Lifetime chance at Lankan local polls

For months, the issue of environmental degradation, garbage colle-ction and dumping has dominated the headlines of Sri La-nkan newspapers.

One of the issues raised by environmentalists and World Bank experts, at a recent forum on environment, is that the public is responsible for the environmental crisis. Participants spoke of the “not in my backyard” syndrome where the responsibility of residents lies as long as garbage is not in one’s own backyard. We were also told that residents are to blame for not electing local representatives based on the politics of that individual and not in terms of what the candidate would do to provide local facilities and other needs in the area.

This was expressed in strong terms by Dr Sumith Pilapitiya, Senior Environmental Engineer, World Bank. Speaking at a business meeting organised by the Environmental Foundation Ltd and attended by the corporate sector, government officials and environmentalists, Dr Pilapitiya said there was enough and more laws to manage the environment except discipline, will power and political commitment. Referring to the pollution of the picturesque Beira lake in the capital, he said the cost of action to preserve the lake is $150,000 while remedial costs is $19 million and noted that the bulk of the families living near the lake who dump their sewerage into it are from affluent classes.

Local councils don’t have a proper solid waste management system because it’s too costly and these administrations don’t have money. He said they are not going to do uncomfortable exercises like raising taxes or rates to resort to costly waste management systems.

Soon after being Sri Lankan president last November, Mahinda Rajapakse called a meeting of municipal authorities and asked for at least a short-term solution to garbage collection and disposal. But there doesn’t seem to be any movement after that. Thus now is the chance to make things right as Sri Lanka heads into yet another series of elections with the conduct of local government elections in April.

As political parties scramble to appoint mayoral candidates for municipal and urban councils and pradeshiya sabhas, voters must concentrate on ensuring their local representative or whoever they are voting for would deliver the goods in terms of good roads, regular garbage collection, a public-friendly council and quick response to the customers’ needs. Business organisations in the area should also respond to the call for councils to be accountable. Requests for funding political parties should be responded to with ways of making politicians accountable. Together, residents and business organisations can bring pressure on local authorities to act the way they should be working.

Given the growing demand for governance and accountability and the huge outcry over garbage collection, this is the ideal opportunity for residents for example in Colombo to make sure councillors are elected on the promise of doing what the residents want, not working to their own agendas. So here’s another chance for Sri Lankans to elect representatives on local and not national issues.

Samath, a freelancer, wri-tes for THT from Colombo