A new beginning | Daily News

A new beginning

Most of the 8,000 councillors elected to local bodies around the island on February 10, 2018 have now taken oaths. Once the local bodies are properly constituted, it will be time for them to work. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, addressing some of the UNP councillors has advised them to work for the betterment of their villages and residents and not think of becoming rich through politics. This is a timely advice for all the newly elected members from all parties, not just the UNP.

Local politics is rife with people who have literally ridden into town on ramshackle bicycles and now ride in super luxury tax free cars and live in palatial mansions. How they acquired these riches is a mystery because their pay is certainly not sufficient to purchase such luxuries. Some of the new councillors too must certainly be having such dreams. But politics should not be thought of as a lottery win.

It is all too easy to get trapped in the web of corruption at local body level, where a lot of infrastructure contracts are given. The usual “kickbacks for tenders” system is mostly prevalent at local body level. The Government must close all loopholes that enable councillors to exploit the tender procedures to find a quick way to riches.

Another unfortunate consequence of the LG election is that many parties fielded candidates with less than stellar track records to make up the numbers. They will try to do their shady businesses from the local bodies but this should be prevented. The voters should observe how their representatives behave and reject any undesirable elements.

As mentioned in the beginning, there will now be more than 8,000 local councillors, double the precious number. They will paid by the taxpayers around the country who now have to raise twice the previous amount for pay and facilities. Thus the Provincial Councils and the Central Government must ensure that all 8,000 of them work tirelessly for benefit of the public. Otherwise the extra outlay will be a total waste. The local bodies must not be mere talk shops bur rather work-oriented institutions where decisions are implemented swiftly. It is quite acceptable to go on “foreign study tours” once or twice, but the councillors must use the knowledge gained during such tours to improve their areas. They should not be fun and shopping tours undertaken at public expense.

For the first time, more than 2,000 women have been elected to local bodies. This is a significant development. From an 18-year-old schoolgirl elected to the Nattandiya Pradeshiya Sabha to veteran politician Rosy Senanayake, the first-ever woman Mayor of Colombo, the woman councillors represent our best hope and best chance for reinvigorating the local bodies. It is a matter of shame that it took so long to address the gender imbalance in politics, but a start has nevertheless been made.

Women have a very good grasp of grassroots issues in their villages and towns and are also much less likely to be corrupt or violent. They also have a better understanding of domestic-level issues and will be able to tackle issues such as domestic violence, sexual abuse at village level. The male colleagues must extend their fullest support to the female counterparts and all should work together to uplift their areas.

There are many pressing issues such as garbage management and energy use that are common to both the city and the village. Garbage has become a major issue everywhere thanks to changing lifestyles. Innovative solutions will have to be found, such as the proposed garage-powered power stations. There should also be more emphasis on renewable energy. For example, local bodies can insist on backup solar power and net metering systems for large residential and commercial constructions.

If you catch a news bulletin on any TV channel, it will highlight a village which does not even have a proper access road or bridge. They have to transport patients through perilous jungle treks. The local bodies must identify such shortcomings and build the necessary roads and bridges without delay.

The opposite is often true in the cities, where the streets are chocked with traffic. Congestion has become a vexed issue in Colombo, Kandy and other major cities with no immediate solution in sight. Since most of the roads cannot be widened anymore and overpasses are highly expensive, improving public transport is the best solution. Colombo will get a Light Rail Transit (LRT) system over the next few years. Since this cannot be replicated everywhere, the next best solution is improving the bus services. The Government plans to import electric buses to strengthen the bus fleet, but the key is to get motorists to keep their cars at home and ride the bus at least to their workplaces on weekdays.

Let us not forget that today’s young local councillors are the MPs, Ministers and leaders of tomorrow. Serving the public with integrity and dedication will take them higher up the political ladder and possibly create a new generation of politicians devoid of corruption.


 

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