From Sept. to Nov. 2014, the Union Parishad Governance Project (2011-2016) and the Upazila Parishad Governance Project (2011-2016) were subject to an external midterm evaluation (MTE). The aim was to
1) assess the progress of the projects and the likelihood of achieving end targets in 2016;
2) to assess relevance and progress against UNDAF 2012-2016 and the Government of Bangladesh’s (GoB) policies on decentralization and local governance;
3) and to extract lessons learnt and provide recommendations for the project implementation.
The MTE included field data sampling in six districts: four of the project areas and two control districts outside project coverage. In total, twelve Upazilas (UZP) and twelve Union Parishads (UPs) were selected for the field research. Since discussions had already started in relation to LGI support beyond 2016, the MTE was also requested to provide inputs to this discussion.
The MTE concluded that both projects remain relevant vis-à-vis UNDAF 2012-2016 and the GoB policy on LGIs. The MTE also noted that the concept paper for the upcoming 7th Five-Year Plan (7FYP) reiterates a commitment to work towards stronger local government institutions and perceives the reform agenda as ‘unfinished’.
Despite delays and political turmoil for most of 2013, both UPGP and UZGP maintain good progress and are likely to achieve most of their objectives by 2016. The projects are uniquely positioned in the support to local government institutions in Bangladesh and provide important value additions to the development of the UP and UZP tier. The UZGP provides capacity building support, fiscal support, and policy advice on systemic improvements and represents the only international support project to this re-established government tier. A successful revival of the UZP tier has great potential, since local planning and service delivery can tap into the resources of the line ministries and facilitate strong multi-stakeholder synergies. Equally important, support extended to the UZP level has contributed to sustaining this government tier at a difficult time, when it was re-established and faced with political power struggles, simultaneously. It has also had a significant impact on emerging UZP operations and linkages to the Line Departments.
The UPGP has a similar project design and is linked to the larger World Bank financed LGSP 2. One of the raisons d’être of the UPGP is its ability to add value to LGSP 2; spearheading local governance, capacity building and fiscal innovations as well as regulatory improvements and best practices which can be upscaled and disseminated nationwide through LGSP. The MTE strongly documented these value additions and attribution to significant improvements in core functional areas in the target districts compared to non-covered districts.
Both projects have improved transparency, accountability and participation in local government institutions, especially at UP level, and there is credible documentation of improved pro-poor, gender friendly planning and MDG service delivery in the project areas. The projects have also improved women’s participation in local government through the rollout of Women’s Development Forums (WDF) and capacity building support to female leaders, and the overall picture form the field is that beneficiaries and citizens in general express their appreciation of the support rendered by the projects.
The enhanced performance-based grant systems (PBGS) piloted by the projects are important catalyst for the achievement of project objectives within local governance, pro-poor development planning, MDG service delivery, and increased own-source revenues (OSR) mobilization. The performance elements are highly appreciated by the local government institutions and have instilled a stronger awareness on good governance and internal competition. As per design, they have also contributed to the identification of capacity gaps, which can be fed back into the capacity building activities of the projects and highlight systemic malfunctions, which needs to be addressed at the policy level.
These important achievements successfully build on lessons learned from previous support projects, such as the Sirajganj Local Government Development Project (2000-2006), the Local Government Support Program – Learning and Innovation Component (2007-2011) and the Upazila Preparatory study (2009-2012) and many of the innovations have already been upscaled through the regulatory local government institutions' framework, making best practice achievements of UPGP and UZGP on transparency, accountability and participation more sustainable.
It is also very important to note, that both projects currently have unique upscale opportunities, which, if addressed successfully, could improve the sustainability of project innovations considerably and promote countrywide rollout of results. The MIS and the PBGS promoted by UPGP, can be upscaled through LGSP 2 and its successor, respectively, while the UZGP results, including the PBGS, are likely to be upscaled through the upcoming JICA funded ‘Integrated Development Project for Upazilas’ covering the whole country.
It is within the more policy-oriented areas, that the projects are facing most challenges and there is need for special attention. Most of the constraining factors affecting the implementation, relates to systemic issues such as ambiguous division of roles and responsibilities and parallel management structures between the political and executive branches and tiers of government. The UZP level, in particular, is prone to partisan conflicts and needs further governance reforms in order to emerge as a strong tier of local government. The UPs on the other hand are faced with fundamental capacity constraints vis-à-vis their mandate, and there is a serious risk that democratic gains achieved through innovations such as ward shavas and open budget meetings are not sufficiently matched by the limited funding available for community development. Participatory exercises without proper means is a classic way of demotivating citizens, and public engagement in local government runs a risk of being eroded, if funding is not increased over time.
It is none the less also within the objectives of the projects to address such shortcomings and to advice on how the system can be strengthened in line with internationally recognized local self-government principles. The projects support a number of policy studies, which may provide further input to future reforms. The lessons learned from the pilot areas and the policy dialogues forums conducted throughout Bangladesh are other sources of input to new reform initiatives.
The MTE has provided a number of recommendations on where the projects and local governments need to focus their attention in order to address implementation shortcomings and improve overall performance and sustainability of results. The recommendations include support to the upscale opportunities through LGSP and JICA, and more attention on activating the Policy Advisory Group and designing the national capacity building framework.
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