As soon as he was elected the Chairman of Dacope Upazila Parishad (3rd Upazila Parishad) under Khulna district, S.M. Abul Hossain began to ponder on how to conduct the Parishad meetings that has not been practiced properly for a while. ‘I found it difficult to grapple with the never-ending list of questions:
How the meetings will be conducted? What will happen after the meetings? What are the meeting documents? Etc.,’ he recalls. ‘But today, I can say with utmost confidence that I have successfully managed and operationalized my individual and Parishad’s mandate and responsibilities with support from Upazila Governance Project (UZGP),’ says the UZP Chairman. He adds, ‘The Upazila Governance Project (UZGP) training programmes immensely contributed to orient me with Local Government (LG) concepts, improved understanding and practice to apply the Upazila Act and conduct Parishad’s work.’ Hossain was among 7,000 select stakeholders–UZP Chairs, Vice-Chairs, Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNOs) and relevant officials from devolved government departments at UZP level—who received a series of orientation workshops, generalized and specialized trainings focusing on UZP Act and efficacy of local government system. ‘Conducting the UZP meetings was not the only issue for me,’ says Md. Abdur Rouf, former Chairman of Adarsha Sadar Upazila, Comilla. ‘Understanding of the UZP Act to form, activate and conduct 17 UZP committees require higher level of legislative and institutional understanding, especially in absence of the operational rules and regulations which also required me to coordinate with government officials,’ he adds. ‘The UZGP-supported trainings answered all my queries in a methodological way to clear my understanding. The manual and notes of the training became handy guides for me in case of clarification,’ he informs. Filling the vacuum The UZP, as a middle tier of local government, was reestablished in 2009, after a hiatus of 18 years. Under the UZP Act 2009, elections were held in 481 Upazilas. This brought forth a set of strategic stakeholders which are: (a) new set of elected UZP leaderships i.e. Chairs, Vice-Chairs (male and female); (b) the Chairs of Union Parishad (UP) and Pourshava Mayors in their new roles as UZP members; (c) 17 government officials devolved at UZP to maintain direct coordination to provide support to the UZP functioning; and (e) an Upazila Nirbahi Officer (UNO) designated to perform as linchpin of coordination. The challenge for these stakeholders at operational level was the absence of practice and knowledge set, especially administrative, functional and policy that can support them in immediate functioning and performance in their new roles. These stakeholders were expected to pick up their respective institutional mandate and work in a coordinated manner to deliver a locally prioritized and MDG responsive development and corresponding service delivery mechanism, with scarce to scattered financial resources. Without these skills, the institutional mandates and coordination mechanism would be stalled. The UZGP was designed to technically fill this vacuum in a way that undertakes individual and institutional capacity-building to facilitate delivery of respective mandates. The European Union (EU), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), UNCDF and UNDP, are providing financial and technical assistance to the project which is being implemented by the Local Government Division (LGD). Since its inception in 2012, the UZGP in partnership with five national training institutes—National Institute of Local Government (NILG), Dhaka, Bangladesh Academy for Rural and Development (BARD), Comilla, Rural Development Academy (RDA), Bogra, Bangladesh Institute of Management (BIM) and National Academy for Planning and Development (NAPD), Dhaka- has trained approximately 7000 stakeholders on UZP functions and roles; responsibilities of UZP functionaries and conduct UZP Parishad and committee meetings. Testing success One of the major outcomes of the General training was that for the first four key functionaries of UZP—Chairs, Vice-Chairs and UNOs—were placed together on the same table leading to a positive behavioural change that helped reduce the juxtaposed attitude both between and among them. This resulted in improved coordination of their respective institutional duties. ‘The training gave us an opportunity to understand each other’s role and conflicting issues from each other’s perspectives and institutional mandate. This helped us a lot in revitalizing the UZPs to become functional and collectively solve many issues which were pending over the years,’ says Md. Shafiul Islam, UNO of Kazipur UZP under Sirajganj district. Taking cognizance of specialized needs of planning, budgeting and local development, the project customized an in-depth specialized training programme that focused on Financial Management, Public Procurement Rules and a vision-based Planning and Budgeting. The project has capacitated 443 stakeholders of its target 65 UZPs—Chairs, Vice-Chairs, UNOs and relevant officers from the 17 devolved government departments. The trainings, together with technical and institutional backstopping from the project, have resulted in effective institutional performance of the Upazila Parishad as 70 per cent held its mandatory monthly meetings; 100 per cent UZPs established its all 17 committees; 100 per cent UZPs prepared and submitted Annual budget to Local Government Division (LGD) and 14 select UZPs prepared 14 UZP Information, Plan and Budget Books which will soon be replicated by select 65 UZPs under select seven districts of UZGP. ‘Formation of UZP Committees was an uphill task. The trainings provided by UZGP instilled confidence in me along with knowledge of process to properly establish and operationalize the committee,’ appreciates Monsefa Khatun, former female Vice-Chair of Pirganj UZP under Rangpur district. ‘Now the standing committees are very vibrant. Like the members of Jatiya Sangsad (National Parliament), members of the committees engage themselves in debate to develop and implement pro-poor and MDG-focused development schemes,’ she adds.
By Ataul Gani Osmani