Topic: Efficiency of Upazila system as a local government body
The Upazila system which is the second tire of the local government of Bangladesh has been created as a local administration under the decentralization program of the government. It replaced the oldest institution of local government called “Thana”. The main aim of the establishment of Upazila system is to increase the efficiency of the local government through decentralization of administrative power and increase the participation of local people in the root level of government.
Local government is very essential for the development of country; local government means the decentralization of administrative powers into different local bodies. The system of Upazila Parishad came into the process of decentralization of administration. At present, one of the most significant current policy initiatives in Bangladesh is the decentralization of power to the local authorities; either government or private. The two major objectives of Bangladesh government behind the independent Upazila system are:
1. Increase public participation in mass level which is considered the key of democracy
2. Ensure accountability and transparency of government
The importance of an efficient Upazila system lies in the importance of local government because local government is considered the “bottom of the pyramid” of government institutions and Upazila is the first stage of forming efficient local government.
Duane Lockard defines: “local government as a public organization authorized to decide and administer a limited range of public policies within a relatively small territory, which is a sub-division of a regional or national government. It is at the bottom of a pyramid of government institutions, within the national government at the top and intermediate governments (of states, regions, provinces) occupying the middle rung.”
Importance of the Efficiency of Upazila System
Strengthening Local Governance:
§ It will ensure deepen democracy by encouraging local people to participate in the governmental process. By the help of the constitution it will arrange the mechanism for effective participation of the local people. Normally, we see that our democracy is basically limited in national election and after that we only express our opinions in some issues with some incidents, good or bad, involving a group of people but in all these cases the enthusiastic participation of general public is absent. Upazila system will bring the issues to the locality which means the general people will be able to realize and react easily as everything is near to them which will ultimately strengthen our democracy.
§ The establishment of Upazila system means that the local people will have their own people exercising their constitutional power and administering their respective area. In Bangladesh the Upazilas are mostly the rural areas where the local people are illiterate or little educated. The stay far behind of the modern technology and life style. That’s why they lack the knowledge of proper human right and the rules of law. An efficient Upazila system will strengthen the local authority and thus will give voice to the voiceless people, especially the peasants, workers and women.
§ The central government of Bangladesh provides services to the citizen through government institutions like police station, hospital, court, registry office, bank, school-colleges etc. Due to the lack of interest of the elected MPs and deep bureaucracy the development of the rural areas is too much slow process in our country. That is why these government institutions also can’t provide services as expected. The business like politics make these institutions corrupt too. A strong local government by the means of efficient Upazila system will give power to the local authority to administer these institutions directly. By this, the corruption will not stop obviously but the operation will become faster as the monitoring authority is present at a shorter distance. There is no doubt that the government will be able to provide more effective delivery of public services to the rural people.
§ The efficiency of Upazila system as a local government can be found if we think about the better utilization of resources, especially the fund. Bangladesh government keeps separate budget for the development of the towns and villages. The respective MP normally raises the issues regarding the development of roads, culvert, drain, hospital, school-colleges, health care center, animal observation center etc in the parliament. Important projects get permission in ADP and then the fund goes to the local authority. Here an Upazila Porishad can utilize the fund more efficiently if it can work independently. The direct supervision of central government meaning the control of the MPs over the development process will increase the chance of corruption as the MPs remain absent at their area normally after the general election. It is practically seen that the involvement of local people in a development process cannot be ensured under the direct supervision of the central government. On the other hand, concerned government institution will never give effort if the monitoring of the government is insufficient. An efficient Upazila system will bring the interest of the local people in front of the local government body. It will increase monitoring and ensure accountability as the control will be better because the local people will handle the process directly. The support from the other government institution will be better in this matter as the local government will have an authority over them in the cases of national demand.
§ Unnecessary expenditure of budget is a serious problem in Bangladesh. The main reason behind this waste of big amount of money is the unplanned development process which is taken after insufficient surveys regarding the actual demand or necessity. Due to the corruption of the elected MPs, bureaucrats, local government institution these sort of unexpected waste of national budget is seen. The direct control of central government encourages such kind of corruption. But, the development of the remote areas, especially the rural areas, is important as the GDP depends largely on the production from the firms, fields, mills, households of the rural areas. An efficient Upazila system can give a better solution to this problem. Through the Upazila Parishad the local government body
ADP- Annual Development Plan
will be able to survey and realize the actual demand or the necessity better than the national government. If the Upazila does it effectively, the development plan will be perfect. That means the budgeted amount of money can be spent efficiently. It doesn’t mean that the corruption will stop automatically but the waste of money will be reduced. This will be possible because of the distribution of the authoritative power which will increase accountability among the government institutions. Moreover, the involvement of the local people will increase awareness and that will motivate the local people to observe every activity logically.
§ An effective and efficient Upazilla system will be able to create local leadership. At present, we see that our politics is basically city oriented. All the leaders are basically coming from city area and they are controlling the political activity of the village people. Still there are some leaders from the rural areas but after they have got a position in the party their focus shifts towards the upper level. That is why a vacuum is created in the leadership process. The Upazila system can help to improve this situation. The authoritative power of the local government body over the government institutions means the influence of local politics on the national politics. This influence will create a democratic awareness which will ultimately encourage the local politicians to hold their position strongly. On the other hand the importance of local politics will also increase participation of local people in politics and they will also choose their own leader to raise their voices. In this process local leadership will be improved. .
§ The decentralization of power through an efficient Upazila system as a local government body will also increase the number of local institutions increasing employment opportunity. As the decentralization will ensure the use of fund by the local government, the Upazila Parishad will be able to spend money for infrastructural development which can involve school, college, health care center, agricultural firm. The local government will also be able to arrange training programs for the youth and unemployed persons who can take training on agriculture, miniature etc. Upazila Parishad can also arrange loan facilities for the self-employed people. In this process the unemployment problem can be reduced, especially, these programs can help the rural women to find a way of earning money.
At last, we can say that an efficient Upazila system will strengthen local government by:
1. The practice of democracy at the root level of government
2. Opportunity for the rural people to raise their voice
3. Effective delivery of public services through government institutions
4. Better utilization of resources
5. Local leadership, greater transparency and accountability
Gearing the Effort of Central Government
The potential of local government institutions can be realized more effectively where there is decentralization and devolution of power. Accountability, transparency, participation, empowerment, equity and all other attributes of good governance can become a part of the daily work of both the government and local bodies when decentralization and devolution take place. By decentralization the central government is basically increasing the number of its helping hand and spreading its current capabilities. An independent but liable Upazila Parishad based on constitution is the means of gearing the effort of central government. Centralized local government is basically a paper organization without any effective role. Direct election is not decentralization. By an Upazila Parishad central government gets local partners to whom it gives part of its authoritative and administrative power which is the actual decentralization of power. So, without an institution like the Upazila Parishad the decentralization process is incomplete. An effective and efficient Upazila system will reflect a decentralized local government system that most of the attributes of good governance have. Strengthening local government institutions can, therefore, be seen as a positive trend towards good governance.
With a view to avoiding confusion, it is better to differentiate ‘local government’ from ‘local politics’ and ‘local administration’. Local politics is a wider term and covers a lot of areas besides local government. On the other hand, local administration means implementation of decisions by not only local government institutions but also national/ provincial government units operating at the field level.
By the above discussion it is clear that the Upazila system as a local government body will give the central government a constitutional base by which the central government will exercise its power but will not control the activities directly. That means the local government body will get a wide scope for operating independently focusing more on the local issues. That is why the efficiency of Upazila system will help the central government to serve the national issues without thinking much about a particular region.
In general, as a local government bodies the Upazila parishad will gear up the effort of the central government to serve the country as a whole by:
1. Its constitutional power and status
2. Its power to raise finance by taxation in the area under its jurisdiction
3. Participation of the local community in decision making on specified subjects and administration
4. The freedom to act independent of central control
5. Its general function, in contrast to the single-purpose character of many autonomous bodies.
Causes of the Inefficiency of Upazila System
Exercise of Power
The exercise of power has become the main issue responsible for the inefficiency of Upazila system in Bangladesh. When the Upazila system was first introduced at the period of H.M Ershad huge power was given to the elected MPs. On city Corporation governance process MPs have no important role excepting taking about the issues in the parliament. But in rural Bangladesh MPs have many things to do and advise. Municipalities were working in the said environment and Upazilla Councils were also working under the direction of MPs. In a word, though there was local government, the MP used to exercise their power and direct the activities of rural areas.
But, the scenario has totally been changed as soon as the new 2008 ordinance has been passed in the parliament. The major issue of the ordinance is:
§ The elected chairman will have the final say over matters concerning his/her Upazilla, and the local MP will not be permitted to assert his/her dominance over the matters any longer. This means that a local MP might even have to work with a chairman who supports, or is a member of a rival party.
By this major correction the MPs will no longer be able to look out for their own benefits. This will also resist them to think for their parties only. They will have to look out for their people first. Anything less would cause retaliation from the other party. Thus, despite their image as a member of the parliament and constitutional power as a person from the government the MPs has to work with the Upazila chairman. By this new ordinance the MPs will concentrate on foreign policy, economy and law making basically. Upazilla Chairmen will concentrate on social and cultural development, building roads, bridges, and culverts on a local level. The responsibilities of the Upazila chairman have given them the power that the MPs were enjoying earlier. In the context of Bangladesh to influence the people, to have control over them such local power is important. That is why the MPs are now against the new ordinance of Upazila system. On the other hand the members of the Upazila Parishad are also fighting for their rights so that they can have whatever they have achieved through this ordinance.
This ongoing conflict between the MPs and the Upazila chairmen is the main reason behind the inefficiency of the Upazila system.
Lower Level of Co-Ordination
The reformers argue that the present system will remove the inadequacies of the previous administrative system and will bring about an improvement in the co-ordination of field services at the Upazila level but the actual scenario is quite different. The desired integration— both vertical and horizontal—and co-ordination in local level planning is non-existent due to the absence of any clear direction from the central government.
Proper co-ordination among the field services in the upazila administration does not exist due to:
§ The abnormal relation between the Upazila and the national government g
§ Excessive central control
§ The involvement of multiple agencies of the central government in guiding and supervising
§ Ambiguity in government thinking
§ The absence of clarification from the ministries concerned and agencies on the timing of different development programs
§ Conflict over the allocation of resources.
Moreover, relations between public representatives and government officials at the upazila level are complex because:
§ A clear allocation of authority to political executives is lacking
§ Areas for co-operation among different agencies have not been clarified
§ Public representatives and government officials lack mutual respect
Some Conflicting Arguments
a) Absence of Clear Guid-line
It is not simply a question of sharing of power and responsibilities between the elected local governments and the national law makers, rather, functional and independent Upazila system as a local government body is vital for the development of Bangladesh. That is why a proper guide-line of responsibilities should be available as conflict of power is present but it is a matter of shame that the upazila chairmen and vice-chairmen do not know what their responsibilities are and where they stand with respect to Upazila Nirbahi Officers (UNOs) and local MPs.
b) Discriminatory Behavior of the Central Government
It is of concern that the government has given a compulsory advisory role to MPs from rural areas in Upazila development matters but not to MPs elected from urban areas in development activities of Municipalities and Pouroshovas. This is discriminatory and humiliating to elected Upazila chairmen who also have to defer to UNOs in upazila administrative matters.
Recommendation to ensure the Efficiency of the Upazila System
§ To eliminate the conflict regarding the sharing of power MPs should be elected from a “Zila-Based” election system. In this process the MPs will only focus on the issues regarding the Zila as a whole. The Upazila Parishad will be free from MP’s interference in the development process of respective Upazila.
§ Government development funds should be allocated on the basis of need not to MPs but to the Zilas, from where they should be sent to the Upazilas and Unions.
§ Development plans for the Upazilas should be prepared by the elected Upazila chairman and Union representatives.
§ The upazila chairman will be in charge of all development activities in the Upazila, and will oversee the implementation of the approved development plan through the UNO.
§ Political involvement in the election process of Upazila should be banned so that the local people can choose their actual representative apart from supporting a party.
§ There should be a complete guide-line where the responsibilities and the authority regarding a specific responsibility will be written clearly so that the sharing of power becomes easy.
§ If smooth sharing of power becomes difficult to ensure then the two level of government must be separated by a secondary constitution under our national constitution for the local government only. This secondary constitution will prevent the MPs from interference in the activities of the local government.
In countries like Bangladesh where bureaucracy and corruption in the activities of government institutions and misuse of power of the politicians slow down the process of development, decentralization of power is mandatory. An independent Upazila system will ensure the decentralization of power and give the local government the opportunity to work for the people, especially the rural people, with a lower level of bureaucracy and corruption. But, the national government must stop the conflicts regarding the sharing of power and distribution of funds mainly so that the Upazila Parishad can work to prove its efficiency. At the same time the government must stop excessive central control to ensure the environment where the Upazila Parishad can work efficiently.
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