A slap for democracy?
THIS is ridiculous. This contradicts the spirit of our constitution. Above all, this implicitly opposes the electoral manifesto of the government. This manifesto pledged to bring a positive change in the country by strengthening the local government and democratic ethos.
Yes. I am pointing at the proposed Upazila Act. The recommendation of the parliamentary standing committee on LGRD ministry concerning Upazila Parishad (UP) has frustrated all who are hoping to see Bangladesh on true democratic footing.
This is true that UP Act 1998 was introduced during the period of AL government under the premiership of Sheikh Hasina. It was unfortunate that apart from the promulgation of the act, nothing had been done to revive local government and UPs in more than 15 years.
However, following the directive of the last caretaker government, election to the UPs was held in January this year. It may be noted that the CTG first amended the UP Act 1998, in an ordinance scrapping the controversial provision of the act that made it mandatory for the UPs to follow suggestions of local MPs as advisors. However, without ratifying this ordinance, the newly installed Parliament sent this to the concerned parliamentary body.
We believed that in the new context of the politics, upholding the spirit of the call for a change, the outcome of the recommendation of the standing committee would be pro-people and would strengthen our fragile democracy. Contrary to people's expectation, however, the recommendation is quite frustrating.
As reported in a national daily, according to clauses 1 and 2 of Article 25 of the bill, MPs will be advisors of their respective UPs and their advices should be treated as mandatory as ascribed in the original UP Act 1998. Besides, as per these clauses UPs must not communicate with the government directly without prior notice to the concerned MPs.
Moreover, the clause 27 (kha) of the bill dictates that after each session of the UP, minutes of the session must be submitted to their respective MPs within 14 days. In essence, instead of nurturing democracy, the standing committee is trying to make UPs fully accountable to their respective MPs. This, in turn, will promote the autocracy in the psyche of the respective MPs in the UP.
So, no doubt, this bill is a severe slap for democracy. If the bill is introduced as law with its controversial clauses, then it will definitely jeopardise our venture towards democracy. Moreover, in the worst case, a griddlock situation may arise due to power struggle between UP chairman and MP.
One of the major pre-conditions for true democracy is empowering and strengthening local government. The relationship between central and local government must be congenial and indeed, national development is not likely to succeed without a genuine partnership between the two. Without empowering local government, the achievement of such genuine partnership is quite impossible.
The national parliament is the part of the central government and so it is imperative to formulate relationship criteria with MPs and the local governments of their respective constituencies. For this, at first we need to draw a boundary between the roles of both MPs and local government in light of constitution.
According to Article 65(1) of the constitution, MPs are vested with legislative powers of the Republic and so their supreme obligation is to formulate, modify various legislations with a view to administering country in righteous ways following the people's aspiration as the Article 7(1) confirms that all powers in the republic belong to the people.
According to Article 59(1), the local government bodies in every administrative unit of the republic are the major actors of all sorts of local development works. Yes, the parliament has something to do for the local government and this is also defined in our constitution.
Article 60 clearly states: "Parliament shall, by law, confer powers on the local government bodies, including power to impose taxes for local purposes, to prepare their budgets and to maintain funds." So the parliament is constitutionally bound to provide UP with full autonomy.
Instead of working at the policy level, MPs in the past involved themselves in local development works which ultimately led them to be involved in all-pervasive financial corruption. For them, the major motivation for becoming MPs was to be a millionaire within the shortest possible time at the cost of public funds. Consequently, the nation observed the influence of black money in the electoral races. Due to this paradigm shift of politicians' psyche, the parliament became ineffective and democracy was at a stake.
As we are following the Westminster style parliamentary system, we should consider the roles of MPs in the British parliament. British MPs split their time between working in parliament itself, working in the constituency that elected them, and working for their political parties In their constituencies, MPs often hold a "surgery" in their office, where local people can come along to discuss any matter that concerns them. MPs also attend functions, visit schools and businesses and generally try to meet as many people as possible. This gives MPs further insight and context into issues they may discuss when they return to Westminster. As in Britain, our MPs should also play vital roles both in the parliament and their respective constituencies.
For this, government may allocate offices for the MPs in their constituencies so that they can keep in close touch with the people at grass-roots level with a view to assessing the opinions of the people regarding laws to be introduced and other government policies. Besides, MPs should monitor different activities of the local government bodies from a distance just to ensure that they follow the Parliament adopted policies justifiably.
Finally, as a conscious citizen of the country, I would like to draw the attention of the honourable prime minister in this respect. We strongly believe that the prime minister is determined to bring a positive change in the country. And so as the leader of the house, she will not allow this bill to be introduced as law without scrapping its controversial clauses.