Upazila parishad in the hands of businessmen and multimillionaires

Like the Jatiya Sangsad (national parliament), the upazila parishad too comprises to a larger extent businessmen and multimillionaires. Of those who became chairmen in the first phase of the upazila parishad election, 76 per cent are businesspersons. And 47 of the elected chairmen are multimillionaires.

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The elected chairmen submitted their affidavits to the retuning officers before the election. Prothom Alo reviewed those documents to determine their professions, income, assets, land ownership and educational qualifications as well as cases against them.

The details reveal that of the 138 elected chairmen, 105 are businesspersons. And 12 entered their professions as agricultural work. Seven mentioned teaching as their profession, 5 said they were lawyers. Only two mentioned politics as their profession. There were seven listed in other professions.

The politicians now investing their own resources in politics are doing so with the motive of making more wealth. The growing influence of businessmen in politics is pushing the politicians to one side

The two who mentioned they were politicians by profession are Shahin Ahmed of Keraniganj, Dhaka and Md Zainul Abedin of Manikchhari, Khagrachhari. Shahin Ahmed is the South Keraniganj thana Awami League president and has been elected chairman for the fourth consecutive time. Zainul Abedin is the Manikchhari Awami League president. He has been elected chairman for the second time.

The first phase of the sixth upazila parishad election was held on 8 May in 139 upazilas. The results in Lakkhichhari upazila of Khagrachhari have been withheld.

The parliament that was formed in January this year, four months before the upazila election, comprised the highest number of businesspersons in the 53 years since the independence of the country. The number of businesspersons in the 12th Jatiya Sangsad formed through the 7 January election was at least 199, that is, two thirds of the parliament. Many political parties including BNP did not take part in this election. Previously, in the 11th national parliament, there were 182 businesspersons in the 300 seats.

With rare exceptions, the number of businesspersons has been on a steady rise in the parliament ever since independence of the country. This trend has now entered the various levels of local government. In the upazila parishads, particularly, the number of businesspersons in the office of chairman has leapt up.

Political analysts feel that the growing number of businesspersons in the upazila parishads as well, will give them further clout in the state system. The politicians now investing their own resources in politics are doing so with the motive of making more wealth. The growing influence of businessmen in politics is pushing the politicians to one side. The higher rate of winning by the wealthier candidates clearly indicates that money has become a deciding factor in politics. Because of their growing influence, reforms that go against businesspersons' interests cannot be carried out in the financial sector.

Among those who have been elected in the upazila elections in the first phase, 10 are related to ministers and members of parliament. The son of Madaripur-2 Awami League MP Shahjahan Khan, son of Noakhali-4 MP Ekramul Karim Chowdhury, son of Noakhali-6 MP Mohammad Ali and son of Bogura-1 MP Sahadara Mannan were elected upazila chairmen. Son-in-law of state minister for Chittagong Hill Tracts affairs Kujendra Lal Tripura has been elected upazila chairman. Also, among the MPs, the younger brother of SM Rezaul Karim, younger brother of Sahadara Mannan, cousin of Mahbubul Alam Hanif, brother of Ali Asghar and uncle of Thakurgaon-2 MP Mazharul Islam have been elected upazila chairmen.

Local government experts contend with the relatives of MPs being elected as upazila chairmen, a 'clan rule' of certain persons and families will be established at a local level.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, local government expert Professor Tofail Ahmed said, the MPs want to keep everything, including development work, in their control. That is why they want the local party posts, local government posts to remain among their family and relatives. This is localising clan rule. He said, it is seen that if businessmen became upazila chairmen, they use the clout of their post to increase their wealth and power.

Politics has become a business in the country now. Politics has been made into a business and business has been politicised. That is why authoritarianism and syndicates are growing at a local level too.
Badiul Alam Majumdar, Secretary, Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN)

Wealthier persons win

Before the first phase of the upazila parishad election, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) used the information from the candidates' affidavits to create a data bank on "candidates' identity in the affidavits". Based on that, TIB says that around 70 per cent of the chairman candidates in the first phase were businessmen. This is 8 per cent higher than the number of businessmen candidates in the fourth upazila parishad election held in 2014.

In the 139 upazilas where the election has been held (results withheld in one), Awami League leaders have won in 118. BNP's expelled leaders won in seven, Jatiya Party (JaPa) in two, Jana Sanghati Samity in two and the rest went to non-partisan candidates.

BNP boycotted the upazila parishad election as it did in the case of the Jatiya Sangsad election. Meanwhile, Awami League did not give anyone the party symbol in this upazila election. As BNP did not take part in the election, Awami League took this measure in order to give the election semblance of competitiveness.

A review of the income and assets of the chairmen who won on the first phase of the upazila election, reveals that 47 of them are multimillionaires, with over Tk 10 million (Tk 1 crore) in income and assets.

Before the election, based on the movable assets of the candidates, TIB has said that there were 94 candidates for the chairman post in the first phase. The results show that the multimillionaires have the most wins.

The highest amount of moveable assets worth Tk 250 million (Tk 25 crore) belonged to Gopalganj upazila chairman Kamruzzaman Bhuiyan. He is a member of the Swechchhashebok League advisory council and an IT sector businessman.

Rangpur's Kaunia chairman Anwarul Islam has Tk 200 million (Tk 20 crore) in moveable assets. He is the upazila Awami League president and presently the chairman. He is a partner in the Maya Bidi factory. He has an import business. He is also director of Maya Agro Processing, Maya Paper Mill and Mahubur Rahman Cold Storage.

Atahar Ishraq alias Shabab won the chairman in Noakhali's Subarnachar. He is the son of Noakhali-4 (Sadar-Subarnachar) MP Mohammad Ikramul Karim Chowdhury. A businessman, Shabab Chowdhury has moveable assets of around Tk 190 million (Tk 19 crore).

The chairman with the highest annual income is Dohar upazila chairman Alamgir Hossain. He is the upazila Awami League president. According to his affidavit, his annual income is Tk 44.7 million (Tk 4 crore 37 lakh). Alamgir Hossain is a director of Beximco Media Limited.

Sirajganj Sadar upazila chairman Reaz Uddin's annual income is Tk 32.2 million (Tk 3 crore 22 lakh). He is the proprietor of Shanta Dairy Farm. He is involved in other businesses too.

Kushtia Sadar chairman Ataur Rahman is the municipal Awami League general secretary and has an annual income of Tk 31.3 million (Tk 3 crore 13 lakh). He is the cousin of Kushtia-3 (Sadar) MP and Awami League joint general secretary Mahbubul Alam Hanif.

More educated, half face cases

There are more graduates and Master degree holders among the chairmen who won on the first phase of the upazila polls. Of them, 46 hold Bachelor degree and 30 hold Master's degrees. There are 49 chairmen who have studied up till secondary and higher secondary level. And there are nine chairmen who are self-educated and who can sign their own names.

Among the elected chairmen, there are 67 who have faced cases some time or the other. There are 120 cases against 7 BNP men who have been elected chairmen.

More land than legally permitted

At least two among the elected chairmen have over 33 acres of agricultural and non-agricultural land. That means they have more land than the legal limit. According to the land reforms act, a citizen can own a maximum 100 bighas or 33 acres of land.

Rangpur's Kaunia upazila chairman Anwarul Islam has 51.67 acres of agricultural land in his name. This was valued at Tk 17.6 million (Tk 1 crore 76 lakh) at the time of acquisition. He also has non-agricultural land worth Tk 26.7 million (Tk 2 crore 67 lakh) at the time of acquisition.

Sitakunda chairman Mohammad Ariful Alam Chowdhury has 40.1 acres of land. He also has a business trading in old ship goods.

Politicisation of business

A large portion of the upazila level people's representatives are now businessmen. This will not have good consequences, says Shushashoner Jonno Nagorik (SHUJAN) secretary Badiul Alam Majumdar.

He told Prothom Alo, politics has become a business in the country now. Politics has been made into a business and business has been politicised. That is why authoritarianism and syndicates are growing at a local level too.

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