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Tehran Mayor Sets Out to Right Past Wrongs

Tehran Municipality allowed the builders to construct over and above the lawful limits imposed by national regulations and thereafter pay the fine through the holograms system
Tehran’s mayor on Tuesday ordered an immediate suspension of the practice of issuing the so-called ‘holograms’ to contractors as a way to settle TM’s debts.Tehran’s mayor on Tuesday ordered an immediate suspension of the practice of issuing the so-called ‘holograms’ to contractors as a way to settle TM’s debts.

Less than a month after taking office as mayor of the overcrowded capital, Mohammad Ali Najafi on Tuesday took a first major step to ease living conditions in the huge metropolis. He ordered an immediate suspension of the practice of issuing the so-called ‘holograms’ to contractors of urban projects as a way to settle municipality debts.  

The hologram system, a self-styled creation of the controversial former mayor  Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf who was in charge for 12 years, enabled the municipality to settle its mounting debts to contractors through a non-cash arrangement and at the same time generate income by selling holograms, which in turn were used by builders to pay their fines for illegal constructions  to the municipalities.

In other words, the municipality allowed the builders to construct over and above the lawful limits imposed by national regulations and thereafter pay the fine through the holograms system,  the Persian-language newspaper ‘Donya-e- Eqtesad’ reported.

When Qalibaf was the uncontested urban ruler, such profitable holograms were given to many contractors by the Tehran Municipality, once one of the richest organizations in Iran but now said to be sinking in red ink with $18  billion in unpaid debts. The contractors often immediately sold the holograms to lawless builders to get their money from the TM.

According to the recent directive issued by Najafi to 22 district mayors in Tehran, “No new holograms will be issued until further notice and those which have been issued prior to this directive, would be valid only after being investigated and confirmed by TM officials.”

“In the past, notwithstanding the persistent requests from the elected Tehran City Council to the TM to present verifiable numbers of the holograms issued, the municipality did not care. Therefore all unused holograms need to be double checked,” writes the directive.  The directive also notes that henceforth the TM is not allowed to engage in any sort of barter arrangement for the settlement of unpaid debts with individuals or companies “unless through real estate bartering and after being approved by the Assets and Properties Organization.”

 A Monstrous City

For almost two decades, and thanks to the municipality’s insatiable appetite for alternative means of revenue and its questionable manner in paying for urban development projects, Tehran has become a monstrous city and province of more than 13 million people. Despite the mounting and seemingly unending urban problems, high-rises and towers are being built at terrific speed.

It merits mention that during Qalibaf’s tenure 80% of municipal revenues came from the ‘sale’ of construction permits. Who got the multi-million-dollar permits and on what grounds was a different matter!

In the first official meeting of the newly-elected TCC in late August, Najafi had pledged transparency, promising to publicly disclose every contract signed by the municipality under his watch worth more than 10 billion rials ($262,000). He also promised to prepare a comprehensive report on the dire state of the metropolis in three months.

Tehran is grappling with a host of social and environmental problems that have made life difficult for its 13 million plus residents. The metropolis is home to a systemically growing number of migrants from all over the country and from Afghanistan looking for greener pastures.

The new mayor has presented a roadmap to help improve living conditions in the megacity that keeps expanding in all four directions.

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