Colombo’s first female Mayor Rosy Senanayake assumed duties last week and is in the process of ‘setting things right’ at the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). During the run-up to the elections, Senanayake presented an elaborate manifesto addressing various issues in and around Colombo. One of her primary focuses includes developing underserved development areas. “The beauty of Colombo is that it’s a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural city,” she said in an interview with the Daily Mirror. Excerpts:
- We are contracted to provide 700 metric tonnes of mixed garbage for this project by August 2019
- The Govt. has identified Aruwakkalu as a permanent dumping place
- The Govt. is in the process of streamlining the property registration process in the CMC
- We have a waste-to-energy project which the Municipality has signed with a private entity
- Social welfare projects would be concentrated 100% on these underserved development areas
Q What are the immediate challenges that you have faced and would address in the near future?
We have actually looked at a few (challenges), but garbage remains our number one priority. We had a meeting with the Prime Minister last week because we faced a crisis situation since the authorities at Muthurajawela stopped collecting mixed waste. We then had to negotiate with the Minister and within 48 hours we dumped the collection. I also believe that the residents have a responsibility in segregating the garbage. I have informed the Municipality to educate the residents because they cannot haphazardly dispose of garbage. We have a waste-to-energy project which the Municipality has signed with a private entity which would get off the ground by the end of 2019. A meeting was held and this will continue every month to see how far they have progressed. We are contracted to provide 700 metric tonnes of mixed garbage for this project by August 2019. By then I believe that most of our problems would be solved given that this project takes off.
In the past, the Governments had not realized how waste could be a money-spinner. There are many facets and uses of waste. We also have had discussions to improve the health and sanitation sector next. The dengue mosquito and the epidemic normally happen in a cycle of twice every year. So we are getting ready to minimize the effects of breeding grounds. The Government is in the process of streamlining the property registration process in the CMC. The project spearheaded by the Ministry of Development Strategies and International Trade is aimed at enhancing investment climate and paving the way for taxpayers to receive an efficient service at comparatively less cost. For this there are three stakeholders namely the Registrar General’s Office, the CMC and the Survey Department. We just signed the MoU with them. For the time being it’s a manual process and earlier to register the property in Colombo it took more than 30 days. The MoU will enable us to share information among all stakeholders. We are also preparing for Vesak.
As Sri Lankans we need to celebrate all festivals. The beauty of Colombo is that it’s a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural city and we have always lived in harmony no matter what happens in the rest of the country. Hence, we have co-existed and therefore we need to celebrate each one’s cultural background and customs. There will be open houses and the municipality will encourage co-existence among different cultural communities. We are looking at the housing, underserved settlements and their needs etc.
We have already appointed a committee to empower women and look into their needs and bring in multi-serving and multi-purpose community centres
Q The CMC was in the news for several incidents related to bribery and corruption. How would you streamline the activities within the Council?
Firstly it is about bringing in e-governance and instilling discipline in the Council. I’m also working on a mechanism to bring everyone to work, hence improving the quality of work. I also need to establish a Human Resource Department because roughly about 9000 people work here and there’s also a need to establish a few departments which are not in existence at the moment. Then we also could look at the social welfare and reward people for the work that they do, give them the incentives to come to work and put the place right.
They need to work with the correct frame of mind. If I am to train them on how to think creative and think global and move from where we are then I would do that as well. I strongly believe that Colombo could be better than Singapore or Malaysia. A little bit of effort and leadership is what is needed along with the right mechanism to take this city to heights beyond expectations.
The beauty of Colombo is that it’s a multi-religious, multi-ethnic and multi-cultural city and we have always lived in harmony no matter what happens in the rest of the country
Q A recent report by a Presidential Commission revealed that the Meethotamulla tragedy was the result of the municipality failing to carry out proper garbage disposal methods. What are your comments?
That’s the past and it was beyond my control. I need to study the report and understand the drawbacks. We are looking at the way forward. This is why we had discussions about the waste-to-energy project, consultations with the Megapolis Minister and PM to address the waste issue. In the past, Meethotamulla was a disaster because in order to beautify Colombo, waste was taken and dumped in our neighbour’s garden amidst their protests. These things were done in a haphazard way since the demise of Ranasinghe Premadasa. I don’t think successive Governments had any plans regarding what to do with Colombo’s waste or waste at large around the country.
The present Government has identified Aruwakkalu as a permanent dumping place and they are now doing the groundwork. I’m looking at managing and handling Colombo city’s waste from the time I took over. But I would certainly study the report and see where we went wrong. Each ward member will have an App, so the residents of that ward can keep in touch with the member. Therefore ward members could educate their residents and get them to be more responsible of keeping the city clean. Now that we have 47 wards in the six districts and having 47 ward members, putting in money to those wards to carryout the necessary infrastructure development I’m sure that we would be able to see a stronger and a better Colombo. This is ‘Our Colombo’ as written in my slogan and this city is our responsibility. I’m hoping that the residents would support. My appeal to every member of the Municipality is to support us in our work, irrespective of their parties. Let’s start putting the city first.
In the past, the Governments had not realized how waste could be a money-spinner. There are many facets and uses of waste
Q A majority of citizens in Colombo are from underprivileged areas.
You have said that the development of these areas will be prioritized. What is your plan?
My primary focus even with the 25 multi-purpose community centres is on the underserved areas because 1/3rd of the population lives in those areas. When I spoke about mixed garbage, when people don’t adhere to the norms, they all come from underserved areas. That’s not because they don’t understand or they are not disciplined; it is because they don’t have the provision. A normal house might have space to keep three different bins, but in a watte (A small area where people live), inside a tiny little room with five families I don’t think there’s room to put a bin. Therefore I have been telling the ward members to find a common place in the watte where the municipality can install a garbage disposal system.
We need to look at housing, sanitation and water for them. When I spoke about maternity clinics and dispensaries I was addressing the underserved development areas. When it comes to social welfare projects it would be 100% concentrated on these underserved development areas. I had a discussion with a foreign diplomat to establish three vocational training centres and daycare centres because I want to increase the female participation in the labour force. In order to do that I need to develop the infrastructure including affordable day care centres, safe transportation, flexible hours created and so on. We would also be having a daycare for the Municipality. When we improve the lifestyles of people in these areas then major projects such as sewer lines, waste water, drainage and mass scale housing projects will be in our long term development plans.
Each ward member will have an App. Therefore ward members could educate their residents and get them to be more responsible of keeping the city clean
Q Will future development activities of the city incorporate the ‘wathu’ system or would they be demolished?
It all depends. We still have to consider the availability of land to see the possibility of building houses for them. We have already appointed a committee to empower women and look into their needs and bring in multi-serving and multi-purpose community centres. Most of my plans will be focused on developing underserved development areas.
Q Many people travel to Colombo daily to engage in work. Those such as tourists visit Colombo for leisure. How would you plan to develop facilities in a way that would benefit those visiting the city?
The residents are approximately 550,000 people whereas about 600,000 migrate on a daily basis. This is why we had a discussion with the Architects’ Association from the Chairman to the secretary who met with the Engineering Department and our architects to find out how to safeguard the cultural heritage. They want to focus on parks and improving services for the migrant citizens coming in on a daily basis because we have some major schools in the country. These include everything from public toilets, resting places, opening up more areas to have recreation facilities for families around the Beira, the Fort area and so on. We are also considering the buildings that have a heritage value and plan to restore and maintain them and give Colombo a new outlook. They were very enthusiastic and this is the groundwork that we would be doing during next three months. We would be able to see some tangible results hopefully.
Firstly it is about bringing in e-governance and instilling discipline in the Council. I’m also working on a mechanism to bring everyone to work
Q Many CMC workers are senior citizens who work day in and day out and receiving minimum wages. Are there plans to increase their salaries and incentives?
That was one of the first questions I asked the department heads when I assumed duties. I want to read those contracts because we outsource many of these work. In those outsourcing contracts there are minimum age and salary scales. I have given all these contracts to my legal team to study them. I have advised the department heads to thoroughly review those contracts and to inform these people to be present at work, to adhere to what is written in the contract or step down. In future when we sign contracts we need to be specific about certain things such as salaries, age etc. This is why I need a HR department established.
Q In a previous interview you mentioned about establishing rehabilitation centres for the youth. Along with these centres, how would the drug menace be mitigated in future?
That is something that I have promised and would be doing within the next couple of months. I’m waiting for the Council to be formed in order to bring in resolutions to do many other things that are included in my manifesto. That’s a huge menace and it’s not an issue with just one strata of society, but it exists at every level. Much needs to be invested in terms of technical assistance and finances, but we would eventually make it a reality.
Q During the previous Government most of the beautification projects were carried out under the purview of the Urban Development Authority (UDA). Why didn’t the CMC get involved?
Some of the projects such as housing and infrastructure development with sewer waste etc would be done with the line ministries and the Central Government. The funding will also have to come from the Central Government. But the CMC can handle basic beautification projects. For example the Independence Square belongs to the UDA and we need to consider people who just park their vehicles and leave. I have instructed them to have an authorized parking space. When you have restrictions people can walk to their destination. I’ll also have to work with the Health Ministry and several other ministries in certain projects.