Pulling up backward municipalities  

Published: August 16, 2018 21:28:53 | Updated: August 18, 2018 22:14:22

Of the 35 per cent population in the country currently living in urban areas, about 60 per cent resides in the 11 city corporations, while 40 per cent inhabits the 318 municipalities scattered all over the country. But according to recent newspaper reports, as many as 100 municipalities are constantly plagued by innumerable problems that they are unable to resolve without adequate government support. A Dhaka-based newspaper published a report last month after surveying seven municipalities of Bogura, Joypurhat and Faridpur districts. The report claimed that these municipalities are mostly characterised by un-metalled or brick-laid roads. Although some carpeted roads do exist, they are dilapidated, broken and full of pot-holes. Besides, there are no street lights on roads. The arrangements for supply of pure drinking water and sanitation facilities are also inadequate. Water-logging is frequent even after the slightest of rains. Many municipalities also lack buildings of their own. Elections have not been held for many years in some of those. The townspeople are not getting enough services in the absence of elected mayors despite paying taxes. The services are mostly confined to issuance of birth and death certificates, citizenship certificates and trade licences. Many problems cannot be addressed on account of insufficient allocations. At the same time, initiatives for enhancing revenue income are lacking.

According to the Bangladesh Municipality Association, the service association of municipal employees and local government experts, at least 100 among the country's 329 municipalities are bedevilled with multifarious problems like those. Even though a long period has elapsed since their inclusion in the list of municipalities, many of them cannot be called municipal entities in terms of infrastructure quality and service delivery.  In fact, some municipalities have continued to languish like rural areas. Roads have not been metalled in many. Administrators run some of the entities instead of elected mayors. The service association of municipal employees claims that their salaries are not paid in many instances despite 100 per cent tax collection. When the officials engaged in delivering municipal services do not get salary or allowances, how can there be development work or proper delivery of services?

Most municipal towns in Bangladesh are infested with diverse problems resulting from uncontrolled bulge in population and unplanned infrastructure development. Besides, district level towns are by and large overlooked in urban development plans of the country. The local government experts opine that the civic problems in municipalities have continued to remain acute as many of these were accorded recognition out of political considerations alone over the years. As a result, sufficient attention has not been paid to their development. There are also lacunae and loopholes in the approval process, which have not been addressed yet.

There is no debate that provision of civic amenities is mandatory once an entity gets official recognition as a municipality. Roads, water and sanitation services, parks, playgrounds and educational institutions of these municipalities must be improved in line with their status. They should also be made self-reliant by maintaining a balance between their revenue income and development-cum- non-development expenditures. In addition, there should be rigorous accountability mechanisms for expenses incurred from government grants. A heightened sense of responsibility and accountability should also prevail among those who are tasked with running these entities. In sum, multi-pronged initiatives, including execution of development projects for sustainable development of these backward municipalities, should be taken up.

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