Service delivery by local govt. thru' accountability
Friday, 25 July 2008

It is striking that in consultations with the public, local government invariably appears near the top of people's aspirations, and the country's civil society strongly advocates it. Yet very little progress has been made, primarily because the political class views the emergence of independent local government as a threat.  With over 150 million people, Bangladesh is one of the world's largest countries with a unitary government. The introduction of independent local governments could improve service delivery by bringing accountability closer to the people – with everything essentially run from Dhaka now, citizens have little control over the decisions that affect their lives, and civil servants can get away with being unresponsive to the people they are supposed to serve. Of course, local governments can be as corrupt as central authorities, so it is important to build safeguards into the design of a local government system. In addition to the potential for improved service delivery, the establishment of independent local governments would provide a new channel of political mobility  a testing ground for new talent to learn the political trade and build their own bases of support. This would be a good antidote to the current top-down mode of selecting party candidates. On the other hand, as part of a modernization of the civil service, the proportion of overpaid low-level employees needs to be reduced and the remuneration of senior civil servants increased. There is a general need to revitalize the civil service. Over time, the lower ranks of the civil service have expanded, creating an unbalanced structure, and the salaries of senior civil servants have eroded to the extent that the salary ratio between senior and very junior civil servants has been severely compressed. Low remuneration encourages civil servants to augment their compensation in illegal ways. A better structured, better paid, more highly skilled civil service would be less prone to irregularities and more up to the challenges of modernizing Bangladesh's government.

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