Elected character of organisations must not be harmed

EditorialProthom Alo illustration

The draft of the Local Government (Pourasabha) (Amendment) Act-2021, which included new provisions, were approved at the cabinet meeting chaired by prime minister Sheikh Hasina on Monday. It has both positive and negative aspects. Two issues have been added to the draft.

First, the government will have the authority to dissolve the pourasabha (municipality) council if the salaries and allowances of the officials and employees are outstanding for more than 12 consecutive months without any valid reason. Second, if the election cannot be arranged in a pourasabha at the end of the five-year term, an administrator can be appointed there for six months.

There is no denying that the previous governments have established new pourasabhas only for political purposes without conducting a feasibility study. Most of the pourasabhas neither have the minimum conditions that are supposed to meet, nor have the expected population per kilometre and source of income.

On the other hand, after the establishment of a new pourasabha, the councillors and mayors appoint officers and employees arbitrarily without considering whether their salaries and allowances can be paid or not. As a result, the dues have multiplied day by day.

According to a report of Prothom Alo, officials of 85 per cent pourasabhas in the country have not been paid for two to 65 months. How will a pourasabha, which is unable to pay the salaries and allowances of the officials, serve the citizens?

In that case, the proposed amendment of the law to dissolve pourasabha council if the salaries and allowances of the officials and employees are outstanding for more than 12 months is not unreasonable at all. At least the pourasabhas will try to increase their income due to this. At the same time, the government should also have a plan as to how the concerned pourasabha can be made financially affluent. The authority of the local government bodies should be increased as well.

However, the proposal to appoint a non-elected administrator at the end of tenure of the elected representatives was not taken lightly by the public representatives. The Bangladesh Municipal Services Association has officially protested against this. Their fear is that the pourasabhas will also turn into a bureaucrat-dependent organisation with the implementation of this amendment. However, the argument in favour of the amendment cannot be ignored either.

Mayors of many pourasabhas file lawsuits at the end of their term and halts the election for years to stay in their positions. This trend must be stopped. Being an elected public representative does not mean that he will remain in the office forever.

By law, the local government bodies must be run by elected representatives. In that case, if the election is held within 90 days of the expiry of the terms, there will be no question of appointing an administrator.

If there is no elected mayor in a pourasabha, the panel mayor can also continue the routine works. Even then, if an administrator needs to be appointed due to some unavoidable reasons, his term cannot be extended under any circumstances and he will only do the routine work.

Badiul Alam Majumdar, secretary of Sushasoner Jonno Nagorik (Shujan), said bureaucrats should not be empowered even if an administrator needs to be appointed on some grounds. The nature of an elected organisation in the pourasabhas or upazila parishads must not be harmed in any way.

The constitution calls for strengthening the local government. However, even though there are different tiers of local government in the country, the non-elected bureaucrats are influencing the elected representatives, which is not only unfortunate, but against the constitution and law too.