Challenges before CMC | Daily News

Challenges before CMC

Colombo is the country’s biggest city, with a permanent population of over 600,000 and a transient population of more than one million. Though no longer the administrative capital, it is still the commercial capital where the local economy takes shape. Colombo is almost a city state at 37 Sq Km, with a growth rate that exceeds the rest of the country put together.

Colombo needs an efficient administrative machinery to run smoothly. This is the task of the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC), established in 1865. It is naturally the country’s biggest local body with earnings and resources that other local bodies cannot match. The position of Mayor of Colombo is a very significant one in this context.

Colombo had had illustrious Mayors who have gone to achieve even higher positions in the country’s political and governance structure. Among these men were R. Saravanamuttu, A.E. Goonesinghe, R.A. de Mel, Dr. Kumaran Ratnam, Dr. N.M. Perera, V.A. Sugathadasa, M.H. Mohamed, Vincent Perera, Jabir A. Cader, A.H.M. Fowzie, Sirisena Cooray, Hussain Mohamed, Ratnasiri Rajapakse and Karu Jayasuriya (the present Speaker of Parliament). If you noticed the word “men” in that sentence, it is there with a purpose – no woman has ever become the Mayor (Mayoress, rather) of Colombo. Until now, that is.

That glass ceiling was shattered on February 10 as Rosy Senanayake was voted in as the first woman mayor-elect of Colombo. An experienced politician and a steadfast campaigner for women’s rights, Senanayake has what it takes to become an exceptionally capable mayor for Colombo. She will no doubt use this people’s mandate to do the right thing(s) for Colombo, which faces plenty of problems and challenges.

The biggest challenge facing Colombo has always been garbage disposal. Disposing 800 tons of solid and semi-solid waste a day is not an easy task by any means. A temporary solution has been found, but the incoming mayor must focus on this problem to find a more sustainable solution – perhaps the garbage can be used to generate power or turn out other materials. In the meantime, the public should be educated on the significance of reducing waste and the 3Rs – Reduce, Recycle and Re-Use.

The Mayor will also have to address Colombo’s traffic woes. Many roads in Colombo are heavily congested at any given time, leading to a massive loss of fuel, man-hours and time. The CMC, together with the Road Development Authority and the Megapolis Ministry, must identify traffic-choked roads and take appropriate steps. The new Mayor must also assemble a team to study the one-way roads in Colombo, which only help to waste more fuel and inconvenience bus commuters. These were introduced apparently for the protection of certain VIPs of the former regime and serve no useful purpose now. There should be a bigger focus on public transport, with preliminary work on the Light rail Transit project starting this year. Colombo should also get the lion’s share of the electric car charging stations due to be installed by the Government.

Police must be instructed not to interfere with the traffic lights at rush hours. This creates mile-long traffic in every direction. Just let the lights do their work. There are still a few junctions where traffic lights have not been installed – the new Mayor should look into this and take appropriate action. The CMC must clearly mark on-street parking spaces and “No Parking” areas – as per a Court decision, this power is vested solely in local Government bodies and not the Police. More parking spaces should be created where appropriate and possible.

Housing is another matter that requires urgent attention. Despite many attempts by various governments to re-house slum dwellers, slums still exist in Colombo. The mayor should address this problem in collaboration with the Provincial Council and relevant line ministries.

One can see construction cranes almost everywhere in Colombo. Colombo’s skyline will look different just three years from now, thanks to the array of new hotels, apartment complexes and other buildings now coming up. But these present many infrastructure challenges such as sewerage, energy, water supply, garbage disposal and traffic/parking. This calls for an integrated approach to face these problems. The CMC should also insist on a renewable energy component for all new buildings and residences coming up within city limits, along with other measures such as rainwater harvesting.

There have been calls to expand Colombo City beyond its current 1-15 zones and borders. There is some merit in this proposal as Colombo is getting congested in every possible way – people, traffic, buildings etc. However, this proposal will necessarily be a controversial one since neighbouring local bodies may see it as an intrusion that dilutes their identity. The Government and the CMC should study this suggestion further before taking any action.

The ratepayer is the heart and soul of any local body. Rosy with her long years of experience will no doubt make their interactions with the CMC a pleasing experience. An efficient CMC that always puts the ratepayer first will be an example for all other local bodies to follow. 


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