The minister said this during a meeting to exchange views on ‘Budget Allocation for Local Government and its Implementation’ at the city’s CIRDAP auditorium on Sunday. He joined the event virtually. He himself was a civil servant. He joined politics after retiring as additional secretary.

The planning minister said, a union parishad chairman has to wait for days to meet a senior assistant secretary at the secretariat. Civil servants have the people’s representatives on a leash. Only the future will tell the outcome of this.

The minister added, local people’s representatives are said to come up with Tk 20 of their own first in order to get an allocation of Tk 100. In this way, they are controlled. And so then these local people’s representatives resort to underhand means.

Discussions and negotiations take place in the corridors of the secretariat or at the nearby tea stalls. The civil servants gain from this, he said.

The planning minister further said, civil servants are the ones responsible for the allocation of budget funds. In case of allocation, some people get Tk 50 million while some other doesn’t even get a penny. Some projects reach the commission overnight while others get shelved.

If this trend is not changed, people’s representatives will have to keep going from this place to that place, time and again, he added.

Civil servants hold the leash

The planning minister has termed the local government as a weaker extension of the central government itself, in the current system. According to him, the leash around the neck of local government representatives is in the hands of the civil servants.

In order to bring a change in this system, local government bodies have to be made more competent and accountability has to be ensured.

Qazi Khaliquzzaman Ahmed, chairman of Governance Advocacy Forum, virtually presided over the programme organised by the forum on the proposed budget of the 2022-23 fiscal year. Kazi Maruful Islam, a professor at the development studies department of Dhaka University, presented the keynote.

It was stated in the keynote that the government allocation in the local government sector has increased by Tk 20 billion compared to last year. However, if compared with the total GDP, the allocation in this sector has decreased by five per cent compared to the previous year.

Jebunnessa, a professor at the public administration department of Jahangirnagar University, said that local people’s representatives don’t take a lot decisions such as increasing taxes, in fear of losing popularity.

Asif Shahan, an associate professor of development the studies department at Dhaka University said, in most cases local government plans remain just plans for the lack of implementation. He believes there should be greater coordination, not hostility, between people’s representatives and civil servants.

Mozammel Haque, a programme analyst with UNDP’s Democratic Governance Portfolio, believes the local government department has an important role to play in making the local government powerful.

He said, the National Institute of Local Government doesn’t even have the capability of giving basic training to the people’s representatives. A people’s representative doesn’t even get any simple training during his five-year tenure.

Mohsin Ali, coordinator of Governance Advocacy Forum, thinks it is the central government that wants to keep the local government week. He said, “Very little money is spent on the local government. It is the central government that does the major expenditure. Doesn’t corruption happen there? Is there any accountability?”

Mohammad Asaduzzaman Sarker, deputy chief of the internal economics wing of Planning Commission said, the state of revenue collection at the union parishad level was poor. This wing of the local government is widely dependent on the central government.

Sabur Ali Sheikh, chairman of Kaliahoripur union parishad in Sirajganj Sadar upazila demanded that assets like markets, balumohal (sand areas), jolmohal (water bodies), etc. be returned to the union parishad.

He added, central government collects revenue from the funds of the union parishad and gives only a tiny bit of that to the parishad. So one is seen as a thief when in the chair at the union parishad. But, how much allocation do they get, he asked.