We could have dismissed talk on conflict between the bureaucrats and people’s representatives as theoretical debate, if it was said by any any public administration expert. But the planning minister and MP, MA Mannan, himself has brought this up. Though he is a politician now, he served as a bureaucrat before. As a result, whatever the planning minister says must be considered with due importance.

On 26 June, during a meeting to exchange views on ‘Budget Allocation for Local Government and its Implementation’ at the city’s CIRDAP auditorium, MA Mannan, in his speech as chief guest, said, “Civil servants have the people’s representatives on a leash. 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.”

We can’t say the planning minister’s speech as completely untrue. These days the bureaucrats are seen taking excessive interest in the administration. Going beyond their jurisdiction they say or do things, which they should not do or say as a government employee. Some of them behave like party activists. As a result it becomes tough to differentiate between a politician and a bureaucrat.

Do the policymakers have no responsibilities for this situation? Why is the constitutional provision on local government bodies not being implemented? In the words of the minister, the local government is “thought not only an extended part of the central government”, it is used as a space to fulfill the wishes of the ruling party. The government does not extend its help if anyone from opposition parties get the responsibilities of any local government body. Sometimes, they become victim of jail and other type of oppression. There are allegations that the government policymakers use the bureaucrats in this task.

In this context, if the bureaucrats have the people’s representatives on a leash, they can’t be blamed wholly. Secondly, the conditions the planning minister was talking about for the development projects, that policy was not made by the bureaucrats; rather the politicians did that. How our local government organisations would finance development projects when most of then do not have own income. Surely, it is not the bureaucrats who are responsible for irregular salaries of the officials and employees of 80 per cent pourashavas in the country. Many pourashavas were opened just to fulfill the wishes of local people’s representatives and politicians despite not having any means of income of their own.

The local government organisations have to run as per law to implement the constitutional provision of self-rule. They have to be given the scope of realising taxes to make the organisations economically powerful. The local government organisations cannot run based only on income from leasing markets and ferry terminals. It is expected that in a democratic system no one will act as a guardian over the other, rather everyone will work from within their own jurisdiction. There will be conflict between the bureaucrats and people’s representatives if there is any transgression of this. Instead of seeing the local government as an extended part of the central government it must be seen as a self-rule body. Bureaucrats will not get the courage to act as guardians over the people’s representatives if they carry out the responsibilities they have been given.