Social Accountability Mechanisms: A Study on the Union Parishads in Bangladesh

Owing to their positive outcomes, social accountability mechanisms are being integrated into various government units of Bangladesh, including the country’s Union Parishards (UPs). Analysing the current state of social accountability in the UPs, we have found that although social accountability is practised in UPs, the mechanisms of social accountability are chiefly informal.

Researchers: Dr Tofail Ahmed; Md. Harun-Or-Rashid; Kazi Niaz Ahmmed; Farhana Razzaque

Partners: SDC

Timeline: 2015-2016

Status: Completed

Contact: Dr Mirza Hassan;


UPs are the smallest rural administrative and local government units in Bangladesh. They are primarily responsible for agricultural, industrial, and community development within the local limits of the union. To ensure transparency and accountability at this local government level, the Local Government (Union Parishads) Act, 2009 identified a wide range of tools, methods, and strategies for UPs to use and follow. These formal mechanisms include Ward Shava (WS), Open Budget Sessions (OBSs), Standing Committees, Project Committees, Citizen Charter, Annual Report, etc. However, there is a need to examine the extent to which these mechanisms are practised in UPs, if at all.


Our hypothesis was that where formal mechanisms of social accountability do not function properly, both the service provider and recipient come to a middle ground and continue their traditional and informal relationship. The objective of our study was to test that hypothesis based on empirical findings from some selected UPs and examine how social accountability is practised.

This study is relevant to SDG 16 (Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions), particularly to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.


For this study, we selected three UPs from Khulna, four from Sylhet, one from Dhaka, and another from Chattogram. Using both qualitative and quantitative methods, we collected our data from focus group discussions (FGDs) conducted with UP representatives, citizens, and non-government organisation (NGO) workers from the selected UPs. Key informants interviews (KIIs) and informal discussions were also held with the respective Chairmen, Secretaries, Ward Members, active project personnel, civil society organisation (CSO) activists, and NGO executives.

Findings and Recommendations

It was evident from our study that both the UPs and the community are hardly concerned about the formal accountability mechanisms, such as formulating WSs, OBSs, Standing Committees, etc. It does not, however, mean that UPs are not accountable to the citizens. As the oldest functioning local government institution, the UP has conventionally developed its own culture of community services and accountability mechanisms. The nature of these mechanisms is primarily informal. And the principle of such informal accountability mechanisms acknowledges the existing power dynamics within the communities and prioritise the general safety and other welfare issues of the members of the community. The elected representatives spend most of their time, energy, and resources performing informal socio-community obligations rather than comply with the formal-legal activities. Moreover, as local tax structure is not strictly enforced and people do not pay for the services to UPs, citizens care little about UP’s income and spending. One of the reasons why UP representatives are more passionately engaged in social and community-led responsibilities than they are in formal responsibilities can be traced to the inadequacy of secretarial assistance. Legal bindings are also disproportionate to the requirement and capacity of UPs. For instance, the number of committees and meetings UPs can actually arrange in a year is different than that declared in the UP Act, 2009. Furthermore, the UP representatives are over-burdened with socially obligated responsibilities. Conflict mitigation alone, for example, takes most of their effective time and energy.

To encourage UPs to comply with the formal mechanisms of social accountability, detail guidelines are needed regarding those mechanisms. In this case, partnering with communities, NGOs, and community-based organisations (CBOs) can be helpful. The citizens should be properly taxed to make them more sensitive regarding the UP’s performance. All UPs, irrespective of population, should not get equal treatment regarding manpower requirements. Immediate transfer of the officials of seven ministries posted at UP level may solve the problem to a large extent. The use of information and communications technology (ICT) in the UPs should also be strengthened. And finally, the performance evaluation of UPs should include social and community-led activities. The expenditure they incur and the amount of time they spend while attending community activities should be recognised and valued.