A Citizen’s Charter is a short public document that gives important information about the services provided by the public agency concerned. It is a social accountability tool designed to help citizens understand public service offerings so that they are empowered and informed when seeking services from their local government offices. Developed jointly by citizens and government officials, the Charter explains the services available and how to access them as well as procedures for complaints, and how to correct shortcomings in service provision. In Bangladesh, the citizen's charter was introduced in 2007. Since then, many initiatives have been taken for making it effective.
Through Platform's for Dialogue's partnerships with civil society organisations (CSOs) at the grassroots level, Citizen's Charters have been posted in 63 unions, spanning 21 districts. We have also provided training for civil society organisations and government institutions on the Citizen's Charter to ensure both government officials and local communities can engage with this tool in a meaningful and productive way. Let us hear the story about one of our partner CSOs Batachaya Somajkallyan Samiti and their work on the citizen’s charter.
Diluar Hossain is a farmer by trade, but a committed social worker at heart. Back in 2001, Hossain and many other local youths decided to establish the local welfare organisation Batachaya Somajkallya Samiti in the Current-Bazar village of Sunamganj District to address some of the most pressing social issues that affect rural societies. “Our goal is to systematically eradicate certain ills in our villages like rampant child marriage, drug addiction, and unemployment,” says Diluar Hossain.
In the last two decades, the small village-based civil society organisation (CSO) has influenced the lives of many villagers by providing livelihood and income generation training as well as contributing to improved education and social advancement. “We have enabled 700 youth to make a living for themselves by teaching them how to farm vegetables or cattle. Women have learned how to tailor clothes from the organisation, and we also helped marginalised people buy rickshaws or vans for income generation,” says Abdur Rashid, a carpenter and member of Batachaya Somajkallyan Samity. The organisation also runs a primary school where children from low-income families can study for free.
Diluar adds that the organisation’s decision to focus on income generation and education naturally came from their goal to reduce child marriage.
“If a father earns more, he will be reluctant to let his daughter be married off for a better life. In the same way, an educated child will be considered an asset in the family which makes child marriage an unlikely choice.”
The CSO has been enlisted as a strategic partner for the EU-funded P4D programme to promote policies that ensure good governance at the micro-level. The organization took on multiple social action projects (SAPs) for the P4D project and covered issues such as waste management, child marriage, drug addiction, and community health care.
Amena Akhter, an elected member of the Union Council, and one of the SAP volunteers worked on waste management at the Palash Union. She understands that proper waste management is crucial for maintaining good health in the community.
“Floods are common in Sunamganj. As a result, diarrhoea, cholera, and other communicable diseases badly affect people’s health. So, we launched Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) programmes at multiple primary schools,” she says, adding that the organisation also held meetings with locals and government officials to advocate the installation of proper drainage systems.
Another MAP volunteer, Hussain Bashir, worked on improving public services at community clinics. He worked on this issue as he thinks that health care services are inadequate in the community. Bashir and his team held rallies and meetings involving citizens, health workers, and local leaders which made the community more aware of their health rights.
Public healthcare is free for all. The government also provides 29 types of medicine for free. There are certain limits on charging patients, but these were not respected before. So, we put up Citizen’s Charters, distributed leaflets, and told the public what they were entitled to.
Through these SAPs, the Batachaya Somajkallyan Samiti reached out to more than 900 people in Bishwamvarpur Upazila. This was the organisation’s first partnership with an international organisation, and CSO leader Diluar is very happy with the results. “This was an entirely new experience for us as we got to work with both international partners and the government. Moreso, the SAPs were a new and positive experience for the citizens.”