Tip of the dump A ‘national government’ sans one voice

M S M Ayub (Daily Mirror)

  • Explanations given by leaders of the former and present Governments are unacceptable
  • WP Chief Minister is of the view that a good project was crippled by the UDA

As in any other case no politician in the country had the courage and the integrity to take the responsibility for the Meethotamulla garbage dump disaster that had claimed more than thirty lives. The death toll is feared to rise as a similar number of people are said to have gone missing after the collapse of the dump on the Sinhala and Hindu New Year day.

The incident is a clear indication of lack of planning and disunity among the constituent parties in government activities.

At the same time the explanations given by the leaders of both -the former and present Governments-on their inability to solve the issue involving the Meethotamulla garbage dump in particular, and the garbage problem in general, were clearly irresponsible.

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had stated that, while his government had already made arrangements to remove the garbage in Meethotamulla to Puttalam District by train his government was toppled.

During a meeting with the Mahanayake of the Asgiriya Chapter Most Ven. Warakagoda Sri GnanarathanaThera on Tuesday he had said that his government had even imported wagons to transport garbage to Puttalam after obtaining a report from the World Bank and allocating funds for the purpose by the 2015 budget.

However, he had not revealed these details, when the Meethotamulla residents were agitating for the past several years demanding the removal of the garbage dump from the area nor had this information been published in any media before.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also while in Japan during which the tragedy occurred, had stated that the incident had taken place while the government was taking action for the removal of garbage from Meethotamulla.

Meanwhile two prominent figures of the government, the Western Province Chief Minister Isura Devapriya, who was the choice of President Maithripala Sirisena for the post and the Megapolis and Western Development Minister Champika Ranawaka have locked horns over the issue.

Devapriya claims that it was those, who crippled his plan to recycle garbage in Meethotamulla with the assistance of a British company should be held responsible for the disaster.

In fact he had invited a British company for this purpose several months ago and he was seen accompanying the officials of that company during an inspection tour in the site. He alleged that the Urban Development Authority (UDA) had refused to allocate a sixty perch block of land near the dump for the processing of garbage.

However, countering to his allegation the Megapolis and Western Development Ministry has issued a statement claiming that the British company that had been invited by the Chief Minister had neither the expertise nor the financial capacity for the project.

The Ministry states that the Director of the Western Province Solid Waste Management Authority has failed to provide explanations sought by the UDA for the past six months over 17 important issues after perusing the project report submitted by the Solid Waste Management Authority.

Several rounds of high level discussions headed by President Maithripala Sirisena were held for the past few days after the tragedy and in none of them was the Chief Minister’s project was at least mentioned, leave alone taking it up for consideration. But still Devapriya claims that his project was scuttled by interested parties.

The incident at Meethotamulla has created a new problem for the Colombo Municipal Council as well.

They had to find new sites for the disposal of garbage. Trucks carrying garbage were stopped and returned by the residents of various other places such as Dompe and Kotikawatte, who demonstrated against the dumping of garbage in their areas.

However, the CMC authorities were able to find solace in a ruling by the Kesbewa Magistrate to dump the garbage collected by the CMC at Karadiyana in Piliyandala but only up to April 28 and less than half of the amount that had been dumped daily at Meethotamulla.

When summed up, the waste management in Colombo and suburbs is in utter chaos and authorities concerned seemed to be not in a position to speak in one voice on the matter.

The Prime Minister says that there was a proper plan for the disposal of garbage before the tragedy occurred while the Chief Minister is of the view that he had a good project which he says was crippled by the UDA.

As if countering the Premier’s claim that the government was about to implement a plan to relocate the waste dump, the UNP parliamentarian S.M. Marikkar has been demonstrating on streets for the past several months with the residents demanding a solution for the garbage problem in Kolonnawa.

In the meantime the UDA has banned dumping of garbage in lands belonging to it. The CMC after making unsuccessful attempts to use Dompe and Kotikawatte had obtained temporary permission from the court to dump less than half of its daily collection of garbage in Karadiyana.

It is clear that the leaders of the former government who created this mess by ordering the dumping of solid waste in Meethotamulla after ignoring even a court order are now attempting to get political mileage from the issue.

But at the same time the government’s inability to act as a team in solving the problem is also clearly evident.

Though theYahapalanaya government is called a “National Government” by some of the leaders of the very government, dissension between the two major parties, the UNP and the Maithri faction of the SLFP is evident not only in respect of the garbage issue, but in almost all important matters, including the much hyped constitutional reforms.

The garbage controversy is only the latest manifestation of it.

A section of the government, especially the SLFP group seems to be not in favour of adopting a new Constitution, interestingly even after the sub-committees of the Constitutional Assembly have submitted their reports to the Steering Committee.

The two main parties in the government are also divided over the holding of the local government elections with one group contending that they elections should be held under the old system while the other group preferring the new system.

This inability to speak in one voice has the ability to cost the government dearly in the near future, especially at the forthcoming local government elections.