Why Bangladesh has so far failed to establish an effective local government system?
Local government has long historical lineage in Bangladesh. To upholding the democratic spirit and practices and for ensure governance it is essential that local government system be strengthened as mandated through our Constitution. There are 2 articles in the Constitution of Bangladesh about Local Government. They are 59 and 60. Article 59 emphasized about necessity of local government and article 60 is about powers of local government bodies (Tax impose etc.). The articles are given below:
59. (1) Local government in every administrative unit of the Republic shall be entrusted to bodies, composed of persons elected in accordance with law.
60. For the purpose of giving full effect to the provisions of article 59 Parliament shall, by law, confer powers on the local government bodies referred to in that article, including power to impose taxes for local purposes, to prepare their budgets and to maintain funds.
Local government issues also found its place in Article 9 and 10 of the Constitution. Article 9 of the previous constitution highlighted “Local body composed of elected representative… Special emphasis shall be given to peasants, workers and women” Article 11 emphasis on “Effective participation by the people through their elected representatives in administration at all levels shall be ensured”.
Bangladesh has so far failed to establish an effective local government system for some common / major reasons. Here, I would like to share my views in brief:
Political: Political parties in our country never want empowerment of local government. They want to keep control on local government system. If we recall or memories we can see General Secretaries of ruling parties since 1991 have been conquering the Minister of the Ministry of Local Government (LGRD). Mr. Abdus Salam Talukder (BNP), Mr. Zillur Rahman (Awami League), Mr. Abdul Mannnan Bhuiyan (BNP) and Syed Ashraful Islam (Awami League) and certainly we can say next Minister of the LGRD Ministry will be the General Secretary either from BNP or Awami League if they will be in power.
Triangular conflict: Triangular tension or conflicts among local MP, Upazila Parishad Chairman and UNO is a barrier for a successful local government system. The conflict between MPs and Upazila Chairman are mainly in respect of exercise of authority in the Upazila administration. It was aggravated as many media reports indicate. During formative phase, Mps were not inside the Upazila parishad. Now, under the relevant law, they have been made adviser. Similar provision has been kept in Zila parishad law. MPs have been designated as advisers to the parishads. They have thus the legal rights to advise the parishads in respect of matters relating to the administration of parishads. Ideally it is left to the parishads to take their own decisions. In reality, this may not always be the case. If MP's advice is not accepted, conflicts arise.
Overlap: There are different tiers in local government i.e. Zila Parishad, Upazila Parishad, Union Parishad, Pourashava etc. These tiers of local government create overlapping on different issues and there is lack of coordination too. There appears to be some overlapping of responsibilities between Union Parishad, Upazila and Pousrashava as well as Zilla Parishads. Necessity of number of tiers of Local Government is questioned.
Lack of knowledge: There are lacks of knowledge about functions of concerned local government among public representatives i.e. Chairmen, Members. They do not know properly about their roles and responsibilities, mandatory or optional functions of concerned local government institutions. Overwhelming majority of the chairmen and members of LG units lack knowledge and understanding of the operational procedures and functions of these bodies.
Dependency on central government: Our local government totally dependent on central government in terms of financing, decision etc. Local government cannot initiate any development project for concerned locality. Govt. allows only 3.9% of ADP for local government. There are mutual mistrust between Central and Local government. People become Centre oriented/ NGO dependent for service deliveries. Widen the scope central control / bureaucratization of development and governance also reason. It is surprising that, UPs locally cannot even buy whistles for guards as per their own choice! Whistles supply from center!
Insufficient fund: Income from taxes, rates and fees generally yield very little revenue. There are intention for not to increase tax if they will loss popularity! They have tendency that, if they will increase tax then people will not elect them in future. Therefore, there are failures of revenue collection for development activities etc. For example, Dhaka City Corporation did not increase any holding tax since about last 15/16 years!
Too many functions: There are mandatory and optional functions for all tiers of local government institutions. For example; for Zila Parishad there are 12 mandatory functions and 68 optional functions (Zila Parishad Ain 2000), in Union Parishad 10 compulsory functions and 38 optional functions. It is huge task considering the managerial capacity and resource potential. All the functions are not either realistic or duplication with others e.g. park maintenance, tree plantation in road side etc.
No Election: There was any election in Zila Parishad level. Recently govt. appointed administrators for Zila Parishads based on political interest. This is not good for democracy as well as for local government.
Lack of human resources: There are lacks of sufficient human resources. There are only 24 person designated for Union Parishad. They are : 1 Chairman, 12 members (including 3 female), 1 Secretary, 1 village police / dofadar and 9 Choukidar (guard) i.e. total 24 in numbers! These are very insufficient and their remuneration also very poor. There are also lacking of efficient and trained human resources. Elected female representatives are neglected in many occasions too.
Lack of Accountability and Transparency: There are lack of consultative planning processes, open budget hearings and meetings, and disclosure of LG information. Due to lack of awareness among general people there is no social audit system for measuring performance.
Absence of coordination with Govt. departments: Most of the cases there are no coordination with the representatives of different government departments like agriculture, health, education etc. The officials are not accountable to the local elected representatives along with their concerned departments. For instance, the Block Supervisors of the Agriculture Extension Department are reportable and accountable to the Upazilla Agriculture Officer but not to the Chairman of the respective Union Parishad.
A local government system as well as empowerment of local bodies is a must for ensuring good governance. In this regard the local government system should be strengthened up to the lower tier and the administration should be decentralized thoroughly. It is noted that, 4 'F' is important for strengthen the local government. These Fs' are Functions, Freedom, Finances and Functionaries.
The writer works at CARE Bangladesh.