Echoing Hanif and prior mayors’ demands, the current candidates support the idea of a metropolitan government system
Dhaka mayors have, for almost three decades, been calling for the city's utility services to be consolidated under a metropolitan government in order to greatly improve the quality of service delivery.
For example, if there is a gas or electricity problem in a ward, the ward councillor cannot do much to solve it under the present governance system.
"This is because utility companies do not care about my instructions. So, when people come to me with problems like dilapidated alleys or waterlogging, I can do little to assist them," said Mir Samir, the four-time ward councillor of Bangshal.
He is contesting for the same position in the Dhaka South City Corporation polls slated for January 30.
Samir is popular among the local voters, but he is frustrated by his inability to better serve the people of a city that ranked as the world's third least liveable city last year.
He recalls the actions of Mohammad Hanif, the first elected mayor of the then undivided Dhaka City Corporation, who first raised the issue of establishing a metropolitan government.
"If the government had responded positively, we would have been able to provide proper and better services to the people of Dhaka," said Samir.
Back in 2011, the government divided the Dhaka City Corporation into two parts to provide the city dwellers with the necessary services on time.
Other than waste management, however, the Dhaka dwellers – primarily tenants – barely see any other city corporation activities, because most of the services are carried out by more than 50 utility service providers.
Echoing Hanif and prior mayors' demands, the current candidates support the idea of a metropolitan government system.
Sheikh Fazle Nur Taposh, the Awami League-backed mayor candidate for the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), in his election campaigns has vowed to compel the service providers to follow the city corporation's development plan, if elected.
His main rival, BNP-backed Ishraque Hossain – who is the son of former Dhaka City Corporation mayor Sadeque Hossain Khoka – has said that he would press the government to introduce metropolitan governance for Dhaka.
The mayor candidates for Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC), the Awami League-backed Atiqul Islam and BNP-backed Tabith Awal, have said that they will focus on an integrated work plan to coordinate among the service organisations.
However, the government is reluctant to pay heed to the mayors' demand.
Tazul Islam, the local government, rural development and cooperatives minister, recently told The Business Standard that there is no need for a metropolitan government.
"At least not for now," he said.
Prior mayoral efforts for a metropolitan government
Mohammad Hanif became the Dhaka City Corporation mayor in 1994. Two years later, he raised the demand for a metropolitan government when BNP Chairperson Khaleda Zia was the prime minister.
However, he received a negative response.
Soon after, the Awami League came to power in 1996, Hanif submitted a proposal to the local government ministry, seeking to set up a coordination body comprising the Dhaka City Corporation, Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority, Dhaka Electric Supply Authority, Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company, Dhaka Metropolitan Police, Bangladesh Railway, and Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha.
But the ministry found the proposal impractical, as the government was unwilling to give the DCC authority over service providers, especially the Dhaka Metropolitan Police.
Besides, there were also conflicts of interest among contractors and workers involved with the service organisations.
As the mayor was pushing the Awami League government, which Hanif belonged to, a coordination body led by the Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives was finally formed.
However, within a short period the initiative was abandoned.
A similar situation arose during the time of his successor Sadeque Hossain Khoka, who was elected in 2002. A high-power coordination committee was formed under his chairmanship.
The 35-member committee was comprised of service provider chiefs and civil society representatives.
However, it could not work sustainably. The responsibility was shifted to the Prime Minister's Office, with the principal secretary being the chief coordinator on behalf of the elected mayor.
The committee remained functional for a short period.
As per the City Corporation Act 2009, city corporations can invite chiefs of service organisations in the corporation meetings.
But a number of ward councillors said the presence of the organisation chiefs in the meetings was rare. Instead of attending the meetings themselves, they would send low-profile representatives.
As a result, decisions taken at those coordination meetings remained only on paper for years.
Professor Dr Salauddin M Aminuzzaman, a teacher of public administration at the University of Dhaka, told The Business Standard, "Legally, the representatives of the service organisations are not accountable to the city corporations."
He said metropolitan governance should be introduced.
The professor cited the example of Kolkata Municipal Corporation, which is responsible for the civic infrastructure and administration of Kolkata city.
He said this had improved the city management. Salauddin travels to Kolkata at least once a year for professional reasons.
"The Kolkata Municipal Corporation has authoritative power over city service-related public and autonomous wings," he said.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation mayor is the head of the city government in Kolkata. Like the parliamentary form of the government, a councillor having the majority support of the other councillors is elected as the mayor-in-council.
The Kolkata Municipal Corporation is responsible for providing basic civic services, such as roads, lighting, water supply, education and health, for the Kolkata people.
According to official website of the Kolkata Municipal Corporation, the city authority supplies 350 million gallons of water to five million people and clears 4,000 tonnes of solid waste per day, manages 136 clinics and 119 health units, and runs 358 primary educational schools with more than 40,000 students.
Manos Biswas, a resident of Agarpara in Kolkata, wrote to The Business Standard that road communication of Kolkata city had improved, and so had the water supply and drainage system.
"Power cut is rare in the city. The city authority recently introduced air-conditioned public buses along with environment-friendly electric and CNG-run vehicles. The city authority provides free medical treatment at its health centres where people can buy medicine at a fair price," he said.