RTI Day Celebration: Online DPF Discussions Reach Over 1,000
After several months of formation and orientation trainings, P4D’s District Policy Forums
(DPFs) have begun their community outreach efforts throughout the 12 project districts. The DPFs, which are located in Bagerhat, Bandarban, Brahmanbaria, Jamalpur, Kishoreganj, Kushtia, Moulvibazar, Munshiganj, Natore, Nilphamary, Panchagarh, and Patuakhali, have progressed at impressive speed, launching their own Facebook pages and hosting live-stream events. These pages not only help foster discussion outside of scheduled meetings but also allow for the public to stay engaged and involved. One initiative by the DPFs that recently reached over 1,000 viewers was their live-stream discussions on Right to Information Day, 2021.
In honour of RTI Day on 28 September, each of the 12 DPFs held virtual discussions on the Right to Information Act, 2009. These discussions were led by DPF members and included special guests such as Deputy Commissioner (DC), district-based government officials and prominent community members. The in-depth discussions were informative and participatory, covering the social accountability tool in detail with thought-provoking discussions on its implementation and need in Bangladesh.
This initiative shows great promise and clear ownership by the DPF members. The discussion live-streams were also posted on P4D’s Facebook page, which currently has over 56,000 followers. We will continue to share the good work of our DPFs and encourage their ideas to further promote social accountability policies safely and effectively.
Fall Online Awareness Raising Campaign Begins
September is marked by two important day observances: International Day of Democracy and International Day for Universal Access to Information. These two celebrations were the perfect lead up to Platforms for Dialogue’s (P4D) fourth social media campaign, which is part of Activity 1.1 to raise awareness of social accountability tools. To prepare for the campaign on International Day of Democracy, P4D asked some of our civil society partners what democracy means to them. We collected footage of their answers and compiled them into a short video highlighting key democratic values. These included citizen engagement in democratic processes, freedom of speech, transparency, accountability, access to justice, freedom of religion, the right to vote, and access to information. All of these pillars of democracy relate directly to the four key social accountability tools (SATs) P4D is working to promote: the Right to Information, Citizen’s Charter, Grievance Redress System, and the National Integrity Strategy. International Day for Universal Access to Information followed shortly after the International Day of Democracy, which was the perfect time to begin our social media campaign to raise awareness of these tools, beginning with the Right to Information.
The campaign will re-introduce the four key SATs and relay information on the what, how, and why of each tool, as in previous campaigns. One important addition will focus on the civic duty of citizens to engage with social accountability policies. This additional element of the campaign aims to reinforce good governance through democratic engagement and public participation, and it will reiterate that people need to engage with these tools for them to be effective. By running boosted posts in Bangla in our working districts, we anticipate increased public engagement with the campaign and hope to receive positive feedback from our new content. The campaign is scheduled to end shortly after the International Anti-Corruption Day, which is on 9 December.
MAP Groups Begin Implementation of Social Action Projects (SAPs)
After the successful implementation of Social Action Projects (SAPs) in 2019 by our partner CSOs and their Multi Actor Partnerships (MAPs), P4D has begun implementing new SAPs in 62 Unions from our 21 project districts. After a consultative process with P4D staff, MAP members selected the following issues to focus on in their communities:
Improving Access to Community Clinics
Improving Waste Management
Increasing Awareness of Social Accountability Tools
Updating UP websites
A number of activities are being implemented under these projects, both online and in person. These projects include capacity-building trainings for community members, consultation meetings with local authorities, online awareness-raising campaigns through Facebook, technical assistance provision to update UP websites, support for community members wishing to lodge complaints through the GRS website, and tree sapling distribution. Our MAP members will continue these volunteer-led initiatives into the new year and will engage their communities to tackle these important issues.
DPFs Organised SAT Trainings
One of the primary roles of District Policy Forums (DPFs) is to promote Social Accountability Tools (SAT) in their respective district. These tools include the National Integrity Strategy (NIS), Right to Information (RTI) Act, Citizen’s Charter (CC), and Grievance Redress System (GRS). Recently, the DPFs organised an online training on SATs for local civil society members. In each district, the Deputy Commissioner (DC), Deputy Director-Local Government (DDLG), Additional Deputy Commissioner (ADC), and other relevant government officials facilitated the training sessions. Altogether, 610 participants attended this training throughout the 12 DPF areas. The participants have since expressed their appreciation for this kind of training, which has enhanced their knowledge and skills to understand and exercise their rights.
First Online Public Hearing Takes Place in Bandarban District
District Policy Forums (DPFs) are citizen platforms working to promote social accountability tools, increase CSOs’ participation in public decision-making processes, and influence policy development and implementation at the district level. Public hearings are one of the social accountability procedures which were introduced by the Government of Bangladesh a few years ago, but its practice across the country has remained limited. Recently in particular, due to the COVID pandemic, the use of this tool was nearly non-existent.
Bandarban, however, recently initiated an online public hearing with support from P4D’s DPF. On 27 September 2021, the Bandarban District administration arranged a public hearing where Ms. Yasmin Parvin Tibriji, Deputy Commissioner and District Magistrate of Bandarban, chaired the session. Additionally, the heads of district-based government offices like Land, Police, Social Welfare, Women’s Affairs, and LGED were also present.
A total of 87 local residents participated in the event, where they asked poignant questions and raised their concerns to attending government officials. Major problems were raised related to land registration and sale of properties, harassment of citizens when requesting documents from the government records room, irregularities in the passport office, and more. The DC and other attending government spokespeople answered questions and gave assurances that they would work to address the problems and concerns raised during the hearing.
This public hearing was the first of hopefully many public hearings to come. To date, only the DPF in Bandarban has organised such an event. However, the other 11 DPFs working with P4D will be hosting similar hearings in their respective districts before the end of the year.
Team Leader Meets with DPF in Panchagarh
From 9-10 October, Team Leader, Arsen Stepanyan, travelled to Panchagarh to meet with the District Policy Forum (DPF) President, Vice President, and Secretary. With the P4D Regional Coordinator and District Facilitator, Stepanyan attended the DPF monthly meeting on 10 November and had the opportunity to meet with stakeholders in the district. He visited the Panchagarh community resource centre (CRC), and found that though physical activities were not yet possible due to COVID-19 restrictions, the premises were still well maintained.
Stepanyan also met with officials at the Panchagarh Deputy Commissioner’s office, including the DC, ADC General, and Civil Surgeon. Though he had previously met with the DC during online P4D trainings, including the NIMC training for journalists in Panchagarh, this was the first opportunity to finally meet in person. He remarked, “my takeaway was that he really values the work the DPF is doing as well as other P4D and Cabinet Division activities aimed at improving good governance in the country.”
During his return to Dhaka, he briefly visited Nilphamary and met with DPF members there as well. After the visits, Stepanyan remarked that “the visits helped me better understand the work of local-level DPFs and build relations with district administrations. I think my visits encouraged DPF participation. Perhaps more such visits are needed.” One key learning he highlighted in his debrief was that P4D DPFs are conducting several impactful activities at the district level. Some of these activities have had huge success and moving forward, we will be collecting these stories to share with our stakeholders and audience.
BCSAA Delivers Four Social Accountability Trainings to Senior Officials
The Bangladesh Civil Service Administration Academy (BCSAA) held Consultation, Facilitation, and Management Trainings for government officials' fourth and fifth batches on 18-19 September and 25-26 September 2021. These trainings were held online, though there is growing demand from participants to hold such trainings face-to-face to make it more effective. There was a total of 79 participants, including 23 mid and senior-level female government officials from various ministries and government departments. These included the Ministry of Disaster Management and Relief, Finance Division, Roads and Highway Division, Ministry of Textile and Jute, Health Service Division, Law and Justice Division, Ministry of Liberation War Affairs, Ministry of Land, Ministry of Primary and Mass Education, Ministry of Public Administration, and the Cabinet Division, to name a few.
In October, BCSAA delivered two more trainings for a total of 80 participants (6th and 7th batches). Trainings were conducted online, with follow-up over WhatsApp groups to collect participant feedback and engage in ongoing conversations with each group on the application of their takeaways.
The Cabinet Division has changed its approach of engaging only national-level officials and started nominating district-level senior officials (Assistant Deputy Commissioner and similar officials) to partake in the BCSAA training. This approach has been beneficial for the project and created effective connections with Activity 1.8 District Policy Forums (DPFs), where those officials engage with DPF members to organise regional-level policy dialogues.
Mominur Rashid Amin, the new Rector of BCSAA, inaugurated the trainings as the Chief Guest and Dr. Golam Faruque, Additional Secretary, Cabinet Division and P4D PD, delivered the perspective of the Cabinet Division as the Special Guest. BCSAA provided relevant resources for the training, including a guide on management functions and global challenges prepared by Mst. Asia Khatoon, Secretary, Bangladesh Public Service Commission, a guide on public consultation and consultation criteria by Dr. Dewan M Humayun Kabir, Joint Secretary, Cabinet Division, and a guide on conflict management and facilitation by Md. Nazrul Islam, Additional Secretary and Director BCSAA.
P4D Staff Meet with New Leadership of BCSAA and BPATC
P4D Team Leader and Programme Manager made a courtesy visit to Mr. Mominur Rashid Amin, the new Rector (Secretary to the Government) to BCSAA on 15 September and Md. Monjur Hossain, new Rector to BPATC on 16 September. The aim of the visits was fourfold: one, to introduce the project to the new Rectors; two, to inform them of previous engagements with the training institutions and the achievements; three, to discuss the importance of each partnership for sustainability; and four, to further strengthen the relationship and continue cooperative engagement. Following the meeting, the Rector of the BCSAA fast-tracked the implementation of the training programme and implemented four training batches between September and October 2021. Similarly, the BPATC organised a foundation training for six training batches with 252 participants in October and made a plan to organise more in November 2021.
Working with NILG to Complete the Scope for CD of Municipal Officials in 21 Districts
P4D finalised a new scope of work to engage with the National Institute of Local Government (NILG) for the current extension period (through June 2022). The overall aim of the proposed activities is to improve accountability mechanisms in Bangladesh through Capacity Building of Municipality Representatives, Piloting of the Citizen’s Charter, and a Feasibility Study of UP Online Service. As part of this agreement, the NILG will prepare Citizen’s Charters in a standardised format for all government departments in 3 pilot districts (large-scale district, medium-scale district, and small-scale district) and will provide skill development training to 120 focal points from around 39 departments. They will also conduct an assessment to identify needs, gaps, and potential services that can be delivered online. The NILG will also produce a comprehensive report for stakeholder consultation and provide social accountability training to 1,678 Representatives and officials from 115 Municipalities throughout P4D’s 21 project districts.
NIMC Commences Second Phase Activities
The National Institute of Mass Communication (NIMC), in partnership with P4D and the Cabinet Division, commenced their second phase of activities with a two-day workshop on Strategic Communications to Ensure Good Governance for the journalists of Panchagarh District on 24 September. The aim of this partnership with NIMC is to support the strategic communications of civil servants and local journalists at the district level in Bangladesh through the development and delivery of strategic communications training programmes. NIMC activities, during the first phase, were focused on upazila-level journalists to ensure linkage with upazila-level multi-actor partners.
In the second phase, NIMC is expected to develop one training module followed by a validation workshop, conduct one ToT, organise twenty-one training workshops with district-level journalists on Strategic Communications to Ensure Good Governance and arrange an article writing competition for the participating journalists to ensure published materials on the five social accountability tools. The training workshops for journalists are designed to discuss five key social accountability tools- the National Integrity Strategy (NIS), Right to Information (RTI), Citizen’s Charter (CC), Grievance Redress System (GRS), and the Annual Performance Agreement (APA).
The inaugural session of the first training workshop in Panchagarh was attended by Chief Guest Dr. Shahnaz Arefin, ndc, former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Division, Special Guests Mr. Johurul Alam, DC, Panchagarh, and Mr. Arsen Stepanyan, Team Leader, P4D, and workshop Chair Ms. Shahin Islam, DG, NIMC. The NIMC also created a training module followed by a Validation Workshop that was held on 9 October, which was chaired by Ms. Shahin Islam, DG, NIMC with Chief Guest, Md. Mizan Ul Alam, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting. Additionally, the NIMC organised an online ToT for District Information Officers from 14-16 October. A total of 35 government officials participated in the three-day session.
So far, the NIMC has completed training workshops for over 125 district-level journalists in five districts, including Panchagarh, Gaibandha, Munshiganj, Rajshahi, and Natore during this quarter. P4D Regional Coordinators and District Facilitators have also been participating in the sessions of their respective districts to create a better network with the local media. Government officials who are participating in BPATC and BCSAA training have also been invited to attend in the opening and closing sessions. The training workshops will continue to be organised
throughout the different working districts of P4D in the coming months and are expected to be completed by April 2022.
The approach of P4D, in terms of partnership activities with different institutions, is to bring together stakeholders like NIMC, BPATC, BCSAA, and DPFs to engage in policy dialogues, public hearings, and the application of social accountability tools at the district level. Eventually, these efforts will feed into national policy dialogues to improve government services, increase accountability, and influence behavioural change.
BPATC Incorporates Orientation Module on Policy Tools for New Civil Servants
Earlier this year, the Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre (BPATC), formally incorporated social accountability tool training into their civil servant foundation course under the module titled Government Improvement and Different Tools and Strategies. Since then, the BPATC has provided training to 252 new civil servants in 6 batches from 13-14 October 2021. Of those participants, 200 were male, and 52 were female. BPATC has scheduled two additional training batches from 7-8 and 14-15 November. This approach is an important part of the P4D sustainability strategy. The integration will allow all future officials who attend BPATC foundation training to get acquainted with CC, GRS and other accountability tools and provide better services to their constituents even after the P4D project is completed.
Citizen’s Charter Training for Cabinet Division Staff
In partnership with the Cabinet Division (Good Governance and Grievance Redress wing), P4D organised a refresher sensitisation workshop for 25 officials of the Cabinet Division Coordination wing on 13 September 2021. This was part of P4D Activity 3.1: supporting the implementation of Citizen’s Charters in government agencies. The programme covered legal aspects, local and national practices, as well as most recent policy developments on the issue. International experience from the P4D supported the Netherlands learning exchange, as well as from other countries, was also presented to participants. After the keynote presentation, the participants had the opportunity to ask questions, raise concerns, and make recommendations for the effective implementation of the policy. The training was chaired by Dr. Shahnaz Arefin, ndc, Additional Secretary (Reforms), Cabinet Division, Chief Guest was Nd. Kamal Hossain, Secretary, C&R Cabinet Division, keynote presentation was delivered by Dr. Golam Faruque, Additional Secretary and Programme Director of P4D project, and Md. Rahat Anwar, Additional Secretary (Coordination), served as the moderator. Arsen Stepanyan, Team Leader of P4D, attended the session as the Special Guest.
October PIC and Preparation for upcoming PSC
On 12 October, P4D held the 5th Project Implementation Committee (PIC) meeting with stakeholders from the European Union, Cabinet Division, and key institutional partners. The discussion centred around progress in P4D’s three result areas (RA), upcoming activities, and the possibility of an additional no-cost extension into 2023. Most notably, Dr. Md Golam Faruque, Additional Secretary, Cabinet Division, and P4D Project Director, presented meeting members with a breakdown of activity completion by sub-activity. Despite slowdowns due to pandemic conditions, P4D has achieved 91.4% completion in RA 1 activities (Civil Society Capacity Building), 91% in RA 2 activities (Government Capacity Building), and 31.4% in RA 3 activities (Partnership and Policy Dialogue). Altogether, the PD shared that the project as a whole has achieved 75.3% completion up to September 2021.
Additionally, PIC members covered five key decisions regarding project progress. These include:
An independent evaluation study will be carried out when all the project activities are completed, i.e., at the end time of the project period.
PIC members recognised satisfactory project progress over the past year despite the COVID-19 pandemic and endorsed a twelve-month project progress report.
PIC endorsed a work plan and targets to be achieved for the next year (2021-2022). Targets and deliverables will be accomplished based on the articulated work plan for 2021-2022.
PIC meeting would be arranged as per TAPP directions (i.e., after every three months)
Cabinet Division would send a proposal to EU Delegation for extending the project implementation period until June 2023. The letter to the EU Delegation was sent and is pending review.
The meeting was chaired by Md. Kamal Hossain, Secretary (Coordination and Reforms), Cabinet Division and co-chaired by Mr Hans Lambrecht, Acting Governance Team Leader, EU Delegation.