Gazipur, Bangladesh─Maksuda Begum, 45, runs a sidewalk tea shop, but she also has a seat on the 60-member Town Development Coordination Committee along with the mayor, academics, doctors, politicians, and business people.
"The drains in my slum are overflowing," Maksuda, a mother of two, tells the meeting. "We must do something to stop the leaks."
"This is how we learn about the problems of the common people and respond to their complaints," says Mayor Mohammad Abdul Karim. "This is how we are making ourselves accountable to the people ... establishing good governance."
Involving the poor, such as Maksuda, in administrative affairs is part of a campaign to establish good governance in Bangladesh through participation. ADB has been a part of the campaign since 2002, when it approved the Urban Governance and Infrastructure Improvement Sector Project.
Formally launched in 2004, the project was completed in 6 years with $60 million provided by ADB as a concessionary loan from the Asian Development Fund. The Government of Bangladesh provided $22.8 million and the municipalities a further $3.9 million.
Gazipur is one of 30 pourashavas (secondary towns) that have been able to improve services and build roads, bridges, drains, low-cost sanitation, and solid waste management facilities that extend to more than 1.85 million residents. Bus and truck terminals, kitchen markets, and sanitary slaughterhouses have also been built.
ADB Project Officer Md Rafiqul Islam says there has been positive change since citizens' participation in coordination committees was recognized in the Local Government (Pourashava) Act 2009, allowing participation in planning, implementation, and monitoring of development activities.
"Decision making became transparent and citizens' cooperation has been increasingly spontaneous," he says. "Substantial local resource mobilization is now possible."
With more than 150 million people in just over 147,570 square kilometers, Bangladesh is one of the world's most crowded nations. A quarter of the country lives in urban areas and the urban population is growing at 2.5% a year. The growth is so rapid that authorities are overwhelmed with increasing demands for utility services. This puts tremendous pressure on basic services like water and electricity, and makes the towns more vulnerable to environmental pollution.
Bringing the people who are most directly affected into the decision-making process to deal with these explosive demands on infrastructure helps to address the problems head on.
Positive changes as a result of citizen's involvement can be seen on many fronts, but in Gazipur an obvious example is the billing system for utilities. In 2004, the municipal administration introduced computer-based system for the collection of tax and water bills.
Abu Zafar Shamsuddin has been a resident of Gazipur since his birth 55 years ago. After the introduction of computer-based billing, he says he no longer feels frustrated with officialdom.
"It's easy and saves time," says Shamsuddin outside his three-story house on Gazipur's Post Office Road. "We get the computer-generated bills and there are hardly any errors. We feel that the municipal officials are now more transparent in dealing with finances."
"We get the bills and deposit the money in a bank account," says Siddik Sarkar, a neighbor of Shamsuddin. "Now we don't have to go the municipal office and wait for hours to pay our bills."
"We have made a good beginning in good governance," says Md Akbar Hossain, chief engineer of the municipal body. "We are determined to keep it going."