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Vasu says 'I' m winning'

Vasudeva Nanayakara, the Colombo mayoral candidate of the United People's Freedom Alliance says he will clean up and rearrange the city and its civil administration. The fire brand leftist says he is prepared to go through the phases of the country's history, while remaining loyal to his ideology of socialism.

He says," the present phase requires the implementation of democracy". He pledges for a job quota for the unemployed youth in the city and better housing for the city's slum dwellers, amounting to be 52 percent of the total population in the town.

He warned, "there will not be peace in the city as long as there is an increasing poor Colombo and an increasing richer Colombo.

Mr. Nanayakara spoke to the 'Sunday Observer' staffer Ranga Jayasuriya about his vision and his policies for the future Colombo.

Q: You are a fire brand political activist identified with marxism. Now when you contest the country's financial capital, it seems there are some contradictions...?

A: The truth is I am a leftist and an agitator for the cause of the poor. I would like to see democracy expanding and deepening. I want national harmony as the major premise for the entire future of the country. With these purposes and with my background ideology of socialism, I am prepared to go through the different phases of our history in conformity with the circumstances and needs of each phase.

The present phase requires the implementation of democracy, the implementation of national harmony and the implementation of pro- poor policies rather than the transformation of society, which is a long term process. But we always have current objectives and that is to make the city a better liveable place for all people.

This will provide the ideal backdrop for the city to emerge as a healthy centre for trade and finance. Now you will not see a contradiction between my purpose and my ideology.

Q: You referred to pro- poor policies...

A: To house them in proper human dwelling. Fifty two percent(52%) of families live in sub human conditions in slums and other hovels which are today not only the cause for uncleanliness of the environment but also the breading grounds of crime.

They are condemned to a sub human life. They are denied of school admissions, denied of residential status recognised by the council. Their children can not get admission to the schools, with the best schools around their dwelling, because their houses are "anawasara" unauthorized.

Once we bring them into recognised status of citizens residing in specific residential dwelling, they become entitled to schools. In their adolescence, they have to be trained in some skills, train themselves, educate themselves.

Then the problem is they are not employed by the private or public sector as they come from a background of slums and such living areas are generally condemned by society as areas of crime and areas of illegal livelihood. Only ten percent out of fifty two percent of the people have stable jobs. The rest have temporary day today earnings and are driven to live an illegal life such as drug traffic and purveyors of violence.

They are being used by the elite for their own purposes, whenever violence is required by them, political or civil. So the elite who are the ruling class are responsible for whatever criminal and lawless nature that prevails. City's people have a right to ask a minimum percentage of employment opportunities available in the city.

So this council will agitate for the jobless youth of the city. We will say we want a definite percentage of employment opportunities available in the city in the public or private sector. Some of these young people have been rehabilitated by voluntary organisations and they are now reformers of their own surroundings.

There are about 2000, 3000 young people. They are no more into drugs, no more into illegal employment. So these people need to be backed up with employment opportunities. Unlike the city council which is thought of as a server of sewerage lines, the water, drainage lines, cleaning the city garbage, of course all these have to be done, but it should also take care of its citizens, particularly those who have been excluded and marginalised. Which is the reason why the city is lawless.

There won't be peace in the city as long as there is an increasingly poor Colombo and an increasingly richer Colombo.

Q: Of course, this sounds a very ambitious programme. But why did no one ever try this in the past?

A: No commitment. There were programs of training young people. There are programs giving them skills, but these programs have been neglected and most of these are drawing youth from outside Colombo with the influence of officials and politicians. City youth have been excluded in order to accommodate people from outside Colombo. This is a grave injustice to people in this city, specially to poor.

Q: You were referring to a certain quota of jobs to city's youth...

A: A quota of employment for the city's youth. Council will train them, give them skills, give them English knowledge. That is one of our purposes.

Q: Will there be a legislative enactment to secure them the job quota?

A: That has to be negotiated with the government and the private sector. Ministers are bringing all their people from their electorates. Companies bring all their people according to their connections to directors and the executive staff.

They are not conscious about the need to accommodate the youth of the city. We need to drive that consciousness into them. This will be done through negotiations between the council and the private sector. I will be meeting the Chamber of Commerce, where I will take this up.

Q: This housing program will be a mammoth task...

A: Of course, it is a mammoth task which is already under way. There are five hundred housing units already under construction since we came in to power in three places.

Q: How many houses are to be constructed?

A: sixty five thousand houses.

Q: Is this in line of the "Thirasara Purawara" Program?

A: No. That was unsuccessful, because that went too high. It must not exceed four or five floors. Then you don't need lifts and other equipment of sophistication, which do not last longer. We can not maintain them within our conditions.

Q: Of course, we know you are a agitator of the cause of poor, but, if you take certain poor electorates in Colombo, for instance Central Colombo, I would say, the poor there are more UNP than the UNP central committee...

A: Certainly, but the point, what I have found here is most people have habitually or customarily lived in the hold of the UNP. That is Because they are the keepers of their gardens, tenement gardens and slum dwelling areas. There are the chieftains. They control people there and they also turn to chieftains when their is certain difficulties. There fore they are hooked to these chieftains.

And the chieftains collect good profits out of council programs and whatever transactions the council does with these slum dwellers. These chieftains are the beneficiaries of the council's funds by one means or another. So in return they uphold the UNP's regime in their tenements so in return the council's UNP regime give them (chieftains) the benefits of riches out of council funds. So that is a cycle in motion. We have to break the cycle.

What I am telling people is what you need is not small relief in order to overcome your day today problems or small giveaways. You need a transformation of your life, your future and your destiny.

There for as a community of different ethnic groups, we must rise up to the challenges. We will transform the council, by taking control of the council which has been under the control of wheeler dealers and ruthless middlemen.

Q: One problem is that the city centre is very disorganised...

A: Yes. The entire city centre should be reorganised and rearranged in a manner which can accommodate all persons concerned, pedestrians, pavement hawkers, three wheeler drivers, the buses.

We will have to reduce the number of vehicles coming into the city by providing efficient public transport. Even the mayor can come by bus. Buses must fly from one end of the city to the other end of the city and these are called the city lines and would provide a quick transport. Roads should not be congested. roads must have a lesser number of small vehicles. small vehicles must be parked outside the city centres. Public transport must be used by most and should be efficient.

We plan to build a monorail overhead like Bangkok- we can't afford underground- and that should transport people from one side to the other and congestion will be reduced. Fly overs will be erected in the city. There are 30 fly overs to be erected in the junctions.

What we don't have is not money, what we don't have is not expertise. What we don't have is commitment to implement. Because the present system gives a lot of profit to a few people. Like the garbage disposal system. A few people are enriched by this system, at dumping point, and collecting point and also in transporting. They have been given the contract and they would like to continue with it. They are continuing with a problem and making money out of it.

Similarly they like the city what is now. Because it gives them bribes, it gives them all kinds of avenues of earning big profits out of this. So there are the vested interests in officials, wheeler dealers and there are some councillors who are in collaboration with these elements.

And they are reluctant to change the present system. we are going to have a new leadership and to have our councillors newly focused in to this purpose and with the powers, I can exercise as the mayor backing of the President, of course we will be going a long way.

I will be going to bring about a stream- lining of the system of administration where no political influence, no bribery, no influential people are allowed to interfere to intercept. Any matter regarding the rights of any citizen will be initiated and it will have its own stages of processing and will come to a conclusion within a time frame. No body will be allowed to quicken the process or delay the process.

Q: If we talk about your relations with business community?

A: We will facilitate their business. They want more people to come to the city, more transaction, more tourists coming to the city which is better organised. City's business community will be very happy with what we are doing. We are cleaning up and rearranging the city, which will attract more people and more business.

Q: So how confident are you of victory?

A: Well, with the understanding of the middle class and the upper middle class, about our intentions, capabilities and commitment, and also with sections of poor in the gardens of tenements joining in breaking out of the lock, I believe, we will win

Q: How successful are you doing that, I mean breaking the poor from their locks?

A: Yes, as for poor sections in tenement gardens, you need to release them from the clutches of chieftains, even their afraid now when I want to go to a poor settlement. 24 hours before I go there, they come to see me, saying" If you come here, I will be in trouble.

Our chieftain is very angry that you are coming there and behaving like this. For our sake please don't come". This is my experience in about 20 places. Basic democratic rights have been denied to these people by the chieftains, the mafia.

I believe they will vote with me. So my request is that the police and army should see that no people are prevented from voting by these mafia.

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