Informal Governance

Informal Governance self-help services or development activities or projects organised by a community. It has no particular format. It can either be a sustained effort or a one-time affair. Purely private initiatives of individuals or groups of people leading to exclusion of, or negative impact on, others and conflict among them with a stake in the system do not constitute informal governance. On the other hand, some people wrongly confine informal governance and civil society to Non-government organisations (NGOs). In pre-capitalist societies, when the central state was absent or weak or in a formative stage, self-help activities were far more prominent and visible. In modern times, such activities have become a residual category and exist within, outside and in collaboration with formal governance carried out through the central government agencies, local government bodies and NGOs.

Informal governance in Bangladesh has been on the decline over time. However, there are still many such examples which are: (a) broadening of roads; (b) forming and managing credit and saving societies; (c) organising garbage disposal, apartment associations and community security measures; (d) establishing and managing mosques, graveyards, educational institutions, health centres, libraries, clubs, haats and bazars; organising tree planting, water hyacinth clearance, games and sports, cultural activities, burial services, etc; and providing scholarships/stipends to meritorious students; (e) shalish or informal adjudication relating to family matters, land disputes, credit related problems, physical clash; (f) community action against drug addiction, extortion, hooliganism; (g) providing traffic services (particularly noted in old Dhaka); (h) organising community protest against poor services and corruption by various government organisations like WASA and DESA; (i) self-help activities in response to emergencies and natural disasters; (j) minor flood control, drainage and irrigation work.

Several types of informal governance have been identified in Bangladesh. They are: (a) where informal governance is a continuation of past traditions like village/neighbourhood level shalish; (b) where formal governance has broken down or is extremely weak, and in circumstances where the formal police force has miserably failed to protect the people; (c) formal governance is not fully able to reach an area owing to physical barriers such as the tribal areas of the Chittagong Hill Tracts or remote islands in the Bay of Bengal; (d) informal governance in response to emergencies and natural disasters such as war, flood, drought, cyclone, epidemic, river erosion, earthquake, outbreak of fire, influx of refugees; (e) where formal governance, particularly local government bodies, deliberately encourages informal governance to flourish, and hence there is a great deal of interface between the two; (f) where formal organisations, particularly NGOs, unknowingly induce the development of informal governance through organised micro-credit activities; (g) where formal and informal governance coexist, but the link between the two is not self-evident; (h) where informal governance acts as a countervailing force against formal authority to obtain and safeguard the rights of the community; and (i) where informal governance opens new frontiers and acts as a pioneer.

Informal governance depends primarily on social capital, which may be defined as people's propensity to work together voluntarily on the basis of relations of trust and reciprocity. Unlike human capital, which is individually owned, social capital is embedded in the network of human relations within the community. It is commonly believed that social capital has been on the decline in Bangladesh over the years. As a result, informal governance exists at a minimal level. Reasons advanced for the low level of social capital and declining informal governance in Bangladesh are: (a) certain ecological factors may have militated against social capital and informal governance; (b) there were man-made historical reasons like a long period of colonial rule followed by several rounds of military dictatorship giving birth to an extremely divisive, authoritarian and intolerant political culture; (c) at present, a 'looking up' mentality, created by the all pervasive and 'handout' role of the central state, plus the dependency that goes with it acts as a brake; (d) there has been in recent years a severe 'ideological and institutional erosion' leading to selfishness, lack of community spirit, and jealousy in the rural areas, vertical patron-client relationships based on 'factions' generally do not allow the growth of horizontal formations of people belonging to similar socio-economic background; (e) extreme politicisation and segmentation on political party lines that have taken place in recent years; (f) the local leadership has been either stifled by, or coopted into, the unhealthy political system, and this also hampered community based actions; and (g) self-help activities can not be sustained over a long period of time because of compulsion to earn a living on the part of the social workers. [Kamal Siddiqui]