MR’s excuse and Bull in a china Shop

Daily News Editorial

Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa is finding ways to wriggle himself out of responsibility for not finding a solution to the garbage problem that came to a head on New Year’s day when the Meethotamulla trash mountain collapsed killing over 30 persons and displacing hundreds of families. All this, while he is holding onto a tenuous claim that it was all set for the garbage to be disposed at a site in Puttalam and that money too had been allocated in the 2015 budget for the purpose. What is more, he says his brother, former Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, had it all cut and dried and that it was only a matter of time for the problem to be solved, when the regime changed. Rajapaksa also got some moral support from an unlikely quarter to back his claim when Minister Champika Ranawaka happened to endorse Gota’s plan, although Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala had earlier gone onto explain the unfeasibility of the Gota project.

This is why one is at a loss to understand the latest explanation of Mahinda Rajapaksa for not implementing the project. Speaking to reporters at Anuradhapura, after attending to religious observances, the former President said that the garbage problem could not be solved during his tenure since he had to fight the terrorist war. This, after claiming that Gota had a plan. Surely the former President could well have given priority to this matter. It was not as if the war held back projects, both development and infrastructure. The Expressway projects were implemented well after the war.

Cartoon added by TW from Divaina

True, development took a backseat, somewhat, due to all governments, which faced the war, having to pump ill affordable resources to defeat terrorism. But to say that all important projects had to be abandoned due to the war is furthest from the truth. Sri Lanka could not have moved forward to reach middle income status if governments sat back and did nothing, with the excuse that they had to put all its eggs in the war basket. Rajapaksa, himself, did not let the grass grow under his feet just because there was a war raging but plunged into projects that however turned out to be white elephants, squandering billions of rupees. A fraction of this would have sufficed to solve the garbage problem. The Mattala Airport, Hambantota port, the Nelumpokuna theatre, the Sooriyawewa Mahinda Rajapksa stadium etc. all came to be realised long after the end of the war in 2009. To say now that the garbage problem could not be solved due the war is but a clear attempt to hoodwink the people amidst public anger against both the present and past rulers for neglecting this issue.

Rajapaksa would do well to own up to this lapse, as even the Prime Minister has acknowledged that the present government should have given priority to the matter at the very outset of its tenure. It is obvious that Rajapaksa and the Joint Opposition is hell bent on cashing in on the Meethotamulla tragedy for political gain, in the process blinding itself to their own role in the tragedy. It has now transpired that leaders of the community living beneath the Meethotamulla garbage mountain were bribed by a politician who was very close to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, who held sway in Kolonnawa at the time, to abstain from protesting against the dumping of garbage. Not only that, this politician also lavished his largesse in setting up sport clubs and other facilities for youth in the area in order to buy their silence while the garbage trucks kept roaring into Meethotamulla. Joint Opposition stalwart Dinesh Gunawardena who was Urban Development Minister at the time and who is today shouting himself hoarse on the tragedy should not have been unaware of what was going on. Instead of heaping blame on the government JO members should extend their support to the President and Prime Minister to find ways to overcome the problem. Having parliament debates is not going to help, but can only exacerbate the public anger towards politicians of all hues.

A bull in a china shop

While President Maithripala Sirisena has declared garbage disposal an essential service there is at least one member of the Joint Opposition who is hell bent on acting in defiance of this order. Prasanna Ranatunga is his name. Television showed the burly MP in the forefront of a mass protest to prevent garbage trucks arriving in the Dompe area. Not only that, Ranatunga was behaving in a violent manner threatening the truck drivers using foul language. Later, speaking at a meeting to commemorate his late father Reggie Ranatunga, the Gampaha District parliamentarian was raving and ranting at the police telling the crowd the next time the police arrive they should get together and assault the men in khaki and he would take the lead in this endeavour. This, while a gazette is out under the President’s hand to arrest those disrupting garbage disposal. What is more, it is also a direct challenge to the IGP.