Honesty and accountability: Key elements of people’s welfare
Mir Mosharref Hossain Pakbir
In today's world, the role of local government is crucial in reducing the pressure of the central government in execution of different works and plans. The local government concept is getting more popular and stronger at all parts of the world including Bangladesh. It creates an opportunity to include everyone in governance ensuring better accountability. Local government is an integral part of the central government in Bangladesh but often it puts the public servants and political leaders face to face. We have seen such conflict over the years but if both do not carry out their works with honesty and accountability, the people will suffer at the end.
Strengthening the local government is, therefore, an essential element of democracy, a prerequisite for ensuring good governance. The fact is Members of Parliament in Bangladesh are restricted by the Constitution to only an advisory role in the running of the local government. However, that hasn't stopped central leaders and politicians from getting embroiled in local development projects.
The local government institutions have the potential to arise as strong agents of progress that can reach out to the local communities and help them find and work on their own needs. Unfortunately, officials working at the local government level are quite bureaucratic and estranged from the mass and therefore, people cannot take part in different activities of local government appropriately. The fault of its socio-economic base remains a key problem in the way of democratic education through local government. Our inadequate economic structure allows the ruling class to use unnecessary control over the local bodies. They often tend to serve their own interests and purposes. As a result, local government cannot render proper services to the people at the local level.
Constituency representation places particular focus on the parliamentarians' involvement in local development work through local government bodies. Local government bodies in every administrative unit of the republic are the major actors in the field of local development work. What the parliament can do for local governments is also defined in our Constitution. As stated in article 60 of the Constitution, "Parliament shall, by law, confer powers on the local government bodies, including power to impose taxes for local purposes, to prepare their budgets and to maintain funds."
Unfortunately, the bureaucrats and MPs were in conflict several times. Tofail Ahmed, a senior parliamentarian of ruling Awami League and a former cabinet member and Firoz Rashid, also a former minister and a leader of Jatiya Party, the opposition in parliament, recently expressed their grievances about the "government's dependency" on bureaucrats during their speeches in parliament last year. The politicians are no longer important, they said. Instead, administrative officials have extended their supremacy to the local and national level.
The media has been reporting the matter as a stance against "dependency on bureaucrats" as the two MPs talked about secretaries and deputy commissioners. Earlier, in 2020, Jatiya Party chief GM Quader said, "The bureaucrats are playing in the field of politics. Politicians are watching the game from the sidelines." This clearly is a process of de-politicization and that is why many have drawn attention to it.
The reason and source of the matter will not be understood if this discussion in parliament is seen only as a conflict between the 'bureaucrats' and 'politicians'. Such tensions were there at the local level for long. Several media reports surfaced on the issue of conflict between the bureaucrats and the politicians. But the fact is, this conflict is sourced from the underlying corruption in our system.
Instead of seeing this merely as a conflict between the bureaucrats and politicians, this needs to be considered as acknowledgment of the alterations that took place in governance throughout the last decade. The type of political arrangement determines the character of a state. That is why it is important to understand the criticisms of politicians against the bureaucrats in and outside parliament and the criticism of politicians by administration officials against the backdrop of the existing system of governance in the country.
Recently, at the DCs' Conference, The government has turned down a proposal from district commissioners to form an inspection committee to oversee development projects in their districts. The government also advised the DCs to oversee development projects as per existing law, and also sought a proposal from them on how to increase revenue. The DCs have sent a total of 263 proposals relating to 54 ministries and divisions to be discussed in 21 business sessions. On the other hand, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has provided the DCs 24-point directives.
Empowering the public servants or the local government members is based on the demand of better implementation of the public works. People's welfare must be at the core. But unfortunately, the conflict between the bureaucrats and the politicians are hurting that cause. Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen has asked the deputy commissioners (DCs) to be more sensitive in their treatment of elected public representatives and MPs. He added that as public representatives, they made promises since they were elected and it is very unfortunate that there is lack of coordination between the administration and the elected representatives.
A ruling party MP came down hard on bureaucrats at the parliament claiming that the people have been "held hostage" by the public servants. Nazim Uddin Ahmed, the lawmaker from Mymensingh-3, called his colleagues at the House to raise their voice against the bureaucrats during a recent parliament session. Nazim mentioned that an MP is hardly treated with the due dignity that he or she deserves.
The hard fact is, previously the MPs exercised huge power over any issues of their constituencies. They were the most powerful in all consideration. Honesty and accountability were somewhat missing and for that the people suffered. Later, the power and authority was slowly shifted towards the local government as well as to the public service officials to bring in more efficiency and effectiveness in all sorts of work as the main focus was people's welfare. Conducting the works without influence got priority. This has brought the bureaucrats and the politicians face to face on several occasions though the citizens were beneficiary. But now there remain challenges as often the welfare of the people is ignored by the public service officials.
If both the public service officials and the political leaders do not work with honesty, the welfare of the people cannot be ensured. Eliminating corruption is the biggest challenge right now in the public sector. Nepotism often plays a great role in establishing corruption at the public offices.
Several sorts of ill practices often came into the news and the people's misery knew no bound. Nepotism and corruption are shrinking the opportunity to change the fate of the people. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina declared war against corruption but public office corruption is still ongoing in full pace.
Accountability remains of great importance in this context. If the bureaucrats as well as the political leaders have to answer for their works, then corruption and nepotism can be eliminated. But unfortunately, such practice is totally missing today. The political leaders are criticizing the bureaucrats for not showing them due respect but they are not doing such criticism for not properly doing their works and it is very unfortunate. People's welfare is missing out in this process. A practice of accountability must be established to take the good works of the government to the people.
Bangladesh turned into the role model of development during the last decade. But to sustain and continue that development, it is very important that the people get benefitted. The bureaucrats, local government and political leaders - all have great responsibility towards that goal. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina alone cannot ensure the welfare of people. Everyone must play their roles with accountability and honesty. Only then, Bangladesh will prevail. We hope everyone vows to serve the people and work with utmost honesty and accountability to make people win.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and Chief Patron, Bangabandhu Shishu Kishore Mela