Citizen Monitoring Yields Positive Development Outcomes

Originally published in The Daily Star (Bangladesh)

June 16, 2015 – The engagement of civil society organisations and communities in monitoring development projects increases citizen awareness and participation in taxpayer-funded programmes, a new report found.

Third party monitoring reduces the propensity of corruption and increases overall citizen engagement, according to the report that compiled the monitoring results of five development projects funded by the World Bank in the last four years.

The Partnership for Transparency Fund, a Washington-based organisation set up to help citizens fight corruption and meet citizen demand for good governance, ran the Citizen Action for Results, Transparency and Accountability (CARTA) programme. It was run in association with Manusher Jonno Foundation (MJF) in Bangladesh and Helvetas Swiss Intercooperation in Nepal.

Tjaarda Storm van Leeuwen, programme director of CARTA, said: “CARTA has added value, enhanced transparency, improved functioning of grievances redress mechanisms and increased awareness.”

He was speaking at a daylong workshop on experience sharing and lessons learned from implementation of the CARTA programme at Lakeshore Hotel in Dhaka.

CARTA is a pilot project for a unique monitoring model that may provide development agencies with more specific and real-time information on the impact of their projects.

In Bangladesh, the World Bank-supported projects are: Local Government Support Project; Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development Project; Rural Water Supply and Sanitation Project II; Reaching Out-of-School Children Project II, and Social Investment Programme Project.

MJF selected six civil society organisations to run the programme: Democracy Watch, Agrogoti Sangstha, Population Service and Training Centre, Resource Integration Centre, RDRS Bangladesh, and Bangladesh Disaster Preparedness Centre.

Since 2011, $1.29 million in grants were provided to support 11 WB projects in Nepal and Bangladesh in the areas of infrastructure, health, education and local government.

“Adjustments have been made to several projects funded by the WB. The effectiveness of beneficiary grievance redress mechanisms has also improved,” the report said.

“More broadly, local civil society organisations have reported an increase in community assertiveness for and commitment to legal and social rights as a result of CARTA’s awareness raising and capacity building activities.”

For example, in case of the Rural Electrification and Renewable Energy Development Project, the number of households experiencing problems with their solar home systems decreased to 5 percent from 28 percent, while it went down to 1 percent from 16 percent for business users.

In case of the Local Government Support Project, 100 percent union councils properly disseminated information through notice boards, compared to 70 percent of 30 union councils covered by Agrogoti Sangstha in Satkhira and 78 percent of the 30 union councils covered by Democracy Watch.

It was the first time a major development partner has financed a monitoring and evaluation programme that was carried out by a third party, said Shaheen Anam, executive director of MJF.

“It is clear from the evidence that citizen engagement has improved performance of the projects. The monitoring programme has empowered the field-level communities to talk and give their opinions on the projects,” she said.

Gowher Rizvi, international affairs adviser to the prime minister, thanked all stakeholders for taking up the initiative to improve transparency and service deliveries.

“The philosophy of civil society engagement is absolutely vital. This is something that will encourage us to take it forward. This will be an ongoing process whether there will be any funds from development partners or not.”

He said people who face problems know the answers to the problems, thanks to their experience and wisdom. So their engagement is key to the successful implementation of any project. “We will just have to have enough humility to understand to take note of what they are saying. The funding agencies also need to know about the hope and wish of the beneficiaries.”

The adviser also called upon civil society organisations and the government to work together for better development outcomes, instead of seeing each other with suspicion.

The government is drafting the second generation of citizen charter, incorporating the responses of people as well as putting penalty provision in place for failing to deliver services, said Rizvi.

“Development partners including the WB also need to be accountable to their borrowers and the communities to learn for making the projects sustainable.”

Salman Zaidi, a lead economist of the WB in Dhaka, said citizen engagement is a key element of the lender’s strategies and operations in ensuring accountability of policymakers, governments and service providers.

Last year, the WB decided to mainstream citizen engagement in its operations and has targeted to take feedback from all beneficiaries in its projects by 2018, he said. “Citizen’s engagement can play a productive role in achieving development outcomes,” he said.

A number of union parishad chairmen said they initially were unaware about the benefits of the CARTA project, but now they can see the benefits.

Luiza Nora, a social development specialist of the WB, said there is a growing focus on utilising aid effectively from a donor’s perspective. “There is a global shift that calls on governments to engage with citizens.”

Citizen engagement exists in paper, but on some occasions they are not functional fully, she said. “Citizen engagement needs to be measured. There has to be an indicator in every project that can show results.”

Syed Rashed Al Zayed Josh, a senior economist of the WB in Dhaka, said he once visited a learning centre under the Reaching Out-of-School Children Project, and found after an investigation that the person, who initially posed as the teacher of the centre, was actually the husband of the teacher who was out of the village.

“Even, the students attending the centre were the sons and daughters of the committee members who run the school. There was no such community engagement there.”

Takayuki Kawakami, the first secretary of Japanese embassy in Bangladesh, said the idea of third party monitoring is new in Bangladesh. “When something new is introduced, it faces some challenges, but we should not stop here. We have to solve problems through dialogue.”

Monwar Ali, additional chief engineer of Department of Public Health Engineering, said, “We have to believe that civil society organisations work at the field level to suggest the best possible solutions to the problems facing the community. They are not there to find faults of any project.”