POST TIME: 22 December, 2019 12:09:19 AM
Upazila Parishad committee system: Effectiveness underscored
As per UZP Act 2011, committees act as an important apparatus of safeguarding transparency and accountability of Upazila Parishad
Dr. Mohammad Tarikul Islam

Upazila Parishad committee system: Effectiveness underscored

It is obvious that strengthening democratic institutions without weakening the executive is rest with the effectiveness of committee system. Conventional wisdom in this regard articulates that, committees empower the members to carry outseveral functions resulting in trustworthy and liable organization. For instance, committees help formulate perfect decision and provide an important means of oversight on the function of governing bodies. Keeping the issue of accountability of the activities of the Upazila Parishad (UZP), a certain provision [Section 29(1)] has been reserved in the Upazila Parishad Act 1998 (Amended up to 1st of December, 2011) (hereinafter the UZP Act, 2011) for setting up of Committees under the auspicious of UZP. According to the article 29 (1) of the UZP Act 1998, after its formation, the UZP,  with its vice-chairmen, members and women members, will set up one Committee of two and half years of duration for each of the following areas for effective execution of different activities such as Law and order; Communication and Physical Infrastructure Development; Agriculture and Irrigation; Secondary and Madrasa Education; Primary and Mass Education; Health and Family Planning; Youth and Sports Development;  Women and Child Development ; Social Welfare;  Freedom Fighters; Fisheries and Livestock; Rural Development and Cooperatives; Culture; Environment and Forest; Observation, Monitoring and Control of Market price; Finance, Budget, Planning and Local Resources Mobilization; and Public Health, Sanitation and Supply of Pure Drinking water.

Based on understandings of different action researches and hands-onconsequence of implementation of the decentralization policy of Bangladesh government, it can be debated that keeping the provision of committees at all levels of governance has become an integral part of law making process since committees these days are well-thought-out as an important mechanism of ensuring transparency and accountability of the UZP. Of course, one may surprise, to what extent the system of committee will be able to guarantee transparency and accountability of the activities of the UZP when the committees are to be constituted with the spirit of volunteeringhaving no financial and executive authority on the top. Notwithstanding having some margins it is believedthat the exercise of committees in Upazila Parishad will ensure coordination of activities of different departments that would certainly help the process of service delivery to the poorest segment for whom ‘access to public service’ is challenging to some extent.

Aiding local government from the external sources is not a new phenomenon in Bangladesh. They have been receiving grants from the very beginning of the emergency of Bangladesh as an independent nation, but over the years, amount of aid in different forms has increased particularlyafter the reintroduction of parliamentary democracy in 90’s. UN bodies and like-minded donor agencies are found to be effective towards supplementing the efforts of the government in strengthening the committee system of Upazila Parishad. The underlying benefits of holding committees depend heavily on the process followed, the scope for speaking freely without fear, sharing information and the intensity of acceptance of their recommendations by the UZP in its monthly meeting as reflected in the prevailing legislations. It provides scope to play an overseeing role of the committees on the functioning of the UZP. As part of the effort to commendablygalvanize committees to foster local development for the welfare of the rural dwellers, it has been convenient to discover how the process currently followed for conducting committee meetings, and the outputs of these meetings produce the impacts envisioned in the UZP Act, 2011. Since committees run under the statuses of less formal rules, committee members are in a good position to discuss issues in unceremonious and pleasant manner and to develop relationships with committee colleagues who represent different interests of the community. That does remain as spirit in creating a reciprocalmilieu in which compromises on small matters and technical improvements in overall functioning can be agreed upon.

I have recently accomplished a study to evaluate the effectiveness of UZP standing committee system. The study findings suggest that the issue of committees has not been perceived well by different actors who have remained engaged in the process of functioning of the committees which has been evident through the perception of the respondents belonging to different categories as majority respondent have been found to have no understanding about the provision of the law that provides for establishment of the committees. The finding is indicative of lack of ownership and positive will on the part of different actors about the committees. Committee of the Upazila Parisahd is still in paper as departmental officers seem like unreceptive to revitalize the committee rather they are more focused to hold departmental meeting. Allocation from the respective line ministries always galvanizes and forces them to implement the decisions taken in the departmental committee. On recurrent follow up departmental officers who are the member-secretary to the Upazila Parisahd committees feel it pragmatic to organize meeting. Committee meeting for the sake of meeting is undermining the whole spirit of local governance.

It has been learnt that notice of meetings is not circulated well in advance in most of the cases. At the same time, it has also been learnt that the member secretaries are not playing the most important role in the functioning of the committees as they are setting agendas and making communication with the chair and other members. It is very difficult to ensure the presence of the UP chairs who are the members of different committees. As a matter of fact, as Union Parishad chairs remain very busy, they have very little or no interest to work in the committees. Unavailability of the members of the committee sometimes causes reluctance on our part to carry out responsibilities of the member secretary of the committees”. When the issue was discussed with the academics, it is observed that, since they remain overburdened with their own departmental committee and responsibility, they find it difficult to manage the activities of the UZP committee.

Having perceived the above consequences, a prominent question is: what are the causes of lack of enthusiasm of the UP chair to perform their responsibilities as the committee members? The possible answers are:  First, the committees do not possess any executive power.

Thus, they do not believe that whatever decision is taken in the committee meeting may be considered by the Parishad in its monthly meeting. Second, the Union Parishad chairs remain very busy doing their own responsibilities. Thus, they usually find it difficult to manage time to attend the committee meetings.

The process of ensuring coordination among different departments and the UZP could hinder the process of working of the committees. As a matter of fact, there is no hard and fast rule for ensuring coordination of activities of different departments other than the monthly meeting of the UZP. Ground reality is that people’s representatives elected in the UZP very often receive non-cooperation from the government officials. In such cases, they cannot take any legal actions against them since government departments are liable to their line department (s) stationed at the district headquarters despite the fact that their activities have been transferred to the UZP. For instance, through a directives issued by the Local Government Division it has been made clear that all files of all transferred departments must be sent to the chairman of the UZPs for approval. But, empirical evidence shows that in most cases files are not sent to the UZP chairman for approval. Thus, the process of harmonization of activities of different government departments and the UZP is a potential threat to effective functioning of the committees in the UZPs. Frequent transfer of officials who act as the member secretaries of the committees, sometimes, create problems in the process of effective functioning of the committee as the new comer takes a long time to understand different aspects of the committees. In some cases, the Upazila Parishad Vice Chairman who belong to the opposition political parties have been found suspended due to political cases filed against them. Even those have not been suspended; remain in hide in order to escape from arrest.

Regrettably, the issue of committees has not been perceived well by different actors who are engaged in the process of functioning of the committees. Ignorance and reluctance have been appeared as the impediment for the effectiveness of committee and the low participation of the members in the committee meetingsignposts that fruitful discussions are not held in the committee meetings. What we perceive, this owes to lack of internalization of the importance of the committees by different actors accompanying the process of committees. In consequence, effective functioning of committee may offer a number of benefits for effective functioning of UZP.

The writer is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh and Visiting Research Fellow (Trinity term-2018) at the University of Oxford.

Email: t.islam@juniv.edu