What should we do for better civic services | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, January 23, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 03:22 AM, January 23, 2016

News Analysis

What should we do for better civic services

Frustration seems to be somewhere at the top in our two city mayors' job descriptions. Both of our city mayors have lamented in recent days about their inability to serve the city dwellers in a better way.

They had promised quality services to the city in their electoral pledges. They did not fully realise how difficult it would be to deliver on the promises.

The city is serviced by over four dozen government organisations. These single-purpose organisations like Wasa and Rajuk serve the city under different ministries. Mayors really do not have any control over them. Moreover, a lack of coordination among them keeps the development and maintenance of the city in a chaotic situation. 

Mayor Annisul Huq on Wednesday expressed his helplessness in doing something effective to free the city of water logging. It is because he does not have any say over the functions of Wasa and Rajuk-- two organisations responsible for city's sewerage system and urban development respectively.

Annisul, mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation, demanded Wasa and Rajuk under the city corporations to fix the water logging problem.

The experience of the last eight months in the mayoral office has made his frustration all too palpable. 

Sayeed Khokon, mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation, is facing the same problem. Khokon has also spoken several times about his frustration.

Take one of his comments for example. In September last year, Khokon expressed his frustration that Rajuk had designed a 20-year master plan for the capital without consulting his office.

He is also facing enormous difficulties to provide city dwellers quality services in line with his promises.

Since taking their offices eight months back, both the mayors have shown they wanted to do something better for the city. But the present system of the utility organisations in the capital has appeared as a major obstacle to their efforts.

Both the mayors in the past eight months since their assumption of offices have been demonstrating their willingness to do something better for city people. But the present controlling system of the utility organisations in the capital has appeared as a major obstacle to their efforts.

Their frustrations do not need any innovative measures to fix.

Annisul Huq's wish to bring Wasa and Rajuk under city corporation control reminds us afresh the two decades old idea of a metropolitan government.

The first mayor of DCC, late Mohammad Hanif elected in 1994, talked of it first to improve civic service facilities in a coordinated way.

ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury, who served as mayor of Chittagong City Corporation from 1994 to 2010, strongly supported it.

The salient features of the metropolitan government idea are worth repeating. It would be headed by the mayor and all essential government services and development organisations relating to the large city, such as DMP, Wasa, etc. in the case of Dhaka city, would come under the metropolitan government.

The metropolitan government would also be entrusted with functions relating to telephone, fire-fighting services, education, health, land, environment, social welfare, women and children affairs, family planning, flood control, transportation, etc.

Regrettably, Hanif could not convince his own party, the Awami League, which led the government between 1996 and 2001.

Successor of Hanif, Sadek Hossain Khoka also did not get any support from his own BNP-led government from 2001 to 2006 for his plan to introduce a metropolitan government to improve civic facilities.

That all the mayors, irrespective of their party affiliations, have spoken for a metropolitan government show that it is an idea that needs serious consideration. 

On the other hand, successive governments led by BNP and AL in the past two decades have shown indifference to this idea as they have never wanted a true decentralisation of power. 

The metropolitan or city government, however, is a proven and effective system for providing civic services in a better way by bringing almost all of the utility services under the municipal corporations. This system works pretty well in many metropolitan cities around the world.

We don't have to go far for examples. Take Kolkata or Mumbai-- two big cities in India, our next door neighbour.

The mayor is the head of the city government in Kolkata, Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC). A councilor who commands the support of the majority of councilors is elected the mayor like the election of the prime minister in the parliamentary form of the government.

He appoints and leads a council, called mayor-in-council--resembling the council of ministers in the parliamentary form of the government. Every member holds portfolios of various functional departments and responsible to the corporation for their functions. 

The corporation performs both obligatory and discretionary functions. The obligatory functions include providing civic services like water supply, sewerage and drainage, solid waste management, town planning and land use control and construction and maintenance of streets.

It performs some discretionary functions like establishment of primary schools, setting up theaters and cinemas for public entertainment, and hospitals, dispensaries, and clinics for health care.

For Mumbai, capital of Indian state Maharashtra, the governance of the city is vested in the fully autonomous Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM). It is considered India's richest municipal organisation. Its annual budget is more than that of some of the small states of India.

The corporation functions like a parliamentary government. The dominant functions of the corporation are water supply, primary and secondary education, fire protection services through fire brigade, distribution of electricity within the city and different engineering services including construction and maintenance of physical infrastructures such as roads, sewers, drainage, office buildings, markets, schools, hospitals, theaters, bridges, subways etc. It also maintains full-fledged hospitals, medical and dental colleges.

The mayor of London is a most prestigious position and the mayor leads the Greater London Authority (GLA). He or she is accountable for the strategic government of Greater London.

The GLA has huge responsibility including transportation, policing, fire and rescue, development and strategic planning. The GLA does not directly provide any services itself. Instead, its work is carried out by four functional bodies which come under the GLA umbrella and work under the policy direction of the Mayor and Assembly.

The Greater London Authority even has a 25 members-elected assembly named London Assembly that scrutinises the activities of the mayor of London and has the power, with a two-thirds majority, to amend the mayor's annual budget and to reject the mayor's draft statutory strategies.

The above examples show how our central government keeps the city mayors powerless for its age old policy of centralisation of all powers. This is the genuine reason for our mayors to be frustrated.

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