A once-reliable administrative system is now being damaged
ike the national election, the citizens of the country are now allowed to declare their local government candidacy with a party symbol. The government amended the law in 2015 to allow use of the symbol of a party for running for a seat in the union parishad, upazila parishad, municipality, and city corporation elections.
All kinds of local government elections are currently being held under the party symbol. By following that, the union parishad’s election is going to be held for the second time with the party symbol from next April 11.
The basic requirement of the local government election is -- its elected representatives will be socially accepted and respected by people in their area, they must be voters of the chosen area, which is not needed for the parliamentary election. That is why, since the British period, the chairman of the union council has been given the responsibility of giving character certificates to the citizens. But now, it is observed that the political identity and characteristics of the local government representatives are clashing with their responsibilities and spirit of local government.
The local union council system started in 1870 by introducing the Chowkidar Acts, the British Raj created local government here to provide various types of civic and government facilities to the people in a legal frame. In this context, the union parishad is an ancient local government system, and upazila, municipality, city corporation -- all came much later. All the grassroots development activities and civic amenities have been provided through the union parishad for ages.
In recent times, many local chairmen are giving birth and death certificates, inheritance certificates, and much more. The head of the village court is the chairman of the union parishad. In reality, a politically neutral chairman is most important in the local body, because there is no guarantee that a party-nominated person will remain neutral as an arbitrator. As a result of politicizing the local government, its core mission is at risk, questionable, and the existence of the system is under threat.
Whether a person is politically acceptable or not is irrelevant in local government -- only a socially accepted person can serve the people. The UP chairman must remain politically neutral, and should not be given a chance to harass his/her political opponents. Social safety programs like food for work, test relief, disaster relief, widow allowance, old age allowance, and disability allowance are being provided through the union parishad.
The council is also responsible for arranging employment for the very poor. The “Manga” of North Bengal has been removed through a program like “Kajer Binimoye Khaddo” (food for work). It is the upazila parishad’s responsibility to procure paddy and rice through union parishad for the government and distribution of fertilizers and seeds to the farmers also their job. Involving the union parishad in these social activities is not for depriving citizens of different political beliefs.
The majority of the chairmen of the present 4,554 union parishads are either leaders of the union or the Upazila Awami League. Being elected from the party, it is almost impossible for them to provide all civic services impartially due to their loyalty to the party and its followers. If the cadre of a political party becomes UP chairman, they will harass their rivals and opponents, and may gang up with corrupt government staff to exploit people who belong to other political parties.
It was reported that in collaboration with the police station, the local government representatives themselves are involved in the drug trade and extortion in many places. They invest black money to win elections for running the underground trade. In many areas, especially in the suburbs, the chairmen’s main business is land grabbing and working as land brokers. Their only force is the political identity.
They have nothing to do with helping the police to maintain law and order. Undoubtedly, it could be said this public administration system which once was reliable to the commoners, is being damaged for introducing the election system under the political banner with symbols.
It could be hard for the top politicians and bureaucrats to understand the consequences of party affiliation with elected leaders at the local government level. Therefore, I would request Honourable Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to consider abolishing the party-involved election system at least in union parishad. I think she is wise enough to understand that a president or a general secretary, or a prominent leader of the political party in power becoming a union council chairman would be dangerous. They could turn union parishad offices into one of the offices of the political party, which could nurture corruption, drug dealing, terrorism, and give the party a bad name.
Anis Alamgir is a journalist and columnist, noted for collecting Iraq and Afghan war news. Contact: [email protected]