Federal Government for Good Governance in Bangladesh

Abstract: 
The paper suggests for abolishing division, the highest unit of field administration in the country; and in place of division, it proposes for establishing provincial government. There shall be 7 provincial governments as there are 7 divisions. The central government shall be formed according to the rules of parliamentary democracy. It shall consist of the President, the Prime Minister, a Deputy Prime Minister and a cabinet. A provincial government shall compose of a Governor appointed by the President, the Chief Ministers and a council of ministers. The central legislature to be known as parliament shall be bicameral but the provincial legislature called Pradeshik Ayenshava (provincial legislature) shall be unicameral. The upper house of central legislature known as senate shall consist of 86 elected Senators of which two are reserved for the capital city of Dhaka. Each province shall elect an equal number of Senators. One-fourth of the Senators, except for the reserved two, must be from women who shall be elected by the Senators. The present central legislature called Jatiya Sangsad (House of Nation) shall remain as lower house consisting of 400 seats of which 100 will be reserved for women. The members for general seats shall be elected by direct election of the people; and women members for reserved seats shall be elected by the members from general seats. The provincial legislature called Pradeshik Ayenshava (provincial legislature) shall be an elected body. The number of its seats will vary from province to province with the variation of population size. Like central legislature, one-fourth of the seats of each provincial legislature must be reserved for women elected by the members from general seats. The term of both central and provincial legislatures shall be 4 years. The Deputy Prime Minister shall preside over the session of senate and also the joint session of senate and Jatiya Sangsad. The Speaker for Jatiya Sangsad and of Pradeshik Ayenshava shall be elected by their respective houses.
Main Article: 

1. Introduction

After the independence in 1971, it was hoped that there would be all round governance reforms in Bangladesh. But, except for some local governance reforms, no significant efforts have been taken in connection with governance reforms at the central level. Under the circumstances, a question arises on where we should start with the governance reforms. The political crisis in Bangladesh, especially the mistrust between the ruling party and the opposition, and also boycotting of parliament by the opposition, tells us that the governance reforms agenda should be first opened at the central level. Given this reality, the present paper aims at dealing with the governance reforms at central level, especially the form of government.

The present paper identifies some constraints for good governance in Bangladesh which are due to unitary government in the country. To overcome the constraints and to facilitate good governance, the paper proposes for federal government in Bangladesh.

2.  Analysis of Key Terms

Governance in a broader sense means “how people are ruled, how the affairs of the state are administered and regulated as well as nation’s system of politics and how these function in relation to public administration and law” (Mills and Serageldin, 1992:304). According to a researcher, governance issues include consideration of the form of political authority and means by which authority is exercised and the ability to assert authority in the society at large (Siddiqui, 2000:1). In short, governance means the manner in which state power is exercised to manage a nation’s affairs. If state power is exercised properly and efficiently for the management of country’s economic and social resources in order to achieve balanced development, the state of governance is called good governance; and its contrary is called poor governance or mis-governance/bad governance. Good governance is not only desirable but also is the pre-condition for equitable and balanced development of a country. The developing countries like Bangladesh, which are in the early stages of development, need good governance to create an enabling environment for building physical infrastructures; expanding education, science and technology; alleviating poverty and creating employment; maintaining health, sanitation and ecological balance; ensuring social security, impartial and prompt justice; upholding human rights and removing corruption; expanding power generation and facilitating people’s participation in governance and control over administration. But little has been done by the governments of Bangladesh in this regard.

There are many actors of governance. The government is one; and the main actor of governance. There are three organs of government, namely executive, legislature and judiciary. But, when we speak of government, we generally mean the executive organ of government. When the powers of government are constitutionally divided between central and provincial/state governments, the government is called federal government. On the contrary, when all powers of government are centralized in the hands of the central government alone, the government is unitary government. The great disadvantage of a unitary government is its centralization of powers. Everything is done from the centre and there is little scope for local initiative. Experience shows that decentralized provincial government is more nearer to the people and also for the interest of the country as a whole. According to Garner, “a unitary government tends to repress local initiatives, discourages rather than stimulates interest in public affairs, impairs the validity of local governments, and facilitates the development of a centralized bureaucracy” (Garner, 1951:381). For this reason, there is a general preference for federal government in modern times.

Centralization and decentralization are frequently used in the study of governance of a country. The earlier police states were highly centralized. The concept of modern welfare state has given birth to the concept of decentralization (Wahhab, 2002:1). The governments of modern states have to perform multi-dimensional functions. Since the development dimensions of modern governments have tremendously increased, it is impossible for a highly centralized government and administration to perform the ever-growing volume of works properly and effectively. Without decentralization of some functions to provincial or/and local level, it has become impossible on the part of the central government alone to perform all of its activities effectively. Thus, decentralization exists in one form or another in every state and has its roots in democracy.

It is very difficult to determine the degree of decentralization in a quantitative manner. In spite of this, there are efforts to measure decentralization by using different terms that are popularly known as forms of decentralization. They are devolution, deconcentration, delegation and dispersal (Commonwealth Secretariat, 1984:5). Devolution means transfer of power to locally constituted political bodies. Devolution has constitutional/legal connotations. It is also called democratic decentralization. Local government is essentially a form of decentralization under the spirit of devolution. When devolution is referred to provincial government it is called political decentralization. Therefore, political decentralization and provincial government are synonymous. The degree of political decentralization is related to the question of provincial autonomy under federalism.

3. Bangladesh at a Glance

Bangladesh was a part of Bengal in British India. It became a province of Pakistan in 1947 when India was partitioned into Indian Union and Pakistan. Bangladesh became independent in 1971. It is a unitary democratic state. The legislature of Bangladesh is unicameral called Jatiyo Sangsad (House of Nation). The highest judiciary is the Supreme Court. It comprises two Divisions, the High Court Division and the Appellate Division. Below the Supreme Court there is the district court only. For the convenience of local governance and field administration, Bangladesh is divided in a descending manner into divisions, zilas (districts), upazilas (sub-districts) and unions. There are 7 divisions, 64 zilas, 481 upazilas and 4486 unions in the rural areas. Similarly, there are city corporations at the divisional towns and the capital city of Dhaka; and 269 municipalities in other towns.

Bangladesh is one of the most populous countries in the world. In respect to population it stands 7th in the world, and its territory is 143,999 square kilometres. Currently, the population of Bangladesh is assumed 162.22 million (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List of countries_ by population). Male-female ratio is 105:100 and literacy is 63 per The per capita income in 2010 was estimated to be US $ 1,700 (adjusted by purchasing power parity) and GDP growth is 6%.

Bangladesh started its political with parliamentary democracy of the British type. But, within three years after taking office, the government of Awami League headed by Mujib amended the constitution (4TH Amendment) and presidential rule of one-party political system was introduced in the country in early 1975. In August of the same year, the government of Mujib was overthrown by some military officers and he was assassinated along with other family members except for his two daughters, one of which is the present Prime Minister of Bangladesh. Mushtaq Ahmed, a close associate of Mujib formed the government; and martial law was proclaimed throughout the country. But this episode was followed by coups and counter-coups; and finally Army Chief General Zia came into power. Zia reintroduced multi-party politics. Zia organized his own party Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) and ruled the country till May 1981, when he was assassinated by a group of military officers. Justice Satter, the Vice President was made acting President and he subsequently was elected President. But, within a few months, Army Chief General Ershad overthrew the government of Satter through a military coup and seized power in March 1982. Like Zia, Ershad also organized his own party, Jatiya Party (JP) and ruled the country till 1990, when he was forced to resign by mass uprisings, and he handed over power to sitting Chief Justice Shabuddin Ahmed who as Acting President arranged the national election in 1991 The BNP secured a single majority and formed the government with the support of Jamat-i-Islami (JI), an Islamic party. Parliamentary democracy was revived in the country through the 12th Amendment to the constitution

From 1991 till to date, 5 parliamentary elections have been held. The BNP-formed government after three elections (twice with support of JI and/or other small parties), and the Awami league formed the government after two elections including the present government supported by JP and other small parties known as Mahajot (grand coalition). It should be noted that since 1991, although national election has been held regularly, except for two years’ undemocratic rule in 2006-2008, it is unfortunate for the nation that there is a serious mistrust between the Awami League and the BNP, the major parties, taking turns at being either the ruling party or the opposition. As a result, the provision of non-party caretaker government was adopted in the constitution in 1996 to hold the national election. The unique feature of election under the non-party caretaker government was that no sitting government returned to power. But, in the elections under the political government, the sitting government returned to power with overwhelming majority and rigging was very rampant in the elections. But, recently the non-party caretaker government system has been abolished by the present government led by the Awami League. A serious agitation against this is going on in the country supported by most of the political parties including the BNP, civil societies and other occupational groups.

From the above discussion on political dimension, it is revealed that there were many changes in the politics of Bangladesh, but the unitary character of the country remained unchanged. This has created many problems which not only created constraints for good governance, but also endangered the democracy, which will be discussed in the following Section 4.

4. Constraints of Good Governance in Bangladesh

4. 1. Large Population and Larger Size of Government

It was mentioned earlier that Bangladesh is one of the most populous countries in the world. In respect to population, it stands 7th in the world. When Bangladesh became independent in 1971, its population was 75 million. Currently, it is assumed that the population of Bangladesh has more than doubled i.e. 162.22 million. Similarly, after independence, there were 19 ministries in the government of Bangladesh and by 2003 the number of ministries increased to 52, excluding the President’s office and Prime Minister’s secretariat (Government of Bangladesh, 2005: 26-29). However, sometimes the number of ministries increased and sometimes decreased, but it never came down to 42. The headquarters of all these ministries, divisions, departments, directorates, autonomous bodies and corporations are located at Dhaka, the capital city. There are 28 cadre services in the Bangladesh administrative structure excluding judicial, military and other none-cadre services. In 1971, the number of civil officers and employees of Bangladesh both at the centre and field levels was 454,450. and in 2007 the number became more than double increasing to 10, 03,021 (Government of Bangladesh, 2008: 162).

However, it is a very difficult task for a central government alone located at Dhaka to govern such a huge population of the country; to administer the affairs of a big government and control more than one million officers and employees throughout the country. Hence, for better governance in the country, political decentralization under federalism to create provincial governments in different regions of the country is essential.

4. 2. Delays in Decision Making

We already stated that Bangladesh has a highly centralized unitary government that causes delays in the decision making process. Thousands of files in the Bangladesh secretariat and attached offices are waiting for decision since long time. Consequently, there is a delay of taking decisions for both domestic and foreign investments in development projects. Since the government is overburdened with functions, there is also inability for of expending development funds and completing development projects in time. Misappropriation of development funds and unsatisfactory revenue collection are regular phenomena in Bangladesh. Absence of rule of law, violations of human rights, deterioration of law and order situation, terrorism, killing, abductions and so on are increasing by the day. Corruption, price hikes of necessary commodities and dismal performance of power generation are out of the control of the government. Because of being overburdened with functions, no government so far constituted could improve the situation; rather the situation is deteriorating day by day. In fact, it is very difficult to improve the deteriorating situations only by a unitary highly centralized government, sitting at Dhaka, whatever might be its efficiency. Therefore, the activities of the government, which are not of national interest, should be decentralized to the various provinces created in different divisions of the country. Provincial governments not only will relieve the central government from its overburdened functions but will also make the system more speedy, efficient and transparent. According to a study, the provincial governments enhance the overall efficiency of the state for the following reasons:

  1. a.   The provincial governments, for their own interests, would compete with each other to attract foreign and domestic investors by providing them better facilities, building infrastructures and maintaining congenial law and order situation.
  2. b.   Competition between provinces would increase the capacity and productivity of the provincial governments.
  3. c.   The governments would be more innovative and adaptive in such a competitive environment.
  4. d.   The provincial leaders would remain more accountable to the people, transparent in their actions and the people would have more access to them (Chowdhury 2002: 271).

4. 3. Thousands of Cases Pending with Supreme Court

In the case of higher judiciary, the problem is more acute in Bangladesh. Thousands of cases are pending with the High Court Division of the Supreme Court awaiting trial or adjudication. After the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, a small number of cases was pending with the High Court Division of the Supreme Court.  In 1987, the number of pending cases in the High Court Division increased to 21, 600 and this number further increased to 20, 58, 000 in 2005 (Wahhab, 2006:1); and currently it  has reached 30, 25,571 (Ministry of Law and Parliamentary Affairs, quoted in the Purbakoon, a daily newspaper published from Chittagong, January 17, 2011). According to a study, under the present judicial process both in district courts and the Supreme Court “it is estimated that the number of cases awaiting trial or adjudication will take over 100 years to clear up unless something extraordinary is done immediately!” (Mintoo, 2004: 136). In this connection, the statement made by J. Bryce in 1921 is noteworthy. He remarked “there is no better test of excellence of government than the efficiency of its judicial system” (quoted in Wahhab, 2006: 1).

The pending situation, both in High Court Division and district courts has deteriorated in such a way that the present Law Minister expressed concern about the fact that the sheer number of cases which are now on trial or pending in the various courts including High Court Division, may cause the whole judiciary system to collapse (The Daily Star, 2011). However, the situation in the High Court Division of the Supreme Court may be solved to a great extent if several provinces are created which require the establishment of independent separate High Courts.

4.4. Meagre People’s Participation

Due to excessive centralization of power enjoyed by unitary government, almost all major political and administrative decisions are taken in Dhaka. Hence, people’s participation in governance and administration is very limited. In fact, the people of Bangladesh have no participation in governance and control over government’s administration. Only after five years, people of Bangladesh vote in national election to elect 300 MPs. So, to facilitate wider people’s participation in governance and their control over administration, provincial governments are essential. The provincial governments also will enhance democratic and development process of the country.

4.5. Inexperienced Leadership in Government

Currently, Bangladesh recruits inexperienced persons for national leadership, especially the ministers. Most of the ministers in Bangladesh have no prior experience. They have no experience in local government also, because besides village level local government, district and sub-district level local governments do not exist in the country. Looking at the predominance of inexperienced leaders in the present cabinet of Bangladesh, a senior leader of Awami League criticised it as Kochi Kachar Ashor (club of infants). However, the establishment of provincial governments in different regions may facilitate in providing experienced leadership in the government at the centre. The provinces by accommodating regional leaders in their governments can provide the emerging leaders the scope to share power and gather experience in governing the country. The centre also can recruit leaders from provinces who have already gathered experience in provincial governments.

4. 6. Excessive Population Pressure on Dhaka City

Bangladesh is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. Dhaka the capital city is also one of the populous cities in the world, which has about 15 million people. Everyday thousands of people from different regions of the country come to Dhaka for education, employment or business or/and political fortune. The growth of people migrating from other different parts of the country to Dhaka is six percent per year and their family growth rate is also contributing to the increased city population, which creates great pressure on the city. Out of the total 51 private universities except for 8, all are located at Dhaka (University Grants Commission (UGC), 2008: 118). In respect to the population, Dhaka has already emerged as a mega city without providing proper service facilities and adequate physical infrastructures to its people. About 40 percent of city dwellers live in slums (UNB [United News of Bangladesh] report, January 1, 2011). There are many people living in lanes and footpaths of the city.

Due to excessive population, the city’s environment has already been threatened. “The acceptable global standard is to keep 26-27% of the urban areas empty for roads, alleyways, footpaths, parks, parking lots, playgrounds, lake, etc. but Dhaka’s total such area only accounts for 7-8%” (Mintoo, 2004: 349). As a result, throughout Dhaka city there are traffic jams and people spend hours together in the polluted atmosphere on roads and streets. Air and water have saturated with poisonous elements. The water of rivers around Dhaka city is nothing but poison. Even WASA water treatment plant in Sayedabad of the city finds it very difficult to treat the poisonous water of Sitalakya, a river near the city. Sound pollution has reached unacceptable limits; gas, electricity and water supply for about 150 million city dwellers are turning into a serious crisis. Many parts of the city have already become unfit for human habitation. Rapid depletion of sub surface water level has already made the city vulnerable to mild earthquakes.

If the present situation persists, in a short time the administration of Dhaka city will be unmanageable and the city will be unsuitable for habitation. Water supply and sanitation facilities in Dhaka might collapse under the excessive pressure of city dwellers.  According to UNB report, Dhaka city faces a grim prospect of total collapse within a decade, due to unplanned urbanization, absence of civic facilities, and aggrieved by its excessive population (http://unbconnect.com /component/news/task-show/id-38256). Under the circumstances, governing the large growing population in Dhaka city effectively and to provide for urban facilities, it is essential to stop migration of people to Dhaka and to disperse excess and floating population to the other places outside Dhaka. In other words, the above problems of Dhaka city can be solved to a great extent by creating provinces in different regions of the country. The creation of provinces will lessen the population pressure on Dhaka city and also concentration of leaders. When provinces will be created in different regions, the people instead of coming to Dhaka will go to the new provinces to build their fortune and also the floating population in Dhaka will migrate to newly created provinces.

4. 7. Limited Scope for Political Actors in Governance

Since Bangladesh has highly centralized unitary government, there is limited scope for political actors in the governance of the country. This is the main cause of political crisis and conflict between the party in power and opposition and also among the leaders enjoying power and out of power.  Bangladesh stands seventh in the world in population size. It has 162.22 million people but its unicameral parliament consists of 300 general seats only. For the political actors from among 162.22 million people only 300 seats in the parliament is very meagre. The unitary character of the country provides no other scope for the opposition to get a share in governance. As a result, impatience for power among opposition is very strong in Bangladesh and cooperation between government and opposition is almost absent. Political crisis turns sometimes towards the politics of confrontation. This paved the way for undemocratic rule in the country for two years (2006-2008). The point may further be clarified if we analyse results of some national elections.

In the election of 1991, the Awami League secured more than 33.67% votes and the BNP received 30.81% votes i.e. Awami League received 2.86 % more votes than the BNP. But, due to electoral complexities, the Awami League got 100 seats in the parliament, and the BNP got 140 seats. The BNP formed the government with the help of Jamat as we mentioned earlier. The results of election of 2001 also reveal that the main opposition party, the Awami League and the ruling four-party alliance headed by the BNP and other small parties respectively bagged 40%, 46% and 14% of the total votes cast. The percentage difference of vote secured by the Awami League and the four-party alliance was only 6, yet the alliance got 210 seats in the parliament and the Awami League got only 62 seats. Similarly, in the election of 2008, the present opposition party BNP secured 30% of the total votes, but it got only 27 seats in the parliament. It is really unfortunate for Bangladesh that such a big party acting as opposition has no share in the national political power structure due to unitary character of the country. Consequently, the main opposition, whether it is Awami League  or BNP behaved undemocratically and raised questions about the fairness of the elections under the caretaker government also, although the elections were generally accepted as fair and praised at home and abroad. The opposition would oppose the government by organizing political agitation on unreasonable and misleading demands including the demand for resignation of the government. Boycotting the parliament and hartal (strike) throughout the country by the opposition has become a usual phenomenon in Bangladesh. According to a study (UNDP, 2005: 13), after the election of 1991 till 2000, the opposition both the Awami League and the BNP along with their allies observed hartals for 827 days, which invariably hindered the socio-economic development of the country.

Under the prevailing unitary character of Bangladesh, the impatience for power is not only found in the opposition, this is also found among the leaders of the ruling party who are out of power in the government. If there were no floor-crossing bar in the constitution (Article 70 of Bangladesh Constitution), the deprived MPs from the ruling party would have changed their party; and no government would be stable in Bangladesh.

In short, the federal system may create room in the provincial governments for the opposition as well as for the deprived ruling party leaders; and thus it may save the country from the politics of confrontation with which Bangladesh is now encountering.

5. Proposal for Federal Scheme: Canadian Model

The above discussion clearly indicates that Bangladesh is encountering various constraints of good governance, which not only has hampered the development process but also has endangered the democracy. The constraints, as our study reveals, are due to the highly centralized unitary government located at Dhaka.  These constraints cannot be duly solved by strengthening decentralized administration and local government because these are issues to be solved by introducing political decentralization/provincial governments under the federal scheme. So, we propose a federal government in Bangladesh which provides political decentralization to create provincial governments in the regions, next to central government. A short description of our proposal for federal scheme is given below:

There are different models of federation in the world. Of them, US and Canadian models are common and popular. In the US model, sovereign independent states first made the confederation and subsequently became the federation of 50 states, so the federating states surrendered some of their powers and functions that are not of national interest to the centre. The surrendered powers and functions are written in the constitution. The residuary powers and functions are retained by the federating states. For this reason, the US federation is confederation biased. On the other hand, Canadian model is unitary biased where residuary powers and functions are vested in the centre; and powers and functions of provincial governments are written in the constitution. Since Bangladesh is transferring herself from unitary character to federal state, we suggest for it to follow the Canadian model. In other words, under Bangladesh federation, provincial subjects shall be written and residuary subjects will be vested in the central government.

5.1. Composition of Government

Bangladesh follows parliamentary democracy, so central and provincial governments shall be formed according the rules of parliamentary democracy. In other words, the central government shall consist of the President elected by the national parliament and provincial legislatures, Prime Minister, a Deputy Prime Minister and the cabinet/council of ministers. A provincial government shall be composed of a Governor appointed by the President according to the advice of the Prime Minister, Chief Minister and the council of ministers.  

5.2. Establishment of Provinces in Place of Divisions

Administratively, as mentioned above, Bangladesh is divided in descending order into divisions, zilas, upazilas and unions. The division was created in 1829 for revenue administration. With the passage of time and gradual reducing importance of revenue functions, the division became a unit of general administration. But, in the face of district administration, which later became focal unit of field administration, the division lost its importance. Now, division plays a role not more than that of a post office box for the district administration. For this reason, the Bengal Administration Inquiry Committee (1944-45) recommended for the abolition of the division. Similarly, the Administrative and Services Reorganization Committee instituted in 1972, and the Committee for Administrative Reorganization/Reform of 1982 identified division as an unnecessary unit of administration; and suggested its abolition (Wahhab, 2002: 183).  It is very surprising that no government of Bangladesh took the initiative to abolish the division rather new divisions are coming into existence. During the initial period of United Pakistan, there were only 3 divisions in Bangladesh; and currently the number of division has increased to 7. The present government created the last one.  The reason is that all governments used field level administrative units as their power base through bureaucracy and division as the highest seat for bureaucratic administration serves the same purpose.

For this reason, we suggest for abolishing the divisions and upgrading them to provinces. It should be noted here that on an average a division consists of 27 million people, which is greater than the population of many sovereign states in the world. We propose for 7 provinces in the place of 7 divisions and each province shall have autonomous provincial government.

5.3. Central and Provincial Subjects

We have already discussed that the proposed federation in Bangladesh will follow the Canadian model of federation in which the power and functions of provincial governments shall be written in the constitution; and the residuary powers and functions shall lie with the central government. The residuary subjects for the centre include defence, foreign affairs, currency, communications including highways, navigation, air and the items that are related to the smooth functioning of central subjects; and those of national interest; and also the power to impose taxes to finance the central subjects.

The provincial subjects that shall be written include education, health, family planning, banking (other than the central bank), finance and planning, housing and urban planning, roads and highways (other than national highways), judiciary (other than the Supreme Court), environment, energy, science, information and communications technology, local government and rural development, industrial development, housing and public works, food, agriculture, fishery and livestock, poultry and animal husbandry, and similar areas of national interest. The provincial government shall have power to impose taxes to finance the provincial subjects.

5.4. Bi-cameral Legislature in the Centre

The central legislature under proposed federation called parliament shall be bicameral in nature. The upper house shall be known as senate and present central legislature called Jatiya Sangsad (House of Nation) shall remain with the same name as lower house.

The senate shall consist of 86 elected Senators of which 2 shall be reserved for capital city of Dhaka. Each province shall have equal number of Senators so that the big province(s) may not exploit the smaller one(s). The Senators shall be elected from single territorial constituencies by direct election. One-fourth of the Senators, except for the two reserved, must be women who shall be elected by the Senators. The senate, other than law making power, shall enjoy the power to ratify the appointment of constitutional posts in the government to avoid politicization as is alleged in Bangladesh. The lower house, Jatiya Sangsad shall have 400 seats of which 100 shall be reserved for women. The members for general seats shall also be elected from single territorial constituencies by direct election; and women members for reserved seats shall be elected by the members elected from general seats.

Both houses shall have their separate presiding officers to conduct their sessions. Deputy Prime Ministers shall act as presiding officer of senate; and the Speaker of Jatiya Sangsad shall be elected from among its members. The joint session of both houses shall be presided over by the Deputy Prime Minister.

5.5. Unicameral Legislature in Province

Unlike the central legislature, the provincial legislature shall be unicameral. It shall be known as Pradeshik Ayenshava (Provincial Legislature). Like the central legislature, the provincial legislature shall have general seats and reserved seats for women. The ratio of general and reserved seats to provincial legislature and its election process shall be similar to that of the central legislature. The number of seats in provincial legislature may vary from province to province according to the size of the population. The size of electoral constituency for a seat of provincial legislature shall be lower than that of the lower house of the central legislature. There are 483 upazilas and 27 thanas in the country. We propose that every upazila may form an electoral constituency for the election of provincial legislature subject to the reorganization of upazilas keeping in mind the area and population size. Because the variation of upazilas in area is 2.06 to 1906.03 kilometres and population variation is 15,984 to 6, 76,955 (Wahhab, 2000: 193-194). The thanas in urban areas outside the upazilas may also be the electoral constituency for provincial election keeping in mind that its population should be around the population size of reorganized upazilas.

5.6. Government Tenure and the Size of Ministries

The tenure of present central legislature is 5 years. We recommend that the tenure of both central and provincial legislatures shall be reduced to 4 years. A tenure reduced by one may lessen the antagonistic attitude of the opposition towards the government, which Bangladesh is generally encountering at present. Both central ministries and the provincial ministries should not exceed 10 in number.

5.7. Strengthening Governance through Judiciary

For ensuring good governance in Bangladesh, the judiciary must be reorganised. The present High Court Division of the Supreme Court should be decentralized to the proposed 7 provinces for establishing separate independent High Courts. We also propose for decentralizing judiciary to upazila levels, because thousands of cases are not only pending with the High Court Division of  the Supreme Court for settlement, the onnumerable  cases are also waiting for trial in the district courts, as mentioned above. In other words, there shall be 4 sets of courts in Bangladesh, namely, Federal/Supreme Court, High Court, zila (district) court and upazila (sub-district) court.

5.8. Four-Tier Rural Local Government

For good governance in a democratic country, effective local government is essential. It is surprising that in the rural areas of Bangladesh where 80% of population live, there is only union parishad (council) at the village level. No local governments are organized above union parishad. We propose for four tiers of elected rural local government in Bangladesh. They are in ascending order, ward (electoral unit of a union) parishad, union parishad, upazila parishad and zila parishad.

5.9. A High-powered Committee

Finally, a high-powered committee may be instituted to work out the plan for the implementation of the proposed federation scheme in Bangladesh. The plan for federation is a change in the basic structure of the state. Therefore, it needs amendment to the constitution. The Constitution should be amended and necessary laws should also be enacted for this purpose.

6. Conclusion

Bangladesh lacks good governance. One of the main reasons for lacking good governance is highly centralized unitary government of the country, as discussed above. To facilitate good governance and to remove political crisis in Bangladesh, decentralized administration and local government is not enough. Political decentralization to create provincial governments under federalism is essential.  A question may arise that under federalism, the creation of 7 provincial governments requires expenditure of a large amount of money to administer the affairs of provincial governments and construction of infrastructures of provincial headquarters. Bangladesh is a poor country. It may not be able to bear such expenditure. In reply to this question, it may be said that the officials and employees working at Dhaka under the ministries converting to provincial subjects will be transferred to the proposed provinces. Since divisions will be abolished, the divisional officials and employees will be absorbed in the provincial administration. As the headquarters of divisions will be the provincial capitals, the accommodations for offices and residences at the division levels will fulfil the provincial requirements to a certain extent. So, the money involvement for the expenditures in establishing the provincial governments will not be so much as is generally assumed.

Again, it may also be argued as to what the justification of provincial governments is in Bangladesh with an area of 143,999 sq. kms.  In reply to this question, it may be said that the main objective of a state is to provide better services to the people; and the government is the machinery through which this objective is achieved. So, what should be the nature of state and form of government depends on the consideration for providing better services to the people, not for the territorial size of the state. For example, Sri Lanka has already established provincial councils at the provinces, the upper administrative zones; and there is a great demand to establish a federal government. Sri Lankan ex-President Chandrika Kumaratunga stressed that Sri Lanka must become a federal state (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/4248472.stm). Sri Lanka is smaller than Bangladesh in respect to both territory (65,610 sq. km.) and population (20.23 million http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List of_countries_by_population). The population of Sri Lanka is not only smaller than that of Bangladesh, but also smaller than even a division (proposed province) of Bangladesh. On an average, a division consists of about 24 million people and Sri Lanka has a total population of 20.23 million. Similarly, the Constituent Assembly of Nepal already took the decision to frame federal constitution for the country (Author’s interview with the President of Nepalese Constituent Assembly on 29 June, 2011). There are federal states in the world which have population smaller than Sri Lanka and Nepal. So, federalism is considered for better governance, wider people’s participation in governance and better services to the people, not for territorial or population size.

However, it should not be said that the establishment of provincial governments under federal scheme will solve all the constraints of good governance in Bangladesh. But, it may be said that the federal scheme will solve the above constraints to a great extent and will make the government more speedy, efficient and transparent. It will also provide greater scope for political actors to participate in governance, resulting in fewer political crises.

References

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