UPAZILA council chairs and vice-chairs, who have voiced their concern about the ‘unlimited powers’ said to have been vested in the administration officials in violation of the constitutional provision that lays out that local government in every administrative unit is entrusted to bodies composed of elected representatives, have sought a redress of the influence of upazila nirbahi officers on the local government. The Bangladesh Upazila Parishad Association, the platform of 1,476 upazila chairs and vice-chairs, at a press briefing in the capital on Saturday put forth a five-point charter of demands that include the removal of all barriers to establishing the authority of upazila councils over the 17 agencies of 12 ministries that have been made accountable to the councils by way of the 2011 amendment to the Upazila Parishad Act 1998. The chairs and vice-chairs have alleged that the upazila nirbahi officers, who ‘only follow’ the orders of the ministries, divisions and agencies concerned, deprive local people of their entitlement to government facilities. The upazila chairs and vice-chairs have now demanded that the ministries concerned should ask, by issuing circulars, officials of the 17 agencies to run administrative and financial activities of the agencies on approval of the chairs as chief executives of the upazila councils.
Such a situation is disparaging and, therefore, unacceptable, but hardly surprising, especially in view of their having been elected to the local government bodies largely riding on the local and police administration in elections in 2019 that were mired in electoral frauds. Such elections have corrupted electoral culture, disenfranchised society, taken competition off elections and made people thus elected less accountable. All this has also reduced the overall civility in the government. The situation that the chairs and vice-chairs of upazila councils now complain about with the administration officials standing in conflict appears to be an obvious manifestation of the way the elections were held and the local government representatives were elected. Yet, having all this happened, the local government should always function keeping to the constitutional provision, with the local administration having been under the local government bodies. The association of upazila chairs and vice-chairs have threatened a movement to push for their demands, with exchanges of views and human chains across the country for January 17 and another human chain in Dhaka for January 27. The upazila chairs and vice-chairs should, along with, also push for ways to restore integrity to elections. Without the mandate of the electorate, elected representatives may not have the standing which the electorates would throw their weight behind.
The election of local representatives through a proper process largely appears to be the remedy to the problem at hand. While the government has, therefore, some introspection to make in righting the electoral culture that has gone wrong, elected representatives have also similar issues to push for. But in the short term, the government must attend to the issue of the control, influence or defiance that the administration exercises over the local government bodies by brushing aside the people elected to the local government bodies. The situation may run into further problems unless the government lifts its finger now.
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