Upazila councils remain dysfunctional

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Upazila councils could not function as expected in five years as the institutions are still lacking financial and administrative powers needed to hold field-level government offices accountable to elected bodies.
Upazila chairmen and vice-chairmen find the local government institutions ‘almost dysfunctional’ also because of the interference of members of parliament, who are advisers to the upazila councils in accordance with the law, several of them said.
The Bangladesh Upazila Parishad Association, a platform of upazila chairmen and vice-chairmen, on Sunday submitted a set of recommendations to the LGRD and cooperatives ministry, seeking the repeal of the legal provisions to end ‘MPs’ control’ over upazila councils.
It also suggested the holding of elections to the upazila councils through nominations by political parties.
‘We have submitted our proposals to the LGRD minister and the secretary to the local government division today. We hope that the ministry will do what is needed to strengthen the local government bodies,’ the association’s president Harun-ur-Rashid Hawlader told New Age.
He said that upazila councils should be empowered by way of amendments to the law to place all the 17 departments under the local government bodies to make them accountable to elected representatives.
Neither the minister nor the secretary was available for comments about the recommendations, the association leader added.
Each of the upazilas has an elected chairperson and two vice-chairpersons, including a lady vice-chairperson.
The upazila council was reintroduced in January 2009 after a gap of 18
years. The Election Commission has initiated a move to conduct polls to 102, out of 487, upazilas in the first phase on February 19.
In its election manifesto of 2014, the Awami League has pledged that more power would be vested in upazila councils and other local government institutions to decentralise the administration.
The prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, on December 28, 2013 made the manifesto public.
Referring to Article 59 (1) of the constitution, Harun-ur-Rashid, also chairman of Dhumki Upazila, said that the local government in every administrative unit of the republic will be entrusted to bodies composed of persons elected in accordance with law.
He said that they had also suggested that officials and employees of all the departments at the local level should be placed under the council’s administrative authority.
The Transparency International Bangladesh executive director, Iftekharuzzaman, said that the Awami League-led government in its previous term (2009-2013) had not taken any such move that could strengthen the local government.
He said that a legal framework strengthening the upazila councils was needed so that they could function effectively.
‘It is now a big challenge for the Election Commission to complete the elections to the upazila councils in a free and fair manner. The government also should prove that it does not have any control over the holding of the polls,’ Iftekharuzzaman added.
A number of upazila chairmen, speaking to New Age, expressed frustration and dismay about the situation and complained that upazila councils elected in January 2009 had not been allowed to function as local government bodies.
They alleged that lawmakers took over local development activities, hampering the function of local government bodies.
Local government experts say that upazila councils were dysfunctional as the chairmen did not have any control over resources allotted to the local government.
The upazila chairmen and vice-chairmen have for long been demanding that all employees and officials of different departments posted to upazilas be should be placed under their authority and that the government should repeal all provisions in the law that conflict with the spirit of the constitution to ‘strengthen and democratise the local government system.’
A senior official in the local government division said that officials of all the departments in upazilas had been placed under the upazila councils which was a positive move to empower the elected bodies.

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