Media Orientation on SHARIQUE’s Local Governance Advocacy Issues held

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BRAC Instituite of Governance and Developent (BIGD), BRAC University, in cooperation with HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation (HSI) and Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) hosted an orientation session on March 7, 2016 for the media to keep the latter abreast of key local government reform issues under the Local Governance Program `SHARIQUE’. The issues that SHARIQUE has identified are functioning of Committees and Standing Committees of Upazila and Union Parishads, building effectiveness of Ward Shobha, increasing women’s participation in local government, and encouraging Union Parishads to keep allocations for their capacity-building. While some of these issues require policy reform, others are more about awareness-raising to strengthen existing policy provisions. Given the context and challenges, SHARIQUE consulted with the media to determine how best to raise awareness and deliver more informed coverage of the subject.

With the Union Parishad elections being ongoing, it was an excellent timing to have journalists from print and electronic media on board to advocate for local government challenges and there was also clear enthusiasm on their part to learn about the topic.

Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman, Dr. M Mirza Hassan and Fazlur Rahman at the event

The event began with a brief overview of SHARIQUE by Mr. Fazlur Rahman, Research Specialist of BIGD. Dr. Mirza M Hassan, Adjunct Fellow, BIGD delivered a presentation on advocacy issues mentioned above and the related policy reform  proposals that SHARIQUE has formulated based on its action research and stakeholder consultations. An interesting discussion followed the presentation where journalists expressed interest to know the reasons behind the declining number of women contestants in local government elections, and also shared their views on the pros and cons of the newly introduced party-based election system in local government.  

Ms. Kamrun Nahar from the Financial Express said, while working as a Fellow of the Massline Media Centre in Dhaka, I had the chance to witness Union Parishad Standing Committee meetings. I noticed the inconsistency in the Committee memberships and irregularity of the Committee activities at large. The Union Parishad Secretary assigns Committee memberships  to women Members but this remains largely in paper. Speaking to the women Members, I found out that they don’t even know which Committee they chair. There is huge gap in resources and funds as well.

On the topic of women’s representation in local politics, according to different studies, though initially reserved seats in the local government did prove to be successful in generating women’s candidacy in local government elections, the number of women contestants has declined overtime. Mr. Ikram-ud-Dowla from Bangla News pointed out in this regard, the Representation of the People Order requires 33% of women’s representation in the committees of political parties, but this is not happening in reality.

Mr. Md. Syfullah from UNB said we need to compare the previous Union Parishad election data with that of the present election to see if the party-based election system has any impact on the number of women contestants. Stressing the importance of revenue, he added, local government will not be empowered unless its revenue base is increased. In the absence of financial security, local government institutions will not be able to concentrate on transparency and accountability.

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Thanking the participants and concluding the orientation session, Dr. Sultan Hafeez Rahman, Executive Director, BIGD said, with the kind of eagerness that the media has shown today toward local government reform issues, it is possible to work together and jointly advocate for reform proposals.

Other representatives in the programme included Dr. Shanawez Hossain, Research Fellow and Team Leader of Sharique, BIGD and Mr. Rafiqul Islam Talukdar, Senior Programme Manager, BIGD.