Strengthening city corporations

Neil Ray | Published: December 27, 2015 22:06:08 | Updated: October 21, 2017 23:52:41


At a time when the liveability rating of the capital city is at its lowest, poorest and ugliest, waging a war on it demands exceptional quality and courage. The two mayors, albeit elected in skewed elections, have made their intention clear that they are ready to take up the challenge. But the problem lies with the system marked by dual or even triangular administrative powers. The total command area under them constitutes constituents of 16 lawmakers. Above everything else, the utility services responsible for enhancing amenities work under different ministries. Even those that have become public limited companies such as Titas Gas Company are under de facto ministerial authority. 
More importantly, city corporations enjoy little financial independence. The revenue those earn from holding tax and issuance of certificates or licences is too meagre to go for projects involving big money. All they have to look for is fund from the finance ministry for any such major programmes. The question of their involvement with mega projects like the flyovers, expressway or metro rail does not arise.   
Yet the two mayors of the capital are making their mark on territories long neglected by the authorities concerned. The illegally constructed truck stand on railway land at Tejgaon can be cited as an example. Had the mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation not taken the initiative to evict illegal occupants who built unauthorised structures of various sizes and shapes to squeeze the roads running by the stand, the perennial traffic congestion at that point would never have been taken care of. This the mayor did in the face of stiff opposition from various powerful quarters.
However, a drastic action demands that the traffic stand were removed from the area. The mayor hinted that once a convenient site for such a stand would be found at some distance from the city, this truck stand would be dismantled. This, however, may prove too lofty a dream under the present circumstances, because involved here are other key players such as the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha (RAJUK) and at least two ministries. 
A similar move by the DNCC has proved very successful. It concerns the shifting of the bus stand for the private bus companies at Mohammadpur. The entire area was literally a mess of ugly traffic before because of the use of road as a bus stand. Now the busy roads all around are free from such intractable tailbacks. 
Then both mayors have made it a point that the spill-over of garbage from their huge iron cans became a thing of the past. Now no pedestrian requires to pull out a handkerchief or tissue paper from pocket in order to fight against involuntary inhaling of the odiously stinking smell from such roadside garbage cans. 
Alongside this the fight against unauthorised hoarding and billboards is gaining momentum. The large ones have been pulled down but then there are others mainly hoisted by party men for self aggrandisement as well as expression of political loyalty yet to become target of the drive. 
The signs are clear that given a free rein, the two city fathers could turn the hellish city into one where people could live a life fit for a capital home to a population size of 15 million. It is a pity that powers are not divested from others to strengthen local governments in order to get the maximum benefit. Conflict of powers and interests should not be allowed to stand in the way of making the city liveable. The mayors have proved they are worthy of the job and unless constrained they can deliver the goods. 
Sure enough, introduction of city governance will not be possible at one go but if provisions are made for gradual devolution of power, such a system can prove its utility in the long run. Instead of concentration of power and discordant moves by different agencies, there is a need for decentralisation and close coordination for development to gather pace.
 

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