Strengthening local government was a very talked about issue in the time of Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed interim government, which was an extra constitutional and military backed governance body had ruled the country through state of emergency. The issue was welcomed by all walks of people.
The issue, strengthening local government, was seriously advocated by the civil society leaders and intellectuals of the nation as they feel that for good governance and better democracy a reasonably strong local government is very essential for Bangladesh.
That is why academics, intellectuals and civil society leaders were perching to reinstall once-suspended Upazila Parishad (sub-district council) and reorganizing Zilla Parishad (district council) under a government appointed political personalities.
Zilla Parishad is very much active from the semi-colonial Pakistani rule till today. Alongside with the district administration Zilla Parishad generally dispenses responsibility connected to public matters. This body is headed by a Deputy Secretary level administrative cadre officer. Upazila Parishad was introduced by former military dictator HM Ershad and this level of local government was abolished in 1991, at the first tenure of Khaleda Zia’s premiership, when the nation came back in Westminster type parliamentary after at least two decades. Sheikh Hasina-led government of 1996-2001 tenure and Zia-led government of 2001-2006 tenure were agreed that Upazila level local government is useful for good governance and development. But for many complexities bared Upazila system came into enforcement.
At the last pat of Zia-led 2001 government, the issue of reestablishing Upazila system came into extensive discussion among intellectuals, citizen organizations and civil society leaders. Especially Civil Society Organizations, popularly known as NGO, instigate debate, discussion, seminar and dialog on this issue.
After January 11, 2007, when Dr. Fakhruddin government came into state power took the issue with due importance and amended the Upazila Parishad Act. According to the previous law, Local Government Ministry was responsible to scheduled election for Upazila. New Act gives Election Commission (EC) to do so. While EC was engaged in preparation of voter list for parliament poll, the constitutional body was requested to conduct Upazila poll on the same date.
As a result of a tug of war between interim government and political parties, the Upazila Parishad poll has been scheduled on January 22, 2009, nearly after three weeks of parliament election. EC hoped that they are going to achieve another success by holding a free, fair and credible Upazila Parishad poll, another nationwide election. It should be mentioned that in Bangladesh there are 482 Upazila, running as the lowest level of civil administration headed by an Executive Officer. But there is another level of governance that is Union Council, which is not an administrative unit, is local government entity headed by an elected chairman. The Chairman led a 12-member council where 3 seats are reserved for women.
Newly elected Sheikh Hasina-led grand alliance government is also committed to reactivate the Upazila system as it was one of the commitments cited in election manifesto.
Experts said that to ensure better democracy and good governance Members of Parliament (MPs) should not take part in the local level development activities. Local bodies should be managed by the local level leaders.
Present law also curtailed the MP’s rights to advice the Upazila Parishad Chairman. Now the challenge for the government would be balancing the rights between MP and Upazila Chairman in the parliamentary constituency. If government failed to do so, the administrative and development system could be a total mess. Presuming the situation many of local government experts said that Zilla Parishad must be furnished by a political personality who would be responsible to oversee the causes of Upazila in terms of development and governance. Once operated Zilla Parishad chief enjoyed the status of a Deputy Minister. Present thinking is also almost same, at least among the experts.
A section of governance experts are saying that the status of the local government representatives at all levels should be enhanced and determined clearly by law. Upazila Chairman enjoyed the status of Deputy Secretary that should be uplifted at least at the level of Additional Secretary. Experts giving the logic that, MPs are getting the status of a level that is lower than Deputy Minister and higher then Secretary. So, Upazila Chairman disserves the above said level of status. On the other hand, Union Council, the first step of local government, representatives, who are directly elected by the people of a certain locality, have no status in state protocol. Because of this shortfall, no capable and respectable persons are willing a less to come in local body to run the show.
As of latest law, a local body has to prepare budget, plan for development, prepare project documents, implement projects, must go through the auditing process and so on. To dispense those responsibilities a local body needs a leader who would be able to administer a group of professionals. They also said that Bangladesh need a strong well managed local government system, which could be minimized the competition for MP’s position, could be ensured the good governance at grassroots level and would be able to establish a nation with better democracy. Present government has the mandate from the people to do anything for the nation; the government should be attentive on this issue. Strong local government is essential for better democracy, the experts added. THE END