Suspension of Mayors: Selective use of law

Abdul Baten is more fortunate than many other people’s representatives.

The mayor of Pabna’s Bera municipality, Baten was charge-sheeted in a corruption case, and the district court sent him to jail in May last year. He was then suspended by the LGRD ministry.

A few days later, he came out of prison on bail. The ministry scrapped his suspension and reinstated him in the post of mayor.

However, the legal provision on suspension of municipality mayors says a temporarily-suspended mayor cannot resume office until the case proceeding ends.

Baten functioned as mayor for the remaining tenure. He was re-elected in August 2016, and is now discharging duties as mayor. The case against him is yet to be disposed of.

He is president of Bera upazila unit of the Awami League and younger brother of AL lawmaker Shamsul Haque Tuku, also former state minister for home.

The Anti-Corruption Commission on August 27, 2015 filed the criminal case against him and some of his aides for embezzling Tk 1.85 crore from government funds through abuse of power. On March 31 last year, it submitted a charge sheet to court which issued arrest warrant against Baten and others.

For him, the legal bar on resumption of office was not applied.

But the treatment was not the same in case of mayors loyal to the BNP though the legal provision on suspension of mayors and councillors of city corporations and municipalities are the same.

Take the case of Mosaddek Hossain Bulbul, pro-BNP mayor of Rajshahi City Corporation.

He won the 2013 mayoral polls by defeating the AL-backed candidate.

But he was suspended on May 7, 2015 after courts accepted charge sheets against him in three cases, including one for the murder of police constable Siddhartha Sarker.

Apart from Bulbul, 22 RCC councillors were accused and charge-sheeted in the three cases. But none of the councillors had to experience what the mayor did.

Bulbul filed a writ petition with the High Court, challenging the legality of the suspension order and won the battle. The HC declared his suspension illegal. The government then moved to the Supreme Court which upheld the HC verdict on March 5 this year.

In its verdict, the apex court said it found arbitrary exercise of discretionary power in case of Bulbul’s suspension.

The HC judgment, upheld by the SC, said, “But the government has opted not to suspend those councillors. Such an action against the writ-petitioner [Bulbul] is no doubt discriminatory and arbitrary.”

The HC also asked the LGRD ministry to take necessary steps to bring to the notice of the government authorities concerned and parliament the issue of amending the provision on suspension of mayors and councillors of city corporations.

It asked for incorporating necessary guidelines for building an objective opinion so that the authorities may take a fair, reasonable and equitable decision on suspension of an elected mayor or councillor of a city corporation.

In the appeal, the attorney general, on behalf of the government, drew the apex court’s attention to the HC directive on amending the provision, and said one organ of state cannot give such directive to another organ of state.

The SC didn’t reject the necessity of bringing amendment to the provision on suspension. It, however, said, “The above direction is a pious wish of the court. The government and the parliament may consider amending the section.”

The section-12 of the Local Government (City Corporation) Act empowers the government to suspend temporarily a mayor or councillor after court accepts a charge sheet in a criminal case against him or her.

The government has not made any move to amend the provision that provides it with unfettered powers to suspend a mayor or councillor.

The LRGD ministry rather exercised the power on Sunday and suspended Bulbul again, saying a Rajshahi court accepted the charge sheet against him in a case filed under the Explosive Substances Act.

The charge sheet, however, was accepted on June 22 last year.

Robiul Islam, a RCC councillor, was also charge-sheeted in the same case. But he has not been suspended.

Bulbul was all set to rejoin office on Sunday after winning the legal battle. But he found his office under lock and key. When he managed to enter the office after a five-hour wait, he was informed within minutes that he had been suspended again.

Like him, Sylhet Mayor Ariful Huq Chowdhury and Habiganj Municipality Mayor GK Gaus had almost similar experience in the last couple of years.

They were suspended on January 7, 2015 after a Sylhet court accepted charge sheets against them in two cases — one under the Explosive Substances Act and the other for the killing of former Finance Minister AMS Kibria.

Later, both won legal battles against their suspension.

But the two were suspended by the LGRD ministry for the second time on Sunday, around 10 days after a special tribunal in Sunamganj accepted the revised charge sheet against them in the case over a grenade attack on a rally of AL leader Suranjit Sengupta in Sunamganj in 2004.

Over the last couple of years, a large number of BNP and Jamaat-e-Islami-backed mayors, chairmen and vice chairmen of local government bodies were suspended under two specific clauses of the Local Government (City Corporation) Act.

While enforcing the Act, the LGRD ministry’s Local Government Division has all along been strict about the elected representatives backed by the BNP and the Jamaat.

Contacted yesterday, eminent jurist Shahdeen Malik said the provision on suspension of mayors and councillors should spell out the criteria for suspending an elected representative to prevent abuse of power.

Meanwhile, AL General Secretary Obaidul Quader said the prime minister was not aware of suspension of the mayors of Rajshahi and Sylhet cities and Habiganj municipality.

“It is the LGRD ministry’s jurisdiction to suspend mayors. Since the ministry made the decision, it can better say the reason and logic behind it. As far as I know, the prime minister doesn’t know about such a major policy decision,” he told journalists after inaugurating a road in the capital’s Demra, reports UNB.

Quader, also road transport and bridges minister, claimed that there was no political motive behind suspension of the mayors.

Talking to this newspaper, advocate Khurshid Alam Khan said the legal provision on suspension of elected representatives of local government bodies is discriminatory, as lawmakers don’t face such consequences if they are charge-sheeted in criminal cases.

Ruling AL MP Amanur Rahman Rana is a charge-sheeted accused in a murder case, and is now in jail. But he retains his parliament membership.

Another AL lawmaker, Abdur Rahman Bodi, has been convicted and jailed by a court for three years in a corruption case. He is now on bail and retains his membership of the House.

Disaster Management Minister Mofazzal Hossain Chowdhury Maya was convicted by a court in 2008. He was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment in a corruption case.

Upon his appeal, the HC scrapped the conviction. But the SC cancelled the HC verdict and asked it to hear afresh his appeal.

Maya still remains a parliament member and a minister.

“A lawmaker should be suspended temporarily after court accepts charge sheet in a criminal case filed against him or her,” said Khurshid.

Source: The Daily Star



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