Friday, August 21, 2009

Key to Urbanization

Written by Jargalsaikhan.D
UB Post
Friday, August 21, 2009.

Any city or settled area develops from a power that supports the energy of residents who aspire to live a better life, and not from a power that limits and diminishes their internal will. Despite all hopes, in Mongolia, the communist method of attempting to solve community problems without the community itself is getting stronger instead of outdated. In last year’s election of capital city’s legislative body, all representatives actively competed with each other promising the nation to perform all sorts of miracles if only they get elected. More than a year has passed since this extravagant overture and people are still waiting for the action.
City and district management is still under the trap of negotiations set up by political parties. Top management positions at these levels are given out as reward for political engagement. As a result of a so called coalition, the number of deputy seats keeps increasing and the decision making process keeps slowing down while operation costs keep inflating.
If a supporting company of one party takes over one public property, then a supporter of the other party is entitled to take over another property. Both sides, together or one by one, go for state owned company’s chief executive seat or property to milk money and share it with a related political party. Take a glance, for example, at the way how all state or city owned companies were run for the last 19 years. As a result, there is no single problem for which the city of Ulaanbaatar is responsible.
Small rain floods the city because the dams have disappeared. People live in dark streets full of waste, without drinking water but at least with expired food and get poisoned with heavily polluted air. In short, we are getting less and less secured. Ulaanbaatar is not getting urbanized, but “ruralized,” read “medievalized,” and reminds one of the shaky dining ger standing at the major off-road connections.
City rulers of all times never formulated, let alone strictly followed, a workable, long term development plan and policy. They pretended to manage while the citizens were pretending to be managed. From election to election we replace some of them, but it is like replacing one feudal with another one. No progress.
Yet, a housing project that replaces ger districts could be a major driving force to enforce urbanization. The construction of housing for 170,000 families would be a historic jump in economic, social and cultural developments in Mongolia. This initiative of exchanging land for apartments for every ger district resident was proposed by the Mongolian Civic Union to Ulaanbaatar citizens and city officials. Nothing is done in this regard except for the fact that the former mayor successfully used the motto “Exchange Your Land for a 3-room Apartment” as a slogan for his campaign and got elected in the Parliament last year. It is not clear how many of his voters got their land replaced with 3-rooms.
The residents in ger districts could create cooperatives and make a plan for construction of houses, schools and other common services in cooperation with the city and district officials.
This cooperative could become a public company where those residents and other participants owning shares would not only get his current land replaced with apartments with certain number of rooms, at a certain location by the preliminary rules, but also share profits from the sale of remaining apartments. In this project, many will have not only an apartment but also a job.
This initiative could get a wide range of support from architects, engineers and other professionals. Since all participants have a share in the public construction companies, the cost will be minimized may be to the third per square meter. Thus estimated bribe level for land title and construction related permissions will also be reduced.
The most efficient method in dealing with huge differences in price between land owners and the city is to invite owners to become shareholders of the project.
The rest is a question of technicalities. The decision making power of citizens to improve their living condition should be in their hand. The city officials should support that power instead of limiting it.

Mongolians for fair taxes, wise spending.

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