Improving city infrastructure – an idea

A key reason for poor infrastructure around us in the cities is – citizens just don’t participate or take interest in local governance.

There are ways to participate. Most think there are only two ways here. One, to vote in local elections. Two, contest local elections. Many people vote. The problem is lack of participation and interest beyond that. There are more ways though. Complaining for things or services you don’t like is one good way of showing interest. That is, complaining to the right authorities. Seeking regular information on activities of local government is another way. Participating in public forums that are organized once in a while is yet another way – go to those meetings and make your points.

But how many of us do any of above? For various reasons, we don’t have time to complain, seek development related information and question them, or attend opinion gathering meetings. And hence, we get what we deserve, all sorts of problems around us – poor infrastructure and living conditions in cities – choking and stinking drains, pothole filled roads, broken and encroached pavements and no parking space at all. After all, its only because we don’t care that the politicians and contractors eat up most of the money meant to be spent on us.

Seems like a dead end, isn’t it? How do we improve on this situation? Here is an idea.

Whenever any business carries out a public work, don’t pay them till all the identified beneficiaries or stakeholders sign off and say that quality of work is up-to their satisfaction.

Imagine this scenario. My local government hands out a contract to repair my street to a builder X. A part of the contracting process is making a list of all citizens who will benefit from this work. Call them stakeholders. X gets some, say 50% of the money upfront. X then completes the job – meaning they repair or rebuild the road. Now, X has to go around with a yes/no ballot and seek signatures from all citizen stakeholders. A quorum – say 51% – of stakeholders have to sign off saying yes, they are happy with the quality. X must produce required number of “yes” ballots to get the rest of the money for the work they carried out.

Now, to make sure we force citizens to participate, make it a punishable offence if a citizen fails to provide signature on the yes/no ballot even after a fixed number of contact attempts made by builder X.

How does this look? A simple enough way to make sure quality of public work is good, and whenever local governments spend money, some work does get carried out on the ground. And you force citizens to participate and take interest as well.

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