Do elites in a society exercise disproportionate and unacceptable levels of influence during collective decision making processes to secure undue benefits for themselves?

Waheduzzaman et al
Wahed Waheduzzaman, Sharif As-Saber and Mohotaj Binte Hamid

Countries around the world have been facing numerous challenges in promoting citizen participation in the governance process. Among them, elite capture is considered to be a significant stumbling block that undermines this process. ‘Elite capture’ is where elites in a society exercise disproportionate and unacceptable levels of influence over collective functions and manipulate decision making processes to secure undue benefits for themselves (see Wong, 2012).

From a developing country local governance perspective, our recent article on this topic published in Policy & Politics, has identified elite capture as a key barrier to participatory governance in Bangladesh. Our research reveals five underlying issues, which include inaccurate perception, weak monitoring, ineffective management, non-functional representation and a defective legal framework responsible for ‘elite captures’ across local government entities in Bangladesh. Perception represents the way stakeholders perceive and value citizen participation; monitoring means the way stakeholders including development agencies monitor and evaluate development projects; management entails the planning, budgeting and coordination of development projects; representation means the involvement and participation of different stakeholders in development projects; and legal framework includes the statutory legal instruments for ensuring citizen participation in local development projects. We argue that these issues contribute to low participation by different stakeholders including ordinary citizens in local level development activities.

Based on the data and available information, our article contends that the mere increase of the number of local representatives and setting up of local management committees may not be enough to diminish elite capture. It warrants strong political commitments to create awareness about, and capacity for, participatory governance among all stakeholders including public representatives, government officials, community leaders and citizens. In addition, the governance structure and mechanism need to be streamlined through crafting necessary legal provisions mandating local level participation, engaging civil society including NGOs, and establishing a Local Government Commission to oversee the process.

Our research has implications for international development agencies, local government researchers and the government of Bangladesh and other developing countries who have been striving to build participatory governance at grassroots levels. The study may also provide a platform for future research on elite capture and the challenges and opportunities of implementing effective local participatory governance, from both developed and developing country perspectives.

You may read the original research in Policy & Politics:

Waheduzzaman, Wahed; As-Saber, Sharif; Hamid, Mohotaj Binte (2018) ‘Elite capture of local participatory governance’, Policy & Politics, 46(4):645-662.

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Citizen participation and changing governance: cases of devolution in England

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