The following is an interview with the Mayor and Governor of the capital city, E.Bat-Uul, about timely issues.
Bat-Uul is a politician from the Democratic Party, who was appointed Mayor and Governor of Ulaanbaatar in August 2012.
How was the summer work and how is preparation work for winter?
This summer was very busy with road work, housing construction and elevators, as well as roof repairs. The results can be seen clearly. Despite economic difficulties, we can highlight that the city’s development didn’t suffer much.
How is the housing work for the ger areas progressing?
An apartment town is being constructed in Zuun Ail. This is the beginning of ger area housing work. When we first presented this idea, people said it was impossible, but now everyone is asking to enlist their property for reconstruction. Maybe in two years, people will consider developing their land, finding investors, and building public apartments or houses.
People are saying that you didn’t keep your promises and that you’re exchanging people’s land for small apartments?
It’s true that I claimed to transform the ger areas into residential areas when I participated in the election. I still uphold this position. To start this work, I built a state industry site. Now, I’m receiving land owners’ submissions to build houses on their land. Some 20,000 households offered land to build houses as of last July, and there are more people willing to do the same. Land owners decide everything. I can’t decide on their behalf. My responsibility is to find investors for developing their land. I’ll only work under public demand.
When will construction of the residential areas begin?
There are fundraising issues. After this has been resolved, we’ll negotiate with land owners to consolidate their fences so that kindergartens and schools can be established. Some people don’t agree and slow down work. For example, households near Gandan monastery are refusing to give up their land. We renovated only one street to show how the streets would change.
A total of 78 percent of Ulaanbaatar housing is ger area. An immense amount of investment is required for building infrastructure. Infrastructure work will begin when funding issues are settled.
The residents don’t have to depend on us to search for investors and build apartments themselves. They can gather land owners and propose building houses or apartments together.
Currently, how many areas have started building apartments through ger area re-planning?
According to the data I’ve received, apartments for 6,000 people will be operational in several areas including Songinokhairkhan District and Zuun Ail this year. You can get specifics from the Head of City Council Battulga and Deputy Head Ochirbat, who are responsible for city ger area re-planning.
The public was frustrated with the Metro Map Project trial, which allowed people to have unlimited bus transfers on 500 MNT daily tickets. There’s also the vehicle license plate restriction, which has reduced traffic congestion but violated people’s driving rights. Can you comment on these issues?
We’ve used license plate restrictions since last year. It’s proven to be an effective method. A week before September 1, the start of new academic year, Ulaanbaatar traffic congestion usually reaches its peak. Parents and students buy school supplies for their children and overcrowd the city. We had to take this method of precaution.
One factor that was hindering the license plate restriction was public transportation services. Drivers who can’t drive on specific days have to use buses, but public transportation service couldn’t meet their needs, so we introduced the Metro Map Project along with vehicle restrictions.
How do you assess its outcome?
I’m satisfied. Public transportation staff have a bad reputation for seeking profit instead of providing services to people. There was an initiation to eliminate this problem and to run buses according to specific standards and schedules, as public transportation is designed to provide comfortable and fast services. Even with one passenger, buses should drive on determined routes on schedule. Buses shouldn’t wait until the bus is packed with passengers, which is the current concept behind Mongolian public transportation. We did a trial to introduce a system focused on providing services instead of working for profit. Obviously, all new experiments and trials face difficulties and criticism. From the recent trial, we collected useful data on developing the project and realized that this service could be introduced in the future.
That is, only if buses become comfortable, routes are more specific and clear, and the distribution of 500 MNT tickets is improved.
Exactly. We’re planning to commission a new public transportation service on April 1, 2015, after wrapping up preparation work. Passengers will pay bus fare with scan cards. There will be monthly, six month and family ticket packages. Bus routes will become more clear and buses will become more comfortable. Mongolia will purchase additional buses with 20 billion MNT. We plan to import long, extended buses. Ulaanbaatar needs 2,500 buses to meet residents’ demands in the city, according to the officials in public transportation. At the moment, there are 800 buses in the city.
Will 20 billion MNT be enough to purchase buses that will meet basic needs?
Of course not. This is the spending money for a single purchase. We’ll be purchasing buses every year. Estimates show that the necessary number of buses will be fully provided in five years.
Will vehicle restrictions be enforced in the future?
No. We’ll face a loss if this method is implemented for a long time. It’ll be difficult for the people too. Some residents proposed establishing tollways at the city center and collecting fees for passage. The collected fees will be used for the people.
When will tollways be imposed?
We’ll conduct a survey. If new public transportation service is introduced on April 1, 2015, and people travel for a whole day for 500 MNT, the public transportation sector will face a deficit of 17 billion MNT.
To compensate for the loss, are you trying to make cars pay a fee of 50,000 MNT for passage through the city center?
There’s no other option for compensating the loss. It’s impossible for the city budget to be compensated. The 50,000 MNT fee is the cost of uncongested service and passage. This is the global standard that London, Paris and Singapore have. Every city manages traffic congestion this way. People will have no reason to buy cars if they’re provided with convenient and fast public transportation services.
Last fall, Ulaanbaatar received a loan from Asian Development Bank. What’s happening with that loan?
Mongolia received a high criteria loan from Asian Development Bank. The government and international bodies are contributing greatly to Ulaanbaatar’s construction and development. Asian Development Bank invested 320 million USD to establish two sub-centers in Ulaanbaatar. Bayankhoshuu and Chingeltei Districts will become cities within a city. With the support from Asian Development Bank, we’re building a hospital.
The World Bank has almost finished implementing a project to improve clean water supply. We’re also establishing schools and kindergartens. The government is implementing and funding a street project. Together with the Chinese government, Mongolia built a new bridge and now it’s working towards a metro project. Work for constructing a metro will begin in 2016.
Another hot topic this summer was the online land registration. Many have expressed suspicions about the fairness of the selection process. Can you comment on this?
The public has become very distrustful and full of suspicion. There are so many poor people who are filled with bad thoughts and distrust. Many people were running around overjoyed with receiving land. Even infants were chosen for land ownership. I doubt a that little baby could have used underhanded methods.
Truthfully, the Land Ownership Law was revised and the distribution of 0.07 hectares of land was discussed for many years but was unsuccessful. Some 1,000,100 people couldn’t get their portion of land. We used this method so that those people could get their share. It’s difficult to distribute land to everyone. In the past, we hadn’t found technical solutions for completing this work. Mongolian land officials worked without eating or sleeping and developed a program that would distribute land to over 15,000 people within seconds.
Sorry, but this work was conducted fairly. Would anyone go around negotiating to give land ownership to 15,000 people? Also, the selection wasn’t determined by a person but a computer. Would a computer try to give land through underhanded methods? Therefore, this talk about an unfair selection process for land ownership is false.
Of the people who registered for land ownership, how many received land?
Out of the 280,000 applicants, 15,000 people gained land ownership in the first stage. Oddly, 4,000 of them didn’t want land certificates. I can’t stop wondering about this. Do you know how incredible those five land locations are? For example, Khojuul Valley in Uliastai is getting paved roads with state budget funds. It’ll get sanitary and hot water networks as well as a Canadian-styled housing micro-district.
The officials met and discussed why people didn’t want land certificates. One person explained that people who just wanted to try out the lottery registered on the website. If this is true, we should eliminate these mischievous people and do another lottery for the land they didn’t claim.
Will everyone who didn’t get land receive their share via online lotteries eventually?
Certainly. The some 1,000,100 people who didn’t receive 0.07 hectares of land will all get land. People who were left from the previous lottery will be transferred to the next lottery. The lottery for the first five locations was an experiment. We’ll be doing lotteries for the remaining locations shortly.SOURCE: Ub Post