More than 35,000 employees of 260 municipalities have not received salaries for up to seven years due to fund crunch of the local government bodies.
Of them, some 6,000 staffers have been without salaries for five years, around 12,000 for two years and another 5,000 for a year, show the latest statistics of Bangladesh Association of Paurashava Services (BAPS).
Two employees -- one from Santahar municipality in Bogra and the other from Bhagatipara municipality in Natore -- have not got salaries for around seven years.
There are 327 municipalities in the country, and the BAPS compiled data from all but one.
The total amount of unpaid salaries now stands at Tk 642.25 crore, said leaders of the association.
Besides, some 964 retired employees have not received any pensions. The amount of unpaid pension is TK 120 crore, they mentioned.
Talking to this newspaper yesterday, BAPS President Abdul Alim Mollah said, "It is not possible for any of the municipalities to pay its staffers salaries from its own funds."
The officials and employees of the municipalities have been passing their days in severe financial hardship.
"I don't have any words to narrate my sufferings," said Mahfuzur Rahman, a sanitary inspector at Alamdanga municipality in Chuadanga.
The 26-year-old graduate joined the municipality on March 9, 2015, with high hopes. But his hopes were dashed. He has not received salaries for 22 months.
His three-member family now depends on farming for survival.
"I couldn't ensure proper treatment for my mother because of financial constraints ... she died in 2016," he said.
None of the 70 staffers at Alamdanga municipality, established in 1985, has received salaries for the last 22 months.
GOVT FUNDS NOT ENOUGH
A total of 35,139 staffers work in the 260 municipalities. Of them, 12,695 are permanent, and the rest are employed on an ad hoc basis.
As per the Paurashava Act, the government provides a municipality with at least 0.04 percent of the salaries for its staffers. The municipality has to arrange the rest of the amount from its revenue.
The revenue comes from holding tax and lease on local markets. It also gets two percent of the amount realised as land tax.
The municipalities require Tk 1,249 crore annually to pay monthly salaries of all staffers, including mayors and councillors, according to the BAPS.
In fiscal 2018-19, the government allocated Tk 13.67 crore for salary funds of all the municipalities, which is only one percent of the required amount, said the association leaders.
The BAPS data shows that 326 municipalities earned Tk 1,136 crore in revenue and spent Tk 1,217 crore in fiscal 2017-18.
DEMAND FOR ALLOCATION
On Tuesday, representatives of the BAPS submitted a memorandum to the prime minister through Planning Minister MA Mannan, demanding allocation for municipality staffers from the government's non-development funds.
In March last year, the aggrieved officials and employees of these municipalities staged a five-day sit-in in front of the Jatiya Press Club. They withdrew the sit-in upon “assurance” from Abdul Malek, the then secretary of the Local Government Division (LGD).
At that time, the ministry also formed a seven-member committee headed by Mahbub Hossain, additional secretary (the Urban Development Wing) of the LGD, to look into the matter.
"We had several meetings with the secretary at that time. He assured us of meeting our demands. But there has been no progress till date," said Alim.
"We demand inclusion of the municipalities in the Upazila Parishad Act 1998 under which staffers of 17 types of local government bodies receive salaries,” said the BAPS president, who filed a writ petition with the High Court on July 26 last year.
In the petition, he sought a court order for the government to pay salaries of municipality staffers from public funds.
Talking to The daily Star yesterday, Mahbub said, “We have almost finalised our [the committee] report. But two cases are pending with the High Court in this regard. We have sought opinion from the [LGRD] ministry's legal wing on the legal aspects...”
Experts say most of the municipalities have little scope for generating income. Those were made municipalities under political consideration despite not having the merit or characteristics to become municipalities.
Prof Tofail Ahmed, a local government expert, said, "Many localities were made municipalities under political consideration though those lacked merit.
“Most of the staffers were appointed without considering the needs or financial capability of the municipalities. As a result, some poor people are now suffering.
"The government should allocate funds immediately as a temporary solution. But there should be a commission like the ones in India to adopt a unique and centralised system for all local government institutions," he mentioned.
Tofail, also the vice chancellor of Victoria University in Cumilla, criticised the government decision to announce all the upazila headquarters as municipalities, saying “the upazila system itself is not working”.