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WDR 2004: Dhaka Consultation

World Development Report Archives

World Development Report 2004

Members of the WDR team conducted a day-long consultation with a group of Bangladeshi policymakers, NGO leaders, academics and donor officials.

One academic commentator was concerned that donors might grab onto our "12 sizes fit all" framework and start prescribing solutions, rather than allow for domestic learning and experimentation.

A government education official gave a candid description of why services are failing the poor in Bangladesh: the attitude of public servants, who are mainly involved in rent-seeking, and the "poverty of institutions", with a centralized bureaucracy leftover from colonial times and a constitutionally-mandated weak parliament.

It was suggested that there was no dialogue between public servants and politicians (concerns that in cabinet meetings public servants don't speak frankly to the ministers).

Much of the discussion centered on decentralization in Bangladesh and the prospects that it will improve service delivery. One participant said that elections were expensive in Bangladesh, so how can we expect elected officials to be pro-poor? Another pointed out that, since the recent local government elections, five elected local-government officials in Dhaka have been killed.

There was also some concerns expressed about the private sector in education and health in Bangladesh creating an elite, and possibly undermining political support for public delivery of these services.

Finally, there was a lively discussion about the successes and limits of NGOs in Bangladesh. One NGO called VERC has achieved 100% sanitation coverage in about 100 villages, without very much money, but with strong community participation (villagers are fined Tk. 50 if they don't comply, with different and more severe penalties for subsequent violations). Another NGO leader had just agreed to take over the running of 10 percent of the country's village health clinics. He will then hand over a third of these to BRAC. It was suggested to randomize the clinics handed over to BRAC, and possibly roll in the other NGO's management of the remaining clinics on a random basis, and to evaluate and compare the results across different types of management.

On the following day, WDR staff met with a group of trade union officials from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Although the meeting started the meeting with a WDR presentation emphasizing that this WDR was not about privatization, but about how governments can meet their responsibility for health and education outcomes for the poor better, several participants felt compelled to speak out against privatization. Nevertheless, as many people noted after the meeting, it was important for them to get a better understanding of the World Bank in general, and the WDR in particular, and we certainly got a better sense of their concerns.

One high point of the visit to Bangladesh was a visit to a primary school run by BRAC. In a poor rural village about two hours from Dhaka, this school is one of several thousand that are run by BRAC. The teaching methods are reflective of BRAC’s pedagogy. BRAC schools emphasize singing, dancing and play acting more; students sit on the floor in a U-shaped fashion; and parents pay a small, nominal fee for their children to attend. The school and the children looked immaculate. All 35 students were present; absenteeism was rare. The students entertained us with song, dance and a skit about home-based care for childhood diarrhea that captured most of the WDR themes. They all wanted to go on to high school (they would have to take a competitive exam to attend the government-run high school). Most of them wanted to be doctors, nurses, dancers or engineers. When we asked them what messages they had for children in the U.S., they replied, "Tell them to stay in school and keep studying."

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