This chapter provides summaries of the four policy processes included in the country study. The full case study detail is provided as a supplement to this report.
Policy dialogue around primary education in Bangladesh focuses on the two areas of (a) formulation of the National Education Policy (2010) and (b) formulation, implementation and monitoring of the primary education sector-wide approach; Primary Education Development Programme II (2004-10) and III (2011-16). There is a constitutional mandate for ’education for all’ and undisputed cross-party agreement regarding the key importance of primary education and a shared view with civil society that this is an essential public good. The increasing involvement of CSOs in shaping the policies and practice has taken place against a backdrop of shared responsibility for primary education between the state and non-government sector and a growing mutual respect.
The Jomtein World Conference in 1990 where Bangladesh lent its signature to the commitment to ’Education for All’ resulted in the first coordinated action of CSOs to claim space by publishing an annual report on the state of education (Education Watch Reports) to monitor national progress and hold Government to account on this commitment. This was the first time that CSOs engaged beyond their role as education providers within the Government’s education programme which had been official since the early 90s.
The success of these Education Watch activities and other advocacy efforts led to CSO demands to be consulted during the planning phase of PEDP II. Considerable effort was put into building both political and social capital by the largest CSO coalition, CAMPE and others which finally led to being offered official invited space as participants in the Joint Annual review Mission of this SWAp in 2004. Since this other invited spaces have opened up in the development of the National Education Policy and the successor to PEDP II. However, there remain closed spaces on issues such as madrasa education and consolidated legislation on education.
The Government of Bangladesh has signed a number of international commitments (e.g. Jomtien, Dakar, MDGs) which provide a strong basis for civil society to hold the Government to account. The universal view of primary education as a public good provides for strong cross-party political will and consistent budget allocations with relatively few contentious issues.
CSOs have worked hard to develop good working relations with Government and as co-providers have a special role to play. This contributes to mutual respect which enhances opportunities for engagement in policy dialogue although the results are not always credited to CSOs. This relationship has taken over 20 years to develop and was often confrontational in the past. The perceived competition for resources continues, as do the arrogant attitudes among both government and non-government education providers. These continue to affect who does and who does not get included in invited spaces.
The main coalition, CAMPE, and others working in primary education have worked hard to develop collaborative rather than confrontational relationships with Government over many years. Their joint participation in international meetings helps them to formulate and represent national interests together. CSOs purposely complement government service provision through establishment of pre-primary feeder schools, provision of schools in hard-to-reach areas or for hard-to-reach children and delivery of additional teacher training. The credibility earned through this leads to the creation of invited spaces for CSO representatives as technical experts. However, when CSOs/NGOs are sub-contractors or implementers of government programmes this can severely limit their role in policy dialogue.
During the preparation of PEDP III CSOs were invited to participate in several working groups. Since 2006, CSOs have been formally invited to participate in the Joint Annual Review Missions. But these invited spaces represent only a very small part of the engagement and potential for influence. The relationships forged over time have resulted in considerable reliance by government policy-makers on informal consultations on a regular (almost daily) basis over email, phone and visits. The advisory role played by CSOs and highly respected civil society educationalists in this way is rarely officially acknowledged and yet has been extremely influential. These are invited but essentially unofficial spaces and pose a dilemma for the assessment of value-for-money and attribution of DP-funded programmes.
The Local Consultative Group for coordination of DPs involved in education is more proactive than others and has long advocated for inclusion of Government and CSOs in their deliberations and introduced this from 2005.
The key moment for engagement on the NEP came with the much delayed 2009 national elections. Educationalists were requested to provide inputs for party manifestos. The party manifesto of the party which won the subsequent election included a commitment to develop a NEP. Following their election CSOs clamoured to present their education priorities. Drawing on earlier Education Commission recommendations, an Education Policy Formulation Committee quickly came up with a draft policy.
The Prime Minister recommended a wider consultation process which included calls for public opinion via a dedicated website as well as a series of regional consultations which included teachers and parents for the first time and took a further eight months. This whole period was supported by lively debate in the print and electronic media. One newspaper published the entire draft policy on its own initiative. Education was an issue which excited public interest and many spaces were created including voting on issues through media websites, engaging in phone-in programmes and major debates in the press. NGOs took this opportunity to promote their action research e.g. provision of mid-day meals, retaining minority children in school through mother-tongue education and flexi-school calendars e.g. for flood-prone areas.
Several specific successes have been achieved through CSO engagement; Government officially reports on NGO contribution in primary education, mandated CSOs participation in the PEDP Joint Annual Review Mission, integration of approaches to education advocated for by NGOs such as child-centred learning, teacher accountability for learning, corrective measures for disparities in access, integration of early childhood and pre-school education, school health and school feeding, inclusive education, decentralisation and improving school governance. CAMPE claims that the NEP reflects 80% of the recommendations put forward by Education Watch reports. The NEP has broad based acceptance by diverse groups including political parties, teachers associations and educationalists.
It is recognised that the real challenge comes not with the design of the PEDP III or the NEP but with their implementation. Considerable work is on-going to promote increased government budget allocations for education and particular efforts are made at advocacy at key phases of the state budget cycle which have yielded little success to date. More work is needed to build the capacity of local government standing committees on education, school management committees, parent-teachers associations and other instruments to monitor education policy and practice and hold service providers to account.
DPs have provided substantial support to the Education SWAps as well as the education programmes run by many NGOs. They also play a key role in advocating for invited space for CSO engagement. However, their support has mostly been in terms of service delivery and does not consistently support the much needed capacity building to enable CSOs to conduct evidence-based research and to actively participate in lobbying and advocacy.
Policy dialogue around local government in Bangladesh focuses on the three areas of (a). decentralisation, (b) citizen participation and (c) terms and conditions for locally elected representatives, particularly women. The politically charged nature of (a) which threatens central (partisan) control of resources and incurs most risk to those involved in dialogue means that this has been the issue with the least achievement despite considerable efforts by civil society to engage. Aspects of (c).have been acceded (particularly with regard to women’s participation) but there remain both loopholes and deliberate interventions in legislation through which central government retains undue control. The third area (b) citizen participation (including demanding rights and entitlements, accountability and transparency) is where most positive change has been achieved and where CSOs have been most active though this is at local level where new legal provisions (which they had arguably little influence on) are being operationalised rather than at central level.
Women’s political participation has been a major issue taken up by NGOs and CSOs since the 80s mostly in claimed spaces. The strong women’s movement was hugely influential on development of the legislation which led to elected rather than selected reserved seats for women in LG. Through NGO women’s group formation and leadership development more women have been encouraged to contest elections and NGOs continue to support networks of women elected members.
Several factors are key to change in LG. They include legislation, public and state awareness raising and changes in the way people view the electorate/representative relationship. The Right to Information Act has provided an important opportunity for citizen engagement. It was primarily a demand mobilised through CSO action. Manusher Jonnno Foundation (MJF) spearheaded a movement involving over 100 NGOs as well as academics, media and lawyers from 2005 which resulted in the enactment of the Act in 2009. The LG Acts have provided important invited spaces for citizen participation.
The lack of political will at central level to further some of these LG agenda is a hindrance to reform. The most high profile CSOs to engage in policy dialogue at national level are Transparency International and ActionAid Bangladesh. Their international stature and greater resilience to risk allows them to be quite bold in criticising the Government and challenging decentralisation and corruption issues. Local movements find themselves under constant surveillance and individuals connected to these movements find it easier to engage as individuals (exploiting their own social capital) through their personal writings and appearances in the media.
The dominance of international development banks and UNDP (which have the mandate to work through Government) in LG development is a hindrance to change particularly in regard to the decentralisation agenda.
The LGAs, while still newly organising, are beginning to show determination to claim space and demand public and state attention. They are increasingly using the media to this end. They continue to be limited by their own capacity to formulate position papers and provide evidence-based arguments for change and the paucity of current independent research on LG reform. NGOs have been supporting these LGAs in a variety of ways and provide direct training to LG representatives particularly complementing public sector institutional training by ’on the job’ support, mentoring and a focus on changing attitudes and behaviour.
Arguably the most effective approaches to date have been undertaken by other CSOs through their programmes of voter education and citizen rights awareness-raising which create a demand for more transparent and accountable local government and local service provision. A newer focus on tax compliance is building a strong link to increasing demand for efficient and effective LG.
DP support includes funding projects to further women’s political empowerment, develop good practice among LGER and LG bodies through direct training and mentoring (including initiatives such as the Horizontal Learning Programme of peer learning between LGER) through state and NGO programme support, large scale LG programmes (including infrastructure development) with cash incentives to change behaviour and practice (e.g. World Bank/SDC funded Local Governance Support Programme (LGSP) and intentions to increase funding to LG research (SDC). They also provide non-financial support by upholding the principles of citizen participation in modern democracies, transparency and accountability in their policy dialogue.
The Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT) is a remote hill area in southeast Bangladesh inhabited by groups with languages, culture and religion different from the Bengali majority of the plains. A failure to recognise their special status following the War of Independence led to a five year insurgency which finally ended with the CHT Peace Accord (1997) which paved the way for resumption and service provision and development activities. Fifteen years after this Accord, critical elements such as the settlement of land disputes, demilitarisation of the area and the devolution of authority to local institutions remain partially or wholly unimplemented
Policy dialogue around minority land rights in Bangladesh focuses on the two areas of (a) discriminatory land laws and (b) land grabbing. The state of legal pluralism in the CHT has led to the co-existence of three different land laws (those which apply to the whole country, those specific to the CHT and Adivasi people and customary laws of the Adivasi people. There is no established precedence resulting in disputed ownership between households, communities and the State. This has been further confounded by the submergence of 40% of the cultivable land for the Kaptai Dam in the 1960s, the distribution of freeholds and leaseholds for commercial purposes (timber, rubber, horticulture etc.) in the 1970s and 1980s and the sanctioned settlement of nearly half a million Bengali settlers. Displacement of Adivasi peoples continues to be perpetrated by the army (reports of harassment to force people from their homesteads), the Department of Forestry acquisition of Adivasi land and powerful elites.
The two main CSOs which represent Adivasi issues (Parbata Chattagram Jana Songhati Samiti (PCJSS) and the Headmen Association participate in invited spaces at local government level as well as in consultations with the CHT Commission comprising representatives of national and international civil society. The CHT Ministry formed in 1998 under the Prime Minister’s Office has very limited authority and power and the Advisory Committee set up for consultative purposes is inactive. The Government was supposed to hand over the regularisation of the land from the Land Ministry to the CHT Ministry but has failed to do so. A Peace Accord Implementation Committee (PAIC) first constituted in 1998 and re-constituted in 2009 includes invited space for CHT representatives but is currently non-functional. The CHT Land Commission headed by a High Court Judge was mandated to settle land disputes and has authority to cancel leases awarded to non-tribal and non-local people. This Commission, like the PAIC is also inactive mainly because it failed to get the support of the Adivasi people. Despite many provisions for functional space none of them are working satisfactorily.
This leaves only claimed space activity. In country, the Hill Women Federation (HWF) comprising young women and college students and Parbata Chatra Parishad (PCP) also comprising students operate as youth activist wings of PCJSS. Campaigns and rallies are organised but although productive in the CHT have had little impact on galvanising the interest of the general population. Although the national media has been supportive it too has failed to make this a mainstream issue. International advocacy (claimed space) is more active with demonstrations, blogs and signature campaigns.
Legislation has failed to create an environment conducive to CSO engagement on these issues. There are many vested interests linked to maintaining the status quo in the CHT. The current Government makes public supportive statements but fears losing the votes of settlers if it makes decisions in favour of the Adivasi interests. The Opposition is against the tenets of the Peace Accord. The Government has taken a stance to stall on decision making as the most politically expedient option.
The recent clamp down on activities of NGOs in the CHT is worrying to the CSOs in the country. Many have been threatened with withdrawal of approval by the Government’s regulatory body, the NGO Affairs Bureau if they are perceived to be involved in any activities which can be construed as political.
The land rights issues remain marginalised by the remoteness of the area, the lack of popular interest in the issues and the Government’s unwillingness to confront difficult issues and upset vested interest groups. It remains for the international community to highlight and pursue the issues.
The lack of an enabling environment has severe limitations on possible achievement of CSO engagement on these issues. The government provisions for engagement are nonfunctional curtailing and frustrating efforts by the Adivasi movements and organisations.
There has been limited success with test land cases supported by legal aid groups but insufficient progress and supportive research and documentation. There is more internet-based advocacy than evident in the three other case studies which may be testament to the limited conventional space available for marginalised issue-raising and the need to undertake ’risky’ advocacy under cover of anonymity. The risks associated with confronting the vested interest groups has led to minimal activity even amongst the many CSOs and NGOs operating in CHT. Their function is often reduced to service provision even where they would like to be more pro-active in advocacy.
DPs have provided substantial financial support to the UNDP CHT Facility which in turn supports development interventions in the CHT. This is intended as an efficiency measure but has reduced the opportunities for DPs to engage directly with the issues. UNDP’s special relationship with Government prevents them from being explicitly critical. Considering the impasse in action on the land rights issues and the importance of the role of the international community in furthering the rights of the Adivasi peoples, an increased involvement of DPs could be opportune. DPs can act as a bridge between the Adivasi people and Government and also help them to prepare their positions and seek appropriate support for their campaigns for justice better.
The Bangladesh National Food Policy Plan of Action (2008-15) approved in 2010 focuses on four main dimensions: (a) food availability, (b) access to food (physical and social), (c) economic access, and (d) utilisation of food for nutrition. There was some CSO engagement in the development of the policy but considering the seriousness of the issue when one third of the population Bangladesh still lives in extreme poverty.
The study team identified four critical issues around which there is limited CSO engagement. These are (a) encroachment of agricultural lands, (b) promotion of indigenous and sustainable land use technology, (c) distribution of land to landless farmers and (d) food prices. Every year 1,000 sq. km of agricultural land is being lost to non-food production activities (e.g. tobacco), construction (of houses, roads, brickfield) and for industrial purposes. In addition river erosion reduces many sq. km of cultivable land and saline water intrusion hampers food production in large swathes of coastal lands. The shrimp industry is gobbling up huge areas of rice paddy land. The arguments for promoting traditional varieties of agricultural products and against high input hybrid and genetically-modified (GM) crops are promoted by a few lone voices. Many CSOs continue to press for the distribution of government land to the landless. Food aid affects food prices in the local market as do the fickle international markets and it is these issues which get sparse CSO attention from time to time.
The invited space for policy dialogue on food related matters is very limited. A single organisation, Association for Land Reform and Development, has become de facto the organisation invited by Government on food security. Land rather than food is its main area of interest and its 260 member CSOs are engaged primarily with the issue of distribution of land to the landless rather than wider food related issues.
There is disparate and scattered claimed space action undertaken by a range of CSOs. They undertake a limited amount of action research and generally low profile advocacy. Some organise farmer groups. The media is the most active in claiming space by highlighting issues. The one area where there is constant civil society agitation is food prices but demonstrations are less often by CSOs and more often spontaneous in nature.
Food security is highly politically charged. The current Government was said to have won the election based on its pledge to keep rice prices down. International agencies dominate any non-government spaces and debate is limited by a number of vested interests.
While the lack of central space for dialogue is not surprising, the lack of organisation of farmers is. Much investment has been made into developing farmers groups in the past e.g. integrated pest management groups, cooperatives and collectives but they do not have a recognised central voice and no means to amplify their voices upwards, so their concerns are rarely heard.
As in the case of the minority land rights the lack of an enabling environment has severe limitations on possible achievement of CSO engagement on these issues. There is little will to engage civil society on issues which are complex and political. The small voices which do champion some of the issues noted above are mostly considered as ’trouble makers’. There is risk involved in engaging in what are often very controversial issues.
ALRD has finally forged a trusted and respectful relationship with Government which has been built after years of confrontation and struggle around highly contested land disputes. However, it is now being expected to fulfil a role for which is it poorly equipped. Its expertise is not food security but its involvement ’ticks the CS consultation box’.
DPs have provided substantial financial support to production and food distribution schemes and channel support to UN agencies but often have little direct involvement. The advocacy around some of these issues is rarely been resourced through DP support and has relied on indigenous activism or the support of international CSOs (e.g. Action-Aid). How can such activism be nurtured and supported so that the current closed spaces for policy dialogue are opened up to public scrutiny?