The forward march of Upazila Parisad
Challenges and potentials of Upazila Parisad
Recently from my experience I have come to think that Upazila Parisad Act in Bangladesh is the best of its kind in South Asia. But some members of the country’s civil society and local government experts find the Act contradictory to the Constitution. But the Upazila Parisad Act was passed by the lawmakers in the parliament. It is said in the Section 25 of this Act that local Member of Parliament would be adviser to the Parisad. Handing-over of the responsibility of 17 transferred departments to the Upazila Parisad has been almost finalized. It means that the local officials of each of the 17 departments that work at the local level should work under us. The heads of these 17 ministries are ministers many of whom are Members of Parliament from different places. It is complained that the principal hindrance on the way of implementation of the Upazila Parisad Act is these Members of Parliament. But this claim in no way is logical, since Upazila Parisad, as part of the local government, is consisted of the elected representatives and the Member of Parliament is the guardian of the whole locality. We have seen while working in the Upazila Parisad that the work that is done by the committee comes to us after approval from the ministry. The local government experts are creating confusions in the minds of people by their so-called research gathering information from only a handful of persons, without analyzing the Act, without taking information from us, and without knowing what we are doing. According to the new Act, Upazila Parisad was established in 2009. If we take into account our success in the MDGs, we have to give credit to Upazila Parisad. Five of the targets of MDGs have been achieved. In achieving all these, the people’s representatives of Upazila Parisad and Union Parisad worked with the government. When we go to other countries we see that there, while implementing the programs of the government at the grass-roots level through local government, the civil society acts as an associate of the government. Our country is only exception is this regard. In our country, the civil society is playing a major role in keeping inactive various institutions in the name of the Constitution. The role of the local government experts is supposed to be supporting the government in making the relevant Act more perfect as per the demands of the time. Before us is now Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In the MDGs, the target was removing, and in the SDGs it is eliminating, no longer removing. Now the way will be found out to solve the local problem locally. Our Union Parisads are working quite satisfactorily now, but the civil society does not know about it. It is not clear to us how they publish the outcome of their research sitting in Dhaka. The responsibilities we are performing make people at the grass-roots level attracting attention from the government.
Woman vice chairman
When in 2009 the opportunity comes for the Upazila election, then at the order of the prime minister, two posts of vice chairman, one for male and other female, was kept. Because of creating this post, women are now working in Upazila Parisad. Their leadership is now established at the upazila level. As women are now present at the local level leadership, hundred per cent attendance in schools is ensured, child marriage is stopped, dropout from school is reduced and dowry in marriage is almost completely stopped. Now you may say that but eve teasing and sexual harassment have increased in society. This can other way be said that women are coming out of their homes. Indeed they are facing some difficulties in doing this, now it is time to make them conscious about how they can overcome these difficulties. The honorable prime minister has kept three per cent of the upazila budget for the skill development of women. She has also given direction that 25 per cent of the projects should include women and children. At present, in every upazila and district, women development forum has been formed with the elected women representatives. As result of this among the elected women representatives, interest for political empowerment as well as preparing themselves as fit through dignity, ability and skill has grown. I expect that the honorable prime minister would give importance to forming women development forum centrally and give the necessary direction.
Relationship with the Upazila administration
It is a positive step that the upazila administration as well as activities of the 17 departments is being performed under the Upazila Parisad which is being given more power. The problems of the locality could be known through the permanent committees. These are being kept in files which are approved. As a result, overlapping of work and duplication is being minimized. That means the scope of our work is increasing and our professionalism is being created. People are getting awakened at the grass-roots level. Now our demand to the government is, for creating this professionalism it should make an atmosphere of dignity by giving us befitting posts and designations. We do not want to take honorarium from the government exchequer. This money should be spent for the local development.
We are part of the administration of government at the local level. The way the government officials at the local level get salaries and benefits, it is necessary to introduce similar pay structure for us. Upazila Parisad is a place where future leaders of the nation are created. If opportunity for work is created and the work is appreciated here national leaderships will be created.
I think that the problems that exist between Upazila Parisad and the administration are of emotion and pride. But we have to rearrange the administration with a scientific outlook taking information in the present time. The emotional tug of war between the Upazila Parisad and the administration can be removed by mutual understanding and exchange of honor. I do not think there would be a crisis for us with administration. The problem can be solved through work with training and cooperation. We are workers of a political party. We are citizens of this country. From the administration it is said that we do politics. In the different media and meetings, corruption in the upazila is discussed. Some days ago, ministers and secretaries used to say that we were not performing our responsibility. In a meeting in Dhaka it was said that corruption entered the whole upazila system and for this the chairmen were responsible. This is not right. For a long time working with the Upazila Parisad I have seen that the important post here is that of the office assistant. They remain in the same place for a long time. But officers are transferred after working two years. These office assistants destroy the old files soon the officers are transferred. The new officer starts everything anew. This is a problem. It is for this we are not being able to reduce overlapping and duplication in the budget, because the same thing is being done again and again. That is why we are failing to reap far-reaching benefit. For our mistakes, the local government experts and civil society members are raising a wall against us and the Members of Parliament. Though we come here after one day’s vote, giving service to people for 365 days, we keep the spirit of the citizens awakened.
Relationship with Union Parisad
Our relationship with Union Parisad has much improved. Now the chairman not only thinks about his union, he can think about the whole of the upazila also. The women of the reserved seats of Union Parisad have become members of Upazila Parisad. In the village arbitration court, a woman member has become panel judge and role of the ward meeting has been emphasized. For making this ward meeting active, rules of guidance have been framed locally. Because of the meeting, the UP members now can identify the local problems locally. After the introduction of the union information centre, sufferings of people have much reduced. People are now getting services at their doorsteps. There are many problems of the Union Parisad also. At present educated men and women are becoming Union Parisad members. They should get their due posts and compensation. This has become a demand of the time. If the government comes forward to meet this demand, the young leadership will be encouraged. There is no chance to see Upazila Parisad and Union Parisad separately. In different countries there are the central government and local government, but in our country there is no central government. We have the national government. We do not have representatives in the national government. As there is no such representative, there is no platform to speak on our behalf. We are ignorant of what are being thought for us. If our representative can represent us here, then opportunity for doing work would be created at the national and grass-roots level through mutual cooperation.
The Upazila Parisad Association
The central committee of Bangladesh Upazila Parisad Association has started to work and it has now its office at Paltan in Dhaka. The divisional committee has been formed in eight divisions. As a result of forming the Central Upazila Parisad Association, opportunity for discussing the process of all kind of work of Bangladesh’s 490 upazilas, hindrance against them and their potentials has been created. An upazila gets assistance worth more than Tk 100 crore and wealth on an average in a year, but as proper management, local manpower, local plan and investment could not be put in place, we fail to make visible the local development. As the Association has been created, interest for working the Upazila Parisad will grow at the local, national and international level. Dignity for those who work within the Upazila Parisad will also be established. We have sought an appointment of the prime minister, if we get that, we will be present some of our demands before her. We are for creation for a local government commission and a separate cadre service for the local government. We noticed that as soon as the decision was taken to transfer 17 departments to Upazila Parisad, Prakrichi (a forum consisting of Engineers, Agriculturists and Physicians) launched a movement against us. They couldn’t accept that they would be transferred to Upazila Parisad. If they do not want to work for development at the grass-roots level cooperating with the Upazila Parisad, then only framing law and allocation of fund will not bring the desired development. The service providing institutions will provide service which will be received by service takers. If ego works in the mind of the provider and the provided, positive thing will not happen. I think it is necessary to create the local government commission, provide allowance to the public representatives under a system of timescale and create a separate cadre service for the Upazila Parisad.