People’s reps should get oversight authority at every tier

Editorial, NewAge, November 14, 2007. Dhaka, Bangladesh

We do believe that the primary responsibility of the members of parliament should be to enact, modify or repeal laws, as and when necessary, besides their active involvement in policymaking. However, since local government institutions remain weak and often dependent on the lawmakers’ whims and wishes in Bangladesh, as in most developing countries, the members of parliament have come to play significant roles in the development activities in their respective constituencies. Moreover, the role of the local government functionaries and the lawmakers has never been clearly demarcated in Bangladesh, thanks to the failure of successive governments to address the issue decisively. The authoritarian mindset of the lawmakers has also been responsible to a great extent. Consequently, the distinction of roles between the elected local government functionaries and the members of parliament has blurred to a point when the parliamentarians have become the main actors as far as development in their respective constituencies is concerned.

Their increased involvement in the affairs of their constituencies, which should have been ideally left to the local government, is also one of the causes that such a high number of lawmakers are currently being charged with financial corruption. The authority to disburse funds for development and public works has added to the lawmakers’ incentive to spend heavily on election campaigns because with election to the parliament comes the opportunity to acquire large allocations of development funds, which are typically vulnerable to mismanagement and misappropriation due to the lack of monitoring at the central or local level.

As such, the current initiative to restrict the lawmakers to their functions in the parliament stripping away their authority over initiatives that should be conducted solely by the local government institutions is a move in the right direction. But the formation of an inter-ministerial body to make recommendations was unnecessary since a commission on local government during the last Awami League regime had submitted a report recommending public representation in four tiers of the government fully explaining their roles and responsibilities, functions and jurisdictions. Also, such an arrangement is clearly defined in the constitution.

As we have stated before, we do desire a genuinely empowered local government structure that would be effective and meaningful for the people. But in order for that to happen, the elected public representatives must be given the authority to assess the performance of the civil servant heading the corresponding administrative unit. In other words, the public representatives must have the necessary authority and mechanism to command the obedience of the public servants.


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