Ridiculous move to empower DCC
The government's move to split Dhaka City Corporation into two does not reflect the true and basic spirit of decentralisation of power and its own electoral pledges made to the nation in the run-up to the last parliamentary polls.
In its electoral manifesto, “A Charter for Change”, the Awami League promised to enhance the powers and spheres of responsibility of city corporations and to improve the standard and quality of civic facilities.
It also pledged to make stronger the local government system, which is an integrated part of the executive branch, through a decentralisation of the powers of the central government.
But the bill placed in parliament on Wednesday proposed nothing about bringing in reforms in the existing structure of the city corporations, including the DCC, or to make them stronger by giving up some powers of the central government in the urban areas.
It did not even propose anything toward decentralising the executive powers of the DCC, which are vested only in the mayor, not in the corporation, which is an elected collective body.
Despite these facts, the government in a written statement relating to the bill claimed to have moved toward decentralisation by splitting the DCC into two --- DCC North and DCC South.
And it is rather surrealistic that the government wants to improve civic services only by splitting the DCC. “It is difficult to provide services to city dwellers from a centralised single centre [DCC]. So, it needs to divide DCC into two”, claims the government in a written statement tagged with the copies of the bill.
After the passage of the bill, DCC Mayor Sadek Hossain Khoka, also chief of Dhaka city unit of BNP, and all its councillors, most of whom owe political allegiance to the BNP, will no longer be able to remain in office.
In fact, they will instantly be removed as soon as the changes to the Local Government (City Corporation) Act 2009 take effect following President Zillur Rahman's assent to the bill after its passage.
Such removal of elected representatives will create a bad precedent and contribute increasingly to the culture of confrontational politics. It will also run counter to the ruling AL's electoral pledges to bring to an end the confrontational culture of politics and to encourage tolerance in the polity.
The legal ways to end the tenure of the mayor and councillors are either to hold long-due polls to the DCC or to impeach them on a number of grounds, including corruption.
The LGRD minister on several occasions termed the DCC "a den of corruption" and a "non-functional body". But the LGRD ministry, custodian of the urban local government body, did not make any move in the last nearly three years to put it on the right track.
It was also very shocking that the AL-led government was opposed to holding long due polls to DCC and even foiled the EC's bid to conduct the polls. Unfortunately the reason was nothing, but partisan interests. The ruling AL did not find competent candidates to win the polls.
And if the government appoints administrators after the removal of the mayor and councilors to run the corporations, it will make a mockery of constitutional provisions that mandate only rule by elected representatives.
The bill did not propose a decentralisation of the executive powers of the city corporation to reduce the existing wide disparity of powers, functions and status of the mayor and councillors, although all of them are elected by the people.
The executive powers of the corporation are vested in and exercised by the mayor. This is an impediment to collective leadership and collegiate decision-making in the corporations.
If the government sincerely wishes to make the city corporations stronger, it may equip the wards under a corporation with adequate funds and authority, thereby enabling them to resolve local people's needs.
In the bill the government has proposed no changes in the existing system to reduce the central government's control on various civic facilities provided by organisations situated in the capital and also under the areas of other city corporations.
For example, the DCC has no control over Dhaka Metropolitan Police, Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority (Wasa), Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha and authorities that supply power, gas, etc.
Those single-purpose organisations were set up under different acts and they belong to different ministries. Many local government experts argue that these organisations are said to contribute to the diffusion and disintegration of the urban local government system, undermining its authority significantly.
City dwellers very often suffer a lot from shortage of water, power and gas owing to the failure of the various organisations to deliver in line with people's expectations. But the city corporation, the urban local government body, is powerless to do anything toward that end.
To overcome such a situation and to improve civic service facilities in a coordinated way, the first mayor of DCC, late Mohammad Hanif, who was elected in 1994, came up with idea of a metropolitan government. ABM Mohiuddin Chowdhury, who served as mayor of Chittagong City Corporation from 1994 to 2010, strongly supported the idea.
The salient features of the metropolitan government idea were noticeable. 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.
But Hanif did not get a positive response from his own party, the Awami League, which led the government between 1996 and 2001. Similarly, current mayor Sadek Hossain Khoka did not get any feedback from his own BNP-led government from 2001 to 2006 on his scheme of introducing a metropolitan government to improve civic facilities.
Records also show that all successive governments have remained indifferent to the true spirit of decentralisation of power. Changes in the structure of the local government system got priority in the past.
And this time, by moving to split the DCC without bringing about any true legal reforms for its empowerment, the AL-led government has proved its inability to go beyond narrow and traditional partisan politics.
Local government experts have denounced the move to split the DCC. They say there is no such successful instance in the world. They say London city was split once by ignoring all criticism and protests, but it did not succeed.
Therefore, the AL-led government move will create huge complications and entail huge expenditure in the matter of splitting the DCC.
The prevailing situation says the AL-led government is desperate to split the DCC, paying no heed to any criticism and suggestions of local government experts, many of whom sincerely wish the success of the current government. The bill is likely to be passed during parliament's current session, which is likely to be prorogued on November 28.
Now the last hope for people is President Zillur Rahman, who may play a significant role to avert possible political chaos over splitting the DCC. Empowered by the constitution, the president may send back the bill when it is placed before him for his consent and he may forward some recommendations to avert a possible “disaster”.
But in this much too partisan a political culture, the president might not do anything against the will of the government. So the only hope now is for good sense to prevail on the government.