Puppeteers go in different directions

OVERWHELMED by the vociferous postmortem of the city corporation polls, two footfalls on the cityscape have gone unnoticed, unappreciated, as though coming and going on stealth. The winners and their supporters were muted in their 'celebrations', way short of the waltzing jubilation one would have expected from the victorious side following three major mayoral elections in a row. 

In the DCC and CCC polls, the winners had little to boast about the virtual walkovers they had, that too blemished like a tattered blanket. So you discern a whit of humility on the part of the winners translating into subdued exchange of greetings.

The sign of maturity has been observed since the upazila polls where there were hard-fought contests with the results too close to brag about. No party had made a clean sweep over the other in the number of positions secured at the polls. 

The restrained celebration lately reflected a moral qualm at the subliminal level, one would have liked to think. 

The second positive development, albeit of greater importance, is BNP-led alliance's abjuring impulsive hartal and oborodh calls with ruthless regularity. The knee-jerk incendiary but arm-chair announcements of such programmes have been apparently subjected to rigorous reality checks. It is as well that they have acknowledged the monumental folly which severely damaged BNP-led alliance's standing with the people. That this has happened after the nation had paid irreparable costs and BNP having been reduced to a beleaguered state for its high-strung boycotts in huffs and puffs, should make the party abandon the path of violence altogether now. Formally, the BNP has yet to call off the oborodh which a senior party leader thought was superfluous because the call for shutdown in any case was not being heeded. 

That said, you come to one least discussed fact: The representational mandate of the newly elected mayors. The Dhaka North mayor, for instance, clinched around one sixth of the votes of the total electorate and his colleague in the South around one fourth of voter support. True, in the first past the post system, a candidate having an edge of one vote over his rival is the winner, no questions asked. All the same, he is morally tasked to be working in consultation with other politically influential people and a whole lot of experts, a new breed of the latter having emerged from around the globe. 

After having taken oath of office, they are mayors for all the citizens. They need to stave off regional propensities and attempted politicisation valuing professionalism in their functioning. Then only Dhaka and Chittagong metropolises will grow along progressive lines. With the required will and non-interference thrown in it is unachievable. They should focus on deliverable options rather then costly undertakings mindful of environmental costs, efficiency and average man oriented amenities. 

Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is an example. He derives powers from the Greater London Authority Act 1999 as amended in 2007 and complemented by Location Act 2011.

The list of his functions is most exhaustive -- education, housing planning, strategy planning, transport planning, highways, reducing traffic congestion, bike lane operation, social services including library, garbage recycling (following EU standards), environment, waste collection and disposal, water and power supply, rates collection, maintaining air quality and keeping noise pollution within safe limits. He is also in charge of facilitating services of the biggest airport in the world (he is having a Boris Island of an airport on the Themes to ease the burden off Heathrow!). 

Of particular note is his involvement in policing and operating CCTV cameras. Fire and emergencies are also his beat. Significantly, he has a moral office. We wish our mayor take up some of these specialised functions. One that particularly comes to mind is ramping up against earthquakes and the other wish is obviously 'fault-free' operation of CCTV camera which is such a big scandal! 

As late as in December 2004, Ramesh Ramanathan, founder of Bengalore's Janaagraha civic NGO, discussed the subject of uncoordinated municipal services under the title "Too many cooks in each other's way for the urban services kitchen." He picturesquely elaborated on this point thus: "Imagine a puppet whose strings are being pulled by different puppeteers: the hands by one, the legs by another, the head and shoulders by a third. Sitting in the audience, the show would not look pretty. City governance in India is similar, being pulled and pushed in different directions ..."

Since then there have been targeted improvements in city governance in major metropolises in India; yet coordination remains a nightmare. 

Bangladeshi cities do need to get around the deficit of coordination or virtual absence of it. Best practice methods offer the proverbial silver bullet. 

The writer is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.


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