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PARLIAMENTARY PROJECTS

Donors consider cutting support

David Bergman

Donor countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, are reviewing whether to continue funding aid programmes involving the new parliament in Bangladesh.
Warren Daley, a spokesperson for the United Kingdom, told New Age that it was ‘reviewing’ its projects ‘to take into account the emerging political situation and which aspects of the projects it will be appropriate to take forward.’
On Monday, the US and the UK
government criticised the elections as lacking ‘credibility’ pointing out that a half of the seats were uncontested and the remaining seats, which provided mostly token opposition, had only attracted a low turnout of voters.
The UK and the US government jointly fund a programme called Promoting  Democratic Institutions and Practices, in which one of its two main objectives is to work ‘within parliament to improve the effectiveness and transparency of parliament.’
The programme, implemented by the Asia Foundation, has been working with members of parliament to provide them with better information and capacity so that they can fulfil their ‘legislative, representational and oversight responsibilities.’
The UK government alone has so far given £21.9 million towards this project and is due to give £4 million more in the next financial year.
A US state department spokesperson also told New Age, ‘We will look at [this programme] and other democracy and governance programmes to determine how they might be most effective in the current environment.’
Another project under review is Promoting Democracy through Parliamentary Development, implemented by the UNDP. Half of its funding comes from the Netherlands and is due to come to an end this June.
The objective of the project is ‘to strengthen the parliament to improve its legislative capacity, its oversight functions and its democratic practices through institutional and operational reforms.’
The embassy of the Netherlands told New Age that it did not wish to comment on whether it would continue to support the project.
A person working close to the UNDP project, however, told New Age that there would be a meeting on January 19 or 20 in which it would consider how to proceed with this project.
‘All those involved in funding and implementing the different parliamentary projects, including the UNDP one, will discuss what to do, so there will be a coordinated response between the donors,’ this person said.
Akbar Ali Khan, an economist and former cabinet secretary, told the New Age that ‘reviewing these projects would be an appropriate decision as elections did not go the way they should have, the way elections were originally conceived. So the projects should be reviewed.’
Iftekharuzzaman, the executive director of the Transparency International, Bangladesh, which is funded in part by the UK aid, said that he was ‘not surprised’ that the government would be reviewing these projects ‘because the parliament that is being formed, though constitutionally and legally correct, does not have the political, moral and public mandate, and the credibility of the parliament will remain questionable.’
He, however, hoped that the governments would not cut their aid. ‘Even if the parliament has less credibility, they may support building demand side capacity for an effective parliament.’
In relation to whether governments should give any of their aid directly to the Bangladesh government, he said, ‘Since the governments have fallen short of not recognising the new Bangladesh government, they might look at the whole package of working with the government in a different perspective. It can be designed to promoting professional capacity and integrity of institutions of rule of law which may be under greater challenge now.’
The British government provided Bangladesh with £274.9 million in aid this financial year, with 265 million planned for 2014–15.
Although most of this money is given to international agencies and non-governmental organisations, 30 per cent goes directly or indirectly to the Bangladesh government to support its health, education and climate change programmes.




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