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A plan for Dhaka in 2019

  • Published at 06:00 pm January 1st, 2019
Connected, not centralized SYED ZAKIR HOSSAIN

Decentralization requires creative solutions. This is the concluding part of yesterday’s op-ed

Decentralization is a rather expensive venture for the state, so the third challenge is the lack of capital. One of the ways of evaluating the efficiency of the government is evaluating national policies. Alternatively, people should vote for the most capable people when it comes to equitable distribution of wealth within the state.

Fourth, the weakness of the legal/institutional framework due to the leverage of commercially important persons (CIPs) is another challenge for decentralization. We cannot have proper transportation or health care systems if enough investment isn’t being made. 

Neither can we expect to avail other opportunities which demand the presence of these people. Hence, the rule of law is dampened and infrastructure development occurs at a slow rate.

Fifth, I think, it is the lack of innovation capabilities. Decentralization is a complex problem which requires creative solutions at all levels of the society. No wonder we, despite having so many water resources, face shortage of drinking water. 

Again, why is the rate of deforestation increasing day by day despite having characteristic heavy yearly rainfall? Why can’t we recycle waste properly despite having unused land/factories? The exact opposite scenario is Singapore.

Ways to go about it 

An inclusive economy is indispensable for the progress of a nation. Hence, the economic importance of Dhaka cannot overpower all the other economic activities of Bangladesh. In terms of general progress, inclusiveness is crucial for the state. It is only through decentralization that the fabric of social cohesion can be strengthened.

With that, I came to the deduction that education, health, and employment are the three key elements which, when divided and distributed properly, would automatically generate housing/habitation. 

Not an either/or condition

According to the World Bank Group, “centralization and decentralization are not either/or conditions.” So, there must be a harmonious balance for both mechanisms to co-exist for the proper functioning of the state. Work for a Better Bangladesh co-founder Debra Efroymson suggests: “It isn’t enough to just keep talking about the need for decentralization. There need to be policies that encourage it. One step is to look at the national budget and how money to support economic, health, and education development is allocated -- how much stays in Dhaka and how much goes elsewhere? It should be based more on population, not just on Dhaka being the important city. Another is to start some serious discussions among various stakeholders on practical ways to create more jobs and other opportunities in various secondary cities while also working to maintain the quality of life. Doesn’t help much if we just create a bunch of secondary polluted cities.”

Planning ahead and working collectively

We are all familiar with the phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” Literally, this is the most exacting motivation for decentralization, as we cannot achieve it overnight. We must plan ahead and work together collectively to achieve the mutual goal of national decentralization. 

The brightest minds of the country should be given chances. Breaking all the political barriers, the parliament, government, and opposition need to co-operate for the sake of national advancement.

Extortion of money from vendors and small businessmen should be mitigated. Recycling and re-use of resources should be promoted and rewarded. A deeper inter-dependence within people can be established throughout the whole process.

Thinking globally, acting locally

Decentralization is an acute concern in most places in the world today. Jan Gehl, in his documentary film The Human Scale explored what happens when modernity is questioned and people are put at the centre of attention.

Through 40 years of research, he has found that modern cities repel human interaction and proposed ideas taking into account the need for human inclusion. Studies show that 5% of the world’s population lives in urban areas, and by 2050, it will become 80%.

Gehl’s ideas led to the creation of walking streets, bike paths, reorganization of public spaces including parks and squares in Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark. I think, the development in Copenhagen is leading the world by example on how to tackle the issue of modernity vs human scale. 

At the local level, Bangladesh should definitely think of win-win solutions via globally sustainable ideas in order to build lasting impacts.

Working smart (instead of working hard)

There is no hard and fast rule of achieving coordinated decentralization. There are constraints of time, geography, capital, and other specific contexts/circumstances. Keeping all of this in mind, the best way of sorting the issue would be to work for smart and rational solutions. In hindsight, the future implications of the plans also need to be given proper consideration.

The six faces of the corporate financing cube (company, industry, capital markets, economy, regulation, and society) should be free from all kinds of political jeopardy. However, the paradox of thrift or paradox of saving must also be kept in mind.

Of course, economic zoning can only show fruitful results when there is a decentralized implementation of national policies.

In this way, unnecessary public expenditure can be avoided, and systems of trade can be standardized. 

Maisha Mehzabeen works at the Dhaka Tribune and is a graduate in economics.

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