Good governance, Faridpur-style

The conflicts and clashes in Faridpur that have been reported in recent times are symptoms rather than a disease. A modern state structure has three organs --- the executive, the judiciary and the legislative. The constitution clearly defines the role of each organ. If each organ functions within its own boundaries, no problems crop up. Problems arise when any organ exceeds its boundaries. The administration and the people's representatives should be complementary to one another, but instead they have taken up a confrontational stance.

It is the lawmakers who decide how the state will run. They will make policies and plans, while these will be implemented by the executive or the public administration. The people's representative will monitor whether the executive is carrying out these tasks. They will hold the public administration accountable, but will not interfere.

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The recent events at the Chandrabhasan upazila by-election were unwarranted and shameful. It would be wrong to dismiss this as a mere squabble or power tussle between a deputy commissioner or a UNO and a people's representative.

The basic function of the public administration and the people's representative is aimed at people's welfare, but both sides have long forgotten this fact. It is hardly a secret that the field level officials have to carry out the orders of the local MP and other people's representatives. The problem is they could not be sure whose orders they were to follow in Chandrabhasan, Bhanga and Sadarpur upazilas.

The local MP, Mujibur Rahman Chowdhury, better known as Nixon, is involved in Awami League politics though he is an independent member of parliament. And in the same area is his political rival, Awami League presidium member and former MP Kazi Zafrullah. The local administration has been caught up in the tug-of-war between these two powerful persons. Clever government officials try to please both sides. But power politics is such, that neither side wants to give the slightest leeway.

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Political equations are behind the scenes of the Charbhadrashan upazila polls. Mohammed Kawser, who contested in the election with the boat symbol, was a Kazi Zafrullah man. Zafrullah was instrumental in getting his nomination. Then Kawser changed sides and joined hands with Nixon Chowdhury. Chandrabhasan upazila Awami League took a stand against his changing sides and appealed to district Awami League to expel him from the party.

District Awami League took the decision to expel Mohammed Kawser and informed the central committee of their decision. But the central committee did not approve the district Awami League's decision and instructed all to work in favour of Kawser.

Meanwhile, the BNP candidate, sensing that he would not fare well in the election, dropped out of the contest. As a result, even though a 'rebel' BNP candidate and a few others contested in the election, there was no strong candidate against the 'boat'.

Speaking to journalists reporting on the election, it was learnt that the turnout at the polls was extremely low, hardly 20 to 25 per cent. But in the areas where the 'boat' has strong influence, 70 per cent of the votes were cast.

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The election commission is in charge of the election. In keeping with the demand of the assistant returning officer, 12 magistrates were deployed in the returning officer's election area. The MP or anyone else cannot tell him where the magistrate is to be posted.

At a press conference and at a roadside meeting, Nixon Chowdhury claimed that the administration worked against the 'boat' candidate and expelled his polling agent from the polling centre. The polling agent around whom the untoward situation arose, is the deputy assistant engineer of a different upazila. There were serious allegations against him of stuffing the ballot box. How could he be the polling agent of the area where he himself was not a voter?

Earlier, leaders and activists would change parties before the election. But before the Charbhadrashan upazila election, Awami League men left the presidium member Kazi Zafrullah's camp to join up with Nixon Chowdhury. In other words, the conflicting sides were both of the Awami League camp.

The BCS Administration Service Association protested strongly against Nixon Chowdhury's behaviour. Returning officer of the upazila parishad election, Md Nawabul Islam, filed a case on Thursday at the Charbhadrashan police station against the member of parliament. It was said that despite being an MP, he remained present in the election areas and took part in campaigning and other programmes. It was said that he violated the electoral code of conduct, threatening and abusing the government officials carrying out election duties.

We have seen an 'instance' of the government's, that is, the administration's zero tolerance towards drugs in Cox's Bazar. Then there was 'zero tolerance' towards corruption in the reign of the two brothers in Faridpur, in the pillow fiasco of the Rooppur nuclear power plant, the curtains of a medical college and in the coronavirus testing
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Secretary of the local government department, Helaluddin Ahmed, is presently the president of the BCS Administration Service Association. He has called for action against Nixon Chowdhury for obstructing the administration officers from carrying out their duty and abusing them. This is indeed a strong stand against the misbehaviour of the MP.

During the 2018 election, Helaluddin Ahmed had been secretary of the election commission. If he had displayed such guts at that time, people would have been able to cast their votes unhindered. But he, and others with duties similar to his, did not do so. A bad election can do tremendous harm to the election system, and scar every tier of the state and administration.

From even earlier, the reports about the misdeeds of Faridpur Awami League leaders, rivalled any thriller. A district level leader and his lackeys siphoned off 2000 crore taka abroad, grabbed the land and houses of people including members of the minority community, and built up a reign of terror. Yet the district administration did not feel the need to obstruct such misdeeds. Where was their conscience then?

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They might want to evade blame by pointing to the power of ministers and MPs, but how can they hide their failure as employees of the republic? The MP is nobody in the executive. It is the administration that is responsible to implement the policies and plans. We have not seen any more officials in the public administration like the Agoilchhara UNO Gazi Tarik Salman or the Narayanganj APS Mohammad Bashir. They directly challenged the misdeeds of the public representatives.

In most cases, the administration aids and abets in the misdeeds. All sorts of crime and corruption continued for years in a district, yet the Faridpur administration did nothing. What sort of administration is that?

We have seen an 'instance' of the government's, that is, the administration's zero tolerance towards drugs in Cox's Bazar. Then there was 'zero tolerance' towards corruption in the reign of the two brothers in Faridpur, in the pillow fiasco of the Rooppur nuclear power plant, the curtains of a medical college and in the coronavirus testing. The executive or the public administration cannot shrug off responsibility for these procurements and purchases.

Sohrab Hassan is joint editor of Prothom Alo and a poet. This column appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten here for the English version by Ayesha Kabir.