Campaigning for next week’s local government elections is in full swing in the Colombo District with all political parties eager to gain control of the most coveted prize of all — the Colombo Municipal Council as well other important councils in the district. With just three days left before all political campaigning must cease ahead [...]


Colombo voters not in the mood to overlook corrupt politics


Campaigning for next week’s local government elections is in full swing in the Colombo District with all political parties eager to gain control of the most coveted prize of all — the Colombo Municipal Council as well other important councils in the district.

With just three days left before all political campaigning must cease ahead of the February 10 poll, the final round of canvassing is underway in earnest.

Residents of the Colombo Municipal area are eager to vote as they will be exercising their franchise after a gap of nearly six years. The CMC had been run by a commissioner since 2015 when its four-year term lapsed.

A Sunday Times team toured the city to feel the people’s pulse.

Most residents said they are excited to vote for their own candidates, but also lamented the increased cost of living and inadequate development in rural areas.
Corruption remains a key issue and many question the commitment of a government that failed to keep its promise of ending the rot in politics and governance.
M S M Hussain, from Maradana is one of 700,000 youths who will be voting for the first time in the polls. He is hoping to vote for an effective, efficient, people-friendly candidate who can serve the people.

He said that the roads, access lanes along with drainage canals, must be renovated immediately and maintained because the area floods even during light rains.
“For last two years, the council was not existent, causing many difficulties to the public. We must elect a person who will be dedicated to work for the people and not engage in petty politics,” he said.

Some are concerned about the profusion of high rises and commercial property development everywhere in the capital.

M K Fathima’s family had been warned that their area will be acquired for a government funded housing scheme and that families will be resettled. “I told them my family won’t move to any housing scheme outside of Colombo,” she said.

Ms Maya Ranasinghe, a resident of Maradana, said that those who are elected, must first act against unauthorised buildings. “Locals are facing difficulties due to these buildings. There is no space in access lanes, they have been taken over,” she said.

She will be voting for a candidate who has a plan for local development and sensitive to locals needs. “I am interested to vote since we are not bribed, posters are not pasted on our walls and most of all, no gangs and thugs running around demanding votes,” she said.

For G. Ganseshamoorthi, a resident of Kirulapone, who works as an outsourced worker at Abans garbage management unit, there are many other things to worry about.

“Nowadays, if you go to a supermarket with Rs 1,000, you can’t buy more than four grocery items. Prices are so high. We have to look for other options such as working part time to earn more money. It is becoming more difficult. With all these worries, how can I think about voting?” A sceptical Ganeshamoorthi told the Sunday Times that he is undecided.

Meanwhile, Tharindu Pushpakumara, a garage owner in Maradana, said that he was fed up with politicians and their underhand deals.

“I don’t even like to discuss politics, one party who engaged in corruption during the previous regime says the ruling party is corrupt and the ruling party says the others are corrupt. They are all corrupt and are misleading the people,’’ he said.

Though he has reservations, he said he will vote, since it is his right and the area needs efficient members in the local bodies.

Bethmage Vincent Perera, a resident of Malabe area, said that he will be voting for candidates who served in the local bodies in the past since they are experienced and known for working for the people.

“Personally, it doesn’t matter whether they are corrupt or not, as long as they are able to work for the people. Most of the current leaders are not honest, too, but neglected their public duties due to their personal agendas,” he said.

M Abeysiri, who runs a vegetable shop in Salawa, said corruption is deeply rooted.

“From a doctor to government servants, everyone resorts to strikes over their concerns without considering difficulties caused to public. I don’t see many clean candidates. May be most of them are corrupt,” he said. Ordinary folk in urban areas are struggling in poverty, he said.

Many candidates in the suburbs have resorted to cheap stunts to win votes. In some areas, posters assure locals that their access lanes and by-lanes will be paved if a particular candidate is elected. The Election Commission also observed that in some of the areas, roads had been paved after the polls date was set.

The commission posted a notice to say that public money had been used for roadworks and that people should not feel obliged to any candidate.

The election atmosphere in Kaduwela area was relatively calm. In the suburbs of Colombo, the Election Commission has taken measures to strictly enforce election laws.

Atula Hettinayake, a shop owner on Pothuarawa Road, Kaduwela, said that there are two election offices of rival parties near his shop, but since the laws are strictly enforced, there had not been any violence.

“Supporters of both candidates mind their own business. They have got permission to put up their offices and use loudspeakers for canvassing. I can continue my business very peacefully,” he said.

He hopes to see suitable local candidates elected who can take firm stand against racism and religious extremism.

Priyakanthi Samaraweera, a teacher of Commerce at Kosgama Maha Vidyalaya, believes that although more women have got an opportunity to contest, women social activists are yet to exploit this opportunity.

She also said candidates should be screened and the Election Commission should introduce a mechanism. “This would put an end to the pattern of thugs and uneducated persons entering politics,” she said.

Nobody knows Colombo people better than I do
Azath Salley (UPFA)

For most Colombo citizens, Azath Salley is a familiar figure. Having served as councillor in the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) for more than three decades, this time he seeks a new mandate as mayoral candidate on the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) ticket.

“I’m a people’s man. Nobody knows Colombo people better than I do,” Mr. Salley told The Sunday Times with the confidence of knowing people from all walks of life in the city during his 30 years in public office.

The CMC has been a stronghold of the United National Party (UNP) for the past 50 years and as UPFA mayoral candidate, Mr. Salley is committed to change, saying inefficiency and mismanagement by past UNP council administrations has prevented the city from reaching its fullest potential.

Mr. Salley says he has a masterplan to transform the city into one of the most vibrant cities South Asia.

In his brief manifesto, he set out plans for Colombo’s most underprivileged communities.

Mr. Salley plans a government-funded 50,000-person housing scheme that will be constructed in land belonging to the CMC within the city area to accommodate homeless families living scattered around the city.

“I have taken up this new journey with the blessing of President Maithripala Sirisena in order to continue the journey of corruption-free governance he commenced on January 8, 2015,” Mr. Salley said.

He encourages Colombo residents to vote for change after 50 years of one party’s rule of local government.

“The UNP, though it is an integral part of the Unity Government, is no better than the corrupt politicians in the previous regime,” he argued. “As the Bond Commission report reveals, the UNP leadership, with the assistance of its cronies, swindled Rs. 12 billion in just five months of governance of the Central Bank.”

Eradicating the drug menace and effective garbage management are other key campaign areas especially since the Meethotamulla dump site collapse last year that took lives of 26 people.

“If you look at the current scenario, there are no clear plans put forward on how the garbage issue will be tackled with the city producing 750 metric tonnes of garbage daily,” Mr. Salley said.

“Also, since the garbage management system is outsourced to third party companies, there are problems for people as collecting times vary and there is no proper coordination. We have a comprehensive plan to address this issue effectively,” the UPFA mayoral hopeful declared.

“I would request Colombo voters not to waste their votes but to cast their ballots and not wait to vote until last minute,” a confident Azath Salley said, claiming his victory was imminent that that he was looking forward to continuing his public service in the new office.


I  will follow in the footsteps of my grandfather and never give up
Pradip Jayewardene (UPFA)


Pradip Jayewardene, grandson of late President J.R. Jayewardene, is contesting on the United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) ticket for the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC).

Citing waste management, traffic and zoning as the city’s major issues, Mr. Jayewardene says he has detailed plans to convert the city into a sustainable, developed, smart city in a short period. “I feel that we need to stop complaining about what is happening around us and do something about it,” he told the Sunday Times.

With extensive experience in the private sector, he suggests that a better mechanism should be introduced as Colombo’s zoning rules no longer work. He pointed out that many businesses had set up in residential zones disrupting long-term residents and ruining high-value residential areas.

“The zoning of Colombo has to be reconsidered taking into account that restaurants and cafes cannot survive far away from residences, nor can homeowners live comfortably next door to restaurants and fast food outlets,” Mr. Jayewardene told the Sunday Times.

“Collection of garbage is irregular and delayed because we can no longer give it to someone else as we did in Meethotamulla. 700-800MT of waste is generated in Colombo city each day. Segregation is now being done, but there are difficulties in handling and disposal. Sometimes garbage is not collected on time and accumulates in our homes. Quite a large quantity is also being dumped into our canals and rivers ending up in the sea and on our beaches,” he said.

“I plan to work with the UDA and Ministry of Megapolis to develop a new zoning plan for Colombo to ensure continuous growth of the city while preserving traditional residential areas. Zoning must also include low income housing, an economic model must be created to improve the housing standard of these residents and ensure their presence in the city,” he said.

He is also of the view that the CMC should have extra powers compared to other LG bodies as it is the council for the commercial hub of the country. “In the event of a disaster, man-made or natural, the Mayor should be able to act in the shortest possible time as the scale and the demands for emergency relief are much higher than other LG bodies. The normal approval process could take many days.”

Mr. Jayewardene said he will be following in the footsteps of his grandfather. “My Grandfather’s advice to me was ‘Never Give Up’,” he said.


History beckons women’s rights champion as first female mayor
Rosy Senanayake (UNP)


Rosy Senanayake, who pushed for legislation to introduce quotas for female representation in Parliament, would make history this year if elected the first female mayor of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), on the United National Party (UNP) ticket.

“When I was a member of parliament, I introduced a motion asking for a 30 per cent allocation of seats for women. It was defeated but the Prime Minister promised me that he would introduce it in parliament when the UNP came to power. So, now we have a 25 per cent allocation,” Mrs. Senanayake said.

Her manifesto, “Colombo – A Smart, Empowered and Green City” details a 10-year plan on placing the strategic city on the world map as a vibrant commercial capital.

“Eradicating dengue and tackling the garbage issue will be a priority,” Mrs. Senanayake said. “We have identified a place in the Puttalam District to move garbage to.

“I will work with the CMC medical teams to reduce the number of dengue deaths by half in the first year. Our plan is to have no dengue deaths by 2020.”

Drug trafficking needed to be addressed immediately within the municipality. Mrs. Senanayake, a former State Minister for Children’s Affairs, noted that many families have been damaged by drug use, and pledged to work with the Ministry of Law and Order to rid the city of this menace.

Mrs. Senanayake is sure people will vote again for UNP administration of the city, saying: “I am very confident that the people of Colombo will keep faith with us.”

Businesses and the corporate sector could assist with self-employment and vocational training schemes, Mrs Senanayake said.

“We plan to use the canals in the city as an alternate transport system and the private sector can help with that. The libraries will be modernised, and again that will be an opportunity for businesses to partner with us. We are looking at public-private partnerships because that is the best way to transform the city to be vibrant and efficient,” she said.

To tackle unemployment, the manifesto proposes the building of 25 multi-faceted community centres that include career guidance units: at least three NYSCO-styled (National Youth Services Cooperative Society) centres to help youth obtain vocational training and giving aid to those seeking self-employment.

Mrs Senanayake believes her political journey is proof of her capabilities in public office. As a diplomat – Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Malaysia – she played a key role in drafting and implementing bilateral agreements, and later as Minister of Children Affairs she took effective measures to reduce malnutrition among schoolchildren, she said.

“The UNP has recognised my leadership qualities by nominating me as its mayoral candidate. I ask the people of Colombo to do the same,” Rosy Senanayake said.


I will support moves to make Colombo an economic hub
Duminda Attygalle (UNP)


Duminda Sudhammika Attygalle, from Cinnamon Gardens, Colombo, is contesting under the UNP ticket for a seat in the CMC. He said, as the UNP has a comprehensive manifesto to transform Colombo city into an economic hub, he will be supporting those initiatives, as a member of the Council.

As one of his first initiatives at electioneering, he said he had visited 1,300 residences in his Ward, to listen to the issues and expectations of the public. “Management of garbage has become a major issue, as most in my Ward complained there is no proper procedure in place to collect garbage, particularly in byroads.”

He identified his next target would be making his Ward into a dengue-free environment. “In the recent past, the CMC was found wanting and ineffective in its dengue eradication programmes, which resulted in an increase in the number of dengue related deaths. State lands are not inspected properly for mosquito breeding sites.”

Hopeful of being elected to his Ward, as many have already indicated their support for him, Mr Attygalle said, as he would be directly responsible for his Ward, he will ensure the proper maintenance of sewage and drainage systems, to prevent flood situations during downpours. “Flooding due yo blocked drains caused by unauthorised constructions in the area, need to be addressed immediately,” he said.

He stressed that a top priority of a future UNP administration of the CMC would be digitizing most of the administrative processes, as it would minimise corruption in its governance.


I have a tenfold plan to make SL an economic, cultural hub in South Asia
Milinda Rajapaksha (SLPP)


Milinda Rajapaksha,who is contesting for the Colombo Municipal Council, under the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) ticket, says the time has arrived for youth and young professionals to enter the political arena to clean up the corrupt political culture prevalent in the country.

“We the SLPP, as a team, wanted to create a safe, smart and sound Colombo city for our generations to come, but that doesn’t mean changing it into another Singapore. Our city should be a unique one with its extraordinary culture,” Mr Rajapaksha told the Sunday Times, assuring he has a tenfold plan in his manifesto to reach that goal of making us another economic and cultural hub in the South Asian region.

His manifesto sets out comprehensive plans on how this city can be converted into being resilient to climate change, natural disasters and global economic collapses, where people would live in a healthy environment without any pollution.

As someone engaged in politics for a long time, since youth, Mr Rajapaksha served in many government institutions in various capacities in the past, including Working Director of National Youth Services Council, Ministry of Youth Affairs and Skills Development, from 2013 to 2015.

Mr Rajapaksha, former ardent supporter of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) said, he, along with a strong team of activists like himself, decided to contest for CMC under SLPP ticket, considering the current political scenario where major political parties have failed to put forward a sustainable development plan for the city.

“Considering the past CMC administrations, it has been a disaster where thugs, henchmen and corrupt politicians ran the Council without any proper plan. Their inability, inefficiency, incompetence and corruption has consigned the common man into severe debt,” he said, while emphasising that this is the reason why young professionals like himself decided to step in.


Health and congestion, trouble former medical chief
Pradeep Kariyawasam (SLPP)

Clean, serviced housing is a priority for Colombo, says former CMC Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Pradeep Kariyawasam, representing the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramauna (SLPP) in contesting a councillorship in the Havelock Town ward.

Dr. Kariyawasam, who is standing for election for the second time, says his 26-year service in the CMC, particularly his 14 years as head of the council’s medical services, gives him an understanding of the needs and methods of public service.

Colombo needs proper housing, sanitary facilities and drainage systems for people living in under-serviced settlements, he said.

Given its congestion, Colombo should build high-rise housing projects, funded by letting out the ground floors for commercial activities, to help the under-privileged.
More houses should also be provided with water and sanitation.

“As a medical doctor, I strongly emphasise a strong disease control system and proper garbage collection as Colombo is the country’s economic hub,” Dr. Kariyawasam said.

The daily transit of large numbers of people through the city contributes to the risk of the spread of diseases, he emhasised.

Dr. Kariyawasam wants to restart house-to-house inspections to tackle dengue.

He also plans to deploy a permanent team of CMC officials as well as nominated residents of the area to inspect specified areas of health risk.

Dr. Kariyawasam wants multi-storied public parking houses to be built to reduce traffic congestion, as well as an improved CMC-controlled bus service within the city.

The SLPP is not putting forward a mayoral candidate for the CMC elections.

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