Mar 28, 2014

Chittagong Hill Tracts: PCJSS Demands Polls and Elections To Be Held

The Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samity (PCJSS) criticized the Bangladesh Government for expanding the existing interim council of the Hill District Council, labelling it as a blatant violation of the CHT Peace Accord of 1997. The PCJSS has also called for elections, since  representatives of the three Hill District Councils have been ‘hand-picked’ by the ruling parties for the past 21 years and there is virtually no accountability to the people.

Below is an article published by The Independent Bangladesh

Differences have surfaced between Parbattya Chattagram Jana Samhati Samity (PCJSS) and the government over the latter's decision to expand the existing interim councils of Hill District Council (HDC) in three hill districts. Recently, the cabinet has approved the amended HDC Act and stated that there would be 11 members in the interim councils to ensure more participation from ethnic communities and to make their work easier. But PCJSS has described this as a clear violation of the CHT Accord signed between the government and PCJSS in 1997.

In 1998, some major amendments to three Hill District Council Acts were passed in Parliament on the basis of the CHT Accord. The tenure of the councils had been raised to five years from three years.

According to the newly amended acts, approved by the cabinet, the number of interim council members will be increased to from five to eleven. The interim council will continue to discharge its responsibilities until an elected HDC representative takes charge.

On March 10 [2014], the Cabinet  approved the proposals for expanding the interim councils of HDCs through the "Rangamati Parbattya Chhattagram Zila Parishad (Amendment) Act, 2014", "Khagrachhari Parbattya Chhattagram Zila Parishad (Amendment) Act, 2014" and "Bandarban Parbattya Chhattagram Zila Parishad (Amendment) Act, 2014".

Cabinet secretary M Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan said that seven members of the council would be appointed from ethnic minorities and three members would be appointed from non-ethnic communities.

The drafts of the proposed acts have made provisions for proportionate representation of ethnic minorities in the council.  The cabinet secretary said, “The zila parishads are facing difficulties due to a small council with expanded activities after the transfer of 33 government offices under it. The participation of ethnic minorities is also being ignored.”

About holding elections to district councils, including three zila parishads under the hill tracts, Bhuiyan said, “It was not discussed in the cabinet. But the government has no plans to run the HDC by selected councils permanently.”

Meanwhile, PCJSS protested against the government's decision, noting that elections to the three HDCs were not held in the last 21 years and that the councils are now being run by people, ‘hand-picked’ by the 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 indulge in massive corruption,” PCJSS claimed in a statement on March 25.

PCJSS spokesperson Mangal Kumar Chakma told The Independent that they had urged the EC to take the initiative, including preparation of a separate voter list, to hold the polls to HDCs as well as to hold elections to the CHT Regional Council.  Now, the hill district councils have become political offices of the AL and the BNP, he added.

Chakma alleged that the councils have become ineffective and corrupt as the selected political leaders have plundered public money. “All selected chairmen and members of the interim councils have no accountability,” he added.

However, state minister for the CHT ministry Bir Bahadur Ushwe Singh told The Independent that elections to the hill district councils should be held to expedite development activities in the region. He said polls are not being held due to complexities regarding preparation of voter lists.

Photo by Flickr © jankie