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9 December, 2019 00:00 00 AM

Sustainable rural development and local government

To make the development really meaningful, empowering and sustainable, the ‘bottom–up’ approach of development that involves people directly in the making and implementation of decisions of UZP is the need of the hour
Dr. Mohammad Tarikul Islam
Sustainable rural development 
and local government

In the era of modern state, prominence of the Local government has been indispensableto lessen the burden of the central government in service delivery. Local government (LG) is a fertile ground for democracy. Indeed, a democracy works when all people including the most marginalised ones participate in the process of governance, have the capability to ask questions and can seek accountability. LG is an integral part of the central government of Bangladesh.In Bangladesh, the central government exploit the strength of the local government for realizing their political agenda. One important way of strengthening democratic institutions without weakening the executive is to make maximum use of committees. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) set out an earth shattering system of 17 transformational objectives to handle our social, monetary, and ecological difficulties by 2030.
Embraced by every one of the 193 UN Member States at the United Nations in New York in 2015, all nations, organizations and common society are in charge of their accomplishment. Local Government have a colossal commitment to make with regards to the accomplishment and conveyance of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and chance to receive various rewards by coordinating the objectives to drive change, incorporating existing plans and draw in their differing partners.
Strengthening local government is an essential element of effective democracy, and effective democracy is pre-requisite for ensuring good governance. Indeed, a democracy works when all people including the most marginalized ones participate in the process of governance, have capability to ask questions and seek accountability. The Upazila Parishad is midway between local and central government, and it’s an important tier of political-administrative nexus. More importantly, to carry out the government programmes, Upazila provide a bridge between local and national government.The local government institutions have the potential to emerge as strong agents of development that can reach out to the local communities and help them identify and plan their own needs. Unfortunately, administrative officials working at the local government bodies level are bureaucratic and alienated from the people, and therefore, people cannot properly take part in different activities of LG.  The weakness of its socio-economic base remains a key obstacle in the way of democratic education through LG. The unequal economic structure trends to influence the local bodies by pro-partied class. They often tend to suit their class interest and purposes. As a result, LG cannot render proper services to the people at local level. Besides, presence of local elite dissuades the general public from participating in the LG, which results in a less effective local government.
Representative role of Member of Parliament (MP) could be spelled in three dimensions: a) political representation, b) representation of social diversity and c) constituency of representation. Constituency representation is explored with a particular focus on 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 works. What the parliament can do for local governments is also defined in our constitution. As stated by 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."
Article 25 of the Upazila Parishad Act 2009 keeps the provision for MP’s role in the Upazila Parishad as Adviser. According to this article, Upazila Parishad will have to take the advice or shall accept the advice of the MP concerned, who is neither elected to the Upazila Parishad nor has any voting right in it. Again, article 42 (3) of the Upazila Parishad Act 2009 allows the Parishad to plan local development in consultation with the local MP. As Adviser, MPs should monitor different activities of the local government bodies from a distance, just to ensure that they follow the parliament-adopted policies. Furthermore, provision of constituency services by the MPs, through control and partisan distribution of public resources aggravates the probability of corruption and conflict of interest.
As stipulated in the Upazila Parishad Act 2009, MP’s role as adviser to the local government bodies is not conflicting as long as MP is watchful for accelerating the wellbeing of the people in his/her constituency. However, the reality suggests that, the ‘advice’ of MPs turns into an ‘executive order’, letting them to override and controlthe development planning and actions by the elected representatives at the Upazila Parishad.Advisory role of MP signposts where does the decision-making power lie and literally triumph for political representatives to interfere decision making process for rural development activities without asking the locally elected representatives.
In many cases, MP nominates his/her party man in the selection committees and beneficiary lists of social safety net programme respectively making sure the beneficiaries of food for work, vulnerable group feeding (VGF), test relief, and old-age allowance come from the followers of political party MP belongs to. Committee of the Upazila Parishad is perceived as an important apparatus to make the Upazila Parishad accountable for its actions.  MP could nominate a representative to these committees ensuring his/her representation to the discussion, decision and development planning. MP’s representative always tries to impose the liking of MP in the decision making process of the committee.  
MP’s advisory role is awfully absent which results in futility of the committee system at Upazila Parishad. Interference of MP over the local government bodies determines the providence of local development planning where local elected representatives have no stake in truth. MP’s unyielding non-cooperation and undue influence hurdle Local government to turn into an effective body. Worry of losing MPs supremacy in their respective constituencies stop them to cooperate instead of interfere at last. The success of the Upazila scheme largely depends on how best the local leadership, MP and the people inter-act in an environment of cooperation and partnership. MP’s interference indulges the noble attempts of UZP for delivering better services in many cases.
To overcome the development paradox centering the apparent power scuffle between MP and Upazila Parishad Chairman,a culture of accountability is must and has to be created by political party in power. While decentralization is a significant catalyst for sustainable development in the rural Bangladesh, the prevailing servant-master relationships between MPs and bureaucrats and local elected representatives to be wiped out fostering mutual understanding with fairness in decision making process.  MPs must bear in mind they are elected by the people of their constituencies and could be unseated in the next election if they fail to look after common interests of them. Therefore, a strong political will is required for the effectiveness of LG as a democratic body in a true sense.
The job of local government in accomplishing the SDGs has comprehensively drawn the consideration of approach creators. It has been request of time to engage the local government bodies in Bangladesh through arranging, organization building and asset distribution. Local government has an imperative task to carry out in the desert nobody motivation, guaranteeing that the fundamental administrations are available for all minimized and impeded gatherings, including ladies, poor people, youth and minority gatherings. Having the information accessible to target and screen advance for these gatherings is basic. It is imperative to reinforce existing and new systems for localisation of national focuses making sure cooperation among different stakeholders irrespective of party affiliations is assured.
To make the development really meaningful, empowering and sustainable, the ‘bottom–up’ approach of development that involves people directly in the making and implementation of decisions of UZP is the need of the hour.
Furthermore, to make the development truly meaningful, involving people directly in the formulation and implementation of decisions has been the demand of hour. This necessitates the decentralization of democracy to the lowest level. Let political parties and relevant stakeholders including community people take the lessons from the problems and overcome them for attaining sustainable development in rural Bangladesh.

The writer is an Associate Professor of Government and Politics at Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh and Visiting Scholar, University of Oxford. He can be reached at t.islam@juniv.edu



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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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