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25.05.2009 Feature Article

Bangladesh: Empowering grassroots is a need

Conflict among the Upazilla (sub-district) Council Chairmen (UCC) and the Members of Parliament (MP) is a much talked about issue in Bangladesh now. It was expected that government and the lawmakers will ensure the rights of local governments as per the direction of Constitution. But is has been observed that neither the government nor the lawmakers empowered local government representative in a proper manner. As of the history of local government system of Bangladesh, grassroots were never empowered in terms of financial control, administrative activities and project preparation and implementation process; though these are more informed about local needs. And also these bodies have the potentials to be the best service providers in terms of development that includes health to education, infrastructure management to resource mobilization and technology use to social motivation. But these bodies always run under the supervision of central government representative, controlled by the bureaucracy. Presently those local government bodies are going to be handled by the MPs in many ways. It seems that, in center, government has the absolute majority in parliament and the parliament is in a process to establish the MPs as powerful supervisors over the local government bodies under their respective constituencies. By doing this, in fact, the government and the parliament are going to establish 300 autocrats around the country, though the government was mandated to establish democracy in all stair of governance and also the party and alliance in power were committed to restore democratic norms in all walks of society.

As Upazilla Council (UC) is concerned, it is the youngest in the local government family of Bangladesh; Union Council known as UP is the eldest. Other members of local government family are the City Corporation, the Municipalities and the half hearted district council. Form the very beginning of City Corporation the Mayor enjoying the status ministerial status and dignity, but municipalities and UPs chairmen have no clearly define status and their dignity was not ensured to the bureaucracy. Rather they have to live under the kindness given by the central government or the bureaucrats working in the locality. These people are also the dependable tools for the nation election and election runners as well. It could be said that this is a cultural phenomenon of urban development under colonial rule. In society, it is a truth that a land lord relative of rural area welcome an urban Clark as a VIP when the land lord visited by the urban petty. If, for any emergency, the land lord needs to visit the urban relative's house, he always treated as unexpected burden. There is also an another trend in the neo-urban class that every thing in the city are the best and of course this is a mental stage of the persons whether they stationed in village, rural growth center, rural town, district HQ or in a big city. This mental stage pushes every one subconsciously and this sense of understanding make the policymakers to set aside the vast rural people deprived from their rights of self governance.

As per the available information parliament is in a move to give MPs almost absolute supervisory authority to UP, UC and municipality activities, which could lead the MPs the ultimate administrator of Local Bodies. MPs are also very interested to be so as they feel that they have no financial control over government exchequer by which they will be able to meet the election time development commitments. As of the constitutional provision, Finance Bill the subject matter of executive brunch of the state, which absolutely operated by the administrative personnel. Legislature has the minor rule that termed as trivial of total state financial administering process. This also a major cause of inspiration for MPs to be project implementers, more then to be lawmakers.

Major cause of MP-UC is living with the mentality of neo-urban attitude, undignified status of UCs, less important rule of MPs in state financial administration and budget procedure, intra-party leadership conflict, social power structure especially in rural and semi-urban area and of course in the constitutional provisions.

If the government, which has majority to enact any better practice in governance process, does not resolve the problem, either the MPs will emerge as autocrat in their respective constituencies or the local government practice that just started its journey in a better way will be jeopardized. If grassroots could be empowered in a proper way, democracy and development could walk together; otherwise a parliamentary dictatorship is not an impossible.

Mohoshin Abbas
Mohoshin Abbas, © 2009

The author has 26 publications published on Modern Ghana. Column Page: MohoshinAbbas

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