Govt to specify role of all: PM
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina yesterday assured elected upazila chairmen that authorities of everybody involved in upazila governments will be clearly delineated soon.
The assurance came in the face of a year long grievance of the upazila chairmen that members of the parliament (MPs), and upazila nirbahi officers (UNOs) appointed by the government call all the shots regarding functioning of the local government, relegating the elected chairmen to a subordinate position.
"Your duties in the areas of health, law and order, and development will be specified soon according to a guideline. But make sure that you work in unison with all others to bring the services to the doorsteps of the people," the premier said addressing the inaugural session of a workshop titled "Upazila Parishad Management and Digital Bangladesh", at the Prime Minister's Office in the capital.
The country's 481 upazila chairmen split into eight groups are attending the three-day workshop, which will also give each participant chairman a laptop with internet accessibility.
Chairman of Saturia upazila parishad in Manikganj, Abdul Majid, alleged that everything including land management, and law and order issues are under the control of local MPs and UNOs. "The lawmakers are controlling us, instead of giving us advice," he complained.
Harunur Rashid, chairman of Dumki upazila parishad of Patuakhali, said UNOs are appointed to upazilas for only three years, but elected upazila chairmen who are from the local areas will remain in the areas all through their lives. He alleged upazila chairmen currently have no say on the issue of law and order, as the UNOs are the chiefs of the upazila law and order committees. He also alleged that the UNOs do not respect the elected local government representatives.
"Two parallel administrations are existing in the upazilas now," said Badiuzzaman Badal, chairman of Nalitabari upazila parishad in Sherpur.
He said upazila chairmen have been fighting for their dignity and rights through arranging demonstrations like human chains, demanding their rightful authority as elected local representatives.
"Our struggle is just for establishing our authority, it is not against the government," he said.
Speaking as the special guest, Local Government, Rural Development, and Cooperatives (LGRD) Minister Syed Ashraful Islam claimed the government has taken various steps to strengthen upazila prishads.
Then he said upazila chairmen are being provided with new offices and vehicles. As he said that, some chairmen stood up and started shouting, saying the vehicles and the offices mean nothing without the right to exercise the authority of elected officials.
The chairmen demanded the right to have decision making authorities in local development projects, and the authority to write annual confidential reports (ACR) about government officials appointed to upazila parishads.
The premier told them that steps are being taken to bolster the authority of the elected upazila chairmen, but that will take some time to be implemented. "The LGRD ministry already distributed notifications among you specifying your duties and tasks," she said.
As some chairmen alleged that they have yet to receive the government notifications, the primer told them to collect and read those.
In reply to upazila chairmen's demand for the authority to write ACRs of government officials, Hasina asked them whether they will be able to carry out the tasks that are now being done by officers appointed by the central government.
"Will you be able to provide salaries and allowances for all officers and employees in your local government? Will you be able to chalk out budget plans for your areas?" asked the premier.
Then she told the upazila chairmen to chalk out five-year development plans for their respective upazilas, and to submit those to the authorities concerned.
She said her government believes in decentralisation of power, and it will take every necessary step for strengthening the local government. "Without decentralisation of power, balanced development from the grassroots level up to the centre will not be achieved," she noted.
Hasina assured the upazila chairmen that the scope of their participation in local development projects will be appropriately delineated.
She also urged them to remain alert against terrorism, and other violent and corrupt elements at the grassroots level. The PM asked the government officials appointed at upazilas, and the upazila chairmen to respect each other.
The LGRD ministry, Access to Information Project run by the Prime Minister's Office, and UNDP jointly organised the workshop. LGRD Secretary Manjur Hossain chaired the inaugural session where UNDP Resident Representative Renata Lok Dessallien, and PM's Private Secretary Nazrul Islam Khan were also present. Deputy Press Secretary to the PM Mahbubul Hoque Shakil moderated the programme.