The country is embracing another local government election even as the two tiers of the local government body — Zilla parishad and upazila parishad — remain completely dysfunctional.
The upazila parishad has become dysfunctional owing to a power conflict between the upazila parishad chairmen and MPs. On the other hand, the Zilla parishad fails to perform as expected due to its unelected administrator, as well as conflict with the MPs of the district.
Experts say reforms to rules and regulations are needed to resolve the crisis, and the stakeholders demanded the government’s goodwill in this regard, as the government’s indecision over making the two bodies vital to local development functional is part of the problem.
In 1982, military dictator HM Ershad introduced upazila parishads and two elections were held in his regime. But the first BNP government under Khaleda Zia abolished the upazila system in 1991.
Also during the Ershad era, through an ordinance promulgated in 1988, the zilla parishad was introduced in the country as the highest tier of local government. After the fall of Ershad in 1990, it became non-functional as successive governments neglected it.
After a long gap, in 2011 the Awami League-led government appointed administrators to 61 zillas. But it has failed to perform due to the unelected administrators as well as conflict with their respective MPs.
In 1998, the AL government reinstated the upazila system. But no election took place till January 2009. The current elections are only the fourth upazila polls in 32 years.
Contacted, local government specialist Dr Tofael Ahmed said the elections will mean nothing unless the problems are addressed. “Rules as well as regulations have to be changed to get expected level of results from the local government.”
The Upazila Parishad Act, 1998, makes the MPs advisers to the upazila parishads in their constituencies. According to the law, each upazila parishad will take advice from its adviser to carry out its activities.
It also does not allow upazila parishads to send development plans to the government for implementation without recommendation of the adviser concerned.
Although an ordinance promulgated under the last caretaker government was meant to resolve the potential conflict between MPs and UP chairmen by allowing the latter more independence, this was scrapped by the 9th Parliament in 2009.
Ataur Rahman Ata, general secretary of Upazila Parishad Association of Bangladesh (UZPAB), echoed the view that elections will be useless for local development, unless the government harbours a cordial intent to make the upazila parishad functional.
“There will be no scope to work if the present situation prevails. Everything is depending on the government’s goodwill,” Ata added.
Miazan Ali, administrator of Meherpur Zilla parishad who had conflict with an immediate past MP of the district, said, “If MPs interfere into the Zilla parishad activities, the people are deprived of balanced development activities.”
“When I proposed a project considering local people’s welfare, an MP opposed it. It not only deprived the locality of development, it also tarnished my party’s image,” said Miazan, also the general secretary of the AL district unit.
But Giasuddin, vice-president of UZPAB, is optimistic that this time they will be able to do their work properly. “We’ve been waging a movement for the last five years to have our demands met in stages. I’m optimistic of being able to work freely this time,” he said while talking to UNB.
On that optimistic note, the elections to nearly 480 out of the 487 upazila parishads of the country are being held over six phases to be completed by June.
Monzur Hossain, Local Government Division secretary, told UNB, “I think there is no conflict between upazila parishad chairman and MP and I’m yet to get any complaint in this regard. I must look after the issue if any complaint is lodged.”
The government will take strong measures to make the upazila parishad more functional, said the secretary, adding that it will take time. “The present government is pledge-bound to make local government stronger. We will bring transparency and dynamism in this regard.”
The first batch of 97 upazilas witnessed elections on February 19.