Speakers at an international conference opined that as poor local governance hinders efficient local delivery, so the South Asian countries should learn from each other for effective service deliveries of the local governments. They said the share of local governance expenditures in the budget is only 7 percent here, although the growth is tremendous. But the goals, which are even bigger, such as the status of upper middle income, complete eradication of poverty and decentralization are more important for Bangladesh in the recent context.
The remarks came up in the inaugural session of the 4th South Asia Economic Network Conference, themed on “Sub-national Finances and Local Service Delivery” on Saturday. The conference, jointly organized by South Asian Network for Economic Modelling (SANEM), South Asia Economic Policy Network and the World Bank was held at a hotel in the city.
Planning Minister MA Mannan attended the opening session as chief guest while Dr. Selim Raihan, Executive Director, SANEM and Professor of Economics at Dhaka University; Dr. Mercy Miyang Tembon, Country Director for Bangladesh of the World Bank; and Dr. Hans Timmer, South Asia Chief Economist, the World Bank also spoke on the occasion.
Addressing the opening session, MA Mannan said, the colonial trend has always been to facilitate the urban areas, 90 percent of the benefits from development policies would go to the urban areas. This was a social structure that needed to be changed after the colonial masters had left.
"Present government under the leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been able to change that trend to a great extent, also has addressed the drastic question of poverty and inclusive development, and we take pride in that", Minister added. He said the nation has set milestones in terms of literacy and health care which are very important steps for socio-economic development of the country. While addressing, Dr. Mercy Miyang Tembon said the World Bank is happy and proud to host this regional conference in Dhaka.
"One factor that hinders efficient local delivery is the poor local governance. South Asian countries should and will learn from each other”, Tembon added. Dr. Atiur Rahman, Former Governor of Bangladesh Bank, chaired and presented keynote paper in the first session titled “Local government finances and service delivery”.
Dr. Atiur Rahman said, “Bangladesh is one of the most centralized countries in the world, where the share of local governance expenditures in the budget in only 7 percent, although the growth is tremendous". But the goals, which are even bigger, such as the status of upper middle income, complete eradication of poverty and decentralization are more important for Bangladesh in the recent context, he said.
Dr Zahid Hussain, former Lead Economist, World Bank, conducted a session on “Fiscal decentralization and corruption”. Dr. Manish Gupta from the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, India, Dr. Gopi K. Khanal from the National Natural Resources and Fiscal Commission, Nepal and Dr. Monzur Hossain from Bangladesh Institute for Development Studies(BIDS), Bangladesh, presented papers respectively in the first session.
During his presentation, Dr. Beyer said, “In complex and diverse countries, one size doesn’t fit all. The economies get complex with the development.” He also discussed the opportunities and challenges that decentralization offers for South Asian economies. He pointed out that decentralization offers opportunities for South Asia, but different countries face different challenges.
“In South Asia, equity concerns are important. What is important is where the money is being spent. From data taken across 82 countries over 1970-2016, we can see that decentralization favours convergence in spending. However, South Asia is lagging behind in reporting sub national public finance”, he added.