The Upazila Governance Project (UZGP) to promote flourishing democracy in Bangladesh

Dhaka: A new project to strengthen the capacities of local government institutions and play an instrumental role in transforming them into fully functional, democratic and transparent entities has been launched by the government.

The Upazila Governance Project (UZGP) was inaugurated in a workshop in the capital, organized by the Local Government Division, Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives, a press release said.

The UZGP will support the Government of Bangladesh to further implement governance reforms at Upazila level that include the recently established elected council at the middle tier of local government.

The project will contribute to enhance functional capacities and downward accountability for a transparent, fair and equitable, MDGs oriented development. The capacity building activities will focus ultimately on broader development roles of councilors in addressing poverty, vulnerability, gender and other relevant issues. In addition, the project will support fiscal decentralization of UZP, promote the financing of development work through integrated local level planning, local governance policy reform and the improvement of monitoring capacity of LGD. The project will ensure the preparation of a five year plan for all upazilas following the guidelines prepared by LGD.

Inaugurating the workshop, chief guest Syed Ashraful Islam, Minister of LGRD and Cooperatives said, as per its election pledges, the government amended the Upazila Parishad Act to enable elected representatives of people to work independently and effectively.

“I am confident this project will play a very vital role to make Upazila Parishads effective and stronger local government institutions which will ultimately help democracy flourish in the country,” he said.

The USD 19.31 million’s project will run for the next five fiscal years and will be implemented by the Local Government Division, Government of Bangladesh. The project is funded by several donors among which the European Union (EU) is contributing USD 10 million, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is contributing USD 5million, UNDP and UNCDF together contributing USD 3 million.

Special guests at the ceremony included Advocate Jahangir Kabir Nanak, State Minister for LGRD and Cooperatives, Stefan Priesner, Country Director, UNDP Bangladesh, Dr. Urs Herren, Ambassador of Switzerland in Bangladesh and Ms. Lenka Vitkova, Head of the Section, Economic Cooperation and Governance, Delegation of the European Union (EU), Bangladesh.

Ms. Lenka Vitkova said "This programme will give more power to councils and communities, as we know that the more powerful the people are the stronger society is".

The Swiss Ambassador said in his speech that Switzerland is happy to see that the Government of Bangladesh has taken credible steps to strengthen local governance in order to ‘deliver services at people’s doorsteps’. However, it will at the same time be crucial to empower citizens to demand quality services, delivered in a transparent, accountable and inclusive manner, and to further build the capacity of local governments to deliver such services.

“The Upazilas have the potential of being the real hub for service delivery to the people. We are all excited that this new project strengthens both the elected representatives as well as the Local Government institutions. We look forward to a transformational change at this vital level of democratic governance”, said Stefan Priesner, UNDP Country Director in Bangladesh.

After the inaugural session of the workshop, a working session was held with the participation of senior government officials, local government experts and elected representatives to prepare a five year plan for the Upazila Parishads.