Political Economy of COVID-19 Governance in Bangladesh

The study provides an assessment of the changed governance dynamics in Bangladesh in key sectors, including health, social protection, and industrial relations, in the context of COVID-19 and explores the macro and micro manifestations of these dynamics in order to assess the implications for potential developmental interventions, by both state and civil society.

Researchers: Dr Mirza M. Hassan; Dr Naomi Hossain; Mohammad Sirajul Islam; Rafsanul Hoque; Insiya Khan; Syeda Salina Aziz; Avia Nahreen; Md. Mahan Ul Hoque; Dr S. R. Osmani; Dr M. S. H. Siddiquee; Maheen Sultan; Iffat Jahan Antara; Dr Shahaduz Zaman; Faruq Hossain; Dr Imran Matin

Partners: Accountability Research Centre (ARC), American University

Timeline: 2020–2021

Status: Completed

Method: Mixed-method

Contact: Dr Mirza M. Hassan


Report: State of Governance in Bangladesh 2020–2021: Governing COVID-19 in Bangladesh – Realities and Reflections to Build Forward Better

Policy Brief: Governing COVID-19 in Bangladesh – Realities and Reflections to Build Forward Better

Op-ed: A governance assessment of lockdowns

Op-ed: The citizens’ verdict: How did the government fare with the first lockdown?

Op-ed: প্রথম লকডাউনের ক্ষেত্রে সরকার কতটা সফল

Presentation Slides: Webinar – State of Governance in Bangladesh 2020-21: Managing the COVID-19 Pandemic


COVID-19 has stress tested health, social, economic, and political systems worldwide, but its impact is particularly profound in countries like Bangladesh. Governance—or how the pandemic has been managed by public authorities—has shaped the outcomes of the crisis, affecting rates and levels of infection, illness, and treatment, as well as the measures to mitigate its social and economic effects. How best to manage the pandemic is of particular importance in Bangladesh, where health services are limited, where most people depend on daily wage work, and where the pandemic threatens to reverse or stall decades of development progress.


BRAC Institute of Governance and Development (BIGD), BRAC University, and the Accountability Research Center, American University, assesses the governance of COVID-19 in Bangladesh to document how policies were made and delivered, analyze the responses of political and government institutions, and derive lessons from the ongoing pandemic to support stronger crisis responses in the future, which are published in the flagship BIGD report, State of Governance 2020–2021.


The report comprises a range of research methods, including extensive literature review on COVID-19; tracing and event cataloguing by documenting policies and public announcements, their implementation, and key political moments including protests; a nationally representative telephone survey of citizens’ perceptions of COVID-19 governance; policy analysis including the background and likely impact of different policies; an ethnographic study of community governance of COVID-19 in a low-income urban informal settlement in Dhaka; and key informant interviews (KIIs).

Findings and Recommendations

Political dominance by a single party has shaped pandemic policymaking in Bangladesh, leading to highly centralized decision-making that is geared towards safeguarding the government’s “performance legitimacy” as an effective provider of development. However, political dominance has not meant the Bangladesh state has the capacity to deliver on its pandemic policies, nor has it ensured equity or accountability in the process. Secondly, in the context of global and national crises, Bangladesh needs governance reforms that strengthen institutions when they face stress rather than leaving them weaker and struggling to recover. Building “antifragile” institutions means moving away from existing centralized structures and constructing empowered, efficient, resourced, and decentralized public entities that are motivated to innovate, experiment, and engage citizens in policy and its implementation by possessing the necessary autonomy to do so. 

The government should build on the country’s strengths, making the most of Bangladesh’s robust capacities for disaster response and social protection and its enduring tradition of state-society partnerships and citizen participation. It also needs to act fast to plug the gaps by investing in health systems and their governance, and reorienting economic policies to protect people rather than GDP growth rates. Finally, the government should practice 21st-century statecraft in order to develop an open and inclusive policy making process that is needed to build “antifragile” institutions. 


The study is part of the Covid Collective initiative. Supported by the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), the Covid Collective is based at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS). The Collective brings together the expertise of UK and Southern-based research partner organizations and offers a rapid social science research response to inform decision-making on some of the most pressing development challenges related to COVID-19.