Upazila nirbahi officers (UNOs) are reportedly not involving upazila chairmen and vice-chairmen in making decisions regarding the implementation of government aid programmes and development projects.
Several upazila chairmen alleged this Saturday at a press conference organised by the Bangladesh Upazila Parishad Association, adding that they are the heads of upazila parishads, but in reality, their opinions are not being taken into account in the decision-making process.
Addressing the event titled "Upazila Parishads Lack Authority: Accountability and Governance Disrupted at Grassroots Level," held at the Dhaka Reporters Unity, the chairmen further alleged that UNOs are now governing the upazilas.
The association's President Harun-or-Rashid Howlader said, "Presently, public representatives have no authority on issues such as: government aid distribution to farmers, rehabilitation of poor rural women and the homeless, spot selection for tube-wells, or distribution of winter clothes."
"The chairmen have no clue about how much the government is allocating to implement various development projects at the upazila level, or how this money is being spent. Chairmen are the chief executives of upazila parishads, so we demand that all relevant activities be carried out with our approval," he added.
Howlader, who serves as the chairman of Dumki Upazila of Patuakhali, continued, "Upazila parishad chairmen are elected public representatives, however, the UNOs are not valuing our inputs while making decisions involving public interest."
"Administrative officials are neglecting the upazila chairmen by not taking their opinions into account," he said.
Claiming that "circulars that violate the existing laws" have been issued by the ministries on multiple occasions in the past, Howlader added, "The UNOs do not send us any files. Various ministries issue separate circulars regarding the aid programmes, but leave the upazila chairmen out of the loop."
"The UNOs are handling all activities related to aid programmes. This system must be suspended. Circulars should not ignore the upazila parishad act," he added.
After the 5th Upazila Parishad Election in 2019, the Upazila Parishad Association wrote to the local government minister, cabinet secretary and the senior secretary of the Local Government Division, informing them about such issues.
Speakers at the press conference said there has been no response to that petition to this day. The association also sent 15 secretaries a Notice Demanding Justice on 20 September last year, but a response has yet to come.
The association pressed home a number of demands at the programme, including the amendment or cancellation of ministry circulars that violate the upazila parishad act, and enforce the use of "Upazila Parishad" in all formal activities and communications, instead of "Upazila Administration."
The upazila chairmen present at the event said if the government does not meet their demands by 17 January, they will hold view exchange meetings and human chains at the district level across the country.
They will also organise a human chain at the National Press Club premises on 27 January. The association warned of a tougher movement if their demands are not met by that day.
Present at the programme, Bangladesh Upazila Parishad Association's General Secretary Saiful Islam Khan said, "We are losing respect at the administrative and social level. Our involvement in the implementation of government programmes and development projects has decreased."
The association's Joint Secretary Md Nur Hossain, Senior Vice-President Golam Sarwar and Law Secretary Rina Parvin were present at the event, along with chairmen and vice-chairmen of various upazilas throughout the country.
Rina Parvin serves as the chairman of the Gazipur Sadar Upazila Parishad.