- 40-50% increased tax collection in 30 pilot union parishads.
“What I have been a part of today fills my heart with pride, that one of the remotest upazilas of the country has announced its budget through an open discussion with its residents," Mr Ali said at the end of the session.
Devhata Upazila was the first out of 483 UZPs of the country to announce and hold an open discussion on budget for fiscal year 2013-2014.
"Until today, I hadn’t ever seen the budget for my upazila. Today the budget is being prepared after discussions that prioritise the demands and problems of the residents of this upazila,” said Mr Ali. “This is democracy,” he said.
The total budget of Tk 90 lakhs (roughly US $112,000) was to place special emphasis on education, health and information and communications technology.
Before announcing the budget, the Upazila Parishad, with support from the United Nations Development Programme, had held a series of pre-budget meetings and consultations with a cross-section of citizens, professionals, civil society members and local journalists to identify local problems, demands and priorities and incorporate those in the budget.
UNDP’s Upazila Governance Project (UZGP) has been commissioned as part of the overall programme framework of UNDP and UNCDF support to the Government of Bangladesh local governance reforms. It is being supported by the European Union (EU), the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and implemented by the Local Government Division (LGD). Providing support and training to the UZP functionaries to enhance their skills and knowledge to prepare the plans and budget is one of areas of capacity building initiatives the UZGP is working on.
Immediately after launching its journey last year, the UZGP provided a 3-day General (Refresher) training to 1438 Chairs, Vice-chairs and Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNOs) of all 483 UZPs of the country to make the UZPs more effective and service-oriented for citizens.
"The training given by the UZGP helps us in preparing the plans and budget. We now know how to prepare the budget more meticulously and in a more participatory manner," said S M Golam Mustafa, Chairman of Devhata Upazila. "And this was possible for the knowledge and skills we got from the trainings provided by the UZGP," he said.
Shaila Khan, Assistant Country Director and Head, Local Governance Cluster at UNDP addressed the function as special guest. "This open budget discussion demonstrates how vibrant the Upazila Parishad is and we are really happy to see elected public representatives, citizens, government officials, members of the civil society, NGOs and media contribute towards making the budget more democratic, transparent and participatory," she said.
"It's a great demonstration of a pluralistic society where decisions were taken through wider public opinion by consultations and we expect that this practice will be supported through legislation soon," MS Khan said.
A lively discussion for and against the budget allocations of the UZP for FY 2013-2014 was also held soon after announcing the budget.
"There is no allocation for addressing the water stagnation, salinity and floods that is hampering the agri-production of the Upazila badly," Chand Mian, a farmer of the Upazila said. "The roads and hat-bazaars (markets) should be repaired and renovated so that we can take our products to hat-bazaars and sell it," he added.
Priyanka Rani, acting Chairman of Parulia Union of the Upazila demanded a larger allocation for abandoned, widowed and destitute women and disabled people of the upazila. Some of the citizens also demanded more allocation for freedom fighters and in strengthening the standing committees.
"We could not prepare the budget from 2009 to 2011 as UZP functionaries had no knowledge or training how to prepare it. Now, after getting the training provided by the UNDP, the UZPs are much more capable and confident in preparing the budget," said Akram-al-Hossain, Joint Secretary (Upazila), and Focal Person, UZGP.