The Zila Parishad, having a long tradition of serving people with many altruistic and philanthropic works like construction of small bridges, culverts, drains, dams, earth filling for playgrounds, graveyards and crematorium as well as binding stairs of drinking water ponds, is an important local government institution of an economically rapidly developing country like Bangladesh in south Asia. By withstanding wears and tears of hundreds of years, the Zila Parishad has undergone many changes and has still stood its head high today.
Though it had no elected representative for quite a long time, it had to run its activities by bureaucrats in absence of any such local guardian. Now that it has started its journey as a complete local government body with elected political representatives including a Chairman at its head and some twenty members of which fifteen members are elected from general seats and five female members elected from reserved seats is expected to solve many longstanding problems like misappropriation of assets of Zila Parishad and dispossession of its landed property from the clutch of many locally influential persons, among others.
From the day of running Zila Parishad by elected representatives in compliance with Zila Parishad Act 2000 some minor problems emerged as Zila Parishad chairmen and members were not very much aware firstly of their positions and secondly of their duties and responsibilities. Those problems have been overcome with the passage of time as excellent adjustment has taken place between the Parishad and the staffs and officers of the Zila Parishad. However, the Zila Parishad seems to become more functional if a rule of business of Zila Parishad could be issued as early as possible by the ministry of LGRD. Concrete guideline from the ministry concerned delineating specific and conspicuous powers and functions of the CEO (chief executive officer), the chairman as well as the members is yet to be made. In absence of such clear dissemination of powers and functions Zila Parishad members and chairmen often may remain in the dark about what activity they should undertake and what they should not and for the same token nowadays CEOs are facing different challenges while discharging their duties properly since he has less leeway of works but onus of all financial liabilities solely vests upon the CEO who is a deputy secretary to the government by echelon and employed in the Zila Parishad on deputation in accordance with provision 33 of the Zila Parishad Act 2000.
In accordance with the Zila Parishad Act 2000, Chairman of the Parishad is empowered enough to make every decision after raising the issue in the Zila Parishad meeting and subject to prior approval of the Parishad he can exercise any of its power. On the other hand, it is the duty of the CEO to guide the Parishad which decision of the Parishad concurs with the rules and regulations of the ministry and which doesn’t. For discharging any specific function of the Zila Parishad neutrally, the CEO has to either agree or disagree with the decision of the Parishad after properly scrutinising and analysing any law. This agreement or disagreement with the decision of the Parishad often may leave him in the good book or bad book of the Parishad depending on the serving of the interests of the Parishad. While it is almost impossible for him to always stick to strict line of the rules and regulations of the Zila Parishad sometimes he has to accept some minor deviations of law for the sake of better coordination; nonetheless he must have to keep a watchful eye on avoiding any financial irregularity that may implicate him in audit objection in future.
From the functional point of view, the Zila Parishad mainly materialises different kinds of benevolent public works through two types of projects. One is the development project and the other is the revenue project. Budgets are given from the ministry once or twice in a year for ADP (annual development projects). Distribution and allocation of the projects under ADP funds at the Zila Parishad faces tough discussion as hot debate grows and continues for many hours until members of the Parishad get sufficient allocation for their own locality. Since the CEO has no role in allocating and approving projects under ADP funds of the Zila Parishad he can please neither his colleagues nor members of the Zila Parishad and at the same time he can’t appease dignitaries and heads of different district level offices who often make written request to him for taking and implementing some important projects for public interests. So in order to remove this problem I suggest some funds from the ADP may be separately allocated for the CEO directly from the ministry so that he can undertake some innovative projects for the local people.
One stumbling block for development projects for Zila Parishad is the doubling and trebling of implementation of the same project by different government departments and organisations. Lack of coordination among different government organisations and lack of preservation of database of such projects and want of supplying and sharing of such data base is the main reason for such mismatch resulting for instance, one project implemented by the LGED again undertaken by the Zila Parishad in the same place and in the same financial year. This happens on account of information gap between the two implementing agencies and for the purpose of avoiding such duality of project implementation and wastage of public funds provision may be made so that LGED, Upazila Parishad or other departments working at the field level supply one copy of projects undertaken by them at the beginning of the year to the Zila Parishad and vice versa.
Manpower shortage of Zila Parishad is a setback which seriously hampers works of the Parishad. Want of technical hands like assistant engineers and sub-assistant engineers are causing laxity of monitoring and delay of implementing projects of Zila Parishad. Other minor problems concern lack of job description and lack of proper training to the Zila Parishad chairmen, members and CEOs. In order to gear up activities of Zila Parishad I suggest providing adequate training to all staffs and members of the Parishad for better coordination with the members as well as with the CEO. Proper maintenance and preservation of assets and properties of Zila Parishad are facing great challenges. Lands of Zila Parishad are being illegally occupied by the intruders and land grabbers. Dispossession, occupation and misappropriation of property of Zila Parishad are common phenomena. Ponds and non-agricultural lands of Zila Parishad are gradually being misappropriated by hypocrites and ZP is getting involved in litigation one after another as some touts and evil quarters falsely claim ownership of such land by furnishing some concocted, fake, counterfeit and fabricated documents to the civil court.
Discretion of work is a precondition for development of any local government institution and the Zila Parishad and municipality enjoy much more freedom in this regard compared to any other local government institution but one hindrance is still holding Zila Parishad back. Getting approval of ADP projects sent by the Zila Parishad to the ministry requires more time than expected for its promulgation which causes unnecessary delay for their implementation. For making the Zila Parishad more functional either this provision should be conditionally abolished as soon as possible or alternatively a time frame should be set up so that the lapse of that time shall be deemed to be given consent automatically of those projects and at the same time funds of ADP projects should be released in time or well ahead of time.
Lands and properties of Zila Parishad are in many ways becoming illegally occupied by encroachers and land grabbers and eviction of them from such encroachment is not an easy task as it takes a lengthy procedure of following the East Pakistan local government authority lands and buildings recovery of possession ordinance 1970. Moreover deputy commissioner is the only proper authority for making eviction and the Zila Parishad has to solely depend on the lengthy procedure of eviction by the district administration. In many cases it takes six months to one year for such eviction and during this long period of time the illegal occupants get sufficient time to make some false documents of the disputed land and institute suits to the civil court. As a result the fate of the disputed land or asset hangs in the balance. Moreover the district administration has to perform multifarious functions and there are dearth of executive magistrates in the office of the deputy commissioner. By reviving magisterial power of the CEOs this problem can be easily avoided and lost property of the Parishad can be quickly retrieved.
Old, outdated or backdated circulars of the ministry need to be updated, changed and reshuffled by making those time befitting. For instance a circular from the ministry of local government issued long ago contains a provision that before issuing final bill of any contractual works from the Zila Parishad for construction of any dak banglow or auditorium a final report will be required to be procured from a three member committee comprised of executive engineer LGED of the district, executive engineer PWD and assistant engineer of Zila Parishad. Lately Executive engineer PWD of a certain district has shown lukewarm response to the letter given by the CEO in this regard. To him taking prior permission from their chief engineer is required before making such investigation since according to them no endorsement of that circular has been given to the chief engineer of the PWD. So I urge the LGD authority to clarify the matter by reissuing a circular of the same by making a proper endorsement of it to the concerned departmental heads which will remove confusion of the PWD officials and will save time for such investigation by lessening dependency upon the ministry for such approval.
Finally it is to woefully state that some Zila Parishad staffs are somewhat arrogant and negligent towards their duties and responsibilities. Some of them often show dam care attitudes to the CEO and dare to flout his legal orders. Changing this lackadaisical attitude of the staffs, the CEO needs to discipline them by taking stern punitive measures against them with unique power of transfer, posting and instituting departmental proceedings.
The writer is Chief Executive Officer, Zila Parishad Netrokona