Take Over Key Municipal Councils Under a Central Government Authority
Posted on September 14th, 2010

– Kumar Moses

Revenue of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) is over Rs 1 billion a year. However, it is no secret that CMC is not providing comparable services. In fact, CMC is a symbol of waste, corruption, favouritism and inefficiency. However, there is more to it. Over the years, it has become a safe den for anti-national elements. In fact, the CMC area is the last frontier of nationalist forces. The term, “ƒ”¹…”Colombans’ used to describe the alien conduct types associated with anti-national elements originate from the unconquerable Greater Colombo area. While people have the right of choice in selecting their preferred political parties, engaging collusion and corruption to secure political power is unacceptable. Constructions within the CMC controlled area are unplanned and uneven. The nation’s capital needs to be managed better. Anti-national elements with political power in the Colombo City can cause disruptions to national security manoeuvres. Thankfully, during the most part of the final stages of the war the ruling coalition of the CMC was different although this group was no better than others in mismanaging the affairs. However, the old lot will stage a comeback soon. Elections return huge anti-national ruling coalitions to power and it makes perfect sense to take over the reigns of the CMC by an authority directly under the central government.

Evils of the Present Day CMC

Changing the CMC ruling coalition has done nothing to its performance over the years. This is a disgrace to the entire nation as its capital is in a sorry state despite billions in ratepayers’ revenue. Ills of the CMC are not confined to these but this list gives some of the widely known ones.

  • The road network has seen no increase over the years. Apart from the good work done by the UDA, CMC has done scant little. Roads are in a very bad shape and road maintenance is disorganised, wasteful and untimely.
  • Garbage disposal is not working efficiently
  • No real action is taken to counter mosquito and other hazardous insect breeding
  • Drainage system is more than a hundred years old. Nothing has been done to improve it. Even a little rain floods some parts of the city.
  • Street lighting is not handled properly resulting in danger and wastage.
  • No proper town planning and substandard constructions appear everywhere. These pose health hazards and social hazards.
  • Parks, playgrounds, libraries, community centres, public toilets, etc. are in a horrible state of neglect. In fact CMC is well known for its complete neglect of these as it is synonymous with dirty toilets.
  • Millions visit the city everyday and there is a pathetic shortage of facilities.
  • Absolute lack of coordination with the Western Provincial Council and the national government when different parties are ruling the CMC, the WPC and the national government.
  • Water resources are wasted as public taps are not maintained properly.      

How Collusion Works

CMC earns more than a billion rupees a year and deals in various contracts worth an equal value or more every year. These contracts are mainly won by a group of individuals with very close political connections. Since a particular party always wins the CMC elections barring the unusual happening in 2007, all these contractors and their businesses are safe. They in turn finance this party’s expensive election campaign. Allowing illegal constructions is another lucrative avenue and a way to reward party supporters. This is the reason for the very large number of illegal and substandard constructions in the city. There is absolutely no town planning at all and state land has been appropriated to party supporters.  

Any change to the system is going to affect these unscrupulous businessmen and they may not let it go easily. Authorities involved should be on the look out as these elements have very close underworld connections.

Political and Economic Significance

Contrary to popular view, the CMC area has little political significance. This is due to most voters blindly voting for the same party without considering policies and national interest. The term “Colomban voter” with its associated characteristics, aptly describes this mentality. In fact the CMC area has shown the least support for pro-national political forces. From a nationalist point of view, these voters are, to say the least, unimportant. In other words, there are no significant political repercussions of taking over the CMC under a competent authority.

All three major political parties have carried out political rallies in the heart of the city crippling economic activities. It is in the best interests of everyone to take them elsewhere. More importantly a defence related non-political entity should grant approval or reject these moves. Entertaining foreign delegates, holding international trade/sport, etc. events and commercial events can be facilitated by keeping Colombo safe all the time.   

Colombo has a bigger political significance than its voters. It is the nation’s capital, call it commercial capital or whatever. Millions of outsiders visit it everyday. This national political significance can be addressed only by bringing it under a competent authority functioning directly under the elected government.

Strategic Defence Implications  

Colombo is strategically important not just because of the harbour “”…” the biggest in the country, head offices of most government institutions, official residencies of top government personnel, having almost all foreign diplomatic missions, largest concentration of economic activity and the centre of bus and rail transport, but also due to the part it plays in national security. Terrorists knew this very well; that’s why they targeted Colombo than any other city in the world! It proves the defence significance of Colombo. However, the Colombo City limits fall under the CMC which is generally governed by anti-national elements. This poses a grave threat to national security as the CMC can opt not to co-operate with the national security apparatus. The governing coalition elected following an election law violation in 2007 was more accommodative of the defence policy. Had the traditional rulers of the CMC assumed office things would have been very difficult during the war. To make matters worse, a certain individual who entered politics immediately after retiring was associated with certain judgements that demanded the removal of check points, etc. in the city. An uncooperative CMC could have gone to town with such judgments to the detriment of national security.

Moreover, the Tamil community is one of the largest communities in Colombo. LTTE terrorists were Tamils and found Tamil majority areas in Colombo to be safe hiding places. Compared to other communities, the Tamil community was more sympathetic towards the LTTE. This poses a continuing threat as the Tamil Diaspora still follows a confrontational approach.

Unplanned and unstructured constructions aggravate this threat. For example the Colombo harbour borders a highly volatile neighbourhood right throughout from north to south. Major entry points and bridges to the City have slums. Enough has been said about the security threat of slums between Colombo Fort and Kollupitiya. Even most drug dealings and underworld activities are centred in Colombo. LTTE and other terrorists have a history of colluding with these elements.

Short-sighted political commentators have aired the view that large military bases in Colombo should be shifted out so that these prime lands can be used more productively and in an environmentally friendly manner. They must be reminded of the fact that this nation experienced periodic troubles in the recent past. Suffice it is to say there were different security challenges in 1915, 1939-45, 1953, 1958, 1962, 1971, 1977, 1983, 1987-89, 1993, 2006-09. Although some of these troubles were localised, in modern day similar troubles could easily spread to Colombo. There is no replacement for being well prepared and that means the military maintaining a permanent and strong presence in the City.

The threat posed by cheap hotels (“lodges”) during the war was serious. It could not be handled effectively. Controlling these cheap hotels both in terms of quality and quantity must be overlooked by defence authorities as well. Their licence to operate must be issued under an authority that comes under the purview of the Defence Ministry. Otherwise another national security threat would emerge. 

Democratic Rights of the People

Residents of the Greater Colombo area should be allowed to continue with their democratic rights in local governance by introducing more localised governance structures. These should be able to address specific localised issues and need not be widespread as the CMC. For instance, the needs of Colombo South are different to Colombo North. If each of these regional areas have different local governance bodies in the form of Pradeshiya/Gam Sabha equivalents, their specific needs could be better addressed. However, there is no need to add even more to the already multilayered governance structure. Sri Lanka is over governed at the moment with too many layers. Therefore the powers and responsibilities of Pradeshiya/Gam Sabha equivalents should be limited.

Top heavy provincial councils and other various local government bodies should be replaced by governing entities like Gam Sabhas. It can cut a layer and streamline governance and development. 

A similar approach to the CMC should be followed for Galle and Kandy MCs.

Fat cats thriving on corruption, inefficiency and anti-nationalism will fight against these moves. It is understandable. However, rate payers should not be held to ransom anymore and national security need not be compromised for the sake of tradition. CMC is a colonial structure introduced for the purposes of colonial rule of Sri Lanka. It is no surprise it is the last frontier of nationalist forces even 62 years after Independence. It is high time Sri Lanka choose a governance structure for its main City based on Sri Lankan interests, not British colonial interests.

Following the takeover of this lethargic entity, rapid development activities will impress people further justifying the takeover. It’s not just those who are living in the City but also the millions who visit everyday will tangibly benefit from the move. The stigma associated with the CMC and its peripherals can be erased for good. Sri Lankans will be proud to call Colombo their capital city once again. 

2 Responses to “Take Over Key Municipal Councils Under a Central Government Authority”

  1. A. Sooriarachi Says:

    CMC is unwieldly and needs to be completely overhauled, if it is to function properly. If you walk in to their offices you would see how many are at their work stations attending to their duties. Many of the staff are disrespectful to the visiting ratepayers and employs delaying action if at all they take action, when an issue needs to be resolved by the CMC. Are they incompetent or are they corrupt? Whichever the answer is, this most important establishment needs to be thoroughly revamped to serve the ratepayers and the visitors to the City. Once I thought the CMC staff deserves to get a head like Mervyn Silva as it seemed no one else is able to get them to move.

  2. Ben_silva Says:

    Kumar Moses has to be given credit for exposing waste, corruption, favouritism and inefficiency. He has also told the truth without fear. We should stand up and speak when ever there is waste, corruption, favouritism and inefficiency, so that these could be eliminated. We should work towards rule of the law, honesty and justice and fair play for all. I have used the Public Toilets in Pettah and it is an absolute disgrace. They should introduce a ticketing system, even manual, so that there are no loop holes for cheating and the money saved used to keep the toilets clean. The filthy state of public toilets in Colombo and Kandy are unbelievable.

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