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ĎColombo beautification project will continueí

The development of Colombo and its suburbs was a major part of the development activities under the previous government. People are concerned about what will happen to the city beautification projects and its maintenance.

Today, the CMC which shares the major responsibility of keeping the city clean and beautiful has to undertake those activities.

The Mayor of Colombo, A.J.M. Muzammil in an interview with the Sunday Observer said that they are committed to keep Colombo city clean and beautiful by continuing the mechanism they previously adopted while assuring to liberate the Kolonnawa garbage dump site by providing a permanent solution for the waste management problem in Colombo.

Excerpts of the interview

Q: How do you view the recent change of government in respect of the activities of the Colombo Municipal Council, the biggest local council of the country?

A: Even before the election I made it clear that the people of this country were anticipating a change. They had had enough of the Rajapaksa regime and needed a change.

Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe with various other political leaders and Maha Sangha led by Ven. Sobhitha Thera and Ratana Thera brought us together to fulfill the aspirations of the people. An environment for change was created and the people responded positively and a change has indeed taken place.

Q: How was Colombo changed in respect of administration and development activities?

A: There are two aspects for it. One is the overall development of the city of Colombo.

The second part is the day-to-day affairs and the management of the city. As the Mayor from day one, I was supportive of all positive developments. As Mayor from an opposition party, I never went into a confrontation with the Government because I got maximum support from the Government.

Government agencies such as the Ministry of Defence, the Urban Development Authority and other Government agencies such as the Land Reclamation and Development Corporation, were brought in for the betterment of the city.

The World Bank assisted the projects to the extent of US $ 70 million. The Metro Colombo Development Project was being implemented in three stages. We have almost completed two stages. The third stage anticipates the development of Crows Island in Mattakkuliya.

The cleaning of the canals and the beautification of the city was done with the assistance of the UDA and Land Reclamation and Development Corporation and we were successful and you can see the results.

So there was nothing that has stopped as a Mayor of Colombo. We never left any room for criticism. So in the future development programmes we will continue with the policies of the new Government policy.

Q: So the Colombo Municipal Council has benefitted from the government agencies during the previous regime in respect of development activities. So why you were saying that there was need to have a regime change?

A: What you see is the development of Colombo. The funds given to the Colombo Municipal Council by the World Bank have been monitored, evaluated and properly planned out.

One of the main reasons the people wanted this change is that the Government failed to keep the national unity intact. This country is multi ethnic, multi lingual society.

Every citizen of this country has the right to live. There was a serious doubt about the co-existence and the cohabitation among the communities.The gap between the majority community and the minority community is getting widen and widen and the hatred started coming up.

The Government backed up extremism to suppress the other minority communities is one of the key factors. Number two is the overall corruption that has taken place. The main theme of the common opposition is that another regime for Mahinda Rajapaksa would lead the country towards absolute dictatorship. That was the projection of this government.

The type of Governance as to how the government spread out the main economic management of the country was in question. Rulerís family was holding the major economic part of it. You can see how much money Mahinda Rajapaksa was using to manage himself. He was using nearly 1,000 billion but ninety per cent of that money the present President is not using. That is where the country thought of corruption. Then there was the national unity part.

The chauvinistic attitude of the State and the controlling the media were also contributing factors because people wanted to talk freely. The younger generation, the new generation voted against Mahinda due to those factors.

Q: You talked about corruption and economic mismanagement and various other issues. How were those issues reflected in the Colombo city in terms of development and other activities?

A: The development activities that has taken place in the Colombo city were the Metro Colombo Urban Development Project assisted by the World Bank and another US $ 250 million project assisted by the ADB.

They all were managed by those agencies and no one could interfere in those activities. There was no corruption in those development activities.

Q: But the Municipal Council funds also had to be used for those projects?

A: Of course the funds of the Municipal Council have also been used because we are the counterpart agency of the World Bank project and we have to contribute 10 per cent of the project value and we used our funds for that.

Of course when there were projects to be done in a hurry we have utilized our funds for those projects. But we have made sure that everything is transparent. We maintained absolute transparent. Colombo Municipal Council and the Colombo development process was never reflected and never spoken in any of the political platforms.

Corruption was in the Highways sector and various other Government Institutions. It was the central Government corruption.

Q: As the Colombo Mayor you also had to take the support of the Security Forces personnel for the construction, cleaning and maintenance of certain areas and places. So how are you going to manage these places now?

A: So many places in the Colombo city were developed within the Colombo city. The Race Course was developed but it was not mine it was done by the UDA. The construction work was done by the Engineering Department of the Army.

The Dutch Hospital the Central Bank and the renovation of old building and Independence Square Development was done by the UDA.

Q: But to maintain some places you had to obtain the support of Forces personnel and Police?

A: We have the support of the Civil Defence Force to maintain the high standard in the Vihara Maha Devi Park on which the World Bank has spent Rs. 400 million. You can see large number of people coming there on daily basis and we have to keep it clean. So I am getting the Civil Defence Force assistance.

For that I am providing them transport. Economically it is cheaper for me and it is viable for me. They are very well trained and very disciplined sort of people. My Council has approved the use of them for the maintaining of Vihara Maha Devi park.

Q: So wonít there be any change in that system?

A: I donít think there is any necessity for change.

Q: Keeping the city beautiful and clean is a major role of the Municipal Council. There were mechanisms to monitor the activities. Will there be any change in those activities?

A: The cleaning of the six districts of the Colombo city has been privatized. But I get the services of the Environmental Police to monitor the cleaning activities. Their presence is very important and very useful. I would like to continue those activities.

I have mentioned to the present administration also not to disrupt the environmental services provided by the Environmental Police. They are very vigilant and even they supervise our private contractors work also. They keep a close tab on them. That is a service we get free . Police is not considered an Armed Force. Police is civil service and they are supporting us. I think the Environmental Police is useful for the proper management of the cleaning of the city.

Q: What about introducing waste management system for the city. Hasn't the city administration failed in this endeavour over the past few years making it a burden for the suburban people?

A: Yes the management of garbage is still a concern. The previous government has committed nearly Rs. 5,000 million to have a permanent solution to this garbage problem under Metro Colombo Urban Development Project. That is designed by the Urban Development Authority. That project is now at the tendering stage. So it will take another two years the dumping of garbage will be cleared out of Colombo.

Q: Does that mean that problems relating to the Kolonnawa garbage dumping site will be solved?

A: Yes, Kolonnawa site will be liberated once this project is implemented.

Q: How far has the CMC progressed on solving the issues of the people who have been affected by the Kolonnawa garbage dumping site?

A: We have already resettled 200 families and we have already given them houses. The UDA helped us in providing them with those houses. There is another 101 families to be evacuated from this place. We are closely looking at possibilities of no other families will get affected from this site.

Q: One of the key issues raised during the election campaign was the grievances of the people who have lost their houses due to their evacuation from the lands acquired for development projects. They are complaining that their issues were not fairly addressed. What have you to say?

A: The primary issue was about the site in Slave Island. Nearly 150 people were evacuated from the site and it was not fairly done. It was done in an inhumane manner. They were not given alternative houses or places to live. But subsequently I came to that these people were given alternative accommodation for couple of years. But of course when it comes to development part in Slave Island 500 families were shifted out of Colombo. They were paid rentals for two years to live. They will be hosted in high rise condominium in the same area. That is one of the conditions of the contract. Now they are building those apartments. Once these apartments are completed they are getting back whatever the floor areas they have lost. The people who were living in 100 square feet are also getting 400 or 500 square feet houses and the people who were living shanties are also getting houses. That programme is ok but only concern is whether it economically viable to go for such a transaction. That is the thing the present government is studying at present.

Q: It seems the Government has taken a decision to go ahead with the Port City project. In your opinion how does this project affect the Colombo city?

A: I canít speak much about the project because I donít know what the present government actual position on this project is. I donít know on what basis and on what grounds they have given the green light for the Port City project. I have to rethink how the city has to adjust itself to suit the new changes that are coming into place.

Q: What are the new projects you are aiming at under this new Government?

A: My prime task is to ensure that the beautification part of the city has to be taken to the underserved areas. I am also focusing on starting construction of minimum 2500 units of houses to be completed in one or two years. I will find funds to implement those projects.

Q: There were certain administration changes within the CMC after the election. What made you to change those?

A: There was not many changes in the CMC.

Q: The Commissioner of the CMC was changed.

A:The Commissioner was changed because I made a request citing that she violated the election laws as an administrative officer. I didnít mention anything else in that request. I only requested to inquire and transfer her from the CMC.

Q: Previously also there were inquiries against the former Municipal Commissioner Badrani Jayawardhana. What happened to the inquiries?

A: I donít know what has happened to them. There were various other issues that came up very particularly the burning of files. I have made my investigation and I handed over the results to the Provincial Council and they are the authority to investigate. My personnel feeling is that the political power the commissioner enjoyed was able to put everything under the carpet.

Q: Do you think there is possibility to take action against her now?

A: Of course yes. Everything is in black and white. Everything has been reported to the relevant authorities. I have collected all the information after making inquiries and I have given the reports. It is up to the higher authorities to inquire and see what she had done and take action against her.

Q: How do you review the development projects implemented under your tenure as the Mayor of Colombo?

A: Actually as a Councillor I have never neglected my activities. We have done a lot of work.

All the Members irrespective of political alliance were given Rs. 4 million per year to work in their underserved settlements. We have redeveloped play grounds, community centres, dispensaries, markets. During the past three years we have done a lot of work.

Q: Finally, are you confident that you can keep the Colombo city developed and beautiful?

A: Most certainly yes. We will make it better.

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