Hurdles for city fathers

Sadiqur Rahman and Ahmed Shatil Alam talk to several mayoral candidates for Dhaka North City Corporation and Dhaka South, to ask them whether they can really bring to fruition the lofty pledges they have made in their election manifestos

01As the anticipated date of April 28, when the three city corporation polls in the Dhaka South, North and the Chittagong city will be held, draws close, candidates vying for the mayoral and counsellor positions are fervently campaigning to reach out to most voters to become citizen representatives to lead the city authorities.
A number of candidates released their election manifestos, most of which include a bunch of promises and pledges aimed at attracting voters.
New Age Xtra recently talked to several mayoral candidates for the Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) to discuss their manifestos, some of which are particularly eye-catching.
02According to National Election Commission data, there are a total of 2,349,313 voters in DNCC–1,227,571 males and 1,121,742 females in 36 general wards and 12 reserved wards. DSCC, comprised of 57 general wards and 19 reserved wards, has a total of 1,870,363 voters including 1,009,070 males and 861,293 females, who are expected to cast their votes in 5,828 possible polling booths of 1,087 polling centres.
Most of the candidates, whether they are heavyweight or comparatively less known, offer to curb corruption and extortion, environmental conservation, better transport facilities, modern and economic waste management, better health and education facilities for the city residents.
Offers for the youth also are highlighted in the manifestos as they cover half of the total voters in the two major cities.

Tackling traffic
03Ruling Awami League (AL) backed mayoral contestant for DNCC, Annisul Huq said in his manifesto that if he is elected, he will stimulate the private transport owners to buy decorative, modern and comfortable buses for city routes.
Sayeed Khokon, the mayoral favourite in DSCC and supported by ruling party Al, also pledged to undertake ambitious projects like the Hanif Flyover and metro rail project to rid the people of Dhaka’s chaotic traffic problems.
A recent study published in international Journal of Engineering Science and Innovative Technology says that the annual cost of traffic congestion in Dhaka city is US $ 3,868 million.
Md Zonayed Abdur Rahim Saki, chief coordinator of the Gano Sanghati Andolon and mayoral candidate for DNCC, pledged special financial schemes for buying cycle, as an encouragement of using non-motorised environment friendly rides, to the city students and working classes for mitigating traffic congestion. To replace private cars, Saki led-DNCC would also arrange a fund to purchase public transport if BRTC, the state-run transport authority fails to increase the number of city buses, Saki’s manifesto reads.
Bazlur Rashid Firoz, another left-leaning party supported mayoral candidate in DSCC, said in his 14 point-based election manifesto that to reduce the traffic congestion, suggestions given by the urban planners over the years will be considered.

House rents
04Firoz also pledged to set up a chart for house rent by surveying over the citizens to mitigate increasing house rent for the dwellers.
Meanwhile, other potential candidates including Khokon, Annisul and Zonayed did not mention anything about the increasing house rents or address any particular way forward to tackle the crisis in their manifestos available to New Age Xtra.
But, the increase in house rents in both the Dhaka city areas has been a great problem for the tenants as, being the sole authority to control the house rent, DSCC and DNCC have failed to monitor the situation.
According to the Bharatia Parishad, every year the house owners of Dhaka City increase the monthly rent from Tk 500 to Tk 5,000. According to a recent study by the Consumer Association of Bangladesh (CAB), house rent in the city has increased by an average of about 15 per cent annually over the past 10 years, far outpacing the tenants’ income.
In this regard, CAB general secretary Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan, says, ‘It is very unfortunate that the future mayors forget to address the extremely serious issues.’
‘Currently a citizen of Dhaka spends 50 per cent of his income on house rent. Most tenants in rented houses do not have a permanent residence. How could our mayors-to-be forget this issue?’ he asks.
Criticising the approach of the candidates, Poribesh Bachao Andolon executive general secretary Abdus Sobhan explains that these plans would be more effective and reliable, if the candidates explained their strategies to materialising these pledges.
‘We have seen similar pledges many times during different types of elections. But most often candidates do not explain how these pledges will materialise,’ he points out.

Lofty promises?
05Meanwhile, mayoral candidate Khokon, who got the ‘Hilsha’ as his poll-symbol, pledged in his manifesto that one of his major tasks will be to ensure safe drinking water for every household in Dhaka South city and ensure speedy implementation of a project that will channel water from the River Padma to the capital.
Khokon, the son of first-ever elected mayor of undivided Dhaka city and late Al leader Mohammad Hanif, also pledged for setting up of a power plant in Dhaka to reduce the electricity crisis in his territory. He also pledged uninterrupted power and gas services for the households.
The heavyweight candidate in South Dhaka also pledged that he will initiate the tradition to clean up the city roads and all the other public places by water daily.
He will also kickstart the ‘Ekti  Barri, Ekti Bagaan’ (A garden in every house) campaign to stimulate the tree plantation among the citizens. Under this campaign, a Khokon-led DSCC authority will ensure the gardens in balcony, rooftop and veranda in houses and they will also award the best garden maker.
Annisul, popular for his business activities and a former FBCCI president, focused on health and also pledged to initiate an online based primary health care service and starting health care project in all the schools, which however, did not mention the number of schools in the DNCC area.
The ‘Clock’ poll-symbol holder for Dhaka North City did not mention about establishing hospitals although DNCC does not have a city corporation-owned hospital when South Dhaka has two hospitals and a mother care centre.
The former Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers Association leader, pledged for developing the Hatirjheel and Gulshan lake areas as an exclusive entertainment zone. But he did not mention much about BGMEA building that was erected illegally after grabbing the Hatirjheel wetlands.
In this regard, Abdus Sobhan says that it was expected that the mayor candidates will address the matter to save the wetlands in Dhaka city.
In an interview with New Age Xtra, Abdullah Al Kafee, the CPB-BSD backed mayoral candidate for DNCC, says that he will provide saplings to all city schools and colleges under a forestation project to make the city ‘green’.
He also pledged for installing wifi network in all spots where people gather regularly.
Alike Kafee, Khokon and Annisul also promised that if elected, they will bring areas like educational institutions and commercial places under wifi network coverage. Khokon also said he will establish quality private universities in his area.
Two potential candidates in DSCC Golam Maula Rony and Bangladesh Nationalist Party supported Mirza Abbas are yet to release their official manifestos.
Rony promised in his facebook page that he will establish a public court comprising of eminent citizens of the city and in the same veins as The Judicial Committee of The Privy Council of UK to reduce the corruption in Nagar Bhaban-the designated office for the mayor of DSCC.
Civic body Sushashoner Jonno Nagorik (Sujan) secretary Badiul Alam Majumder doubted whether the pledges by candidates will ever materialise as he points out that the mayors of the city corporations still do not have the opportunity or power to modernise or develop the city on their own accord or efforts.
‘For making these a reality, the decentralisation of power and the capacity building of city corporations are a must,’ he says. Most of the pledges given by candidates are still not under the jurisdiction of city corporations, he adds.
Referring to promises like starting wifi facility for the city-dwellers, he says, ‘I do not think this will be practically possible. Rather it is a way to attract the young voters.’

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