What’s in a Name?

Photo credit: WorldFish, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

An endorsement from the local leadership goes a long way in implementing a development intervention. Presenting local elected representatives’ names on promotional materials like event banner is one form of such endorsement. Usually, this is a strategic move meant to foster cooperation between the local leadership and the project implementing organization(s) for smoother operations.

Although this endorsement is a form of acknowledgement, it can become an obligation at times. Especially, when leaders refrain from cooperating with the project activities, or worse, try to halt them when their names are not mentioned. In short, when the token of gratitude is no longer optional.

We saw both types of this endorsement while implementing the Citizen Engagement (CE) component of the Digitizing Implementation Monitoring and Public Procurement Project (DIMAPPP). As part of the component, field officers conduct a site meeting where the District or the Upazila engineer (procuring entities) officially inaugurates the work and inform the local citizens to monitor public construction works by providing them necessary details. Local elected representatives, in this case Upazila or UP chairpersons, are invited and encouraged to sensitize the citizens about the necessity of the monitoring work.

While many elected representatives joined the session and encouraged the citizens to do the same, some demanded to see their names printed on the banners. Quite a few of them denied to associate themselves with the project knowing their association would not be formally promoted. In one or two occasions, not printing the local elected leaders’ name almost halted the project activities and these only resumed when the Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNO) intervened. In another case, we had to re-print the banner with the representative’s name on it.

Procuring entities had different suggestions about it. Some suggested to print the local leader’s name on the banner while some suggested to proceed without doing so.

This prompted us to ask some questions—why is it important to have the local leaders’ names on the banner when they are not involved with the project? Why do some engineers prefer having the leaders’ names on the banners while some others do not?

After all, what is in a name?

In the local political context of Bangladesh, affiliation with a local leader can help mobilize greater number of people. People in rural Bangladesh are very much driven by their local leaders. For a project like ours, part of which seeks to sensitize and train citizens to monitor public procurement works, it is very important for us to bring local people on board. More people we train, better the chances of monitoring.

Also, for citizens who are unaware of the intervention or the implementing organization, it is often more assuring to learn about the whys and the hows of the intervention from the local leaders. Our field officers have reported that chairpersons’ association positively influence the monitoring activities as well.

Other than mobilizing the general population, chairpersons often attend the sessions with locally influential people. Many of them go onto apply the lessons of the training sessions in other construction projects outside the purview of our intervention. This spillover effect of monitoring work is a strong incentive for us to invite local leaders.

Often the demand of having the chairperson’s name on banner comes off as a projection of power and authority. That an organization will host an event/training session or conduct a development intervention in his/her area without consulting them appears to them as ignoring the local political leadership. Some may take this as an offense —an outsider entity working in his/her constituency without their permission. Many equate that as undermining their authority in the area.

While it may look like a mere ego boost, name projection benefits the chairperson as well. The name on the banner shows people that the chairperson is a patron of the development work in the area, if not directly involved with it. This helps him/her to garner popular support, in forms of votes or otherwise. Some take the CE platform as an opportunity to trumpet the success of their political parties and promote themselves.

Additionally, some citizens take it as an opportunity to exercise their power over the project, often with the help of the chairpersons. Anticipating such possibility, Upazila or District engineers, in some cases, advised us not to involve or name the chairperson on promotion materials. Such harmful association not only creates an opportunity for extortion by the local political elites, but also demoralizes local citizens from engaging with the project activities.

Associating local leaders brings some other interesting benefits too. A lot of the times, local hooligans interfere with the project activities with an intention to extract money or to gain undue advantages. In some construction sites, we managed to keep local hooligans away with chairperson’s involvement. Having a local elite on board, who has political power, has helped avoiding such inconveniences in some occasions.

All these mean making a uniform decision about involving the UP chairpersons is a difficult one, although it may look simple at first. These experiences collected from the field and analyzed by the research team contribute in further refining the DIMAPPP CE intervention model.

Erina Mahmud is a Research Associate at BIGD.