In less than a week, citizens of Dhaka are going to elect their new mayors. As the heads of the two city corporations of Dhaka (North and South), the new mayors will face some difficult challenges from the very first day of their tenure. Among them are lack of a sustainable waste management system, pollution, crisis of drinkable water, traffic congestion, etc.—which together made Dhaka one of the worst cities to live. But addressing these challenges is as much a responsibility of the mayors as the councillors, who live closest to the residents as they operate at the ward level, but unfortunately, the city’s current governance structure does not reflect an understanding of that key responsibility.
According to the current structure, the mayors act as the heads of the city corporations, but it is these councillors who can effectively and regularly interact with the citizens from all walks of life. In the upcoming election, around 745 candidates will contest for the councillor position in a total of 129 wards. Unfortunately, once elected, these councillors will not be able to do much beyond issuing character, birth and death certificates for the residents of their ward. The budget and the executive authority of the city corporations are confined to the tables of the bureaucrats and government officials who act as the actual authority of the city corporations. On the other hand, many essential services such as water and electricity supply, traffic control, public healthcare, etc. are managed by many different offices of the government who are accountable only to the related ministry, not to the city corporations. As a consequence, the mayors and indeed the councillors can hardly take any decision independently or do what they are elected to do.
As the people’s representatives, it is the mayors along with the councillors who should be in the driving seat of the city corporations. Experts have already recommended formulating ward-centric budgets in the city corporations. This suggestion should be taken seriously as it will decentralise and democratise the budget and will increase transparency as well. Also, there should be a mechanism in place to ensure accountability of the elected councillors. To turn city corporations into vibrant and transparent organisations, the policymakers should focus on these issues and rethink the role of mayors and councillors.