Upazila and Union Parishad Governance: A Study on Institutional Relationships and Linkages

Upazila Parishad (UZP) and Union Parishad (UP) are the two lowest tiers of regional administration in Bangladesh. Both are administrative bodies, and thus have various institutional linkages with each other. These linkages are often embedded in and shaped by national and local politics and bureaucratic culture. Studying these linkages, we have found that the Members of Parliament (MPs) hold overwhelming authority and power over UZPs and UPs that tend to violate decentralisation of power. Moreover, when these two local government bodies are compared, the extent of devolution of power seems to be significantly greater at the UP level.

Researchers: Sadiat Mannan; Dr Mirza M. Hassan

Partners: SDC

Timeline: 2015-2016

Status: Completed

Contact: Dr Mirza M. Hassan;


In Bangladesh, UZPs function as sub-units of districts. As of December 2017, there are 492 UZPs. Rural UZPs are further administratively divided into UPs. Together UZPs and UPs serve as key local government bodies. This system of devolution was introduced in an attempt to strengthen the local government. However, in the current political context of Bangladesh, the extent to which devolution is practised remains a fundamental question. It is, therefore, necessary to map and analyse both formal and informal institutional relations and linkages between UZPs and UPs and the accountability relations among the actors involved.


The primary objective of this study was to explore how the linkages between UZPs and UPs are affected by the broader political economy factors. We also aimed to find how national and local politics and bureaucratic culture affect the incentives, interests, and power of the important actors involved in these two government bodies.

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.


This study was conducted in one UZP selected from the Sharique Local Governance Programme project area. Based on the political affiliation of the Chairperson, three UPs were selected from the same UZP for the UP level analysis. In this study, we mainly utilised the political economy and institutional tools and approaches. These include institutional mapping of the governance structure and relationship between UPZ and UP; and political mapping of four actors—UP Chairperson, UZP Chairperson, MPs, and local bureaucracy. For the study, we conducted key informant interviews (KIIs) and focus group discussions (FGDs) with civil society members, journalists, local elites, selected political leaders, and chairpersons, members and secretary of the selected UPs. Secondary data were collected through the existing literature review.

Findings and Recommendations

Our study findings indicate that bureaucrats tend to give little importance to the elected UZP representatives. Despite reforms for the devolution of power to the elected representatives, very little substantive changes have taken place in the functioning of UZP administration. Consequently, the UZP continues to be a marginal entity. Findings suggest that the balance of power among the members of the UZP is deeply affected by local political equations. Due to the successive changes in acts and laws that empowered MPs, the political space and manoeuvring capacity of UZP has been largely constrained. Meanwhile, the relationship among members at the UP level tends to be collegial, indicating political settlement/equilibrium among the UP level actors. Project allocations to a certain extent are determined by political bargaining and compromises among the elected members of the UP. The interference of the MPs in the UP level committees, we found, compromises civil society’s participation. As a result, many of such committees become dysfunctional. However, committees related to social safety nets are relatively more functional, although their membership composition differs from the prescribed formal rules and regulations.

Based on the findings, we suggest that the existing legal provisions should be revised to limit the control and influence of MPs over the UZPs. To increase the autonomy of the UZP, more effective accountability mechanisms between the UZP and the transferred departments need to be established. Also, training is required to increase the knowledge and skills of the elected representatives of UZP so that they can effectively run the administration and demand accountability.