do we elect
and then deprive them of powers to do anything?
first ever-elected Mayor of Dhaka City, Md. Hanif of Awami League,
came to office when BNP was serving its first term in power with
Khaleda Zia at the helm. It was an electoral stunner, literally
throwing the BNP government into disarray. Dhaka is the nerve centre
of politics in Bangladesh and losing here had immense political
consequences, as the BNP found out a few years later. Hanif's election
was no doubt a rebuff for the BNP which never forgave the AL leader
for his victory and as such punished him severely by not co-operating
with him in anyway.
So when his own party got elected in 1996, Mayor Hanif thought that
now he could fulfill his dream -- if he at all had one, though his
subsequent performance showed no sign of it. So, no sooner had Sheikh
Hasina settled down in her office Hanif demanded a 'city government'
with the powers and money to run the capital as any elected Mayor
would want to anywhere in the world. The demand was quite simple.
He argued that running Dhaka required the coordination among many
government ministries and numerous agencies. Therefore there should
be a 'city government' with representatives from all relevant ministries
and bodies and with independent financial powers. So he needed a
'City Government'. Hanif's proposals were a mere outline, which
could have been modified to suit the situation.
Unused to sharing power or to delegating authority, the newly elected
Prime Minister took it as an affront and saw it as a move to weaken
her control over the nerve centre of power politics in Bangladesh.
She reacted in the only way our leaders know how -- by isolating
Hanif and never giving him any of the powers he wanted and needed
to run the city. A co-ordination committee of sorts was formed with
the LGRD minister Zillur Rahman as the chair and Mayor Hanif as
co-chair. The committee may have met once or twice but never did
anything. So ended Mayor Hanif's tenure-ingloriously.
Now we have a new Mayor -- Sadek Hossain Khoka. He has the good
fortune to be from the very party that also controls the government.
So one would expect that he would have been given the power and
the money to do a far better job than Hanif. But that is not the
case. Khoka is just as powerless, just as helpless and just as ineffective
as Hanif was. As his predecessor, Khoka also complains about the
lack of power to do anything except run the sweepers, clean the
garbage and look after the streetlights. Even this he can't do properly
because he has no money.
So the question is why do we elect Mayors with so much fan fare
and expenditure and then refuse to give some real power that is
needed to govern a city of Dhaka's size. It is a simple lack of
understanding of what city governance is all about.
So we suggest the following:
1. Seriously rethink the present structure, authority and the budget
of the Mayor's office;
2. Set up a genuine city corporation in line with any modern city.
Dhaka is comparable to the biggest cities in the world with greater
problem because of the huge size of the population, which is growing
much faster than many other cities.
3. Rethink urban governance in its totality. Break up Dhaka city
into smaller zones and run them through ten (or more) deputy mayors
(elected or appointed) each in charge of a designated area with
clearly laid down responsibilities to carry out the mayor's policies
and to directly report to the Mayor. Dhaka has become too big to
be run by one person and one central office.
4. Make sure that all legitimate taxes are collected without any
'system' loss. This fund should then be augmented by appropriate
budget allocation by the government.
These are some of our random thoughts. The most important point
to make is that the whole urban governance issue needs to be rethought.
It is our understanding that numerous plans are rotting in the government
shelves, which have been prepared at considerable cost but never
really looked at. These still may prove to be very useful.
The recent CPD-Prothom Alo-The Daily Star policy dialogue came out
with some relevant suggestions on urban governance that the government
would be well advised to look into. We suggest an immediate high
level meeting to advice the PM on this score. Calling in the eight
MPs of Dhaka can give the appearance of an initiative but nothing
The bottom line is that the new Mayor is not delivering, and is
going the old Mayor's way. Khoka will not be able to change his
course unless the office of the Mayor is restructured with more
power and control over the territory he is expected to serve.