The People’s Republic of Bangladesh is a unitary country located in South Asia. Bangladesh’s public sector is highly centralized. While the Constitution and the legal framework provide for the presence of elected bodies at every level of the public sector, in practice, the vast majority of public sector functions are performed by the central government—either directly by central government ministry programs, or by central government field officials posted at the division, district (zila), or subdistrict (upazila) levels. Although elected councils exist at the zila and upazila level, de facto, these bodies mainly provide oversight over subnational administration, rather than having authoritative decision-making power over the delivery of services. Elected rural and urban local governance institutions do exist at the level closest to the people (Union Parishads, Pourashavas, and City Corporations), but in practice, their functions, administrative powers, and financial resources are quite limited.
Subnational government structure
While the Constitution of Bangladesh stipulates that local governance in every administrative unit of the republic shall be entrusted to elected councils, the Constitution did not define the country’s precise multilevel governance structure. The current subnational territorial-administrative structure of Bangladesh has three tiers of public administration (Figure 1): eight Divisions, 64 districts (Zilas), and 495 sub-districts (Upazilas). In addition, rural areas are served by 4,554 Unions Parishads, while urban areas are served by 328 municipalities (Pourashavas) and 12 City Corporations.
Nature of subnational governance institutions
Division administrations and Zila administrations should be considered vertically deconcentrated institutions that are administratively and budgetarily part of the central government’s ministries and line departments. The institutional nature of Upazila administrations is complex: while there is coordination between central government’s field administration at the Upazila level, Upazila level officers typically don’t have authoritative power over the delivery of frontline services within their sector. Even though Union Parishads, Pourashavas, and City Corporations are commonly referred to as local government institutions, they should be considered hybrid institutions that have elements of devolved institutions but generally lack sufficient authority and autonomy to implement their constituents’ priorities.
The legal responsibilities and functions of each local government institution are outlined by the respective Local Government Acts (2009). If the responsibilities and functions contained in the Local Government Acts were duly exercised by the LGIs, the assignment of functional responsibilities in Bangladesh would be quite decentralized. In practice, the central government retains the de facto power, responsibility, and resources for delivering the vast majority of public sector services. Even within the central government’s administrative apparatus, decision-making power, administrative authority, and resources tend to be highly centralized. For instance, while upazila-level officials are expected to play an important role in the coordination and delivery of front-line services, in practice, authoritative control over the inputs required for frontline service delivery (including frontline staff and infrastructure) is often retained by central ministry programs or sectoral officials at the national level.
Bangladesh Country Profile (World Observatory on Subnational Governance and Investment, OECD/UCLG)
Local government country profile: Bangladesh (UN Women)
The Local Government System in Bangladesh. (Commonwealth Local Government Forum)
Bangladesh: Reform agenda for local governance. (Tofail Ahmed, 2016)
Last updated: September 24, 2023