It was very clear that when the Mahinda Rajapaksa led UPFA faction of the joint opposition demanded a parliamentary debate on the collapse of the Meethotamulla garbage dump on the day of the National New Year, it had no intention of proposing any tangible solutions for the garbage crisis in the country. Neither was the government prepared to do so though it had agreed to hold the debate.
Now that the debate is over what has the country achieved from it? As anticipated the debate was just a blame game. Neither the government nor the parties in the Opposition suggested any specific short-term or long-term solutions to the problem. Minister Champika Ranawaka suggested that a central solid waste management authority be set up to find a solution to the problem while Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan said there should be a scientific methodology for the disposal of garbage. Meanwhile the joint opposition and Mahajana Eksath Peramuna, leader Dinesh Gunawardena who had requested for a debate on behalf of the JO had also wanted a nationwide scientific methodology that could be adopted to solve this crisis.
At the end of the day, the legislators ended up blaming all other political parties other than theirs and stressed the need for a scientific solution to the ever growing mountain of garbage. Do we need time and money wasted on a parliamentary debate to understand this? But even the scientific methodology suggested by the day’s speakers is a mystery still to be unravelled or like what the people may say, ‘God only knows’. The debate ended up with little or nothing other than a load of abstract ideas.
Highlighting the fact that the government had not provided any meaningful suggestions even after the Meethotamulla disaster, President Maithripala Sirisena told newspaper editors and heads of media institutions last week that the garbage dump would be removed from Meethotamulla either for the purpose of generating electricity, for recycling or for a land fill. In fact these are the methods adopted by other countries when it comes to garbage disposal.
It is true that all political parties, especially the UNP and the SLFP have sufficient grounds to blame the others. As the members of the current government allege, it was the former government led by Mahinda Rajapaksa that created the Meethotamulla garbage dump, ignoring even a court ruling to confine the dumping of garbage to a two-acre block of land for two years. Meanwhile, the JO alleges that the government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had failed to remove the garbage from Meethotamulla to Aruwakkalu in Puttalam as planned by the former government at the tail end of its tenure.Yes, both arguments are valid, but they won’t solve the problem.
Members of Parliament are supposed to put their heads together to find solutions faced by the people. Hence, debating an issue such as this in Parliament would be worthwhile only if the participants have any tangible solutions to discuss. But what we witnessed was the political parties attempting to gain political mileage from the garbage issue without even thinking of providing any solution to this crisis.
By now, the agonizing plight of the people still living in the vicinity of the deadly garbage mountain no longer seems to be disturbing the authorities including the politicians with media attention being diverted to the May Day rallies of the different political parties. As it has happened in other cases or crisis situations -- last year’s flooding of the Kelani River and the Aranayake landslide -- the garbage disposal quandary will also be soon forgotten.
Another important matter that became clear during the garbage debate in Parliament and outside was that the authorities appeared united in not opting for recycling as the solution for the solid waste crisis in the country. Politicians irrespective of their political alignments have always been trying to dump the garbage somewhere without resorting to the universally accepted concept of the 3R methodology -- Reuse, Reduce and Recycle. What a curious situation indeed.