Local development to sink in MP meddling | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, February 18, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, February 18, 2009

Local development to sink in MP meddling

Roundtable urges govt to ratify local govt ordinances for democracy's sake

Demanding immediate ratification of the local government ordinances promulgated by the caretaker government, experts and newly elected upazila officials yesterday said if members of the parliament (MP) are allowed to meddle in the affairs of upazila parishads, that will be a violation of the constitution.
Strong local governments are a prerequisite for good governance and balanced economic development, they said adding that an effective local government commission (LGC) is also a must for a strong local government system.
They fear local administrations might be rendered ineffective and law makers might end up lording over upazila parishads, running the risk of letting corruption creep into the system, if MPs are allowed to have their previous controlling authority over the elected local governments.
Suggesting formulation of a policy specifying the duties of the chairmen, vice-chairmen, and women vice-chairmen of upazila parishads without further delay, they said the role of bureaucrats in relation to local governments should also be redefined in order to make upazila parishads functional.
"It will be a violation of articles 59 and 60 of the constitution, if lawmakers are allowed to have authority over local governments," said Badiul Alam Majumder, secretary of Shushashoner Janney Nagorik (Shujan), adding that the move will also go against court verdicts on the matter.
The opinions came from a roundtable titled 'Making Upazila Parishad Operational: Challenges and Prospect', arranged by The Daily Star in the conference room of its headquarters, with participation of 23 newly elected upazila chairmen, vice-chairmen and women vice-chairmen from six divisions of the country, and governance experts.
The elected upazila officials expressed their worries about whether they will be able to work without any outside interference, if the central government's move to not ratify the local government ordinances successfully passes through the parliament.
They said feuds between MPs and upazila parisahad officials are likely to erupt, if lawmakers are allowed to interfere with the functioning of the parishads.
The parishads will face serious difficulties if the MPs are provided with offices in upazila parishad complexes, they said adding, it might also disrupt local development.
Interference of MPs with the functioning of the local government has been blatant, they said alleging that lawmakers want to get involved in upazila level development because an enormous amount of money is circulated through the local development circuit.
"We want the ordinances to become laws, so we may work without any outside interference," said Asaduzzaman Asad, a new vice-chairman elected to Natore Sadar upazila parishad.
Strengthening the local government system was one of the electoral pledges of Awami League (AL), its President Sheikh Hasina in one of her books also emphasised on a strong local government system for ensuring development and poverty reduction.
LGC Chairman Muhammad Faizur Razzaque said it is possible to enact rules, if necessary, even after ratifying the ordinances.
"LGC was preparing a proposal on power decentralisation, we should consider whether a local government service structure could be formed, which would start at the union parishad level," he said.
Upazila parishads will remain, even if the ordinances are not ratified, he said adding, "LGC will be with local government representatives, if the commission is allowed to exist."
Prof Muzaffer Ahmad, president of Shujan, said it is possible to set up offices for MPs in the parliament complex, so why offices should be set up for them in upazila parishad complexes.
The ministry concerned or LGC will have to formulate rules, in a participatory manner, specifying the duties and responsibilities of local government institutions, he added.
He also said the revenue sources of upazila parishads should be protected from political interference, and the role of bureaucracy in local governance also need to be readjusted, as the people want to see a strong local government.
Prof Tofael Ahmed, a member of LGC, said the local government ordinances promulgated by the caretaker government should be ratified, albeit after removing inconsistencies in it, if there is any, for removing the uncertainty the local government system is facing right now.
But, the ratification must be upon discussions with the elected local representatives, he added.
Awami League (AL) and BNP both talked much about a strong LGC, but now none of them wants it anymore, he said adding that the commission should exist, but its officials could be changed, if needed.
Prof Tofael suggested that the chairmen and vice-chairmen of upazila parishads work on the basis of consensus among them for strengthening democracy.
Another LGC Member Hedayetul Islam Chowdhury said remote areas and areas where opposition leaders were elected as representatives should get protection through a specific policy. "Who will formulate the policy when there will be no commission?" he quipped.
"MPs are not made advisers to city corporations, so why they should become advisers to upazila parishads?" he questioned again, adding that a decision has to be taken whether upazila parishads will work as institutions of governance.
Terming the authority of MPs over upazila parishads 'unconstitutional', Shujan Secretary Badiul Alam Majumder said MPs like to meddle in upazila parishads, so they can thwart emergence of competitors at the local level.
"The local government system is a part of the fundamental structure of the constitution, and so it cannot be changed by formulating new laws," he said adding, any indirect authority of MPs over local governments will also be in contradiction to the constitution and relevant court verdicts.
Dr Salahuddin M Aminuzzaman, professor of public administration at Dhaka University, said the upazila ordinance should be placed in the parliament with amendments, if needed, and should be ratified in the current session.
He also said a parliamentary committee on local government affairs should also be constituted immediately to suggest new guidelines for strengthening the local government system with particular focus on upazila parishads.
Dr Salahuddin suggested forming a task force to assist LGC for ensuring pragmatic criteria for disbursement of government development grants, and developing a regulatory mechanism for making the bureaucracy accountable to elected upazila parishads.
Ruling parties' secretaries-general should never be appointed as the LGRD minister, he added.
Sheela Tasneem Haq, director (election programme) of The Asia Foundation, said women's representation in upazila parishads show that they will reach the parliament one day.
She emphasised the need for creating awareness among elected women representatives about their duties and responsibilities.
Gazi Abdul Hadi, chairman of Dumuria Upazila Parishad in Khulna, said the Election Commission is yet to publish the gazette of the election results even though 26 days have passed since the polls to upazila parishads were held.
"People gave us the mandate to serve them and we want to do so, but it seems the upazila parishads are being made ineffective by changing the upazila parishad ordinance," he said.
Abul Kalam Azad, chairman of Uzirpur Upazila Parishad in Barisal, said he would file a case if any decision is made that weakens the upazila parishads.
Suraiya Begum, vice-chairman of Betagi Upazila Parishad in Barguna, said, "The new government is trying to abolish the LGC changing the rules…this is suicidal."
She said to strengthen the local government bodies it should be kept free from all kinds of political and economical interferences.
Khan Mohammad Rustom Ali, vice-chairman of Bhandaria Upazila Parishad in Pirojpur, said, "We want lawmakers to enact laws not interfere in our work."
All women vice-chairmen present at the roundtable demanded that administrative security and transportation service for them be ensured. They also demanded equal facilities for chairmen and vice-chairmen.
There should be coordination between the chairmen and vice-chairmen to ensure smooth running of the parishad, said Noor Alam Sheikh, vice-chairman of Mongla Upazila Parishad in Khulna.
Moderating the roundtable, The Daily Star Editor Mahfuz Anam said a strong and truly effective local government is a must for the country as there is no alternative to strong local government for spreading democratic practice all over the country as well as economic development.
The local government has to be given its dignity and it has to be brought to the centre of the development process, he added.
Dewan Zainul Zakerin, chairman of Sunamganj Sadar Upazila Parishad, Ataur Rahman, chairman of Godagari Upazila Parishad in Rajshahi, Khairul Kabir Khokan, chairman of a upazila parishad in Netrakona, Humayun Islam Kamal, vice-chairmen of Golapganj Upazila Parishad in Sylhet, Shamima Shahriar, vice-chairman of Jamalganj Upazila Parishad in Sylhet, Rockeya Khatun, vice-chairman of Habiganj Sadar Upazila Parishad, Shova Rani, vice-chairman of Mothbaria Upazila Parishad in Pirojpur, Sajeda Begum, vice-chairman of Hathazari Upazila Parishad in Chittagong, Akhtar Jahan Laki, vice-chairman of Atrai Upazila Parishad in Naogaon, Shova Rani Halder, vice-chairman of Dumuria Upazila Parishad in Khulna, Parul Begum, vice-chairman of Rupsha Upazila Parishad in Khulna, Zakir Hossain Selim, vice-chairman of Rangamati Sadar Upazila Parishad, Khaleda Akhtar Chowdhury, vice-chairman of Chandanaish Upazila Parishad in Chittagong, Fatema Monir, vice-chairman of Narayanganj Sadar Upazila Parishad, Kohinoor Islam, vice-chairman of Sonargaon Upazila Parishad in Narayanganj and Fazlul Haque, vice-chairman of Netrakona Sadar Upazila Parishad also spoke at the roundtable.

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