Dhanushka Ramanayake, an academically qualified young professional is contesting for the Maharagama Urban Council from the United National Party (UNP). A first timer to active politics, Dhanushka holds an MBA from Britain’s Cardiff Metropolitan University and is a Mass Communication graduate from Sri Jayawardenapura University. A product of Isipathana College, Colombo, Dhanushka is a Dharmacharya attached to Siri Vajiranana Dharmayathanaya in Maharagama. Contesting for the Maharagama UC, a traditional Sri Lanka Freedom Party left-wing stronghold, Dhanushka in an interview with Daily Mirror shared the reason for his entry to politics and how Maharagama could be developed as Sri Lanka’s first modern city.
I am a post-graduate proffessional and I wanted to serve the country with what I have gained from free-education. Initially, I wanted to serve the country and live a peaceful life with my family. But with the circumstances it has changed. Incidentally, it was Minister Champika Ranawaka who invited me to enter politics
Maharagama is a nationally important city. It is one of the main transport hubs with public transport to the highway and it has ‘Apeksha’ hospital, the country’s biggest cancer treatment centre. It also has a state University and Ayuruvedic Research Institute, among other important institutions. There are also small scale industries including a ready-made apparel ‘hub’ at Pamunuwa. How do you analyse the importance of this city?
Maharagama is a 39 sq km area with a population of around 207,000 with nearly 127,000 registered voters. It is also an education centre with the National Institute of Education situated there. There is also National Youth Services Centre, Jayawardenapura hospital and Sri Vajiranana Daham Pasala, which provides religious education. There are 63 temples, five churches, two mosques and six Hindu places of worship. When you consider all these, Maharagama is a complete city. According to British archaeological records, Sri Lanka’s smallest lake, the Boralesgamuwa lake is situated here and surrounding it there was an agriculture society which is non-existent now. There are 24 schools with a national school, 134 pre-schools and 33 state and private institutions. There is also a private sector economy based on Pamunuwa apparel outlets. So compared to other local councils, Maharagama has a higher middle-class population which obtains the services of the Maharagama Urban Council.
I contest from Wattegedara Ward, which is around one sq km in size with 1680 families. Within this comparatively small area, there are 455 graduates, 55 doctors and professors. If we calculate this proportionately, there is a graduate in one of four houses. So this is upper middle-class, educated society. So Maharagama has an updated and an educated society. In a way it is a challenge but on the other hand, to work with such an educated ambient with their support is easy. Maharagama is a sub-city of the major city development plan and we could easily make it a centre
Maharagama with a population of around 207,000, with nearly 127,000 legitimate voters
With 455 graduates, 55 doctors and professors. Every one in four houses, there is a graduate
Maharagama is a viable economic, transport and healthcare related centre
Over the years, Maharagama also was notorious for some corrupt activities. If you are elected, how would you tackle this corrupt system and clear the name?
It is easy. For 2017, the total income of Mahargama UC was Rs.549 million and recurrence expenditure was about Rs. 101 million. This is a direct and indirect income from 81,000 individuals and institutions. The politicians and officials of the Maharagama UC must know how to increase this income systematically and strategically. We can do this using 39 sq km itself.
The world talks about smart cities and these concepts are entering Sri Lanka also. It is easy to make Maharagama the first city to welcome those concepts due to the reasons I have mentioned and with help of the educated population. People use smart mobile phones and instead of people being forced to go through officialdom and bureaucratic systems, a website or an App could be created for updating taxes and tariff similar to the other utilities such as water and electricity. This is not an uphill task. Our neighbours India and Singapore are using this method quite effectively.
As you said, millions of rupees are being wasted to build roads but they soon become dilapidated. We saw recently roads are being tarred. These might have been done to attract the voters. But I believe people are not fools and they cannot be taken for a ride. They are updated and educated. Every thing is determined by its quality. That is why there are professionals and engineers. As politicians, what we should do is to make policies with a vision for future and let the professionals to adapt them. Instead of 10 - 20% commission goes to the area politician’s pocket for development activities, we should create a system to divert that commission to the local council and paid to the workers as an allowance or bonus and create a ‘key performer indicator’ system and reward them. This will create a happy atmosphere for the employees as they get an additional income added to their salaries, make them happy and dedicated to their duties.
“I utilise my position to serve people, I am sure, the people would decide my next step. We are not here to grab people’s money”
Maharagama is an SLFP or Joint Opposition stronghold. What are the strategies that you have in store to emerge victorious under UNP?
I am not alone. I am a team member. Representing 41 Grama Niladhari Divisions, Maharagama is divided into 25 divisions. Every party is fielding 25 candidates and I am one of the 25 from the UNP. So as a team, we have discussed not to limit this to a mudslinging campaign where we criticize the opponents. We have drawn a development plan for the area and submit it to the people. What they want is a city where they can live happily and in a healthy background. This is our plan. The bottom-line is we would deliver what we had promised and do it properly to the benefit of the society.
Maharagama sees a large number of outsiders converging daily. It could be due to ‘Apeskha’ Cancer hospital, Highway bus terminal, Ayuruvedic hospital or the educational institutes. What are the plans you have for the visitors?
Maharagama is a viable economic, transport and healthcare related centre which provides essential services to hundreds of thousands of people every day. There are many businesses taking place on daily basis. We are planning to have a proper shopping complex and the one which exists was built by the UNP government 30 years ago. Over the years, it has been left to the mercy of the elements. We are planning to renovate it. On the other hand, Maharagama is one of the highway hubs and we are planning to shift it to Mahakumbura by the end of March or latest by the National New Year. It would be known as the ‘Mahakumbura Multi-Model Transport hub’. It would then be the first properly build Multi-Model Transport hub in Sri Lanka.
In addition, the Railway Department has proposed to have a dual railway line from Maradana to Avissawella. Then the Railway Navinna station would be shifted further towards the Maharagama town. From the Railway Station, an over-head path would be built to Maharagama Youth Centre and multi-purpose transport centre. Maharagama Bus depot would also be shifted to transport centre and the place where the CTB bus depot is now would be converted to an economic centre.
"For the year 2017, the total income of Mahargama UC was Rs.549 million and recurrence expenditure is about Rs. 101 mn. This is a direct and indirect income from 81,000 individuals and institutions. The politicians and officials of the council must know how to increase this revenue systematically and strategically"
This would only be a beginning of your political career. What are your plans for the future?
I am a post-graduate proffessional and I wanted to serve the country with what I have gained from free-education. Initially, I wanted to serve the country and live a peaceful life with my family. But with the circumstances it has changed. Incidentally, it was Minister Champika Ranawaka who invited me to enter politics. I worked with him in three ministries for seven years. I would be taking up a comparatively low-paid profession, but I am not going to worry over that. I utilise my position to serve the people. If I do it, I am sure, the people would decide my next step. We are not here to grab people’s money.
Pic by Pradeep Dilrukshana