<%-- Page Title--%> Weekend Musings <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 114 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

July 18, 2003

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Why do we elect
and then deprive them of powers to do anything?

Mahfuz Anam

The 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 more.
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.


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