With the Dhaka south and north city corporation elections right around corner, Dhakaites are enthused about replacing the old faces. Professor Rubaet Ferdous of the University of Dhaka believes, before electing the mayors, there should be a change in the very structure of governance of these two corporations
When it comes to a metropolitan city like Dhaka, we should have a philosophy and an overall plan for all the people living in the city. In an inclusive metropolitan city, alongside the affluent population, the poor and the vagabonds also live side by side.
Unfortunately, we have not been able to build Dhaka into such an inclusive city that takes care of every inhabitant.
Instead, Dhaka is a city of boredom, a city of sadness, and a city without a philosophical value. This city has no depth. The type of cities and metropolis sociologists like Lewis Mumford strived for, Dhaka is far a cry from that.
Not long ago – only in the seventeenth century – Dhaka was one of the top tenth cities of the world. Over a few centuries, Dhaka has fallen from grace – it has now become one of the worst cities in terms of liveability. We have been downed in the liveability index with cities like Damascus – the capital city of Syria – a country destroyed by wars.
Now, amid such degradation of the city over the years, one cannot afford to hope against hope, or expect much from the new mayors who might turn out triumphant in the coming elections of Dhaka City Corporations (DCC). This is the reality we are all faced with. This is so, because, people who turn out as mayor often do not have any thoughts and contemplations regarding the city in the first place. They see this as an opportunity to exercise political muscles.
These mayors usually neither have the ideas of aesthetics of a city, nor have the knowledge how to go about creating a green and a humane city. Our mayors often do not have the visions and imaginations of developing a city – the kind of vision the people have been witness to in Singapore. As a result, developing Dhaka into a liveable city has not been successful.
Dhaka failed in many accounts – it has one of the worst traffic jams in the world. People are losing their priceless workhours while commuting. People are expending a huge amount of their daily lives on the roads, unproductively.
Despite all this, the concerned people are too indifferent to take necessary actions to alleviate the misery of the common people. The situation has become such that the reality or disaster of our own creation has been normalised and we have begun to accept it as if this has been our destiny. We have started believing that this a reality we cannot escape.
Now, to change all of that, we have not seen appropriate leadership from our mayors before and the future doesn't look so promising either. I do not see the necessary wisdom and sagacity in the candidates now set to contest the next elections.
We have been speaking out for a long time that the present format of the city corporation will yield no result, nothing good will follow from its current structure. Dhaka city corporations actually need a city governance. The absence of a stronger city government system has been jeopardising the works of the DCC. Consequently, the city corporation has repeatedly failed to bring harmony among different branches of the government, disorganised as they are in the current structure. Their initiatives have so far been futile in absence of coordination.
Whereas all the public facilities and the utilities should have been under the management of the city corporations to harmonise the services orderly, the absence of city governance has thwarted any such attempts to bring harmony in the disorganised government facilities.
The conflict of interest among the concerned branches like – for an example – Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives, Ministry of Power, Energy and Mineral Resources, and the city corporations often tie the hands of the city mayors to take a real step into the right direction.
What Dhaka city mayors are capable of so far is spreading fumes – often unsuccessfully – to kill the mosquitoes, planting trees that they barely do, and developing small constructional works. Besides such small tasks, the mayors' scopes of work are not very significant in the present system.
If the whole structure is not changed, if the responsibilities and the scope of works of the mayors are not brought under the system of a newly developed framework of city governance, the elections will remain only function as a bid to bear office for some of the bigwigs.
Now that elections of the Dhaka city corporations are scheduled for the next few months, I do not expect much from these elections. In the light of our past experience regarding elections – the anomalies we have been witness to in the national parliamentarian elections and various other elections before that – I do not think we will have a transparent DCC mayoral elections.
The election commission of this country – the sole authority for conducting everything about the elections – is often overshadowed by the ruling regime. This commission is not independent at all even though the people in chairs may claim so. They do not have the backbone to conduct a fair election in the first place.
Sadly, I cannot hope for a transparent election from this commission. We may end up seeing that the selected candidates may end up winning at any cost adopting any means. And when such candidates turn out triumphant, I cannot hope proper services from such mayor for the good of the people.
Rubaet Ferdous is a professor at the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism in the University of Dhaka