Union Parishads (UP) are the smallest rural administrative and local government units in Bangladesh. It is the lowest local tier of governance to guarantee good governance, development planning, implementation, transparency, and accountability for rural areas in Bangladesh. As UP is the main entry point in implementing social safety net programmes at mass level, the capacity building and training of UPs is very important to ensure quality of social security programmes.
SSPS programme conducted a need assessment study of on needs assessment for social security programmes implementation. The assessment identified training needs to enhance the capacity of UPs representatives and officials to support the implementation of the NSSS. In this spirit, Training of the Trainers (ToT) for the Upazila Resource Team (Upazila Social Welfare officers, Upazila Women Affair Officer and or Upazila Youth Development Officer) was identified as a key activity. In total 500 Upazila training team members received three-day long training on Social Protection. In this regard, it is necessary to conduct a rapid assessment to know/assess the knowledge of the union parishad chairmen, members and secretaries after receiving training on social protection. It was also important to assess their understanding on social security of UP level officials and to monitor the training they had received based on SSPS guideline.
In total nine districts were visited, covering seven divisions. Methodology carried out during this research included individual interviews based on semi structured qualitative checklist and Focus Group Discussions (FGD) using FGD checklist. This report examined the responses of the interviews and FGDs so that decisions can be made as to what the next course of action should be. Random Purposive Sampling method was utilized to select sample UPs for this study.
At Upazila level, the interviewees were asked whether they attended the Training of Trainers (ToT) on “Role of Union Parishad in Implementing Social Security Program”. Among the participants the study team found that around 19% of the interviewed respondents participated in the ToT almost two years ago. All the participants mentioned the training was useful for them to understand thoroughly social protection schemes. Respondents were also asked about the selection procedure of the beneficiaries of social security schemes. They said the news of beneficiary selection was circulated through an open declaration using a microphone through the “Union Chowkidar”. Upon hearing the announcement, beneficiaries would come to the Union parishad office with documents (NID card, photographs). A primary list would be made on that announced day. The primary list developed by the Union committee and would then be sent to the Upazila Committee for approval. They remarked that theoretically the documentation was reasonable, but the process of beneficiary selection was not always transparent. The committee faced pressure from political parties for their chosen candidates. The Upazila Social Welfare Officers mentioned about their shortage of human resources. There supposed to one Social Welfare Field Assistant for each union and most unions didn’t even have an assistant.
At Union level, participants were asked whether they attended any orientation on social protection. Most of the respondents received training on Union Parishad Operation Manual from NILG. The Union Parishad Operation Manual training hold a small section on social protection. They also mentioned that union parishad chairman received manual for all types of allowances/schemes (old age, widowed, disability, VGD, VGF etc.) from the responsible Upazila officers. Respondents were asked about the beneficiary selection process. They mentioned that there existed a beneficiary selection committee at Union level. Government manual/rules existed about the selection process and they follow that manual. They also referred the influences within the community for selection of beneficiaries. Among the participants, 90% said that they used government rules for selection of beneficiaries and there existed a committee for carrying out this selection. They said that members of that committee were members of Union Parishad, Social Welfare Officer, Freedom Fighters etc. are participants. About 10% of the respondents said that representatives of political parties were part of the selection committees and they had strong influence over the beneficiary selection.
Union Parishad manages all the government assigned programme and allowances for that Union and 31% of the respondents mentioned about it. Apart from that, Union Parishad arranged some internal projects or programmes. Among the respondents, another 39% mentioned that they took own initiatives for their population specially for women, children and people with disability. This included arranging training for women, small loans for the small businesses. Even if the Union Parishad had been managing the government allowances, 47% of the responses mentioned that the overall allowances were not enough. Around 12% mentioned that allocation might be enough, but the amount of money is inadequate. Moreover, 23% of them said that allowances are not enough specially for the widow.
Government social security programmes have both food based and cash-based programmes. Respondents were asked about their opinion on food based and cash-based programmes. Among the respondents, 80% of them preferred cash-based programme. They mentioned that beneficiaries prefer cash as the can use the money to buy what they might need. Moreover, they generally don’t get any complaints regarding the cash-based system.
Few Recommendations came out from the respondents. Upazila level officers referred that more control over the beneficiary selection might boost them up in developing capacity on social protection of the union beneficiary selection committee. For capacity development, more detailed social protection module in UP operation manual training could be incorporated. About the requirement of poverty mapping, poverty mapping might help to minimize the duplication error. Among the allowances-based programmes, allowances for widowed, destitute and disability was not enough compared to its demand. This gap of demand and supply make the beneficiary selection procedure difficult. So, the findings suggested that there should be an increase in the number of widow allowances as there are many more women whose husbands had deserted them. Most of the respondents were happy about their cash disbursement process through the banks. However, some mentioned that there is long queue at the bank during cash disbursement periods. It was very difficult for old aged and people with disability to gather and wait at the bank office for long hours in order to collect their allowances. For the mobility compromised people, Old Allowance or disability allowance, G2P system might be able to help. The Upazila social welfare officers frequently mentioned about their lack of human resources to monitor the beneficiaries and beneficiary selection process. Engagement of other union level government officials and NGO workers might assist this crisis. The study team found some initiatives of the union parishad for the poor and vulnerable people of their union. It included skill development training for women and small loans for small enterprises/farmers. UP’s own initiatives would be more need based as they are at the lowest tier of the government. The UP’s should be encouraged by giving some incentives to organized need-based programmes for the local poor and vulnerable people.