Insufficient public investment poses major challenge in tackling urban poverty
Inadequate government allocation, shortage of manpower, outdated laws and rules unable to address present needs, flawed development plans and programmes are plaguing the municipalities as they strive to provide different services to the ever increasing urban population. While the Seventh Five-year Plan of the Bangladesh government emphasises urban development and reduction of urban poverty, a number of issues, namely boosting economic development, undertaking effective strategy to achieve universal growth, and ensuring increasing public investment, remain as major challenges as the country strives towards achieving middle-income status.
Speakers and experts made these observations at a pre-budget dialogue on Monday (20 May, 2019) organised at BRAC Centre in the capital. World's number one development organisation BRAC, Municipal Association of Bangladesh (MAB), and Power and Participation Research Centre (PPRC) arranged the event.
M A Mannan, minister of planning and lawmaker, was present at the dialogue as the chief guest. S M Ghulam Farooque, senior secretary of the local government ministry, Md Shah Kamal, senior secretary of the disaster management and relief, Dr Shamsul Alam, senior secretary of Planning Commission, and Md Shahid Ullah Khandaker, secretary of housing and public works ministry were also present as guests at the event. Asif Saleh, acting executive director of BRAC chaired the event, moderated by PPRC executive chairman Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman.
Planning minister M A Mannan said, “The present government has undertaken a number of projects to provide housing to the urban poor, which include construction of multi-storeyed buildings, allocation of land, and housing loans. Several development projects including 'Dhaka environmentally sustainable water supply project,’ urban infrastructure development projects to build and maintain streets, footpaths, drainage systems, and projects to increase resilience of buildings against disasters, are going on. There will be adequate allocation in the national budget of 2019-20 to complete these projects.”
Local government expert Dr Tofail Ahmed, director of International Centre for Climate Change and Development Dr Saleemul Huq, MAB chairman and Bera municipality mayor Md Abdul Baten, joint general secretary and Madaripur municipality mayor Khalid Hossain, and BRAC Urban Development Programme's head Hasina Mushrofa, gave expert opinions among others at the dialogue. Representatives from other government and non-governmental organisations, Asian Development Bank, World Bank, Department for International Development (DFID), and other donors, universities, and media also spoke at the event.
Madaripur municipality’s mayor, Khalid Hossain, gave the keynote presentation on the challenges and future of pro-poor urban development of Bangladesh. It mentioned that to provide different services to the over 21.6 million dwellers of 327 municipalities across Bangladesh, there are only 43,000 permanent and 22,000 temporary employees. A number of recommendations to boost the municipal services forwarded in the presentation include significant increase in municipal budget, reform of municipal laws and rules to fit present day needs, provision of staff salary and benefit from the revenue component of the budget, special emphasis on pro-poor urban housing, effective waste and sludge management, and improvement in water supply system and infrastructure.
Local government expert Dr Tofail Ahmed said, “A general increase in the budget will not solve the problem. The wave of urbanisation has now hit the villages and is shrinking them. So we have to revisit our current development strategy. Here in Bangladesh, any development work is done in a sluggish speed, so a general talk about pro-poor development will not bring much fruit.”
MAB chairman and Bera municipality mayor Md Abdul Baten said, “We are constantly trying to put our limited resources to the very best use. But that itself is not enough. How is it possible to operate when the local government does not have even 2% of the share of the national budget?”
BRAC's acting executive director Asif Saleh said, “Public-private partnership initiatives can be undertaken to finance housing for the urban poor people. Also we should give special focus to tackle the increasing pressure of rural migrants on the urban space and fire hazards.”