I have a master plan - Salley
By Gagani Weerakoon
Mayoral candidate of the SLFP, Azath Salley, in an interview with Ceylon Today, promises to build a Colombo free of traffic congestion, garbage and the drugs menace once he assumes office after winning the 10 February elections.
Why should people in Colombo elect you as Mayor and if you win, what are you planning to do for the people of Colombo?
A: First, Colombo needs a young and energetic man to address its issues and secondly, with my past experience, as Deputy Mayor and as Acting Mayor in the Council, people already know who I am. I will become the Mayor of Colombo after 10 February. My plan for Colombo and its people is very big. People in Colombo want a good living, a very good environment for living. They need a dengue-free Colombo. They need a garbage-free Colombo. They want quality education for their children. They need fast transportation. We are thinking of a monorail system which had been discussed for a long time since 1997 when I was in the council. Unfortunately, this never got implemented.
Colombo is home to many underserviced areas including slums. The children in these areas do not have sufficient schooling facilities. The sex trade and drug trade are rampant. How will these issues be dealt with during your tenure as Mayor?
A: People need a drug-free Colombo. Recently, in the papers I saw a warning about a tiny drug named strawberry that has come to schools in Colombo. Children who have taken these drugs have been taken to hospitals. All these drugs, whoever is importing them and in whatever form they are imported, need to be stopped. We have to work with health authorities and the narcotics to ensure that Colombo is free of drugs.
Do you have a solid plan for the underserviced areas?
A: I am working with the most experienced people in the Council and also with retired officers who have volunteered as advisors. I have sought their advice and I will be carrying out a master plan. When I am elected, my master plan will be put into effect. Moreover, the time people spend when they come into the Council will be reduced by re-inventing a one stop shop where they can use digital facilities to make their work from the council easy.
We had this system back in 2001 but it was abandoned by the next regime. We want to bring it back, enabling people to come with all their needs and get them attended to, in one place. We are also trying to go into internet dealings. All documents they need to check; their plans, houses, taxes, and all those things could be checked online. These are what I have in mind for people in Colombo. During my tenure from 2001 to 2005, Colombo was more vibrant with a good night life.
Even though you seem to be planning big, most of the matters that the Council had a monopoly over have now been delegated to the Ministry of Megapolis and Western Development. How exactly are you going to implement your plan then?
A: First, we have to work within our capacity. We should work within our limits within the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). City planning authority given to CMC has been withdrawn and now been taken over by the Megalopolis Ministry. We will fight and get back those things. We will ensure that the people of Colombo have the best and not complain. You see, even for the slightest rain, Colombo gets flooded. We have done a lot, but we have still more things to do to ensure that residents will not go under water.
What is your vision for developing the road network to prevent floods?
A: As a policy in CMC, we have been carpeting the entire road network. Earlier we ensured that at least for one year after the road was carpeted, nobody will be allowed to dig the roads for anything. Today you can see that ten or fifteen days after the carpeting has been done, either the Water Board or Electricity Board goes and opens it up. Like that you see the roads are being damaged. We had a very strict policy. We informed all the authorities to do whatever the projects they are planning for the next year, before the road is carpeted.
The biggest problem Colombo faces is the garbage issue. How exactly are you going to tackle this menace?
A: Around the world, they have systems to put garbage into an incinerator, burn it down and make electricity out of it. All these things are being done within the city itself. When I went to South Korea with the President, I saw two huge garbage dumps turned into beautiful parks. I too have that same idea to take out the garbage; though Meethotamulla does not come under us they can sure adopt this, and make Colombo and Madampitiya into beautiful parks.
There is a major population growth in the city and also increased migration to the city for education and employment purposes. Is Colombo prepared to deal with the influx of population?
A: Now as far as the Council is concerned we have so much valuable land. People living in tenement gardens don't get a good living.
I would like for my people in Colombo to have best of everything. All the playgrounds are no more today. Children have no place to play. So children are getting into drugs and various other things. You have to keep them occupied. You have to give them good education, both academic and physical. You have to provide these things so that the children can in turn, do the best for themselves and for the country.
Colombo is in need of good parking facilities and currently there are so many irregularities in issuing parking tickets in Colombo. Do you have any solution in mind for this?
A: We already have come up with the new concept of parking meters. So those things have already come up, but I don't know whether they are being implemented anytime soon. The former mayor delegated most of the councillors to take over handling parking areas and the income goes to them. Not just parking areas but public toilets as well. A lot of illegal activities are happening in these areas which are run by councillors. Everything has to be rectified and everything will be transparent. No councillor will be able to indulge these things with the Council.
It is an open secret that corruption and bribery are rampant in the CMC. When a city dweller requires a service from the CMC, they are expected to pay a bribe. How will you cleanse the system?
A: Corruption is something that exists from top to bottom of this country. You can't eradicate it overnight. We can prevent it from happening. When we have that one-stop shop up and running, all these will be stopped. Because that way, you don't have to grease anyone's palm to get things done. Like I said, documents will be made available on the internet so that no one will have to pay anybody to acquire them. In some countries there are mobile courthouses parked at the main junctions so that all the traffic violations could be charged and fine paid then and there. Here people are asked to go to courthouses and some try to bribe police officers. All these could be solved with proper solutions.
Beggars have now been banned from the city limits. However, they pose a socio-economic crisis, what are your solutions to this issue?
A: Beggars are a big menace in Colombo right now. Lots of women have complained to us about these beggars appear in car parks and at traffic light stops and knock on the vehicle's window without moving away. We have to take them out of the city. Begging in Colombo had become a professional ring. People come and drop these beggars in the morning and collect them in the evening. Like in India, it is a big mafia that is coming up. Earlier President Premadasa had a system of putting them in Ridigama, making them do some work and they were paid for it. We have lots of people with lots of talent. We can make use of them if we move them to Ridigama. We can provide them with food and give a salary for whatever they do. We will work it out.
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