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The new Mayor for Colombo Karu Jayasuriya speaks to The Sunday Times about his vision for a cleaner, greener metropolis
His Worship the new Mayor of Colombo, Karu Jayasuriya, has a vision for a better city, not in the distant future but starting right now. "I want to return Colombo to its old world charm," he said, asking that people write personally to him with their ideas for the improvement of the city, now overburdened with garbage, bad roads and sanitation problems.
Speaking to The Sunday Times, barely a week after his victory at the local government polls, Mr Jayasuriya said he wanted to make Colombo a model city. "But one must be realistic. For Colombo to reach the standards of Singapore and the like will take time. Nevertheless we are all geared and agog with ideas. For a start, we will launch an awareness campaign. I hope that both the written and electronic media will play a significant role in helping us, to both educate people and make them aware of the need to have a city, of which we can all be proud."
Mr Jayasuriya explained that he hoped sponsors would volunteer to help carry out this promotional campaign. "We can realise the dream of a beautiful city since the private sector has already offered their support to help us with landscaping round-abouts and also maintaining clean and uncluttered bus halts. Dustbins will be provided so that people at bus stands do not have to clutter the place with litter."
The new Mayor was optimistic about the setting up of a special advisory body consisting of eminent personalities who would give their ideas and expertise to remodel the city. It cannot be a one man job nor one handled only by the council, he pointed out. "All citizens," said Mayor Jayasuriya, "must be aware of the need to maintain and take pride in their city."
As for the once green and now arid Galle Face Green, he admits that it has been an eye sore. "In the next three months we will both develop the place and turf it, restoring it to a green smooth walking area for citizens. Further we will provide better and more sitting accommodation so that the elderly too can enjoy the green. There are also plans to provide toilet facilities," he said.
Asked about the nearly 75 percent of shanties in Colombo, he said this problem will require concerned attention. "Until we can provide the shanty dwellers with better houses, we will give them basic facilities such as water, toilets and clean surroundings. I personally consider this to be a moral obligation, to give these people basic amenities such as water, lights and sanitary living conditions. We cannot by any means neglect such a large part of Colombos population."
"As for the shanties we will abolish them and request help from the NGOs and the Central government to put up decent houses."
During the election campaign, the city walls had to bear the brunt of an avalanche of posters, that defaced and spoiled many a sidewalk. Commenting on this, the mayor was a sad man as he said, " I am personally feeling guilty and humbly beg the pardon of the citizens of Colombo because my posters too were up as part of the election campaign."
"In the future we will provide billboards throughout the city and once this is done the walls will be safeguarded. Laws too can be enacted in this direction as a deterrent," he added.
Asked about the water situation in Colombo where supply is considered often as being below standard in addition to the lack of it in certain areas, he said he would work with the guidance and co-operation of the Colombo Muncipal Council officials. "We are evolving a short term programme to see that pumping stations work to the fullest capacity and are maintained with the co-operation of the government to give Colombos ratepayers clean and better water supply."
What about pot holes on roads and broken roads? For this, Mayor Jayasuriya said the Municipal Council has its own programme and they are hopeful that will be kept in good repair with the help of the Central government. "We are fully aware of the bad conditions of the roads in Colombo and we are by no means indifferent to this."
Colombos garbage problem has looked in the recent past as if it is going to be a permanent part of Colombos landscape. But he has plans to change all this. "I assure you we are giving it the highest priority and the administration has been told to get into action pronto. New garbage trucks are already there and workers have been employed in full strength. I agree it is a terrible eye sore. I can assure that the situation will improve soon. Remember that we consider this a priority."
In summing up, the new mayor said he had met the CMC staff and has a high regard for their dedication and abilities. They are devoted and committed team, he commented.
"In the past, they too had grievances which will be looked into and attended to without delay. The rate payers who grumble about high rates will find that the service they get is commensurate with what they pay."
"The citizens of Colombo, be they rich or poor can write to me personally as the Mayor with any proposals they have to ensure a clean city. Please tell them they can address their letters to me. After all, the city belongs to all of them," he said.
Karu Jayasuriya will not be occupying the regal looking Mayors house. Instead it will be a youth centre. "It is a pledge we made. I am quite content to be in my own house," he said.
For lunch, the Mayor ate boiled gram on a side plate with a spoon and even offered to share it with this writer.
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