Various activities of the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) have come into focus in recent times. There has been controversy over various issues of the corporation too. Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh, in a recent interview with Prothom Alo, discussed these issues and more
Shouldn't air pollution have been included on the priority list?You are mayor of a city with the most polluted air in the world. It definitely must be embarrassing for you. After taking over, what steps have you taken to control air pollution over the last eight months?
I must confess that the issue of air pollution is not on our priority list. However, it is part of our mega plan. There are several issues related to air pollution, especially the ongoing construction work in Dhaka, including the metro rail project which creates dust. If we fail to implement our annual work list, air pollution will trouble us.
Shouldn't air pollution have been included on the priority list?
It will not be effective unless everything is under control. We sprinkle water from 4:00am to 7:00 or 8:00am regularly. But air pollution cannot be controlled by sprinkling water only. Work is in progress on a mega plan for the city. We will be able to work in an integrated way to reduce the air pollution once the implementation of the mega plan starts.
After taking over the charge as mayor, you have introduced ducks in three places including Khilgaon and the lake in Ramna Park to control mosquitoes. However, many of the ducks have died due to the lack of care. The former mayor released rainbow fish in the drains of the city to control mosquitoes. Many people think these activities are just eyewash.
We have given utmost importance in controlling mosquitoes. Instead of one hour, we now carry out larvicide for four hours. We carry out adulticide (spraying mature mosquito repellent) for one hour during the evening Maghrib prayer, but now we start from 2:30pm. We have also taken up strategies followed globally to control mosquitoes. We have started to release ducks and tilapia fish in the water bodies. The most effective fish in this regard is tilapia. Although effective, the rainbow fish needs to be imported. Tilapia fish is native. We have appealed to the youth of different social organisations to take collective initiative to take care of the ducks after they are released. Some of the ducks died from water pollution. We have released new ducks there. This is pragmatic steps, not eyewash.
You have undertaken some steps, but then move away from these. All this seems unplanned.
Not at all. Which measures have I moved away from?
Relocating stray dogs, closing markets within 8:00pm, every day, removing cables hanging above the streets, the drive against battery-powered rickshaws, to mention a few. Did you move away from these because these were planned properly?
Some issues will be given priority at various times. Relocating the stray dogs is an ongoing process. We are discussing the matter with various NGO's. Simply relocating the digs will hardly curb their number. There are about stray 48,000 dogs in Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC). It will take 480 days even if we move 100 dogs per day. We have restarted the dog sterilisation programme. However, the stray animals cannot remain on the streets if we want to make Dhaka a modern city.
And the people who have made a mess of the overhead cables, realised that there is no scopes to keep the cables above ground anymore.
The drive against the battery-powered rickshaws is also going on. We need the help of the police in this case. Many of the rickshaw pullers have applied to convert their motorised rickshaws into non-motorised ones. About 27,000 rickshaws have been modified in this way. We will definitely take stern action against those who have not registered yet.
We have issued a public notice to close the shops within 8:00pm. We are requesting the business associations to follow the public notice whenever we meet with them. We will be tougher if necessary. Every city has a time limit. Some cities close at 6:00pm, some at 8:00pm. We have made our appeal accordingly.
You said last November that the money of the project should not be squandered. Was it squandered before?
It was the honorable prime minister who said that. I was inspired by her words.
Is there any monitoring system, other than your words, to ensure that money is not squandered?
I am trying to increase monitoring since taking over the office. We have been working on administrative reforms. Stern action is being taken whenever there is a complaint. I want to make it clear that no one can get away with corruption here. Earlier, there was a concept that payments had to be made at every desk, department, and table of the city corporation.
So can we say that no has to make any additional payments now at any desk of the city corporation?
I can make this claim now. I am also getting evidence of this.
That is a matter of administrative discipline. But there are serious questions about the quality of work done on the roads by the contractors on behalf of the city corporation.
We are now having meetings with the engineering department every week not just to expedite the project, but to keep an eye while it is being created. We don’t want any more 'pillow' scams. If we can save money, our capacity will increase. That’s why, even in this pandemic situation, we earned revenue of Tk 3.44 billion (Tk 344 crore) in the last six months. This is why we can say with confidence that we will work with our own funds. We don’t have to wait for anybody. We don’t have to be dependent on anybody. We don't want to go back to the situation where we have to wait till a project is passed and only then start our work. We have already started a Tk 1 billion (Tk 100 crore) project for infrastructural development to reduce water logging. If I had to sit idly waiting for the project to be passed it would have taken two years to start the work. When pilferage is reduced, the quality of the work increases.
About two years ago, the former mayor claimed that there were no broken roads in the Kalabagan area. At the same function, a local councilor said that all the roads in his area were in a bad shape. Will such incidents be repeated in the future?
Sitting in office, it can easily be said that the work is complete and satisfactory. But reality is different. These matters require on-the-spot inspection.
If the mayor has is required to go to the field to inspect every single piece of work, then what is the function of the other officials?
This has been a long-standing practice. Unless the supervision is done in a new way, that old practice will prevail. In many cases, we depend on the consultants. Sadly, the consultants are advising without any on-the-spot verification. This is not only in the city corporation, but in all the sectors and this is harmful.
You got the responsibility of canal maintenance from the Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA). Can you ensure that there will be no water logging from the next monsoon?
Everyone wants a specific time, wants a specific solution. I can only say that we have adequate preparation. At first, we are working to recover the canals. It is a huge task. Our target is to give the residents of Dhaka city benefits of this before the next monsoon.
You were an MP before taking over as mayor. You were vocal about the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) at that time. You strongly criticised the ACC chairman for not arresting Abdul Hye, the chairman of the BASIC Bank at the time, over the bank’s scandal. Was it just political rhetoric You did not talk about it later.
I am in a responsible position now.
You were also in a responsible position back then.
As a mayor I am not only a people’s representative. I have administrative responsibilities too. I will not comment on any past matters.
You are also a director of a bank besides being the mayor. Is it ethical to deposit the city corporation’s money in that bank?
Deposits can be kept in any bank. Keeping a deposit in a bank does not mean that the bank is benefitting from it. The bank may even face loss due to excessive deposits.
But the question is about ethics.
The question of ethics will arise only if I am benefited from the deposits The question can be raised only if there is any scope for my personal benefit. If the money is deposited in private banks in the same way with the same standards and conditions, then there should be no question about ethics.
As you are the director, you will be benefitted too when the bank makes profit.
No issue of the city corporation has been taken up by the board of the Modhumati Bank where I have the scope to influence as a director.
Is it ethical to discuss city corporation related issues at the board meeting of Modhumati Bank?
Such issues haven’t been discussed. If this was so and I influenced it as the director, then the question of ethics would arise. If 10 banks come as part of administrative duty, then money can be deposited in these 10 banks. Let me make it clear. Earlier, we even didn’t have this capacity. I have succeeded in generating a revenue of Tk 3.44 billion (Tk 344 crore). People from outside think the corporation has a lot of money. However, we got a deficit of Tk 2.5 billion (Tk 250 crore) in the budget.
There are deficits in the annual budget of Bangladesh too.
The case is different when you have deficits in the budget of an organisation like a city corporation. If you try to compensate from one area, the other area will suffer.
The former mayor has made some remarks on you, though you are both from the same party.
I will not make any comments about the former mayor.
There have been rallies in favour of you and against the former mayor. Is it believable that this has been done without the your consent?
The infuriated leaders and activists have done this. I have nothing to gain from this. It is the political culture of Bangladesh to hold meetings and rallies.
All of a sudden you took steps to give the councilors the rank of joint secretary. They are elected by the people. Nothing is more prestigious than this. Why do they need to be in the same rank as the joint secretaries?
Most of the officials are of the same rank as deputy secretary in our organisational structure. If the councilors do not hold the higher posts, it will conflict with our organogram. You have to consider bureaucracy when you are running an administration. The regional executive officers holds the rank same as the deputy secretary. If the councilors do not hold a higher post, nothing can be done.
This interview appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ashish Basu