All eyes on Colombo Municipal Council election

| by Milinda Rajasekera

(September 14, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) As the third round of local government elections approaches public attentions seems focused especially on the Colombo Municipal Council election. There are several reasons for this special interest. The CMC is the premier administrative body in the capital city; the government’s concerted effort to elevate Colombo to be a leading city in Asia; this council is an institution that has continuously remained in the hands of the main opposition party, the UNP; the UPFA’s determined bid to capture power in the council and the UPFA mayoral candidate’s avowal to conduct an exemplary election campaign devoid of the usual political party rancour and acrimony, are some among these reasons.

If Muzzamil also presents his programme for the city’s development, then the Colombo voters would be in a better position to exercise their franchise in a meaningful way.
Understandably, the members of the general public have a great interest in the Colombo City’s administration because whichever part of the country they live in, they have to visit Colombo for various purposes. Although recent devolution of power and decentralization have reduced the need for people to visit Colombo, yet a steady flow citizens to Colombo from all corners of the country takes place since it remains to be the commercial capital of the country. Colombo is also the city that foreign tourists first see as they arrive in Sri Lanka. The importance, therefore, of enhancing its standards in all respects is obvious.

Although some meaningful steps have been taken recently to beautify the city and to improve the amenities provided in the city, clearly there is much more that remains to be done. Features of backwardness are indeed ubiquitous around the city still, despite the recent steps taken. The slums and shacks, water courses and canals where dirty water remains stagnant, ancient buildings yet to be modernized, housing schemes and flats that require urgent renovation, wild-grown shrubs and bushes - particularly within the premises of government departments and institutions, and several other such blemishes could be observed. Furthermore, in rain, the city highways become waterways, the amenities like toilets provided for the vast numbers visiting Colombo daily are patently inadequate. The problem of indiscipline - with bribery and corruption spreading rapidly - among CMC employees has always been a perennial one. Traffic congestion also remains unsolved despite impressive plans formulated for its solution. In fact, all these problems and weaknesses constitute severe indictment on all successive administrations of the CMC.

So, the task before the new administration is onerous. In a welcome departure from the past practices, UPFA mayoral candidate Milinda Moragoda has presented a 12-point programme with the promise of a new life in Colombo in 100 days. He, of course, does not promise to eliminate all these problem in such a short time. He says he will pave the way for creating a Centre of Excellence. He makes a bold assertion, “I promise nothing less than restoring efficiency, transparency and accountability to the CMC. I promise, in short, to restore the stature of our city and dignity of its citizens by putting in place mechanisms to ensure that things get done speedily, efficiently and competently, and in a just and a fair manner.” This indeed is a challenging programme , the implementation of which, though difficult, is what Colombo ratepayers as well as all Lankan citizens would await eagerly.

Moragoda also hopes to keep his campaign unsullied by narrow party politics. This palpably is a desirable objective. But he would find the accomplishment of this ideal which he has been advocating throughout, as difficult as swimming upstream in the present farrago of party politics where one-upmanship and skullduggery remain to be the dominant features. His opposite number from the UNP, A.J.M. Muzammil is also an amiable politician who is not given to acrimonious poltics. But his party, fractured by factional politics as it is, has already begun unearthing Moragoda’s past instead of subjecting his programme to examination and criticism. In fact, there is much to be criticized in Moragoda’s programme. Although in item 6 of the programme, he extols the work done to modernize and beautify the city, there is no mention about the things – as mentioned above - that remain to be attended to quickly if the city is to reach expected levels.

If Muzzamil also presents his programme for the city’s development, then the Colombo voters would be in a better position to exercise their franchise in a meaningful way. It is this type of objective, rational and constructive politics that should replace the present emotional, acrimonious and destructive politics if this country is to emerge from the present situation in which threats to its image, safety and independence have come from within and without. Unfortunately, what emanates from today’s Sri Lankan political stage is more heat and hatred than enlightenment on national problems and issues.

Truth is hidden or distorted by politicians of all hues for political advantage. Principles and integrity have yielded place to duplicity and deception. Politicians discard overnight the political parties and policies they once held in great reverence and respect and summersault to the opposite side and embrace parties and policies they detested in the past. Without stopping at that, they proceed to revile and condemn policies and leaders they held in awe previously. This is the pattern of unprincipled politics that operates in this country today. So the effort of all concerned should be to find ways of deviating from this method of politics.

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