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UPFA brimming with confidence to secure Dehiwala - Mount Lavinia MC



Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia Municipal Council

Kesaralal Gunasekara, a well-known figure both in national and local politics, who led the opposition in the Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia Municipal Council is of the opinion that the activities of the local government should be broadbased to cover more areas which have not been effectively tackled either by the central government or the provincial councils. As a prospective Mayoral candidate he believes in non-confrontational politics though there is a stiff fight even among the candidates from the same party.

In his manifesto he gives first priority for the management and supervision of garbage collection in the Municipality since at present there is no proper supervisory mechanism in garbage collection. The opening of centres for elders, Medical centre exclusively for the people of the Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia Municipality and establishing a charity commissionerís department to assist the low income people in the Municipal council area is also a requirement. He is confident that many of the UNPers will also vote for the UPFA as they need their city to be more beautiful and developed on par with the Colombo city.

Following are the excerpts of the interview the Sunday Observer had with the former Opposition leader and the prospective Mayoral candidate of the UPFA for Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia Municipal Council.

Q: You have represented national politics and the local government politics during the past few decades. As a politician engaged in local politics for quite a long time what are the areas or the issues you have identified that need to be improved and addressed in the local government sector in the country ?


Kesaralal Gunasekara

A: I have been in the local administration in the Ď80s. Then in the Ď90s I entered Parliament. In 2002 I returned to local politics. I always realised that whether it is in the Parliament, provincial council or the local council if a person wants to do something there are avenues always open. That has been my principle throughout my political career. Whether it is in the opposition in a local government authority or whether as an MP from the ruling party in the Parliament, serving the people was uppermost in my mind. In that extent I have been here in the local administration for quite a number of years and I have done what could have been done from this council. Donít forget that this is the only council which has active office for the leader of the opposition. So through that I have done many things.

Coming to your point, with regard to areas of activity I have identified, I feel that from time immemorial local administration operation has always been stagnant in areas of activity which are normally handled by the Council. I feel we must move forward. In the present context of the society we have to do much more than that. For instance pre-school education is an area the Municipality hardly gets involved in. I always believe that the capabilities of pre-school teachers should be enhanced. That is very vital for society. If you donít have a proper foundation in the pre-school education structure, the future is bleak. In that context I have always identified that pre-school education is an area the intervention of the local government is essential in. Another area that we can tackle is mental health. That is a key area as we are living in a country where people have been affected by terrorism. Soldiers, Army, Navy, Air Force, Police and so many families are living in our area. I am 100 per cent sure most of these people are undergoing tremendous mental health problems. But there is absolutely no intervention as far as the council is concerned.

Then coming to another area, the elderly population is on the increase. In Sri Lanka no council has activity centres for elders except for CMC. Therefore, we must get involved in these activities. We have elderly people in every house. During day time from 9 am to 4 pm there is hardly anything they can get involved in. That is why I feel that the local administration must get involved. Although the Act provides freedom for the intervention in the field of education it is only after I became a Council Member in 2002 that we managed, after a long lapse of four years, to at least grant Rs.20,000 per year for their sports meets and prize givings. For some of the schools Rs.20,000 is a big amount. Nobody was thinking of intervention in as far as the education field is concerned.

Education is the key to success. Development is education. If the councils do not intervene in education where are we heading? I feel that the councils have to broad base activities. With regard to administration, I made this suggestion when I was in Parliament also , that the local authority, the Pradeshiya Sabha, Urban Council or Municipal Council and the Divisional Secretariat offices must be housed in the same building because these two agencies should be interconnected.

Whatever the Divisional Secretariat needs we should be able to provide. Whatever we need from them they should be able to help. If we work together there is so much that can be done. This is one area that I am thinking of once I get elected. The local administration bodies must be strengthened and the government intervention always essential to obtain more resources. We must fight for that. That is what I need to do when I become Mayor.

Q: If we are talking about Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia Municipal Council what are the areas that have been neglected for the past few decades and that have to be addressed on a priority basis?

A: The key area of activity that we have selected right along is garbage disposal. That is a serious problem for the residents of this area. The whole scenario has been created as there is no proper supervision for the garbage disposal. If the council administration cannot supervise the garbage disposal properly there is no need of being there. When I was in the council I was harping on the necessity of a streamlining process. We should have a program of activity to ensure that everyone is being served by the council whether it is an apartment complex, a shanty or house.

Whose job is that? That is the job of the overseers and the PHIs. But there is no system or supervising mechanism and nobody is taking action against them for not doing their job properly. My first priority is to ensure every warder gets a sustainable system to effectively manage garbage disposal. We have 29 wards and we have 900 to 2,000 houses for each ward. I donít say that we must collect garbage every day. But at least once in three days garbage must be collected. If vehicles are not available we must hire vehicles. If we hire a vehicle it is Rs. 1,700 per day. See the colossal problem we are creating for the people by not hiring a vehicle for that particular date. We are going to reenergise all these sectors and bring in new thinking.

Not only that, we are going to ensure that technology advancement is grabbed by the council.

Today technology advancement is not even heard of by the council. There are tracking devices to trace the council vehicles. It is a very simple system. If we get them we do not need to spend Rs. 50,000 per month.

This is what we should be doing. When a tractor or dump truck leaves the council we donít know where it goes because we donít have a proper tracking system. We should make use of technology advancement.

We should not just be silent on this. We must know where this vehicle is and whether they have collected garbage or not. That is where we can intervene to bring technology advancement to the council which has not been hitherto not been accessed by the council. Then we donít have an eye clinic for the council.

We donít have medical centre for the council. We have a fantastic hospital in Kalubowila. But patients in our areas do not prefer Kalubowila because of the large number of patients who are coming from outstations. People have to wait six to seven hours for medical advice and for drugs which is a serious problem. To tackle this, we must have a medical centre only for our people, which can do blood tests, urine tests, seven days of the week.

Q: What about improving the road network of the Municipal Council area?

A: We had discussions with Minister Patalee Champika Ranawaka. When we had this meeting with him he asked what we all needed at this juncture. Then I said there are fantastic carpeted roads in Colombo, but Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia do not have that much.

There is step-motherly treatment for us. Then he spoke to Minister Basil Rajapaksa and allocated Rs. 200 million for our roads. We have sent our list a long-time ago and it was accepted and 17 roads are to be carpeted. As a result Dehiwala is also getting an equal number of money for their roads as well.

Now if we are talking about the amount of money for road development by the council per year, it is around Rs. 50 million.

But here we get Rs. 200 million for a period of six to seven months from the centre.

Q: You are talking about technology and garbage collection. As far as garbage collection is concerned to which direction do the local councils move forward since the disposal of garbage is becoming a serious problem?

A: The council must have to understand one thing. Right along I was emphasising the importance of not only removal of garbage from our place but we must also be concerned of what happens to the garbage collected from us. If our garbage is going to be a problem for somebody else that is a problem. That is exactly what happened seven-eight years back. Our garbage was collected and dumped at Sedawatta, Colombo. That became garbage for them. Some of these people think that once our garbage is removed from our area that is enough for them.

Q: But garbage has become a resource for many local councils at present?

A: Yes, garbage is a resource. That is why we were fighting with the Central Government and the Provincial Councils asking to evolve a system to make garbage a money-spinner. Garbage is money. To do that, we need to have proper officials, proper infrastructure in place. Nobody is interested in those things. It is right throughout the dumping process.

What is happening today is dumping. We will have to ensure that haphazard dumping is not continued. That has to be controlled and taken care of. That is going to be the next health hazard in time to come.

Q: How do you see the split in the UNP? Would it help the UPFA at this local government election?

A: Most of the people are of the view that it is far more beneficial for an administration which can closely work in absolute cohabitation with the centre. What is essential is to establish an administration which can work in perfect harmony with the centre. The administration which can perfectly work with the centre is the UPFA administration. So, most of the UNPers are voting for the UPFA this time, because they have realised if they vote for the other side their area is going to be affected. Now we can get so much of funding from the central government. We have to work in harmony with the Provincial Councils and with the centre. The centre power lies with the UPFA. In the Provincial Council power lies with the UPFA. You have to grant the administration to the UPFA. People have realised this. Some of the UNPers are willing to vote for the UPFA. And some of the UNPers are very willing to vote for me because when you look at the list they feel they can rely on me. So we feel that we can get votes from UNP also. I think that the split in the UNP is an advantage for us.

Q: Except for the Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia Municipal Council the UPFA has nominated Mayoral candidates. Is it a good thing or bad with regard to the election campaign?

A: It is a debatable point. I feel nominating a Mayoral candidate is good. And I feel in the present day context they should have nominated Mayoral candidate for the Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia MC also. Leader of the Opposition is the incumbent Mayor. Not anybody else. But it is fair enough if it is said that all other councils it will be open and you can fight for the post. I think infighting also is harmful for a campaign. You know if you become greedy for preferential votes you forget about your co-contestants. You donít worry about his campaign and you only worry about your campaign because you want to portray yourself as the leader and you want to get the highest number of preferential votes. In that respect it damages the campaign. If you notice I always ensure that my campaign is not harmful to the candidates of my party. I should not campaign in such a way that I create a problem for the others. If I am putting my poster and cutouts everywhere, it becomes a nuisance to others. Because, they donít have economic resources to do that and they feel jealous. They will hold a grudge against me. I always ensured right throughout my political career when I was contesting any election that I have conducted myself well. I donít believe in 100,000 posters, 50,000 posters, 10,000 cut outs. I donít do that. I always ensure that I ask only for one preference vote. I didnít ask for three. That is the quality of a leader and one must not ask for three votes.

Q: You are a person who always believes in non-confrontational politics. How practical is it considering the election campaign?

A: As far as possible I avoid confrontational politics in my politics. Confrontation is not going to do any service to your campaign. So I am trying as much as I can to avoid confrontation. If somebody puts up a massive cut out and I also try to reciprocate that is confrontation. I believe in one thing right throughout my political career. That I must live in the hearts of the people and not in the posters and cut outs. That I have achieved.

Q: But donít you think that it would hamper your career?

A: Certain people say that. But I argue with them that wherever I go I can go keeping my head high without any security. Today I can go anywhere in this country. People have absolute faith in me. That is what I have achieved over the years. That is not something one can achieve easily.

Over the years they have confidence in me. That is why I am saying this time many people will want to vote for me because they have realised that they want to have a quality leader at the council.

Q: As the Opposition leader of the Dehiwala-Mount Lavinina Municipal Council you have cooperated with the former administration. Did it help you in any way in your campaign?

A: Whenever they do something good I have cooperated and assisted them. I have opposed wrong deeds. In this administration even if we are in the opposition we should not oppose for whatever the ruling party is doing. What is good we appreciated and we supported them. But when they do something we opposed them vehemently. We can get onto any platform and oppose it. I have done that. We have supported whatever the good things done and we have opposed whenever was wrong. That is what the President says.

Q: With the intervention of Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa the Colombo city is being beautified and developed. What is your plan to develop the Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia municipal areas also par with the Colombo city?

A: That is what we are exactly thinking of. When the president met all the candidates, Minister Basil Rajapaksa told me that taking the administration to the UPFA is the only thing they were asking. ĒThe balance I will ensureĒ, he said. The plan of Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Gotabaya Rajapaksa is to ensure that Colombo, Kotte and Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia are taken under one program to ensure the beautification program is implemented in a proper manner. We also endorse that plan, and we need to ensure that we take the administration for the UPFA. That is what he expects and I have said in platforms this is what he wants.

If you people want to beautify this area and if you want more funding please help us get this UPFA administration in. I am sure that they will listen. We are starting a program to carpet roads on the 20th or 21st under the leadership of the Minister Basil Rajapaksa and Patali Champika Ranawaka. That program will be going on for six months and 17 of our roads are also going to be carpeted and an equal number of roads are going to be carpeted in Dehiwala.

Q: Apart from the physical development what is your plan to uplift the living standard of the people in the area?

A: That is what I have been telling youth that what the council has been doing is restricted by some services. If we take eating houses there is minimum intervention by our council. CMC has come up with a plan . We are going to do the same thing here in the Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia Municipal Council. Then we must ensure that we provide assistance to various sectors which are vulnerable. The CMC has what is called a charity commissioner. As per the law it is the only council in the entire country which has a charity commissioner.

We are going to establish that charity commissioner here in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia also. Because I feel there are so many families who have not been covered by the Samurdhi also. We need a charity commissioner to look into the areas where even the Samurdhi has not reached. That I have said in my manifesto. Then we will ensure that there is a large segment of fishing community in our area. We must ensure that we must give them whatever assistance they require to engage in their activities. If we are to appeal to the centre, if we are to appeal to the PC we must ensure that those intervention is there to see that these people get proper assistance from those agencies. We will do that. That will basically raise the living standard of the fishing community as well.

Then the Vocational Training centres, I am running the Lalith Athulathmudali Vocational Training Centre which is the best vocational training centre in the country. In that respect I must ensure that the council provides training for various craftsmanís courses for the people who need assistance. We are going to have much more intervention in schools, not in the administration, but to provide assistance.

Q: The Government is planning to establish Colombo Metropolitan Corporation combining five Local Government bodies including Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia. How do you think it will help developing cities?

A: Having a coordinated program is also good. Because, when anything is implemented all areas get equal share of it. I always will raised both hands for programs of this nature. That will be the key to our success. We must always ensure that this is our capital and we can show that our capital has a larger area that will be good for the country. That will be good for the Municipal Council . That is a move in a correct direction. Whatever the improvement are taking place in Colombo will take place in Dehiwala-Mount Lavinia, Kotte and all the areas equally.

Q: But there are fears among political parties that it will deprive the political parties of the control over local bodies? This is a misconception in the minds of politicians. Why do we stand for election?

A: That is to do something for the people. When we want to do something for the people, get hold of any agency and do it. That is my principle. So in that respect why should we fear the corporation. I feel the corporation should have come long ago.

And the council should properly understand that you are not going to lose political power and things like that. But you become Member of a larger body. By becoming a member of a larger body you stand to gain rather than being alone.

Q: What are the prospects for the UPFA to win the election and for you to become Mayor?

A:Prospects are very good. As far as I am concerned Ratmalana is the key to success. A larger number in Ratmalana has voted for the UPFA. This time that segment is willing to put us in the administration plus elect me as the Mayor. We are waiting for it. Whether it is the educated, professionals, working class or the fishing community they will vote for the UPFA and we can hear the good news on the ninth morning.

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