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UPFA confident of victory at LG Polls - Prasanna Ranatunga



Prasanna Ranatunga, Chief Minister, Western Provincial Council

Prasanna Ranatunga who represented the Western Provincial Council (WPC) for more than 16 years and is now its Chief Minister in an interview with the Sunday Observer says that the time is not yet ripe to decide whether the Provincial Council (PC) system suits the country as it has been in operation for two and half years only under normalcy.

He says the Western Provincial Council will make a big change in the solid waste management sector by establishing the biggest ever compost manufacturing site and power generation project to make use of garbage collected by all local bodies in the province putting an end to garbage problem.

The Chief Minister says that winning the forthcoming local government election will be an easy task for the UPFA as the opposition has already accepted the fact that they cannot win the election.

Q: As a Member of the WPC for more than 16 years and as its Chief Minister for nearly two years, what do you think of the PC? Can it do something for the country or is it a burden to the country?

A: The Time is not ripe for us to predict about the PC system. For a human being 30 years is considerably a long period. But for a country, it is not a long period to decide on an administrative system. On the other hand from the date the PC system was in operation the country was in war. It is in the last two and half years that the system has functioned smoothly. there were problems in the implementation of the Constitution. So this is not the time to decide whether the PC system suits this country or not. It is only now, after the end of war and the restoration of peace in the country can people feel what exactly is happening through this system. I am of the opinion that we could manage this system to cater to the needs of the province effectively whatever the merits and demerits it has.

Q: The WP is the most populated in the country. What are the problems and challenges you've come across.

A: I was a provincial councillor and Chief-Minister when the People's Alliance and UPFA governed the country, except for the two years of the UNP regime from 2002 to 2004. I was able to resolve many issues relating to the Council, after discussing them with the Central Government. When I was the Health Minister and Transport Minister and presently as Chief Minister, discuss problems with the Central Government without disruption to the Council's work.

Q: Education and Health are two fields which directly affect people and come under the purview of the Central Government (CG) and CS. How can you cope?

A: Education and health are free services enjoyed by the people. It is only in Sri Lanka that the services are free. Not even in socialist countries can we see free education and free health given together.

We enjoyed these when the country was in war with no shortages. People spend Rs.4,000 to Rs.5,000 on a visit to a private hospital. Doctors charges and lost of drugs can be saved when they go to government hospitals. They must pay for drugs available at government hospitals.

We give uniforms and text books in addition to the education. The subjects are allocated to the Central Government and the Provincial Council and are managed by two administrations. It is better to operate them under one administrative system. The WPC handles these two subjects effectively, maintaining cordial relations with the Ministers of the line ministries for the well being of our people.

Q:In the western province people can see the inequity in the distribution of resources in the national and provincial schools is clear. Even in the schools under the PCs there is no equal distribution of resources. How do you tackle this situation?

A: The uneven distribution of resources in not a problem. It has been there in the system. Not only in Sri Lanka even in developed countries the situation prevails. Vast differences between schools within the same province is seen. Our program is in accordance with the education policy of the central government. We are also planning our program according to the program initiated by Minister Bandula Gunawardena to develop 1,000 secondary level schools countrywide when our schools have also been included.

Q:Grade one admissions are a controversial issue. The Education Ministry of the central government and the PC is declared that they will not intervene. What is your opinion.?

A: There were many bad precedents with regard to grade one admissions. Last year when the central government increased the number of students per class room to 45, the WPC could maintain the policy of having 42 students per classroom. The limit was exceeded only under extreme circumstances. Even this year we think that we will be able to maintain that limit. Unlike earlier occasions, the authority of admitting the first 35 students to grade one is solely vested with the principal of the school. The Education Ministry or the Education Department cannot interfere. All criteria have been stipulate. Then next seven students will be filled from operational services. These lists will come by March or April. We can interfere with the system only when there is a vacancy in that school. Everyone knows that only the principal has the authority to admit students to the schools and there is no point in taking letters from me or any other politician to get their child admitted to school. We are issuing letters on the request of the parents but school principals have the right to reject them. In 2010, 17 school principals were interdicted due irregularities in grade one admissions. Instructions were given to principals to act strictly according to the circular issued by the government and not to accept letters from politicians. If not we will take action against them.

Q: Due to the uneven distribution of resources and lesser number of students some schools in the Western Province are on the verge of closing. What is your opinion regarding this situation ?

A: There are many factors behind this issue. Due to birth control, over a long period, the student population is less compared to the past. Earlier we had some eight to ten children in a family. Now we have only one or two. Unlike in the past, parents now try to get their children admitted to the best schools. With improvement in transportation access to schools in urban areas is easy. That is why urban schools are developing so fast, and there is a sort of threat to rural schools. There are schools with a big demand even with no proper transport facilities as they produce good results. This depends on the principals and teachers. Transport facilities, education levels of the teachers, the administration of the schools are factors for the demand of a school. We have decided to close the schools which have less than ten students. We have found some schools which are having only ten students. We have to allocate five teachers to serve them. This is a waste of resources. So we decided to shift those students to nearby schools and make use of the teachers effectively. We also encourage the division of the primary sections of the schools from the secondary section as primary schools do not need the resources which are needed for secondary level students. Therefore, we are taking steps to take maximum service out of the minimum available resources.

Q: There are major issues concerning the cleanliness of the cities and solid waste management. What steps have you taken to address these issues?

A: People talk of this with Colombo city in their minds. We have three districts under the Western Provincial Council. The colombo city also comes under the WPC but it operates as a different entity. Due to legal procedures we could not handle the situation in the colombo city. In Kalutara district the situation is handled effectively. We hope to start the largest ever compost manufacturing project in kalutara to provide a permanent solution to the solid waste collected by local authorities.

In colombo we are going to start a project in Karadiyana where there were problems due to weak administration. The Central government has decided to handover this site to the WPC. In the next three months we are going to start a compost manufacturing project making use of 50 metric tonnes of garbage per day. We have consented to a mega power generation project making use of garbage which will start in an year for colombo city garbage. At percent these local authorities are spending millions on garbage collection. Within the next three years in my tenure, we will be able to create a situation to have a demand for the garbage collected by local authorities. People will be offered money for their garbage. that is what I want to achieve.

Q: There is a complaint that certain roads in the province have been neglected. What is you plan?

A: There are different types of roads. A and B grade roads come under the central government, C and D grade roads come under the provincial councils and other roads comes under local government authorities. Under Maga Neguma the roads under local bodies were developed. After 2005 for the first time in the history of this country the biggest program to develop roads took place.

There is a program to develop provincial roads also. In the Gampaha district many roads are developed under the initiative of Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa. Under President Mahinda Rajapaksa's initiative a new program will be started to develop many provincial roads in Gampaha, Kalutara and Colombo districts. Large sums of funds have been allocated for this program.

Q: What is your strategy to get maximum service from provincial Councillors whether they are from the ruling party or the opposition?

A: We have a program for this. With regard to the education sector the members of the ruling party have formed committees at zonal level to identify problems and forward them to the relevant ministry for resolving.

In the road development sector also we are going to implement the same system. The majority of our members their work with no concern for privileges and facilities. We do our best to implement the Mahinda Chinthana in the Western Province.

Q: What about the opposition participation?

A: There are some members working very closely with us. At the same time some constantly criticise our work for their political gain. There are people who do their job at village level.

Q: What steps do you plan to take to minimise environmental impact due to rapid urbanisation and industrialisation in the Western Province?

A: We cannot close the factories established in the province. The Provincial Council and the Waste Management Authority are closely working to mitigate environmental impact. At present there are no major problems like earlier. Even if there are problems they can be managed at our level.

Q: What measures to minimise wastage and corruption at PC level?

A: Steps to minimise expenses from officer level to councillor level were taken. We have given instructions to officials to make use of fuel and other resources sparingly.

Q: Flash floods after heavy rain is a huge problem to the province. What steps has the Council taken to control this situation?

A: There are two factors contributing to this situation. The rainfall increase compared to the past; irrigation systems have been blocked due to rapid urbanisation and industrialisation . Otherwise the systems can cater to our present needs. We need to modernise and maintain them properly. There is no need to construct new ones. We need the support of the public to protect the systems.

We took initiatives to repair the entire irrigation system after the flash flood that took place recently. Even after those repairs and maintenance work we still experience flood situations due to increased rainfall. Climatic changes have caused a flood situation in Australia too. If we can maintain our canals and irrigation systems properly we could mitigate major floods situations.

Q: Are you satisfied with the functioning of the local government bodies in the province?

A: We have conducted investigations over some irrgualrities that had taken palce in some local bodies which were run by the ruling party and the Opposition, and commenced action. With the dissolution of the local government bodies there are no members now. We have temporarily suspended action and will to re-initiate action if they are reelected to positions again.

Q: A Special Commission was established to look into the irregularities in the Colombo Municipal Council. The Council was dissolved after former Mayor and some Members were found responsible for financial irregularities. How are you going to take action against them?

A: With the dissolution they have already been punished. But with regard to the financial losses incurred to the Council due to their acts, we have forwarded the matter to the Attorney General seeking advice. We will act on the advice.

Q: What would be the response at the forthcoming Local Government elections?

A: The people of this country are knowledgeable. I realised this at the 2005 Presidential elections. In that election when the leaders of the party worked against Mahinda Rajapaksa the intelligent people of this country voted him as President.

They had faith that he would find a solution to terrorism which was the biggest challenge for the country and gave him a bigger mandate at the 2010 Presidential elections. The common Opposition fielded Sarath Fonseka as their candidate considering him a big hero. People saw the difference between Mahinda Rajapaksa and Sarath Fonseka.

At this local government election people are aware that in a situation where the President, the government and the Provincial Councils are run by the UPFA there is no point of giving their vote to another political party to run local authorities.

People are aware that to take the country forward the powers of these local authorities should also be given to the ruling party to develop their towns and villages. Even the main opposition has realised this.

That is why Sajith Premadasa has refused to accept the leadership before the Local Government election. People have also got the message that the UNP cannot win the election. Therefore, we are certain that the UPFA will easily win this election. There is no doubt about it.

Q:What would be the future of your political career ? Don't you have any idea to go beyond provincial level politics ?

A:What I have realised is that the place closest to the people of this country is the Pradeshiya Sabas. The next is the Provincial Councils. My idea is to work as long as I can, at Provincial Council level and enter the Parliament when I am aged, to be eligible for a pension, since Provincial Councillors are not eligible for a pension.

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