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Govt insincerity holds back district councils

Mustafizur Rahman and Taib Ahmed

District councils have failed to take off, for lack of sincerity of successive governments, since the idea was broached in the promulgation of the local government ordinance in 1976 that provisioned for three tiers, with district councils on top.
Governments have also failed to hold elections to district councils since 2000 when a law was passed provisioning for indirect elections to the councils.
The  Awami League-led government rather appointed administrators to the councils in 2011 in keeping with a law made in 1988 which said that administrators could run the bodies until elections were held.
This all have violated the constitutional spirit in this connection and the Awami League-led government that in 2011 put administrators, mostly party leaders, in all councils but three in the Chittagong Hill Tracts on an ad hoc basis, has  also failed to take any move for district council elections even after more than two years.
Article 59 (1) of the constitution stipulates that the local government in every administrative unit of the republic will be entrusted to bodies composed of people elected in accordance with law. 
The government has not initiated any move as yet for district council elections two years after the appointment of administrators, who do not have any administrative functions as bureaucrats such as deputy commissioners and chief executive officers of district councils coordinate all development activities in the field.
‘There is no such move right now to hold district council elections,’ the state minister for LGRD and cooperatives, Mashiur Rahman Ranga, said.
Asked about the government’s decision on district councils as two years have passed after the administrator appointment, the minister
expressed his ignorance about the matter to New Age.
The Bogra district council administrator, Makbul Hossain, said that they could not carry out activities on their own as they had to take fund from the chief executive officer of the district.
Asked what they are doing now, he said that they did not have any executive power. ‘We look after development activities such as the construction of roads and buildings of educational institutions.’
The government set a consolidated pay of Tk 27,500 a month for the administrators and in addition, they are entitled to a monthly allowance of Tk 3,000 for entertainment and seven litres of petrol a daily for the vehicle the government has given them.
The administrators can grant Tk 10 lakh in maximum for social welfare activities but the amount could not exceed Tk 20,000 in a single allocation.
Tofail Ahmed, a former public administration professor in Chittagong University, said that the government should not continue with administrators being in place in local government bodies for an indefinite period.
‘The government has appointed party leaders as district council administrators to give them benefits from the exchequer and this cannot be accepted… Around Tk 60,000 is spent on a district administrator a month,’ he told New Age on Saturday. ‘This is undesirable and this goes against the spirit of the constitution.’
The official order by way of which administrators were appointed said that they are supposed to continue work until elected representatives took over the district councils.
Tofail, also a local government expert, said that the district council law should be amended to provision for direct elections to the local government body.
He said that the government was maintaining double standards in dealing with local government issues. It is holding elections to upazila councils before they serve out their tenures but it has taken no initiative to hold the overdue district council elections.
The LGRD and cooperatives minister, Syed Ashraful Islam, at an orientation programme of district administrators on January 21, 2012 said that the government would ‘soon’ hold elections to the district councils.
Ashraful, also the general secretary of the ruling Awami League, also said that the government would enact and amend laws during its tenure to ensure that district councils were run by elected representatives but no such move has been around till date.
In 2000, the Awami League-led government repealed the Zila Parishad Act 1988 and passed the current law with a provision for polls to district councils. According to the act, mayor, chairmen, vice-chairmen and members of respective city corporation, upazila council, municipalities and union council will elect the district council.  
But till date the government has taken no move to formulate rules for district council elections.
The Election Commission secretary, Muhammed Sadique, said, ‘The Election Commission has nothing to do in this regard unless the government formulates rules for district council polls.’
Asked whether the local government ministry has made any formal request to the commission to frame the district council election rule, he replied in the negative.
The Awami League’s manifesto for the 10th parliamentary elections talks about power being decentralised to empower people and encourage a greater citizen’s participation in the operation of governmental and national development activities.
‘More authority and responsibility will be delegated to district, upazila and union councils through democratic reorganisation of the present centralised administration structure,’ the manifesto, made public before the January 5 national elections, says.
In its 2008 election manifesto, the Awami League also pledged that the district councils would be strengthened with the decentralisation of power.
The three-tier local government system, introduced by the government of Ziaur Rahman through the Local Government Ordinance 1976, provided for a district council that was to be composed of elected representatives and nominated women members, including a chairman and a vice-chairman to be elected by them from among themselves.




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