Local governments (LGs), though elected public institutions, have few resources of their own to function independently. So, they have largely to depend on the central government for annual budgetary allocations as well as occasional grants and transfers to run their usual business of providing basic services to the citizens. And as far as their share of the government finance is concerned, they reportedly get only 1.0 per cent of the national budget. On no account can it be considered an acceptable standard for the LGs of the country! Reports further have it that the municipalities have to meet 85 per cent of their development expenditures from what they receive by way of transfers from the central government. A poor state of LG institutions especially in the urban context came under the spotlight at a recent virtual discussion session. LG representatives, engineers, architects, planners and LG minister were all for strengthening capacities of the LGs. In fact, the issue has critical relevance to the ever-expanding urban centres of the country where the existing LG institutions with their weak infrastructures are proving inadequate to serve the citizens.
It is important to note that contrary to the common perception of many, Bangladesh is no more a rural-based agricultural economy. As held by experts at the webinar, 60 per cent of the country's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is generated at the urban centres. And being one of the 10 fastest growing urban economies of the world, the country's LGs at the urban centres are finding it hard to cope with their emerging problems and needs. So considering the urban centres' greater contribution to the national economy, their claim to higher entitlements both in terms of resource allocation and of power is getting increased significance.
However, it does not mean that the issues of the rural LG institutions have to be put on the back burner. Far from that. The issue of a balanced approach to the developments of the urban and rural areas of the country cannot be overemphasised. Even so, the question of ultimate importance here is the size of the population a particular LG has to serve. From that point of view, the urban centres, of late, have assumed greater importance. The point is, in recent decades, urban populations of the country have witnessed a disproportionate rise compared to their existing capacities to serve the citizens. So, their infrastructures and facilities are now stretched to the limit. As such, they are in a desperate need of upgrading and in many cases refitting to deliver the goods to their ever-growing populations. Talking of capacity, the urban LGs' needs should not be looked upon as limited only to the size and volume of resource allocations from the centre. It is time, more power were delegated to the LGs so that they could manage their affairs on their own and sustainably at that. And it is also not solely in respect of financial powers that they need strengthening.
They should also be able to plan their own development. At present, most of the city amenities including the utility services are under the control of the central government. This is quite a handicap before the LGs to meet the pledges their leaders make to their electorates before every mayoral and municipal elections. Increased power for the urban LGs has long been on the agenda. Now, the issue of devolution of more power to those should get the highest attention from all concerned.