At last, two sets of guidelines have been prepared to help union parisads (UPs) work transparently and accountably. The first one has come in the form of a work plan to be carried out by the UP offices. Another one was, however, a set of demands prepared for the government. The work plan was to bring back the confidence of the people on the elected office bearers. But the demand has been raised so that the government takes policies and steps to help it earn confidence. Both the declaration and demand of Bangladesh Union Parisad Forum (BUPF), an association of UP chairmen and members, were the result of brainstorming discussions held with all the stakeholders.
Recently BUPF finalised these guidelines in its national workshop. So, it can now be hoped that there would be radical changes in the UP activities in line with declaration. And government would also take policy level actions and provide legal support to the people's representatives to carry out the work plan.
No doubt, there has been the necessity of this kind of guidelines from both sides. The aim is to remove the image of inactive UP offices as well as to change the government's views on the logical demands of the rural people.
Practically these two parts of the governance have always reinforced each other's inaction. They played the roles so as to let one side to be almost inactive and the other side to be more strict and harsh to seize power from local government. When both sides were responsible for making the UP offices ineffective, both have to be proactive to bring back confidence in each other. With the guidelines of BUPF, the sufferer group has shown commitment to bring changes in the ruling system. But there is no response from the government side in this regard.
Interactive and two-way initiatives are the important components in effective communication. So far all the stakeholders including BUFP leaders and UP level representatives, civil society members, government officials, politicians, NGOs and media representatives had interactions and acknowledged that the problems lie with both sides. However, these interactions have helped the people to understand the reasons why the demand for a minimum allotment for the local government in national budget has yet not been met.
The UPs have agreed to work on seven areas to prove transparency, accountability, efficiency and skill in their works. As per their work plans, they proposed to prepare annual audit reports and maintain all kind of receipts and bank accounts. To bring UP office into a system, office secretaries will maintain a weekly record on tax collection and inform the UP on a monthly basis. BUPF will carry a supervision work through seeking financial reports from the UP committees concerned twice in February and September. As these are not an easy task to carry out by the unskilled UP staff, BUPF has decided to arrange necessary trainings for the office bearers to increase the efficiency level.
Apart from all these work, BUPF will hold open budgetary meetings in all UPs to get ADP allocation as well as conduct campaign to create awareness aiming to stop the interference of the members of parliament at local administration. Besides, UPs have also fixed up their task in health and education.
Against the work plan, the association has sought government policy and legal supports to improve their working and financial abilities as well as earn legal rights to make the people including government officials accountable to them as people representatives.
To improve UPs' working capacity, BUPF raised the demand for ensuring national level regular audit with transparency and free from corruption, appointment of one technical assistant in each upazila, training on financial management for UPs, contingency fund allotment for UPs in national budget and appointment of tax collector in each UP and two tax officers in each upazila.
Regarding fund crisis, the root cause of all UP related problems, the leaders demanded increase in UP share in the development budget by 10 per cent in next five years and coordination of local level budget with the central one. They requested the government to collect all UP budgets by April 31 for coordination. As well, they have set a number of tasks to carry social responsibilities in education and health, they also raised the demand for legal rights to make the government officials and employees accountable to them.
It was found from the past experiences how the government has deprived the UPs of their due shares. When the UP leaders demanded a share from the national budget, the government snatched the power of UP from its local sources of earning. Despite repeated demands raised during the discussions of BUPF under Local Government Initiative project of USAID, the government raised questions of its acceptability, transparency, accountability, skill and management. So the BUPF declaration was a proactive response to the government accusations. Now it is the turn of the government to show its responsibilities towards the local government.