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Civil Society or “Comprador Class”: Participation or Parroting in Bangladesh’s PRSP Dr Palash Kamruzzaman email@example.com Background In recent years, the idea of civil society has undergone something of a renaissance and its efflorescence is often considered to be the most likely route out of development ‘problems’ in the poor countries, particularly in Africa (Diamond; Linz and Lipset 1988, Harbeson; Rothchild and Chazan 1994, Landell-Mills 1992, Mercer 2003). Its present vogue is a result of the way the concept has been used over recent years to protest against the impact of global neo-liberalism, third- world debt and imperialist war. Civil society organisations are often identified as key sources of mobilisation and resistance to the power of the global financial institutions and the central states of the most economically powerful nations (Lavalette and Ferguson 2007). Dominant development discourses have scripted the liberal interpretation of civil society as the only game in town (Mercer 2003). What is a Civil Society? Civil society comprises the realm of organizations that lie between the family at one extreme and the state at the other (Hegel 1821) Civil society is the sphere of institutions, organisations and individuals located between the family, the state and the marketin which people associate voluntarily to advance common interests (Anheirer 2004). [Civil society as] an anti-hegemonic force in society, whose purpose is to aggregate the interests of power of the marginalised members of society (Habermas 1996). Civil society is bourgeois society that maintains the dominant economic interests within it (Marx 1843/1979). Contemporary dimensions of civil society Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) therefore are a wide array of organisations: community groups, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), labour unions, indigenous groups, charitable organisations, faith-based organisations, professional associations, and foundations (World Bank 2006). Civil society embraces: Institutionalised groups: such as religious organisations, trades unions, business associations and co-operatives. Local organisations: such as community associations, farmers’ associations, local sports groups, non-governmental organisations and credit societies. Social movements and networks (DFID 2006). Participation In whatever sector it [development] took place, meant going to another part of the world, to ‘normalise it’ according to their (the dominant and powerful) way of viewing the reality, to make it similar to their world (Freire 1974). In the late 1960s, and throughout most of the 1970s, there was a sudden upsurge of interest that ordinary citizens might have a part to play in the decision-making process (Richardson 1983). From the 1970s to the 1990s, a generalised consensus took shape that people’s participation in projects was an important component of development programmes and a means to their success (Cornwall 2000, Laderchi 2001). Participation constituted a ‘new paradigm’ of development as participation meant empowerment and mutual respect and enabled poor people, to express and analyse their individual perceptions and shared realities (Chambers 1997). Participation (continued) The World Bank seeks ‘stakeholder participation’ instead of ‘popular participation’ (World Bank 1996). Their participation is crucial, as these stakeholders include the borrowers (i.e. representatives of client countries, elected officials, line agency staff, local government officials), indirectly affected groups (i.e. NGOs), and the Bank itself (its staff). Participatory development ostensibly implies discarding mainstream development’s neo-colonial tendencies, Western-centric values and centralised decision-making processes. Decisions are often made on the basis of inadequate participation; for example, beneficiaries are consulted after the programme design and goals have already been set (Kapoor 2005, emphasis added). It creates a ‘feel good’ community experience, but covers up the backstage influence (Oxfam 2004). Marriage between Civil Society and Participation In supporting civil society in the South, donor agencies pursue a combination of broad goals. These include promoting democratisation, hastening economic development, reducing poverty and strengthening civil society as a goal in itself. Support for the emergence and strengthening of NGOs has formed a central part of this agenda (Archer 1994, Howell 2002, Howell and Pearce 2002). However, donor assistance is not limited to fostering democratisation. It also accords with a broader agenda of promoting neo-liberal economic policies (Howell 2002, Howell and Pearce 2002). In most developing countries civil society empowerment strategy has been focused almost entirely on the agencies known as nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) (Stiles 2002). However, the principal hazard of an emergent civil society lies in the active and well-meaning efforts of international agencies and bilateral and aid donors to fabricate a civil society (Sobhan 2000). Civil Society Participation in the PRSP approach In December 1999, the Boards of the WB and IMF suggested a new framework for the HIPCs and other poor countries. This was expected to be country-driven, results oriented, comprehensive and long-term in perspective, and in line with the principles of the Comprehensive Development Framework (CDF). They were to be embodied within a Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP), which was expected to serve as a framework for development assistance beyond the operations of the Fund and the Bank (IDA and IMF 2002: 3). The Executive Boards of the World Bank and IMF consider each PRSP based on staff assessments, which include a detailed analysis of the PRSP and a recommendation of whether or not to endorse the PRSP (IMF and World Bank 2000, emphasis added). The PRSP tool has thus became among the most important documents for national planning, and lies increasingly at the centre of development assistance and debt relief to poor countries (Swallow 2005, Driscoll with Evans 2005). As of May 2008, fifty-nine countries have a full PRSP, and in addition to this, Interim PRSPs (IPRSPs) of nine other countries can be found in the World Bank website. Analysts generally agree on two major achievements: • poverty reduction has been brought to the centre of national planning processes • the PRSP processes have generally been more transparent and participatory than other national planning processes (Booth 2003, Hanmer; Ikiara; Eberlei and Abong 2003). Bangladesh Case The government prepared and submitted its final version of PRSP in 2005. Four effective participatory strategies were put in place A high-powered National Steering Committee headed by the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and drawing on all the major public sector ministries was established A National Poverty Focal Point was established in the Planning Commission to act as the secretariat for the strategy formulation process 19 thematic groups were constituted under the relevant ministries for preparation of thematic reports that feed into the final strategy Regional consultations were undertaken with representation from a wide cross section of society including elected functionaries and grass roots organizations (GED 2005) Participation or Parroting? ….let me tell you how government led local consultations take place. The audience is undoubtedly extremely hierarchical…such a meeting starts with the introductory speech from the admin person and then the distinguished persons…followed up by somebody from the trade union… business groups must also say something in such a ‘vital’ meeting…then the chair will ask someone or two from the poor to say something ‘very briefly’. By this time no one really cares what s/he is talking about because the organisers are not in any mood to listen to them. In the meantime they have already heard from the ‘key people’ (Ahamad 2006 Pers. Comm.). Participation or Parroting (cont.)? “…if the standard procedure forces someone to go to village or remote area and to listen to the poor, then to save his/her job s/he will do so and things will move forward in a way set by the elite at the centre. Participants in these meetings participate because they have been ‘invited’ and may remain silent in an unfamiliar environment. The PRSP committee cannot claim the consultations took place in local people’s own set-ups. These were convened in an orthodox format. Participation in the PRSP was ‘standard’ participation and there are speculation that this exercise did not genuinely intend to include ordinary people in” (Yunus 2006, Pers. Comm.). “…in the national level meetings a few common names and faces were present who generally go to most consultations…I was invited to couple of meetings possibly because the organisers knew me” (Arefeen 2006, Pers. Comm.). Experts as development brokers Many (development professionals) understand all too well that formal models are slippery in application, finding ‘fraught accommodation with the political economy of place, history, production and territorial government’ (Craig and Porter 2006:120) Experts enjoy a privilege position in brokering development; they assume a growing importance and capture significant resources in the mediated cultures of development (Lewis and Mosse 2006) Development involves a great number of interactions between actors of different statuses, with varying resources and dissimilar goals, “for whom development constitutes a resource, a profession, a market, a stake or a strategy” (Olivier de Sardan 2004:11) Participation can produce a shopping list. Moreover, participation can be very cacophonic [in contrast to polyphonic] – it was the professional task to distil and prioritise our goals and target which we did in [the making of] the PRSP (Rahman, H. Z. 2006, pers. comm.) Civil Society or a ‘Comprador Class’ (cont.)? ....the audience will know a few key words and phrases, depending on which NGOs they are attached to. If the NGO works on agriculture then the participants already capable of talking about hybrid and genetically modified (GM) crops. If it is a gender based NGO they are able to talk about women’s empowerment, domestic violence and other similar issues. If the NGO deals with micro- credit they can talk about interest rates, empowerment and accessing the market and other resources (Muhammad 2006, pers. comm.) Civil Society or a ‘Comprador Class’? The ruling class of Bangladesh welcomes and expects frameworks like this where there is space for mutual benefit and interest. The political leaders, the bureaucrats, the elites and neo-elites need such programme to establish a firmer grip on national development and also to secure their material and political interests. Whenever a proposition is made or a step taken to privatise state owned sectors, the elites and neo-elites feel elated because ultimately they enjoy the benefit with or without the association of international collaborators. Somehow they persuade the process to go on. I call them as a comprador class who always accept external approaches and enjoy benefits from these. Along with elites and political leaders, bureaucrats also represent this group and benefit from it (Ahmed M. 2006, Pers. Comm.) Conclusion Participation a Rhetoric? An Iron Hand in the Velvet Glove? Civil Society : A means for validation? In its modern form that help maintaining the [global] exploitation, appropriation and hegemony?
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