The ministry of local government suspended only 108 people’s representatives out of 5,500 for irregularities and corruption in the distribution of relief materials. Some of them had to go to jail. There was hope among people that this time discipline and accountability would return to the local government system. It didn’t take very long for them to to lose their hopes.
Prothom Alo reports, according to updates from the local government division, 25 out of 108 representatives who were suspended have returned to their posts after the court stayed their suspension. A few more are waiting to return. According to the local government division, many of the representatives collected stay orders, using loopholes in the law. The local government division said it would appeal against those orders.
Naturally the question arises, was the distribution of relief items absolutely accurate during the coronavirus period? Evidence says otherwise. Many have been caught red-handed. People coming to get relief materials have been harassed by the so-called people's representatives. There were allegations that many of the representatives have sold relief goods in the open market.
What is the secret behind the return of the accused people's representatives after such allegations? The mystery is the structural weakness of the cases. The cases are designed in such a way that the accused can get away easily. Allegations have to be proved with evidence and testimony. If there is weakness or lack of information at any level, the case will not stand and the accused will be acquitted.
Ninety per cent of the people's representatives against whom action was taken were involved in ruling party politics. As a result, law enforcement and local administration also compromise with them. Originally the local government system was non-partisan, but the Awami League held the local government elections on a political basis and now this non-political independent identity is on the verge of disappearing. Now it is difficult to differentiate between the people's representatives of the local government bodies and the ruling party. In this situation, transparency and accountability in the work of local government agencies cannot be expected.
The norm is that a person will not hold any party post after becoming a people's representative. Even if that is not possible, local government bodies must be kept out of narrow party politics.
There have been many allegations in the media about the distribution of relief items or the implementation of social security programmes during the pandemic. The government has taken action against a few. Now, if the suspended people's representatives return to their posts one by one, collecting stay orders from the High Court, it will be almost impossible to hold the local government body accountable. If there is no corruption or irregularities, then why were 1.6 million people excluded from the government's special assistance programme announced for 5 million people?
In the past, no matter which party was in power, there was a balance in local government. It has completely collapsed due to party elections in the local government bodies. It is important to re-establish a non-partisan local government system. The assistance programmes that the government takes up for the people and the development work that it does, must have minimum of transparency and accountability.
At the local level, the ruling party and the people's representatives cannot be merged. The norm is that a person will not hold any party post after becoming a people's representative. Even if that is not possible, local government bodies must be kept out of narrow party politics.