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UNP mayoral candidate pledges to make N' Eliya MC best in Asia



Chandana Karunaratne

The last phase of the Local Government election campaign of 2011 is gradually but steadily gathering speed and all major political parties and some independent groups are aggressively involved in their propaganda activities to capture the power of the remaining 23 Local Bodies.

Out of those 23 Local Bodies, the Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council is one of the most significant local bodies in the country, commanding the respect and admiration of the Central Government.

Nuwara Eliya had been upgraded to a Municipal Council from a Town Council in 1949 to coincide with the arrival of Queen Elizabeth. The first elected Mayor was J.K. Kanagaratnem. There had been 13 Mayors in the Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council since its inception and the 2011 election will be to elect its 14th Mayor.

The Municipal Council had been under UNP rule for the most number of terms and during the last two terms, had been under the able mayoralty of Lal Chandana Karunaratne of the United National Party; he is vying for this prestigious post for the third term this year.

The Sunday Observer had an exclusive interview with the Mayoral candidate Lal Chandana Karunaratne to obtain his views on the present political situation in the country, the election campaign and how the voter would respond at the forthcoming elections.

Excerpts of the interview are given below:

Q: Being a successful entrepreneur, what made you to take to politics?

A: Soon after completing my studies at Ananda College, my father wanted me to join him in managing our business enterprises in Nuwara Eliya. During this period I established very cordial relations with everybody in this area. I was soon appointed Chairman of the All Traders Association and also unanimously appointed representative of various other organisations in Nuwara Eliya.

When the 2002 Local Government election was announced, everybody wanted me to contest and I had the blessings of our party stalwarts in the district. I had also developed a desire to engage in social services with the education received at Ananda College and subsequently constantly moving with the people in Nuwara Eliya.

I contested for the first time in 2002 and was elected Mayor, polling 4738 votes.

Q: What made you choose the United National Party to work for the people?

A: There are a number of reasons, the main reason is I have read the history and studied about all political leaders in my country and I believe that the United National Party is the most dedicated party which has done a great service to the nation from its inception, irrespective of any differences.

I was very much impressed by the great deeds of D.S. Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake J.R. Jayewardene and other leaders of the UNP in addition to various other subordinate factors.

Q: You have successfully completed two terms as the Mayor of Nuwara Eliya, representing the United National Party. But this time, your party is in a chaotic situation with many internal problems, a tug-of-war among the top brass with regard to the leadership and some other disputes among the front-runners of the party, resulting in complete demoralisation and a loss of hope among the grass roots level membership. In such a pathetic situation, do you think you would be able to win the Nuwara Eliya MC for the United National Party?

A: Let me put the facts straight. This is not a Presidential election, or a general election or even a Provincial Council election. This is an election for local bodies where party positions, policies or so-called internal problems have absolutely no bearing on the final results of the people's verdict. The administrative areas and number of voters are very much less or limited compared to other elections. I know the behavioural pattern of the voters in this local election and I am very much confident that our party supporters and the neutral voters will all vote for the UNP and retain power in the Nuwara Eliya MC on October 8.

Q: The UPFA contestant have launched an aggressive election campaign in Nuwara Eliya and claim that MC voters would be better off if the ruling power is given to them so that it runs hand-in-hand with the Central Government. What do you have to say about it?

A: I personally don't like to comment on what my opponents say. I would only like to say that I work very cordially with the Central Government and I have obtained all what I wanted from the Central Government for the welfare of the people in my MC area. When a local body is run by one party, Central Government by another it doesn't mean that you can't get anything done from the Central Government. That is a misconception.

Q: You are contesting the Mayoralty of Nuwara Eliya for the third consecutive term. What is your main theme in your election campaign?

A: I have briefly outlined the progressive measures I had taken to uplift the socio-economic standards of the people of Nuwara Eliya MC area during my two terms in my election manifesto. My main aim or firm intention is to make the Nuwara Eliya Municipal Council the best or a model municipal council, not only in Sri Lanka, but in the entire South East Asia during my next tenure of office. Going by my past records and with my future plans for the MC, I am quite confident that my people will vote for me and the party to achieve prosperity for the MC dwellers.

Q: Can you explain to me, in a nutshell, the main projects or schemes of work you have completed for the benefit of the city folk during your last term?

A: Our comprehensive program of work for the benefit of the people in this MC area is multi-faceted. We have carried out a lot of work in the fields of education, healthcare services, self-employment, tourism, financial management, general administration and a host of other areas.

In education - from pre-school level, Grade 5 scholarship, GCE (O/L), GCE (A/L) and upto tertiary education, we have initiated scholarships to deserving students in the MC area. We have montessories and pre-schools maintained by the MC. I have allocated my salary to gain scholarships to these children. I don't take any of my allowances or entitlements as the mayor, and all moneys due to me are diverted for welfare activities for the needy people of the area.

I have opened free computer technology training centres for the needy students of the MC area while providing employment opportunities to the youth.

Q: Apart from welfare activities for the needy people, what are your major achievements during your last tenure of office?

A: From 2004 continuously upto 2008, our MC has been selected as the best Local Body in the Central Province. We were also adjudged the best MC in the island in 2006 and won second and third places in the subsequent years. I am quite proud of these achievements and greatly thankful to the other members and the staff members of the MC for assisting me to achieve these great heights.

Q: Garbage disposal is a major problem faced by almost all local bodies, especially MCs in the island. How did you manage to overcome this problem?

A: I too faced this problem at the early stages of my career as the Mayor. However, I was able to solve it by systematic planning and management. We provided garbage bins to all households and regularly collected the garbage and manufactured compost, also providing employment and generating some revenue to the MC.

Q: Controlling Labour is another difficult aspect of administration experienced by the heads of Local Bodies. Didn't you have any problem with them at your MC?

A: It's not only controlling labour, the management of all humans is a complicated issue unless you are honest, dedicated, efficient, straight-forward, kind-hearted and unbiased.

I had no problem with any of my workers since I possess all the qualities.

With all that, there have been instances where I was compelled to take disciplinary action against some of my employees who happened to be strong UNP supporters.

I don't consider their party affiliations or any other status in meting out justice and practising fairplay.

Q: In your MC area, there is a substantial percentage of Tamil voters and a few thousand Muslim voters. Do you think that you would be able to garner their support as well?

A: Our total number of registered voters is a little over 18,000 of which 9,000 are Sinhalese, 8,000 are Tamils and a little over 1,400 Muslims.

I have developed a close relationship with all communities, irrespective of any differences. Some Tamil and Muslim youth are actively involved in my election campaign in addition to the Sinhalese.

I am quite confident that everybody will vote for me at the election without any racial differences.

We have a few estates in the Council area and I had taken all measures to provide equal facilities to everybody in these estates. Moreover, estate workers and others have been involved in interactive development projects through which I try to promote inter-communal harmony.

Q: Two of your party members crossed over to the UPFA and are contesting under the Government banner this time. Don't you consider this as a severe blow to your party?

A: No doubt, anybody leaving the party is a disadvantage and I don't intend to comment on it further. People will decide on them at the election.

Q: Don't you think the dawn of peace in the island will have an added advantage for the UPFA to secure more votes this time in the Nuwara Eliya MC?

A: I don't know whether the benefits of the victory has reached the ordinary people. The cost of living has gone up and there are various allegations against the government.

Q: As the mayoral candidate, what have you got to appeal to the MC voters?

A: Judge me by my past record and vote for me to make Nuwara Eliya the best municipal council in South East Asia.

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