My currently ongoing research project aims to explore the role of the members of parliament in the development of their constituencies. I have particularly been interested in the constitutionally mandated advisory role given to MPs in our country and the consequences of it.
To obtain a unique perspective, I began to examine the role of British MPs in local development planning while I was in Cambridge. In the process, I also got to witness how members of the House of Commons interact with their constituents.
I learned from the dedicated website of Cambridge MP Mr Daniel Zeichner that he holds regular sessions called "surgeries" where he meets with constituents to talk about issues of concern.
As I was really intrigued, I set up an interview to talk to him and he was kind enough to oblige.
But let me talk briefly about the 'surgeries'. Most MPs in the United Kingdom hold regular meetings with their constituents. It is completely voluntary, so MPs get to decide how many surgeries to conduct.
They are usually held on Fridays or over the weekend after the MPs have returned from Westminster. The best way to find out about local MP's surgery times is to look on their website or call the constituency office. Surgery details may also be published in the local newspaper or public library.
But anyone can also call an MP's office and ask to make an appointment, irrespective of surgeries.
Mr. Zeichner usually holds surgeries once a week and advertises them locally and online. It is now considered an integral part of being an MP as surgeries allow them to connect to their constituents and represent them at the parliament far more effectively.
MPs in the UK have no formal role in the development planning. Constituents often write to MPs about different issues, but they should not have unrealistic expectations about what an MP can do.
Those who make decisions - planning officers, councillors, planning inspectors and planning ministers - must follow strict procedural rules. These rules do not allow decisions to be influenced by informal, private discussions with anyone outside the formal procedure.
Sometimes MPs prefer to help their constituents express their concerns to local authorities. Similarly, he/she can also put forward his name to speak to the Planning Committee, on behalf of the constituency he/she represents.
Mr. Zeichner believes that there is no scope for interference in the decision making process by the MPs. He has tried to get his name forward to talk to the planning committee based on the constituency's demands but that was about where his influence ends. This is the beauty of decentralised and empowered local government bodies in the UK.
In Bangladesh, local governments remain largely ineffective as MPs overstep the boundaries of their advisory role and directly meddle in development planning. A member of parliament in our country has three primary duties: political representation, representation of social diversity and electoral representation.
In fact, the MPs of Bangladesh are constitutionally limited to an advisory role in the conduct of local government. However, this has not prevented central leaders and politicians from getting involved in local development projects or using them for their own benefits.
According to the Upazila Parishad Act 2009, the role of an MP as an advisor to a local government body should not be controversial. The reality, however, is that the "advice" of the MPs often turns into "executive orders", ignoring and controlling the development plans and actions of elected representatives in the Upazila Parishad.
Besides decentralisation as a crucial step for ensuring pro-people development planning in rural Bangladesh, the relationship between the MPs, field administrators and locally elected representatives should be made more transparent.
MPs must remember that they are elected by the people of their constituencies to look after their common interests and represent them at the national level. They are not elected to govern the people, it is not a part of their job.
As advisors to the Upazila Parishad, MPs should monitor various activities of local government bodies from a distance to ensure that they are following the policies adopted by the Parliament. But their meddling in local governance can result in control of public resources, biased distribution, increased likelihood of misconduct, nepotism and conflicts of interest.
Last but not least, best practices are important for the democratic processes to work properly. And MPs should be pioneers of ensuring procedural correctness as they are the torchbearers of our country's democratic values.
Dr Mohammad Tarikul Islam is a Visiting Scholar at the University of Cambridge, UK and an Associate Professor at Department of Government and Politics in Jahangirnagar University. Email: email@example.com
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.