As the polls of two Dhaka City Corporations (DCC) near, mayoral-aspirants' campaigns – with farfetched plans to solve all of the city's problems – are growing louder, in an attempt to woo voters.
Like previous mayors, they are pledging to address problems like: traffic congestion, the gas, water and power crises, corruption, and other social issues.
However, most of their pledges seem like empty promises as the DCCs enjoy limited jurisdiction over the agencies that oversee city planning, traffic management, security utility services, waterways, and the environment.
The City Corporation Act 2009 directed the DCCs to deal with 28 issues including communicable disease control, water supply and drainage, maintenance of government-owned wetlands, infrastructure development, road safety, civil defence, education, plus environmental protection and beautification.
The act also gives directives so that corporations may collect taxes, fees, tolls and fines in more than 20 areas.
However, the DCCs cannot provide many of the aforementioned services alone.
Local Government, Rural Development and Cooperative Minister Tazul Islam told The Business Standard, "The DCCs lack the capacity to execute many of the tasks entrusted in the act."
The DCCs collect holding tax, but land and infrastructure-development related issues are dealt with by Rajdhani Unnayan Kartipakkha (Rajuk), the National Housing Authority, the Public Works Department, the
Divisional Commissioner's Office and the House Building Finance Corporation.
During the monsoon season, city life grinds to a halt due to waterlogging. Even just light rain, more than 25mm a day, inundates vast areas of the city.
Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (Wasa) operates a drainage network of around 450km, while DCCs operate a network of around 2,000km.
Overlapping jurisdictions hamper the smooth maintenance of the network, leaving city dwellers at risk during the monsoon season.
The city mayors used to say that they would solve the utility crisis and pollution. However, mayors have no control over Wasa, Titas Gas Transmission and Distribution Company, the Dhaka Power Distribution Company, the Dhaka Electric Supply Company, and the Department of Environment.
In December 2019, the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies unveiled a study, saying that 91.5 percent people in the capital suffer because of traffic congestion.
The City Corporation Act directs the DCCs to control traffic movement for public safety.
However, the Dhaka Metropolitan Police (DMP) does the job as per DMP ordinances, while the Dhaka Transport Coordination Authority formulates transport and road communications policies, and the Bangladesh
Road Transport Authority (BRTA) provides route permits.
According to the City Corporation Act 2009, the DCCs are responsible for overseeing the public health and education sectors in Dhaka city. However, the tasks are actually done by the Directorate General of Health Services and two directorates within the education ministry.
In 2016, the Dhaka South City Corporation undertook a project to preserve and beautify the Buriganga riverbanks.
The project was not implemented as the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority had been overseeing a similar task.
The DCCs' limited jurisdiction is evident, even in the corporation meetings, as mayors seldom raise burning issues that they pledged before the election.
Between May 2015 and December 2019, Dhaka North organised 34 meetings while Dhaka South organised 21.
Section 49 (15) of the City Corporation Act provisions the mayor to invite the chiefs of 27 service-providing agencies to attend the coordination meeting.
Both the city corporations organised three coordination meetings each during their five-year tenures attended by high officials from Rajuk, the Public Works Department, the Roads and Highways Department, the
BRTA, Dhaka Power Distribution Company, the Department of Environment, etc.
However, the responsibilities to fix citizens' urgent problems were shouldered on the agencies, as usual.
Dr Adil Mohammad Khan, general secretary of the Bangladesh Institute of Planners, told The Business Standard, "City mayors are empowered to discuss every issue related to their constituents, but they lack a mechanism through which to exercise their power."
Dr Salauddin M Aminuzzaman, professor of the Department of Public Administration, Dhaka University, said, "Although the mayors of Dhaka enjoy the status of a cabinet minister, they have no power to rule over government wings."
The outgoing Dhaka South mayor Sayeed Khokon, in his 2015 election manifesto, committed to relieving the city's residents from traffic congestion and the gas-water-power supply crisis.
Khokon also vowed to restore the navigability of the Buriganga River and wage war against corruption, drug addiction, hooliganism, and extortion. However, he failed miserably.
Khokon's counterpart in Dhaka North Annisul Huq knew that a city corporation mayor holds limited jurisdiction. So, he promised that he would use his personal skills to coordinate among all the civil service providers.
He wanted to reign in the rowdy traffic system, drug addiction, social crimes, and industrial pollution.
Unfortunately, he met an untimely death on November 30, 2017.
Almost 15 months later, Atiqul Islam was elected the Dhaka North mayor.
In his election manifesto, Atiqul promised to ensure road safety, plus digitise traffic and transport systems. He also vowed to solve the waterlogging problem.
Atiqul is again contesting in the upcoming election for the Awami League.
Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, Awami League's Dhaka South mayoral post aspirant, has pledged to restructure the city's traffic system and compel all utility service providers to follow a single development plan.
Meanwhile, two BNP mayoral candidates – Ishraq Hossain for Dhaka South and Tabith Awal for Dhaka North – have pledged to restore voters' democratic rights.