Inter-organizational Coordination in Urban Governance in Bangladesh: A Tale of Two Cities

Ishtiaq Jamil's picture
The purpose of this paper is to map inter-organizational coordination in urban govern- ance in Bangladesh. Focusing on two city corporations in Bangladesh, it analyzes their coordination, both vertically and horizontally, with public and non-public organizations. Does the inter-organizational coordination resemble a hierarchic-, market-, or network- based relationship, or a combination of these? The findings reveal that when rules and laws are outdated, redundant, and unclear, they make hierarchically based central-local relations ambiguous. Market-based coordination is problematic because the rules of the game are frequently disobeyed and generally ignored. Network-based coordination is more useful when there is trust, mutual reciprocity and a history of coordination. What works, then, in the case of urban governance in Bangladesh, is informal network-based coordination rooted in personal relationships, old school ties, familial and regional con- tacts, and party loyalism. This informalism is perpetuated because there is no mecha- nism to store coordinated efforts in organizational memory. Coordination initiatives therefore seldom develop into routine affairs. The general outcomes of the neglect of formal rules include the duplication of work, delays in service delivery, the waste of public money, and corruption.
Main Article: 

More than four decades have passed since Bangladesh gained independence in 1971. Yet, after numerous experiments with functions and structures, the country’s local governments remain weak, fragile, complex and poorly organized, and there is an eternal scenario of political patronage. The issue of coordination is even more precarious. The questions explored here are as follows: What kinds of coordination exist between the different organizations both government and non-government responsible for the host of public services? What is the nature of such relationships and how are they mobilized to coordinate city government activities? Is there any formal coordination mechanism or is coordination merely ad-hoc and contingent on the demands of each particular situation? What are the consequences of such coordination as regards local policies in particular and urban governance in general?
Hierarchical or market-based coordination may be challenged when a plethora of organizations need to collaborate to implement policies and projects. This is especially the case if there are different chains of command and areas of jurisdiction that cut across multiple organizational levels (Lægreid and Verhoest, 2010:2-3). Collective action then becomes a challenge in terms of pooling resources and coordinating diverse activities. Is network-based organizing then a viable option for coordination as argued by Enroth (2011:19)? Network-based coordination is an appropriate management response when multiple organizations at multiple levels join up to pool competence and resources to put public policies into effect (Stoker, 2006:41). But is it likely to be more appropriate in cases where the rules for coordination are inadequate, unclear and ambiguous, and where the personal interests of politicians and bureaucratic elites manipulate market mechanisms?
The Coordination Context in Urban Governance in Bangladesh
This is a story about two city corporations in the South Asian country of Bangladesh, and how they coordinate their activities with different institutions and actors at the local and central government levels. Like other metropolises in Bangladesh, the cities of Chittagong and Rajshahi each have an elected organ called the city corporation and a number of central-government field agencies that are responsible for numerous public utilities and services. All these organizations have different sources of legitimacy, structures, area of authority, accountability patterns, and funding. As such, the organizations are highly dissimilar, but to make matters more complex, there is no formal mechanism for coordinating their activities. All the same, they need to cooperate, especially in order to determine policies and build and maintain infrastructure. Given that some areas of jurisdiction overlap in ways that cause some organizations to duplicate each other’s work, one could expect that relationships would be conflicted rather than coordinated. According to Bangladesh’s City Corporation Act of 2009, the city corporations are supposed to coordinate their activities, but they are not obliged to do so because there is no prescribed mechanism for structuring that coordination.
The study presented here has three major objectives. First is to map the nature of coordination at the urban level with other government and non-government institutions both at the horizontal and vertical levels. Second is to analyze whether different forms of coordination – hierarchy, market, and network – work at this level with different partners, and finally, whether the existing coordination mechanism threatens democratic urban governance and consequently poor urban services? The objective, then, is not to do an exhaustive comparative study of the two cities, but to analyze whether both cities have similar constraints and challenges, and hence similar needs and patterns of coordination management. Speaking more generally, the focus is on coordination in urban governance in Bangladesh.
Coordination in Urban Governance
Coordination is important because it is at the root of organizational creation, growth, adaptation, maintenance and reforms. Without proper coordination, policies cannot be implemented (Panday and Jamil 2011:155). There are different reasons for coordination, however, and they can be political or administrative, resource dependent or related to power sharing (Bouckaert et al. 2010:34).
The term governance, which entered the literature in the 1990s has now many connotations (Levi-Faur, 2012:3. It emphasizes more a process than a formal organization (Bogasson and Musso, 2006). As a process it (governance) shapes rights, rules, preferences and resources that structure political outcomes (March and Olsen, 1995). According to Rhodes (2012:33), “governance signifies a change in the meaning of government, referring to new process of governing; or changed conditions of ordered rule; or new methods by which society is governed”. The shifting of the meaning of government, as Rhodes suggests, means a shift in the pattern of authority, thereby allowing different actors at multiple levels to participate in the process of governance. According to Stone, (1989, as cited in Hill and Hupe, 2009:13), governance is about bringing societal resources together to achieve societal goals. In this respect, coordination, communication, networking, and inter-organizational cooperation are important for achieving collective goals, and hence, for promoting better or good governance.
In the context of city corporations, governance implies meaningful and effective coordinated efforts, interaction, and communication amongst multiple actors for policy making and implementation (Rhodes, 1997). For my intents and purposes, I follow Bouckaert et al. (2010:35), who outline three “dominant theoretical approaches – hierarchy, markets, and networks”. These three approaches have different assumptions about the causes, possible ways, constraints, gains, and mechanisms of coordination.
Hierarchy-based coordination
Setting up a hierarchy is the most familiar strategy for coordination within and between public sector organizations in a vertical manner (Christensen et al. 2007; Scott, 2003; Hatch, 1997). Vertical coordination is often mandated when local institutions are subjected to a number of instructions from the top, that is, from the central government, and it reflects an asymmetry of power (Oliver, 1990:242). Coordination in this form is standardized and offers little room for flexibility; it “draws primarily on authority and power as fundamental process and resources” (Bouckaert et al. 2010:37).
In the context of urban governance in Bangladesh, hierarchy-based coordination between organizations would imply the existence of formal and standard rules, routines, operating procedures, and a clear division of responsibilities and work amongst the organizations. According to Jamil and Panday (2012).
It concerns sharing and pooling resources, expertise, and logistics. Formal arrangements determine the legitimacy of who should do what, when and how. Such arrangements are used to allocate responsibilities, divide functions between organizations, and specify the process of decision making and the chain of command (355-356).
Autonomous and semi-autonomous field agencies of central government operate in Bangladesh’s cities. The question, then, is what kind of formal control is employed by administrative and political leadership in urban governance to coordinate the activities of these diverse organizations.
Market-based coordination
Market-based coordination is based on exchanges between sellers and buyers on the basis of competitive price mechanisms. Contracting out and outsourcing on the basis of competition are quite common at present: in the health sector, in the care of the elderly, in housing construction, and in building infrastructure facilities such as roads, bridges, schools, health complexes and the like.
City corporations in Bangladesh increasingly contract out many public services to the private sector and voluntary organizations. Examples here are infrastructure building, solid waste management and health services. Nevertheless, the procurement of public services based on a competitive market has been challenging and difficult because tender “hijacking” thwarts market from functioning normally. This has exacerbated service provision through delays in service delivery and the misappropriation of public funds, both of which have led to poor service delivery and caused the urban population to suffer.
Network-based coordination
Network-based coordination denotes voluntary collaborative action and infor-mation sharing amongst mutually dependent organizations in order to achieve a common goal (Verhoest et al. 2010). It is based on trust, solidarity and spontaneity. Different types of mechanisms are employed to achieve such coordination. These include “cooptation, co-sponsorship, information and resource exchange, mutual awareness of interdependence and common interests” (ibid:44). Mintzberg (1979) also mentions “mutual adjustment”, a loosely structured and informally arranged type of coordination for achieving a collective goal.
Setting up a network is useful for achieving coordination in cases where infor-mation is scanty. Also a diverse, heterogeneous and complex environment therefore demands network-based coordination. However, this new form of coordination referred to as network governance reflects more contemporary societies in the Western world and is based on dialogue and exchange where trust is an important variable (Stoker. 2006; Bogasson, 1998).
In the context of Bangladesh, city governments do not work alone, for they function in an environment inhabited by other organizations. How do these diverse organizations initiate contacts and who becomes the nodal actor in initiating coordination? In the absence of a formal coordination mechanism, a nodal actor or organization is required to initiate the coordination. In a democratic system, the elected representatives or representative of the central government may fill this role. In this regard, the elected mayors in city corporations have considerable status and power and can direct the flow of resources, whether technical or financial, according to their own preferences.
In this study, we analyze to what extent network governance in cities in Bangladesh reflects a spontaneous response out of necessity, i. e. an appropriate management technique to better coordinate public service provisions? Or does informal network influence urban governance that often reflects power game where service provision is biased and engineered to satisfy certain narrow interests? Does the situation in Bangladesh undermine rational decision making and hence democratic governance?
Method of Enquiry
This study draws on a qualitative method involving several data collection tools such as interviews and analysis of actions and document contents. In-depth interviews were conducted with 31 individuals in the selected cities. They include officials from city corporations as well as officials of other organizations working at the city level, who are required to coordinate activities to implement policies. Interview data were collected during the period of March-May, 2011.
The study is a sequel to a previous study carried out by the author along with colleagues in 2003 and some case studies in 2008 that resulted in the publication of two articles (see Jamil and Panday, 2012; Panday and Jamil, 2011). This study includes Chittagong which was not included in the previous study. The reason is to examine whether similar coordination challenges also prevail in other cities in order to generalize the findings.
Chittagong City Corporation
Located in the southeast part of the country, the port city of Chittagong is Bangladesh’s second largest city. Chittagong City Corporation (CCC) is an independent body managed by elected people’s representatives: the mayor and ward commissioners.
Rajshahi City Corporation
Rajshahi is the fourth largest city in Bangladesh and one of the first municipalities to be established (1876). It is the country’s northern hub. Established in 1991, Rajshahi City Corporation (RCC) serves 30 wards. It has eight divisions for performing various activities. There are 33 sections under these eight divisions. The RCC is an autonomous body governed by elected representatives: the mayor and ward commissioners.
Institutional Setting and Major Service Provision of Urban Governance in Bangladesh
Bangladesh is a parliamentary democracy with a unicameral legislature. Local government is divided into urban and rural bodies. Urban local government has two main parts, and for the nine large cities, there are city corporations. For the outer lying districts and smaller urban centers, there are 400 municipalities called pourashavas (these are divided into three categories according to the size of the population and revenue). In the rural areas, there are 61 district councils (zilaparishad). Subordinate to these are 482 sub-district councils (upazilaparishad), and at the lowest level, 4,498 union councils (union parishad). Except for the union councils, which are fully political bodies with elected members, other local governments have a combination of elected council members plus members from the field agencies of the central government. However, city corporations differ from other local bodies due to their service provision, volume of activities, budget size and the number of organizations (both public and private) involved in service provision. This is why city corporations are suitable objects for studying coordination.
Table: 1: Urban Services: Different Agencies and Nature of Services in Cities
Name of Agency Major Services
Ministry of Local Government,
Rural Development and Cooperatives
(Ministry of LGRD&C) Policy guidelines, low-cost sanita-tion, infrastructure and improving physical environment
City Corporations- CCC and RCC Sanitation, solid waste disposal, road building and maintenance, street lighting, traffic signaling, parks, playgrounds, poverty alleviation, slum improvement
Water and Sewerage Authority
(WASA) in Chittagong Drinking water supply and
Development Authorities:
Chittagong Development Authority (CDA),
Rajshahi Development Authority (RDA) Planning and development of
physical infrastructure (roads, bridges, culverts, street lights, etc. )
Department of Environment Environment control
Specialized authorities:
Public Works Department (PWD)
Directorate of Public Health Engineering (DPHE)
Roads and Highways Department (R&HD)
Local Government Engineering Department (LGED)
Bangladesh Telephone and Telegraph Board (BTTB) Civil works, road construction and maintenance, housing, telephony e- services, physical development
Urban Development Directorate (UDD) Urban planning
Source: compiled by the author
The study presented here focuses on the CCC and the RCC because they are the next largest city corporations after Dhaka, and as such, have numerous activities that pose challenges in inter-organizational relationships. Focusing on two city corporations may help triangulate data and provide a more accurate explanation of the issue of coordination in urban governance in Bangladesh than focusing on one City Corporation. However, this study is not a comparative study of coordination of urban governance between two city corporations selected for this study.
Administratively, both the CCC and the RCC are under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperatives (LGRD&C). The political head of each city corporation is a mayor who is elected (along with ward commissioners) for a five year term. As the top elected official at the city level, the mayor functions as the de facto center of coordination for operational matters.
The city corporations are the only politically elected councils in Bangladesh’s major cities. All other public organizations are either autonomous, semi-autonomous or field agencies of the central government. City corporations cooperate with a number of public and private-sector organizations and NGOs for the delivery of urban service. Accordingly, the lines of communication crisscross and lead to different forms of coordination at the horizontal and vertical levels of both the public and non-public organizations. The following table summarizes the links between the city corporations and other organizations at different levels.
Table 2: Different forms of coordination between city corporations and other organizations at the city and central levels.
Vertical Horizontal
organizations 1. Coordination between city corporations and parent ministry (Ministry of LGRD&C) 3. Coordination between city corporation and other public organizations at the same level, such as RDA, CDA, PWD, DPHE, LGED, etc.
Non-public organizations 2. Coordination between city corporation and International Development Agencies (IDAs) such as UNDP, World Bank. 4. Coordination between city corporations, private organizations and civil society/NGOs
Source: Adopted and modified from Christensen and Lægreid (2008, p. 102).
In cell 1 of Table 2, the vertical relationship between the city corporations and the Ministry of LGRD&C takes place in a top-down manner. Here the city corporations are closely tied to the Ministry and subject to a number of controlling mechanisms and directives. This vertical coordination resembles the hierarchic coordination as discussed earlier. The horizontal relationship between the city corporations and other public organizations as identified in cell 3 is likely to resemble the network-based coordination, and in cell 4, the horizontal relationship between the city corporations and private organizations is likely to be more of a market-based network. As for their relationship with NGOs, this seems to involve a combination of market-based and network-based coordination. The vertical relationship with international development agencies in cell 2 takes place indirectly through the Local Government Division (LGD) of the Ministry of LGRD&C. These various forms of coordination are elaborated below.
Nature of Coordination: Interpretation of Data
Vertical coordination
The issue of vertical coordination between city corporations and the parent ministry, that is, the Ministry of LGRD&Cthe central-local relations are based on clearly defined rules and division of labor. Holding in mind the clarity in rules and a proper division of labor between different tiers, the following discussion probes the central-local relationship in Bangladesh by looking at a) central directives, b) the local resource base, the annual block grant, c) city corporation personnel and d) coordination with international organizations.
a) Central directives
The local government system in Bangladesh is “primarily deconcentrated rather than devolved” (Fox and Menon, 2008:8). The urban units are subjected to central control through a number of intricate and complicated orders and circulars that are often contradictory. These laws give considerable power to the central government to inquire into the affairs of any urban local government institution. If such enquiries reveal any irregularity – for instance, fund misappropriation, abuse of power, failure to discharge duties in accordance with law – it may impose a suspension on that body as specified in the law or remove an elected mayor from office at any time, without giving a reason (Siddiqui, 2004; Khan, 1997).
It was found that a number of Acts, even those promulgated as far back as 1932, guide urban governance. Many of these laws are outdated, overlapping, contradictory and ambiguous. When interviewed, one of the Chittagong Development Authority (CDA) officials revealed that “we have to follow complex legal and administrative processes which hamper the communication between the CCC and the CDA”. On the other hand, one of the Rajshahi Town Development Authority (RTDA) officials complained that “activity sharing is a major concern in urban areas. Due to the lack of sharing of responsibilities, overlapping of functions is quite common, and it leads to the duplication of work. This is because each institution is working under a separate directorate or department or [it is working] independently”.
Local governments in Bangladesh – more specifically, the city corporations – are highly dependent on the central government for almost all matters involving the formulation and adoption of basic rules and regulations, personnel, financing, accounting and auditing (Bhuiyan, 2009). It can finalize the size and boundaries of the local government’s territory, regulate the recruitment of its personnel to fill decision-making posts in the central government.
In legal terms, urban government bodies are more like agents of the state, merely extended arms of the central government with limited power to make decisions. However, in actual practice, if a mayor belongs to the party in power, he or she may do some informal networking with central leaders, gain some autonomy and mobilize extra funding or expedite the transfer of funds. Mayors are usually party stalwarts and have considerable access to the leadership of the party in power. On the other hand, if a mayor belongs to the opposite camp, central-local relationship is characterized by, distrust, delays in the transfer of funds, and non-response from central authorities when formal communication channels are used. By using formal modes of communication, the central government will make more of an effort to tighten its grip on a city corporation. But even though there are detailed rules for formal communication between the central and urban bodies, this does not mean informal means of communication are less important. When formal channels of communication become non-functional, other modes of communication are important to maintain the network of communication and gain access to the power structure. In this regard, the mayor is the nodal figure who enables the mobilization of resources and support for the urban government body. The mayor’s success depends on his or her position in relation to the party in power, the informal network with the central leadership, and the time and energy spent in lobbying.
A mayor’s post is attractive, and it is common for influential political leaders with strong local standing to seek election. The outgoing mayor of Rajshahiwho lost in the 2013 mayoral election was well connected to the party in power, and he actively communicated with the central leadership to ease bottlenecks. A senior official of the RCC gave an example:
The construction of a road from Rajshahi Fire Brigade Crossing to Chapai Nawabgonj-Natore Highway at North Nawdapara was canceled in 2006 because of corruption allegations. But the present mayor pursued the higher authorities to approve and managed to release the funds again. The Ministry of Planning therefore approved the project in June 2009.
Theoretically, formal channels of communication characterize central-urban relations, but in practice, informal channels are frequently used to expedite the formal communication. One of the senior RCC officers divulged that “after sending a ‘formal letter ’ they use informal channels to expedite the process because very rarely do employees of central government agencies respond promptly”. The official also mentioned that “in some cases the mayor uses his political network to communicate with the central government agencies to ensure that policy implementation is carried out smoothly”. Further, an official (engineer) of the technical department related that “due to non-cooperation from external organizations, they often fail to start a program within the planned time, and in some cases they start the program after one or two years when in fact it [would have been] time to conclude the project”.
The above incidents depict a scenario where formal channels of communication and clear divisions of labor are often absent and instead informal networking is crucial for linking urban local bodies with the central government. The mayor often acts as the nodal agent.
b) The local resource base and the transfer of funds
From a fiscal perspective, Bangladesh is highly centralized. Urban bodies are largely dependent on annual block grants from the central government to cover about two thirds of their expenses. The local generation of revenue is meager; this is despite there being great potential. As a result, city corporations must depend on central grants for carrying out the development projects and other vital projects that comprise more than 70 percent of their total expenditures. There are, however, substantial differences in revenue composition amongst the city corporations. Compared with all other city corporations, the CCC generates the highest revenue from its own sources. In the fiscal year 2007-8, it generated around 57 percent of its own revenue compared to only 17 percent in Rajshahi (Fox and Menon, 2008:17-19). Even block grant is reduced every year and the amount stipulated in the budget is not transferred fully. Again, informal networking is vital to gain access to the central block grant.
c) City corporation personnel
City corporations are staffed by permanent employees as well as a host of officials deputed from the central government. These are senior officials belonging to the Bangladesh Civil Service, and they work as chief executives, chief accountants and magistrates for the urban bodies.
Most of the city corporations’ permanent employees who were interviewed expressed that this kind of central control of local bodies seriously affects decentralization and hence democratic governance. Deputed officials from the central government who are chief executives are responsible for the day-to-day administration and play significant roles in policy decisions. Since the mayor also has political roles and is often engaged elsewhere, the chief executives carry out all formal correspondence with the central government. The central level employees’ domination of city corporation employees engenders dissatisfaction amongst the latter group. On the other hand, central level employees who were on deputation and who were interviewed highlighted that the government should control the activities of the local governments, also the city corporations, because the local bodies are dominated by political leaders, elected mayors and ward commissioners who do not have clean records when it comes to moral obligations, ethical considerations and professional codes of conduct. In a society where hierarchy creates great power distances between people, patron-client networks trump all development activities and the interests of common city dwellers. Therefore, in order to ensure neutrality and accountability, and to hold the personal preferences of political leaders and their party loyalists in check, central government intervention is necessary.
d) Coordination with international organizations
When the city corporations implement development projects, they receive financial and technical assistance from international development agencies. Nevertheless, they do not sign any contracts with donor agencies or international development agencies. In fact, the city corporations are not allowed to have any direct communication with international organizations, for instance, the UNDP or the World Bank. These international organizations make their agreements with central government agencies, normally with the Local Government Division (LGD) of the Ministry of LGRD&C. For the Urban Partnerships for Poverty Reduction (UPPR) program, the Local Government Engineering Department (LGED), LGD and the Ministry of LGRD&C act as implementing partners. The LGED normally communicates with the respective city corporations to implement the projects. As UN implementing agencies, the UNDP and UN Habitat act as city corporationpartners. The city corporations also act as implementing partners for the UPPR projects, but they are accountable to the LGD .
From the above explanation, it should be clear that many development programs funded by international donors are implemented by city corporations and field agencies of central government. In this regard, the LGD of the Ministry of LGRD&C is the main recipient partner of this assistance, which is then distributed to local governments and local branches of central government institutions. Coordination therefore takes place mainly between the central government and local level institutions in a formal, top-down manner. These are cases of project-based coordination which are ad hoc in nature.
Horizontal coordination
City corporations are responsible for providing a number of public services that require coordination with several public and non-public organizations at the same level. The public organizations include field level units of line ministries and agencies, as specified in Table 2, as well as semi-autonomous organizations. In addition, city corporations interact with a number of private agencies for business contracts, tendering and outsourcing. They also cooperate with the civil society and NGOs to implement educational programs for health and hygiene, traffic safety, environmental hazards and so forth. The nature of coordination with these organizations is discussed below.
a) Coordination between city corporations and public organizations at the same level
City corporations share the responsibility for urban governance with various other service providing organizations, but they do not share the same premises, nor is there any formal mechanism for coordinating their activities with the activities of the agencies of the central government operating at the city level. This results in ambiguity in the division of labor, functional responsibilities, and in the pooling of resources, both human and financial. There is great uncertainty and confusion about who will do what, why, when, and how, and sometimes this leads to a tug of war and negotiation between different actors. This should come as no surprise since the different organizations have different chains of command and different control mechanisms. While the city corporations, being elected bodies, are ac-countable to city dwellers, other agencies are accountable to their line ministries at the central level. These agencies are not accountable to the city corporations and can formally ignore any formal request from them. The following table summarizes the perceptions of officials (both those appointed by the municipality and those on deputation) in the CCC and the RCC.
Table 3: Major obstacles to coordination as perceived by City Corporation and public agency officials (except political representatives).
Options Number of Respondents
Lack of legal and institutional frameworks 11
Indifference and negligence of the actors 7
Contradictions and uncertainty among the actors 4
Lack of common accountability mechanism 3
Source: Field level data
As Table 3 shows, city officials consider the absence of legal and institutional frameworks to be a major obstacle to coordination, despite detailed formal control mechanisms and guidelines specifying the communication between the Ministry of LGRD&C and the city corporations. This means horizontal coordination is problematic and that there are virtually no formal guidelines for horizontal coordination amongst public organizations operating at the city level.
The other major obstacle to inter-organizational coordination is “indifference and negligence of the actors”. This is more evident when organizations at the same level have different chains of command, different accountability mecha-nisms, and when no organization is under the authority of another. As a result, organizations operating at the city level are fragmented, their work is duplicated, project implementation is delayed and the wastage of public money becomes part and parcel of urban governance. The type of network coordination observed in Bangladesh is not based on partnership, solidarity, shared values, mutual trust and consensus. Rather, trust is mainly based on political patronage, social networking, professional affiliation, regionalism, interparty conflicts, and conflicts between permanent and deputed employees of the central government.
In the case of inter organizational communication, people from technical professional groups in the city corporations communicate with their counterparts at central government agencies using their personal connections based on old school ties. One of the engineers of the CCC stated that “in 2010 the Power Development Board (PDB) disconnected electricity because the city corporation had failed to pay electricity bills regularly. Later on I asked one of the PDB engineers, who was my buddy when we studied together at engineering college, to reconnect the electricity as soon as possible. In response to my request, the PDB engineer took the necessary steps to restore the connection”.
In some cases, therefore, deputed officials communicate with central government agencies using their professional connections. Another example is the chief budget and accounts officer of the RCC who is an employee of Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG), a central level accounting agency of the government of Bangladesh. He communicates with his colleagues of the same level at the C&AG with regard to financial matters. This eases coordination and reduces the burden on the chief executive officer and the mayor. Without a personal or professional network, it would be difficult for him to communicate with offices of the same level outside of the city corporation. But even junior officials maintain paternalistic and trusting relationships on account of having attended the same school, having joined the same service cadre, or having been colleagues in some capacity in an organization prior to where they presently work. This kind of informal network is an efficient mechanism for overcoming the rigidity of the formal and hi-erarchical organizational communication system.
In a contrasting case, one of the officials of the Urban Primary Health Care Project (UPHCP-2) was given the responsibility for acquiring permission from the land registration office to set up hospitals under the UPHCP-2 project. He failed to collect the information from the land registration office, even after one year from the date of application. This is because he did not have any informal network to help him gain access to the land registration office.
But despite the benefits of informal networks and the problems arising from the lack thereof, informal communication networks sometimes invite corrupt practices that compromise the quality of projects, negatively affect their implementation and cause delays in service delivery. Published research has revealed that accountability and transparency within the CCC and the CDA are questionable (IDS, 2007). Urban authorities have different types of irregularities that start in the planning permission stage and end in the construction stage. In such cases of corruption, dalal (brokers) play a vital role. Even though these agents are not employees of city corporations or regulating authorities, they act on behalf of certain interests (e.g., officials or political leaders) and establish connections between potential buyers and the city corporations. The following section elaborates on the issue of network access and corruption.
b) Coordination between city corporations, private business firms , and NGOs
To carry out infrastructure projects, the city corporations depend on a large number of private contracting agencies. In addition, they cooperate with NGOs to make the citizens aware of programs for health and hygiene, environmental hazards, traffic safety and so forth.
As regards tendering and contracting out any project, the usual process is to invite tenders from potential contractors. Advertisements are open and contractors bid on a competitive basis. In theory, the lowest bidder who can offer the best service in accordance with pre-specified standards is supposed to be given the contract. The whole process is supposed to follow a market principle based on competition, transparency and efficiency criteria.
The reality, however, is quite different. In both the CCC and the RCC, contractors with close links to the mayor or the party in power have been observed ‘hijacking’ tender bidding. Genuine contractors have been physically threatened to stay away from bidding. Once a ‘contract for work order’ is issued, it is very often sold (with a good profit margin) to a genuine contractor. On paper, contracts and tenders are shown to be awarded according to specified rules, market-based competition and above-board price mechanisms. The reality, however, is quite different: party henchmen – especially from the ruling party – control the bidding and then sell the work order to a genuine business with a good profit margin. In fact, the public procurement process is an arena for bestowing favors to party loyalists. Here many fake companies belonging to the loyalists act as decoys; they obtain work orders by physical threat, lobbying and persuasion. The procurement committee, which is formally set up for every government tendering, is constantly under pressure, from the top political leaders from the city as well as from within the central administration, to award contracts to people with political connections. This is an informal power game where formal channels of communications are frequently broken, disobeyed and ignored, all for the purpose of serving narrow interests. Obviously, corruption is integral to the whole process.
c) Coordination between City Corporations and NGOs
Bangladesh’s city corporations implement multifarious projects that require support and cooperation from a number of actors. The fact that NGOs help provide social services for the poor and disadvantaged is well known to all. Thus, considering the potential of NGOs in areas such as social services, disaster management, health promotion and agriculture, it is no wonder that the city corporations usually collaborate with them. In contrast to cooperating indirectly with international organizations and NGOs, city corporations do cooperate with the national and local NGOs with expertise on certain areas. One example is the Medical Waste Management Project at RCC, which is modeled on public-private partnership. This project’s main intention is to ensure coordination and build partnerships amongst all relevant stakeholders working in medical waste management (e.g. the RCC, the Institution of Policy Support Unit under the Ministry of the Environment and Forests (IPSU-MoEF), the Directorate General of Health (DGH) under the Ministry of Health and Family Planning (MoHFW), hospital and clinic owners, and BRAC). The project has also been committed to assisting the government in making and implementing environmental guidelines in managing medical waste for healthcare facilities (hospitals, clinics, diagnostic centers). In this project, BRAC, a national NGO with an international reputation, has offered technical support to build up a public-private partnership model in medical waste management. BRAC’s involvement has been significant for ensuring the participation of NGOs, private organizations, local government organizations and central government agencies.
Apart from service delivery, some NGOs have also developed expertise in specific sectors. In order to use their expertise in the governance system of city corporations, NGO functionaries are sometimes included in special committees. A case in point is the CCC’s disaster management committee which is chaired by the mayor. The main task of this committee is to coordinate activities relating to disaster management with different departments including the Chittagong Development Authority, the Bangladesh Water Development Board, the Meteorological Department, the defense authorities, the emergency authorities, ward representatives and NGOs.
From the above, it is apparent that city corporations and NGOs cooperate well in some social sectors, even though NGOs are skeptical about the city corporation management system, which is cumbersome and delays implementation processes. Coordination with NGOs is project-based and ad hoc in nature. Help from the NGOs is sought because they have experience, local knowledge and expertise in areas such as health and education.
Summary of analyses of forms of coordination
Implications for Urban Governance
As discussed above, urban governance in Bangladesh is subjected to a plethora of rules and regulations, some of which are outdated, ambiguous and contradictory. Consequently, both the vertical and the horizontal forms of coordination are impeded. While vertical coordination is more centralized and offers less political and institutional autonomy for city corporations, horizontal coordination with other state level agencies is even more precarious because of the absence of any clear rules of coordination. Because the game rules are not defined, local level actors are in a dilemma regarding how to relate to one another. This delays policy implementation and leads to the duplication of work.
The major finding of this study is that inter-organizational coordination in urban governance in Bangladesh is mostly based on informal networks. They may be called informal social networks between interdependent actors which are temporary but formed around policy problems and policy programs. These informal relations do not, over time, readily transform into formal relations or routine networks because they are not incorporated into organizational memory. Since the relationships are personalized and the officials (those who belong to central government organizations and field agencies) are frequently rotated (between different organizations, across regions and between central and local levels) there is usually huge turnover of personnel. These factors make coordination less persistent. Officials do need to coordinate, and coordination is in fact continuous, but it is ad hoc and sporadic. It is therefore temporal.
Temporal and irregular coordination causes some actors to become exceptionally important. In the two cities, the nodal persons are the mayors because they play important roles in obtaining extra funding; they enable the quick release of the regular block grant and the sanctioning of urban development projects.
Table 4: Summary of analyses of the forms of coordination between city corpo-rations and other public and non-public organizations
Vertical Horizontal
organizations 1. Outdated and ambiguous rules cause the division of responsibilities to blur, fragment and be duplicated when implementing projects.
• Too much central control causes city corporations to lose autonomy and become dependent on central directives and funding.
• Senior officials in city corporations are central government employees. This makes central government control conspicuous and shows de-centralization to be a myth.
• Informal relationships are used to attain more funding and autonomy.
• The elected mayor is the nodal point of major coordination and communication between urban city corporation and other local and central level organizations. 3. Lack of a formal institutional coordination mechanism.
City corporations and field level organizations have different chains of authority and command leading to conflicts and indifferent relationships. Duplication and delay of work are quite common.
Coordination is informal, tempo-rary and ad hoc, based on old school ties, family relationships or belonging to the same service industry or unit. Turnover of personnel also leads to the formation of new networks because coordination once established is not routinized.
Non-public organizations 2. Upward coordination with international Development Agencies (IDAs) such as UNDP and the World Bank is rare and takes place through the central ministry. City corporations and field agencies only implement policies financed by the international and bilateral donors, and they usually have little say in policy formulation. 4. Plethora of rules to coordinate activities with non-public organizations. In reality, coordination is informal and patron-clientelistic, leading to disregard for formal rules and corrupt practices.
Party loyalists are awarded contracts through collusion between contractors and the elected and appointed officials of city corporations.
Coordination with NGOs is carried out on the instruction and advice of international development agencies. NGOs with specific expertise, local knowledge, and good track records are coopted in some policy formulation and im-plementation committees.
Also, the chief executives of these municipalities, because of their ties with central level officials, do manage to influence central decisions that are necessary for urban governance.
The situation described above is not solely the case for the CCC and the RCC. A similar situation may also be found in Bangladesh’s other city corporations. This is because there are similar types of rules for urban governance, similarities in institutional landscapes and in authority patterns and chains of command in all the city corporations. Hence, informal networks are important and are the lifeline of any coordination in urban governance. They are often based on narrow and personal relationships and party loyalties that lead to undue favor and patron-clientelism. They invite irregularities, delays in project implementation, the duplication of work, the wastage of public money, and corruption.
But do the two city corporations vary or display similar features in inter-organizational coordination? The finding of this study is that in terms of formal and institutional coordination, the CCC and the RCC do display similar forms of central control, legal bindings and institutional landscapes. They have similar patterns of horizontal coordination. Their points of difference are in the areas of informal networking and relationships, both with the central level political leaders and at the city level, with field agencies of the central government. The informal networks vary according to the types of projects, both regular and new, but in both city corporations, patron-clientelism plays an important role in the contracting out of services. As stated, the elected mayor plays the most important role. In Rajshahi, because the mayor belonged to the party in power, he had more access to the central leadership and experienced less tension and friction in this relationship. The government officials have fewer inhibitions about communicating with Rajshahi’s mayor and the RCC as an institution. In the case of the CCC, the elected mayor belongs to the opposition party and there are obvious as well as subtle tensions between the central government agencies and the CCC.
Since interparty conflict is severe in Bangladesh, a mayor belonging to the opposite camp is fairly disliked by those connected to the central government. Although fund transfers and project implementation are less problematic because of the importance of Chittagong as the port city and hub of all imports and exports for the country, the government nevertheless keeps a constant eye on mayoral activities. All government officials or politicians holding public offices need to inform the central government about any meeting with the mayor of Chittagong. This was not the case in Rajshahi. However, business is ‘as usual’ when it comes to contracting out public services and building infrastructure; here again, personal relationships and party loyalty play crucial roles. In this regard, negotiation and bargaining are important mechanisms for striking deals with the city corporation.
The major question asked at the outset of this paper had to do with the nature of coordination in urban governance in Bangladesh: does inter-organizational coordination in urban governance reflect hierarchical-, market- or network-based coordination, or does a combination of these forms of coordination obtain? The findings reveal that vertical coordination between city corporations and the central government is highly centralized and based on redundant and ambiguous rules. Further, the form of coordination that works best in Bangladesh’s urban governance involves informal networks that are based on personal relationships, old school ties, familial and regional contacts, and party loyalism. This informalism is perpetuated because there is no mechanism to store coordinated efforts into organizational memory and hence, coordination initiatives seldom develop into lasting routines. This is only to be expected in a situation characterized by highly centralized central-local relations, personalized leadership, numerous but outdated rules, multiple jurisdictional authority and diverse chains of command. The pooling and exchange of resources for the sake of implementing policies and projects thus become infrequent, whilst informal relations thrive and influence poli-cies. As a result, most urban policies suffer from incoherence because they fail to respond to the requirements and needs of the common citizens. They are geared to the preferences of certain political and administrative executives. A similar situation characterizes other city corporations as well.