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Colombo's woes

The Colombo Municipal Council has always been in the news since the last election but more often than not for the wrong reasons. It is the general feeling among the Colombo ratepayers that the CMC is today in a state of drift with many of its basic duties and functions neglected.

It is also hamstrung by lawsuits stemming from neglect and inefficiency. But the cancer eating into its vitals is the large scale corruption that has virtually emasculated this premier local body in the country.

It is in this context that a decision taken by the Western Province Governor Alavi Mowlana to haul all the CMC councillors over the coals is to be welcomed. A One Man Commission is to be appointed to probe each and every member of the Colombo Municipal Council.

By implication this means a probe into the 'doings' of each council member during their tenure so far. It is worthwhile if the assets of the members are investigated and they are made to account for the extra possessions.

This no doubt is a timely move which would be welcomed by the long suffering ratepayers of Colombo city. The CMC has long been notorious for being a healthy milch cow for corrupt council members and staff.

This extends from the highest to the lowest among the denizens at the CMC. It was only recently it was revealed how CMC workers had clocked in for duties at the council but found to be employed elsewhere. It is the ratepayers finally who have to pick the tab.

Today it is no secret that not only the CMC but almost all local bodies in the country are deeply mired in corruption. Most of the money is made through tenders by delivering shoddy work. These local Government members have done well for themselves while ignoring the needs of the public.

The state of affairs at the Colombo Municipal Council stands out like a sore thumb in comparison. Of course the writing was on the wall when an independent group was installed into the seats of power at the CMC.

It is apparent those who were elected are unequal to the gigantic task at hand. Already a Commission had released its findings on the shenanigans of the various members of the Council. It appears that CMC members are only busy fattening themselves at the expense of ratepayers while neglecting their functions.

The state of the City during the recent rains only goes to reinforce the point that the CMC is a sleeping giant. True, responsibility for poor infrastructure such as derelict sewerage systems cannot be laid only at the doorstep of the CMC.

But it is evident that even the most mundane functions such as clearing garbage or repairing a broken gully are not attended to. The time has come for the Government to take firm charge of redeveloping the capital city.

We have time and again said in these columns that Colombo as the Capital City should receive the topmost attention of the Government. There was hastily done work to spruce up the city for the recent SAARC summit.

But regrettably this is now fading away once again relegating the City to its former self. There is a need for coordinated action to bring back Colombo to its former glory days when it was known as the Garden City of Asia.

True, this is a herculean task not least because of the enormous cost. There are also logistical problems to be overcome particularly the huge migrant population inhabiting the City unlike in those spacious relaxed days where congestion was unknown.

The Government should study models in certain Asian countries where they have succeeded in overcoming this congestion with expert town planning measures. There may be a necessity to relocate some of the commercial establishments and bustling trade centres in order to pave the way for an effective redevelopment plan.

In this regard the decision taken to shift the landmark St. John's Fish market to a suburban area is a move in the right direction.

Similar changes in other areas too are needed if the Colombo is to be rid of its squalor and congestion and return to its former tranquil status.

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