The upazila is undeniably the most vital part of the local government structure. Its parishads (councils) and administration are governed by specific laws and regulations.
But if that laws and regulations are inconsistent, ambiguous and contradictory, then the upazila parishad is bound to be ineffective as an institution. Besides, arbitrariness of government officials at the field level will also cause the platform to deteriorate.
Highlighting numerous problems of the upazila parishad and the administration, the Bangladesh Upazila Parishad Association (BUPA) held a press conference on Saturday to press home their five-point demand.
They demanded that the upazila parishad conduct the activities of the 17 divisions handed over to them, that all revenue collection and distribution expenses under the upazila’s jurisdiction be carried out with the approval of the upazila parishad chairman, to rename 'upazila parishad' in lieu of upazila administration in all public documents, and to amend the circulars of different ministries that are contrary to the constitution and upazila laws.
BUPA alleged that the bureaucratic tendencies of the Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNO) create obstacles to the work of the public representatives.
The written statement also alleged that the upazila administrative officials are acting as ‘rulers,’ ignoring the elected representatives of the upazila parishad.
The upazila parishad, established in the 80’s, has failed emerge from the controversies that beset it from the beginning. Military ruler Hussain Muhammad Ershad had set up this council to strengthen his political base at the grassroots. During his regime, all political parties including BNP and Awami League boycotted the first and second upazila parishad elections.
The upazila parishad system was abolished completely in BNP’s regime. However, Awami League brought it back when they came to power. But some legal complications are yet to be fixed, as indicated in the press conference of BUPA.
They had earlier submitted their grievances to the minister of local government, the cabinet secretary and the senior secretary of the local government division, urging due action regarding these issues.
They even went to the High Court seeking remedy for these complications. But all attempts were in vain. Now the upazila parishad leaders have warned the government that they will go on strike if the demands are not met.
At present, 90 per cent of those in the upazila parishad are of Awami League and the government is of Awami League too. So why is this confrontation happening between the public representatives and administrative officials at the grassroots?
Due to legal complexities, the government is yet to hand over the 17 divisions to the upazila parishads. The policymakers of the government are held responsible for this situation.
This attitude of the government indicates they are least interested in empowering the elected representatives. If that is so, the officials will naturally take the opportunity to flex their power.
Upazila parishad chairmen and vice chairmen are elected representatives while the local administrators including UNO are recruited by the government. So, there is no scope for them to dominate each other. However, if the public representatives demand democratic behaviour from the public officials, then they also need to display democratic behavior themselves.
The long-standing dispute between the upazila parishad and the administration needs to be addressed immediately. The elected upazila parishad cannot be ignored. At the upazila level, the public representatives and administrative officials should complement each other, not consider each other as 'enemies'.