The proposal mooted by the Dhaka South City Corporation (DNCC) mayor to bifurcate all service agencies, including the Dhaka Water and Sewerage Authority (DWASA), deserves scrutiny by the policymakers. Such scrutiny seems necessary against the backdrop of the public outcry centring around the performance of the DWASA.
The DNCC mayor at a press conference held in Dhaka last Friday said service organisations operating in Dhaka should be split into two to help improve their capacity to deliver services to their clients. In this context, he described the decision of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to bifurcate the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) in 2011 as timely and an epoch-making one.
The bifurcation of the DCC, however, was strongly opposed by experts in the relevant field, saying that the move would fail to deliver anything good. Rather, they argued, the split would necessitate additional costs for maintenance of a separate administrative structure.
It is time to make an independent assessment of the outcome of the DCC bifurcation. It does appear that the city corporations are now responding to citizens' complaints more promptly than before. However, shortage of resources and logistics remains a major problem as before in meeting the developmental needs of an ever-expanding mega city. Besides, the quality of councilors of different wards of the city is also an issue here.
Dhaka, one of the most populous cities in the world, does carry lots of stigmas. It has recently been adjudged as the fourth most polluted city in the region. The Economist has found it to be the second worst liveable cities in the world.
The performance of the DWASA and the comments made in public by its head recently have raised strong public protests following submission of research report to the higher court on the quality of piped water of Dhaka city.
Undeniably, the DWASA's performance has been far below the expectation of the residents of Dhaka city. Poor performance on the part of the public sector service delivery organisations is nothing new. Traditionally, these entities have been poor performers.
But what has infuriated the city residents is the defiance on the part of the DWASA chief to accept what is true in the matters of the organisation's service delivery. He has also demonstrated total disregard for public sentiment.
Since 'one size fits all' formula does not work always, the suggestion to bifurcate an organisation like DWASA to get better services from it is also unlikely to work.
The performance of DWASA has always been poor both in the matters of water supply, development sewerage network and tackling the problem of water-logging in Dhaka city.
It is found to be very prompt on one issue-- hike in water tariff. The public sector service agency has been increasing water tariff regularly despite the fact that the quality of water supplied by it remains poor and quantity insufficient.
Consumers expect that officials at all levels of the public utility service providers would be modest, tolerant and sympathetic towards the cause of the city residents. But any exhibition of intolerance and defiance on the part of officials of the service providing organisations would surely invite troubles for them.
That is what has happened recently in the case of WASA. Research findings showed that water supplied by WASA in many areas of Dhaka city was impure and carried harmful pathogens. The Dhaka WASA managing director was prompt to dismiss the findings, claiming that WASA water is pure and fit for human consumption.
A couple of days later, an elderly person came to DWASA office at Kawran Bazaar with members of his family carrying a bottle of WASA-supplied water, a knife, some sugar and a lemon to entertain the WASA MD with a glass of 'sarbat' (lemonade).
The water supplied by DWASA in that area is contaminated and unfit for human consumption. However, the WASA managing director avoided a meeting with the protesters and one of his subordinates met the head of the family. As expected, the incident made headlines both in print and electronic media.
After some days, the WASA men swallowed their own words and submitted a report to the High Court admitting that the quality of water supplied in a number of city areas was below the requirement.
There was another show of defiance on the part of the DWASA. Its officials did fail to appear before the relevant parliamentary standing committee last Thursday despite being asked by the latter. The standing committee also suggested bifurcation of the DWASA for ensuring better service delivery.
As far as the bifurcation proposal is concerned, it is important to keep in mind the fact that the city corporations are basically controlled by people's elected representatives who are somehow accountable to their electorates. But this is not true in the case of other service providing organisations. They are manned by officials who are least accountable to the people. So, these officials behave erratically, at times.
What is important here is that the relevant ministries and the parliamentary bodies should monitor the activities of these entities closely and take stern actions, if needed.