Democratic Budget Movement


There is no denying the fact that the national budget is a very important public document and a symbolic reflection of public desires. It is not only important for national economic growth but also for the day-to-day life of the grassroots people as the budget has significant influence over the life and livelihoods of the people. Even in the recent past, people used to talk about national budget merely in respect to its implication over prices of essential commodities. It has been an exclusive domain of intellectual analytical exercise for the students of economics and political science being important academic topics in their syllabus. None but the top business leaders seemed to have any concern over the matter. Mainstream media used decorate their pages publishing traditional news items of outright acceptance and rejection by the ruling party and the opposition respectively. Budget-related news contained just two items: congratulations by the ruling party and anti-budget budget demonstration by the opposition. However, the democratic renewal during the 90’s witnessed a new enthusiasm among professional bodies, intellectuals, civil society organizations and NGOs as they found the political regime more conducive to have critical discussion on national budget. Following this development, now we observe both pre-budget and post budget dialogues and discussions in a very intense manner involving people from various sectors and classes. There are budgets for farmers, women, disabled being proposed by organizations and concerned citizens representing these sectors and classes for further dialogue, discussion and consideration. The fundamental essence of such sector-based budget merely calls for increasing allocation of public revenues. All these discussions and recommendations are being made aiming to reach decision-makers of the upper echelon. It has been the practice during the last two decades with significant amount of doubt that whether these proposals have any real implication over actual budgetary process. Perhaps Ministers and government officials have very little time to extend their ears to listen to these voices except the proposals forwarded by the business bodies! The fact is that the public demands and aspirations are to be incorporated in the national budget, it is highly important for the policy makers to come close to the people making the system essentially decentralized and democratic one. It is also important to recognize that it is absolutely impossible to achieve national development or poverty alleviation unless comprehensive and inclusive developments of each individual, group or communities are attained. Hence, it needs a balanced and inclusive investment planning taking into consideration of demands and aspirations of people living in various communities and regions. In this context, it is essential to recognize the Constitutional provision stated in Article 19 (2) that highlights the need for ensuring equitable distribution of wealth among citizens and of opportunities in order to attain a uniform level of economic development throughout the Republic”.

Why Democratic Budget?

There is a highly centralized form of government in Bangladesh. If we need to construct a road or building education or health infrastructure even in a remote area, it is essential to take decisions at the capital. Everything is decided at the capital city Dhaka. Instruction of implementation comes from the center . According to Wildavosky, the process of preparing budget is completely outdated. It resembles using carts in a technological age. It is more like a ninetieth century behavior while living in 21st Century. The nature is self contradictory as states in the developed and industrialized societies are intensifying government expenditure in public services while process of preparing budget is becoming centralized that essentially keeps aside the participation of people and their elected representatives. As a matter of fact, each decision in a centralized state is repeatedly verified by multiple levels of bureaucracy, passing through at least a dozen of steps before being approved. When a Thana/sub-district officer proposes something to his boss, it moves around various levels before coming to the center, the capital city, Dhaka. Sometimes, it also faces ‘evaluation’ at the divisional or regional level. Even in the capital, the proposal has to pass through three additional levels before heading towards the Secretariat. Again, even in the Secretariat the proposal has to pass through 3 to 5 levels before coming to a final decision. The system does not require any system of accountability and bribery and harassment are must at each and every level. ‘Gigantic administrative monsters’ use its full evil force to kill and suppress every creative initiatives for development. In fact, it would not be surprising if this country becomes a ‘state of the nature’ given the existence of such an anti-people system of governance in Bangladesh. Fortunately, we have golden opportunity to change the system as there seems to be political decision taken by all to devolution of power to the local governments.

“An annual budget is formulated for a year giving very little time to the stakeholders to propose their recommendations. The fast-moving mode of budget formulation often keep the new demands unseen as they fear to take too much time in preparing them. But, the policy makers used to promise that the remaining demands would be considered with proper attention in the next year which often never comes true. The time-bound process of preparing national budget not only restricts the participation of people but also their elected representatives who are actually responsible for monitoring the public expenditure. In fact, the bureaucrats used to consume significant amount of time of a given fiscal year to prepare the budget. As result, public representatives find very little time to review it.

It is natural to expect that a democratic state would produce a national budget quite democratic in nature. However, in the context of Bangladesh, it is important to realize the extent to which people’s participation is ensured in the process of preparing our national budget in general and Annual Development Plan in particular. Accross the countries, two major limitations associated with preparing national budget could be idenitfied. Despite of their democratic nature, these national budgets are actually formulated by a small group of individuals. Balance between income and expenditure and strict limitation of time for final approval essentially leaves very limited space for relevant stakeholders for debate and discussion. The process of preparing national budget is completely undemocratic particularly in a political setting where people can take decision through a face-to-face conversation.” It is observed that people have very little space for expressing their opinion except casting their votes, once in five year, to elect the government or in some cases, voting for electing the local government representatives. Although in recent times, due to the continuous advocacy by some development agencies and civil society organizations, public voices are at least heard at the policy level, but it does not actually empower the people in true sense. According to Robert Chembers, this process is used as a means to sharing information, sometime as a mode to justify the planning process or sometimes to fulfil the requirement of the donor agencies. In order to make the national budget a truly democratic one, it is essential not only to take part in the preparatory process but also to ensure full participation in the implementation and monitoring process. In fact, the process of preparing our national budget is not participatory at all, either in theory or in practice. However, some may consider people’s participation in the budgetary process in terms of participation of elected representatives. But we need to understand that firstly, the Westminster form of parliamentary democracy failed to play its desired role in Bangladesh and as a result members of parliament could play little role in discussing over peoples demands and issues in the parliament. They cannot play effective role as the representatives of the people. Secondly, members of parliament (MP) or the parliamentary standing committees have no formal or institutional role to play in the process of budget formulation. Thirdly, although the MPs can participate in the budget session at the Assembly but the allocated time for discussion and their willingness to take part in the discussion seem to be quite unfortunate. Statistics shows that during 1997-98 to 2006-07, in 10 years, the MPs were given in every 20.7 days-session and got an average 34.59 hours to discuss in details and to cast vote in favour or against it. Interestingly, in the year 2004 and 2005, total 152 MPs were given on an average only 15.2 minutes to discuss over the budget issue. It essentially reveals the fact that out of 345 MPs, more than half had no scope to play any role in formulating the nation’s future planning, the national budget. So, MPs, the elected representatives can hardly ensure peoples participation in budgetray process even in an indirect form.

In fact, making a democratic budget essentially requires strong commitment from the party in power. Articulating issues in the election manifesto is not enough; it must be translated into action. It is interesting to observe that since Pakistan period, military and non-elected governments have taken initiatives for administrative decentralization while elected governments showed very little interest to do so. No visible initiatives for decentralization have been observed during the last 20 years, although with the legitimate support people two major political parties ruled the country during this time. Currently, there are elected bodies at the Union, Upazilla and Municipality/City Corporation level. The municipality and city corporation can exercise some executive power inherited from the tradition while Union Council and Upazilla are in a power contestation with the Local Administration and Member of Parliament (MP). Unfortunately, there is no elected body at the district level keeping it ineffective and non-elected for decades. Perhaps, this is because of the presence of a strong bureaucracy at the district level.

Political unwillingness is not the only factor that impedes the process decentralization. As a matter of fact, the colonial mentality of our bureaucracy is one of the biggest challenges before ‘bringing the government close to the people’. However, the power of bureaucracy to hinder the process is not evenly distributed to various ministries and departments. Till 2003, ministries and departments were not allowed to prepare their own budgets. Rather, it was the Ministry of Finance who took every allocative decision for each and every ministries and departments. Later, under the PRSP process ministries and departments were allowed to prepare their own budget considering their priorities of work and asked to put everything in a 3-year mid-term budgetary framework. It has been decided that the ministries and departments would prepare their annual budget solely based on this mid-term framework. Currently, 33 ministries and departments have been brought under this mid-term budgetary framework and planning and budget cell have been established in another 24 ministries and departments . However, no matter what the planning processes are, the important question is to see to what extent people’s demands and aspirations are being reflected in the planning documents.

Decentralization of Budget: A constitutional commitment

The Constitution of Bangladesh has placed high priority to people’s empowerment and local self-governance. Despite several attempts to change the Constitution, these fundamental commitments still remained unchanged. The Constitution has categorically mentioned activities for local governments. These include 1) responsibility of administration and its employees, 2) maintenance of law and order and 3) responsibility of public employment and development planning and its implementation. It has been mentioned that these activities will be carried out by the elected local governments. The Constitution further empowers the elected local government to impose taxes, formulate budget and manage its own funds. Ensuring Equality of Opportunity for all citizens has been mentioned in the Article 19(1). Besides, Article 11, 59 and 60 categorically mentions the issues related to development planning and decentralization of revenue/tax administration .

The election manifesto: Ruling coalition and Opposition on Decentralization

The election manifesto of ruling Awami League (AL), titled “Charter of Change’ has been recognized as a historic documents on several counts. In Article 5.6 of the manifesto clearly states that “administration will be free from politicization and will be pro-people. Efficiency, seniority and merit will be the basis of appointment and promotion in public service. Administrative reform, right to information and e-governance will be introduced...........”. Article 6 highlights the issue of local government system as “one of the important issues” clearly stating that “Local Government: Union, Upazilla and District Councils will be strengthened through decentralization of power. District Councils will be transformed into centers for implementation of programs on education and health and all other development plans, and programs, and for maintenance of law and order. Every union will be made the headquarters for development and administration of the area and be developed as a planned rural township. And every Upazilla headquarter will be developed as an industrial growth centre and a planned township. The power and sphere of responsibility of City Corporation and municipalities will be enhanced; the standard and quality of civic facilities will be improved” . Besides these two commitments, the 2nd point under the section ‘political structure, decentralization of power and public participation’ of the Awami League’s vision 2021 mentioned that initiatives will be taken to bring about fundamental changes in the present political structure giving special emphasis on local government systems. Local governments will play pivotal role in development activities. In this backdrop, local governments at Upazilla and district level will be made autonomous and self-reliant .

In its election manifesto, Jatiyo Party (JP), one of the major members of Ruling Coalition, advocated for provincial government system instead of centralized one. It has proposed dividing the country into eight provinces, formulating eight provincial councils and eight provincial assemblies. JP has also announced to establish the Upazilla system with due part of the judiciary . On the other hand, Jatiyo Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) is in favor of holding elections at Upazilla and Zilla level. It also announced that the party will take necessary initiatives to remove the undue exercise of power and control over local governments exercised by the ministry of local government and constrain the bureaucratic control and excesses. It also said that the party will take initiative to make local governments strong and accountable institutions through local government commission .

The main opposition party in the parliament, Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) in its election manifesto (Section 12) mentioned the importance of local government stating that “massive decentralization of administrative power for good governance would be ensured as well as the administration would be made people-friendly for the over-all national development. BNP believes on decentralized administration and involving people at all administrative structures. The government would give priority in all such initiatives. …For this, the elected BNP government would ensure and extend participation of general people in all development planning, keeping balance among the administrative power that the traditional local government and elected public representatives. Local government systems will be strengthened and empowered through the elected representatives” .

Trends of inequality in a centralized budget

In fiscal year 2008-09, budgetary allocation for the annual development plan (ADP) was Tk. 19,500 crore. Considering the country’s total population at 15 crore, per capita allocation stands at Tk 1,300. But the year’s per capita allocation of ADP (July-March) for the district Thakurgaon, Jaipurhat, Dinajpur, Jessore, Meherpur and Maimansing was among the lowest. It was Tk. Tk 290 for Thakurgaio, Tk. 300 for Jaipurhat, Tk 340 for Dinajpur, Tk 380 for Jessore, Tk 380 for Meherpur Tk 390 for Gaibandha and Tk 390 for Maimansing. Surprisingly, as per the poverty map, these districts were considered highly poverty-prone . It is a matter of surprise that the picture was quite opposite for districts that were relatively prosperous. For example, ADP allocation for the district of Dhaka was Tk 710, Chittagong Tk. 850, Feni Tk 1160 and Sylhet Tk. 1080. It is interesting to notice that the per capita ADP allocation is much higher in districts like Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet . One can easily understand the need for district or region-based budgeting considering the comparative analysis of uneven distribution of resources among districts and regions. It can also be observed that resource allocation in favor of the poor is low even in these well off regions. Moreover, analysis also suggests that urban areas get more resources than that of their counterpart the rural areas. The persistent trend of Division-wise allocation reveals that despite having the potential for developing Agro-based Small and Medium Enterprises in the districts belonging to North-East, North-West, South and South-Western regions, investment did not increase. Instead, many industries have been closed down due to corruption, mismanagement and effects of privatization. According to the Industry and Labor wing of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), in 2000-01, there were 11,588 in Mid Region (Dhaka), 4235 in Eastern Region (Chittagong and Sylhet Division), 6570 in Northern region (Rajshahi and Rangpur Division) and 2359 in Southern region (Khulna and Barisal) out of country’s total 24,753 industrial units. On the other hand, the productivity of agriculture sector (2008) is low in Eastern region (per acre production 22 mounds) while it is 39 in Mid region, 39 in North and 32 in South. However, in 2009, production has gone down in Mid and Sounthern region due to natural calamities and other associated factors . In this backdrop, the ADP should pay particular attention to these lagging regions in terms of increasing the investment.

Become a Budget Volunteer

About Budget Volunteering

Lorem Ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipsicing kengan omeg kohm tokito Professional charity theme based

Get in touch

Clara Barton

HR & Office Manager

Contact Infomation

Akershusstranda 20, 0150 Oslo, Norway


Get Direction

Contact form

Or, you can just send an email: