Chittagong Hill Tracts: No Polls To District Councils In 21 Years
Elections to the three hill district councils, which together comprise the Chittagong Hill Tracts, have not been held in the last 21 years. Since the current selected chairmen and members of the councils have no accountability like elected representatives, stakeholders claim that many of them are indulged in huge corruption. The absence of elected representatives has also caused a disruption of public service delivery in the hill districts.
Below is an article published by The Independent Bangladesh.
As elections to the three hill district councils (HDC) were not held in the last 21 years, the councils are now being run by people ‘hand-picked’ by ruling parties, who have virtually no accountability to the people. According to the rule, the elections should be held after every five years.
Driving home the importance of elected representatives, stakeholders said since the selected persons are not accountable to the people, many of them are indulged in huge corruption. Absence of the elected representatives has also caused huge disruption of public service delivery in the hill districts.
The hill district councils (then Rangamati, Khagrachhari and Bandarban local government councils) were created in 1989 and in the same year, elections were held to the councils. Each council was formed with one chairman (a person representing an ethnic minority) and 30 members (both from ethnic minorities and settlers).
Each hill council received roughly over Tk 15 crore-17 crore for development purposes from the government during the past 21 years. The government allocated the money to improve the socio-economic condition of the people of the Chittagong Hill Tracts (CHT). However, the HDC failed to do it due to absence of elected representatives in the councils, alleged local residents.
PCJSS spokesman Mangal Kumar Chakma told The Independent that they had urged the EC to take the initiative, including preparing a separate voter list, to hold the polls to HDCs, as well as to hold the CHT Regional Council election.
Now the hill district councils have become political offices of the two largest parties, the Bangladesh Awami League (AL) and the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), he added. Chakma said the councils have become ineffective and corrupt as the selected political leaders have plundered public money. “The selected chairmen and members of the interim councils have no accountability like elected representatives,” he added.
When asked, state minister for the CHT ministry, Bir Bahadur Ushwe Singh, said elections to the hill district councils should be held to expedite development activities in the region. He, however, said polls are not being held due to complexities regarding preparation of electoral rolls.
According to the CHT Accord, a separate voter list is mandatory to hold hill district council elections. Section 3 of the accord describes a “non-tribal permanent resident” as a person who is not a member of the ethnic minority community, but has legal land in the hill districts and generally lives in the hill districts at a specific address. Such residents will be eligible to cast their vote in local government bodies in the CHT.
Naba Bikram Kishore Tripura, secretary of the CHT ministry, said the government is going to bring changes in the Hill District Council Act to broaden the membership of the interim council with one chairman and 10 members. Representatives of different ethnic communities in the councils and sharing of representation of subject/departments have already been transferred to the councils, he added.
He also said already 23 departments have already been transferred to the Rangamati council, 22 to Khagrachari and 21 to Bandarban. He noted that three more subjects will be transferred to the hill district councils, namely secondary education, local tourism and technical school in Khagrachari. Mong Kay Ching Chowdhury, former chairman of the Bandarban Council, said elections to the hill district councils are necessary to strengthen the councils and eliminate corruption.
When asked, Election Commissioner Mohahamamd Shah Nawaz told The Independent that they can hold the elections if the ministry concerned urges the commission to arrange the polls. “Holding local government elections is not a constitutional responsibility of the EC. Such elections are legal, rather than constitutional. So the ministry concerned has to take the initiative to hold elections. Only then, we’ll begin the formalities, including preparation of voter list, as per the relevant law,” he said.
On December 2, 1997, the AL government signed the CHT Accord with Parbatya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samiti. On the basis of the CHT Accord, some major amendments to three Hill District Council Acts were passed in the National Assembly in 1998. The tenure of the councils had been increased to five years from three years.
Photo @ Shawn