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Govt’s duplicity over local govt consolidation

THE Awami League-led government’s failure to hold elections to the district councils, currently run by state-appointed administrators, makes a mockery of the ruling party’s pledge made in the 2008 election manifesto, and iterated in the 2014 manifesto, to strengthen local governments ‘through decentralisation of power’, not to speak of the violation of the constitution. According to the state minister for local government and rural development affairs, quoted by New Age on Sunday, the government does not even have any plan to hold the elections anytime soon.
The constitution decrees in Article 59 (1) that ‘Local government in every administrative unit of the Republic shall be entrusted to bodies, composed of persons elected in accordance with the law.’ While a law was enacted for indirect elections to the council in 2000, the subsequent governments, including the incumbent administration, did not take any meaningful steps to hold such elections. The AL-led government, in its previous tenure, appointed administrators in 2011 in line with a law enacted in 1988 during the autocratic regime of HM Ershad. While, at an orientation programme for the district council administrators, the then LGRD and cooperatives minister said the government would hold district council elections ‘soon’, his words were never translated into reality.
Given that most of the administrators are ruling party leaders, it seems that the AL-led government has taken the district councils for a means to reward its loyalists. Moreover, the administrators do not seem to have enough work that justifies their monthly salary of around Tk 60,000 each. Besides, as one of the district administrators bemoaned, the actual control over the district council rests in the hands of the bureaucrats — so much for decentralisation of power.
The attitude and action vis-à-vis local government in particular and decentralisation of power in general, as a public administration expert put it, smacks of double standards. It is worth noting that the incumbents, in their previous tenure, stripped the elected upazila parishads of any meaningful administrative authority and functional freedom through amendment to the upazila law. The incumbents have also thus far displayed a propensity for running local government bodies with state-appointed administrators; the two city corporations in the capital provide cases in point.
The incumbents need to realise that electoral pledges are mere words and hardly signify any commitment, political or otherwise. If they really want to strengthen the local governments through decentralisation of power, they should start translating their words into deeds — the sooner the better.

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