Upazila chairmen: Poor country, rich public representatives

The fact that the public didn’t have that much of an interest in the upazila parishad elections held in four separate phases, can easily be understood from the voter turnout. There were no reasons to take interest in a nearly uncontested election, the result of which is already known beforehand.

However, the unbelievable booming of wealth and income of those contesting for the chairman and the vice chairman posts in the upazila parishad elections has caught everyone’s attention.  

Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB) highlighted facts and figures of the affidavits of the contestants and elected upazila representatives in the sixth upazila elections, pointing out that these public representatives have even surpassed MPs in acquiring wealth and property over the last five years. The number of multi-millionaire candidates in upazilas has increased more than three folds during this period.   

Giving an example of the rise in wealth TIB said that the highest growth rate of movable assets for a member of parliament in the last five years was 3,065 per cent. Meanwhile, Jhalakathi sadar upazila parishad chairman Arifur Rahman’s wealth increased by 11,666 per cent. A total of 191 candidates whose wealth increased by 100 per cent or more since 2019, have been elected upazila chairmen this time.

TIB’s analysis says 30.41 per cent of the elected chairman are multi-millionaires. And, immovable assets of 51 candidates’ inflated by more than Tk 10 million (1 crore) in five years while the same happened with another 41 candidates in ten years. The question that pops up naturally is how did the local public representatives of a poor country become so rich?

As much as 67 per cent of the victorious candidates in the twelfth national parliament elections are businessmen while, the figure stands at 69 per cent among the winning candidates of upazila elections. That means the elected upazila chairmen and vice chairmen are leading in this case as well.

TIB stated that they have analysed the affidavits of 1,864 chairman candidates, 2,095 vice chairman candidates and 1,513 female vice chairman candidates of the upazila elections.

It would be naive to believe all the data and information the candidates have presented in their affidavits to be 100 per cent true. Our political culture is that a lot of people show less wealth and income on record to pay less income tax. Inconsistencies can be found between the amount of wealth mentioned in affidavits and tax returns of almost 84 per cent candidates.

There’s no doubt about the fact that there are absurd incongruities between the income tax returns and the affidavits. The national revenue board (NBR) should investigate the upazila elections candidates actually pay their income tax according to the information of income and wealth they have submitted.

TIB executive director Iftekharuzzaman was right to say that the activities of the public representatives should be centered on public interest. That doesn’t happen in reality. Nowadays, if the power-centric public representatives get a chance to be in power they also get an unchecked scope to accumulate wealth.

With concern we have been noticing that as the local government structure gets weaker, the wealth amassed by the elected public representatives gets bigger. This indicates that the profits of the local government are going straight to certain individuals and some groups. The larger population is gaining almost nothing.

The balance of power there was in the local government institutions when there used to be an inclusive elections with the participation of all parties and factions, has also been missing for the last one decade. The local government institutions, formed through one-sided elections are running in an arbitrary manner.

In many ways, the line between the ruling party and the local government institutions is being erased. This is highly dangerous not only to the local government but also for the overall administrative system.

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