The government had legally empowered the upazila parishads to supervise the functions of more than a dozen departments under various ministries at upazila level in 2009, but they are still not accountable to the parishads, according to a study report.
The government's indifference to enforce the law regarding the transfer of finances to the upazila parishads for paying the salaries of the staff at those departments has created the present situation, said the report released at a programme in the capital's Cirdap auditorium yesterday.
"Therefore, 17 departments working at upazila level are practically not accountable to the parishad, which makes it dysfunctional in terms of ensuring effective services by the government departments to local citizens," it said.
Supported by USAID-funded Strengthening Democratic Local Governance (SDLG) project, Unnayan Shammanay conducted the research in Kishoreganj's Bhairab upazila taking it as the model to assess the issue of "upazila parishad governance to improve service delivery".
Mahfuz Kabir, senior research fellow of Bangladesh Institute of International and Strategic Studies (BIISS), presented the findings.
According to the upazila parishad law, the government is supposed to transfer funds to the upazila parishads to give salaries of the staff at the transferred departments.
The report said implementation of the law would help the upazila parishads monitor the services more effectively and make the departments more accountable. "This will reduce the frustration of elected upazila parishad representatives significantly," it added.
Speaking at a discussion on the findings, State Minister for Finance MA Mannan assured that they would expedite the process to strengthen the parishads.
The report also emphasised training for upazila chairmen and vice-chairmen to make them aware of their legal authorities. "The law gives sufficient authority to the parishads. If they are informed and confident of their authorities, they will be able to thwart UNOs' move to dominate the parishad's discussion and decision-making," it said.
In his welcome address, Jerome Sayre, chief of party of the SDLG project, said the project had organised training in 600 local government units, including 100 upazilas, from 2011 to 2013 focusing on their decision-making, financial management, and service delivery.
At the open discussion, chairmen and vice-chairmen of some upazilas ripped into MPs and upazila nirbahi officers (UNOs) for their interference in the upazila parishad activities.
Prof Khondker Mokaddem Hossain, team leader of the study, chaired the discussion, while Prof Zarina Rahman Khan spoke among others.