Shoddy building, flouting rules

Island Editorials

Megapolis Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka estimated after last week’s collapse of the seven-storey reception hall in Wellawatte that there are 10,000 illegally built homes and offices in Colombo and said that action would be taken to demolish them. Fortunately there was no wedding taking place in the hall at the time of the tragedy. The toll of dead and injured would have been much higher if that was the case. The minister promising action now is well and good. But the big question is why had nothing been done all this time? It is common knowledge that corruption is widespread within the Colombo Municipal Council and the Urban Development Authority and a myriads of building rules and regulations are routinely bent if the law breaker “sees to the trouble” of the officials tasked to enforce them. Money changes hands and illegal constructions are dime a dozen in the capital city with astronomical land prices fuelling a perhaps unsustainable property boom.

Cartoon Googled and added by TWImage result for shoddy building cartoons

It wasn’t long ago that the landslide at the Meetotamulla garbage dump occurred and we said in this space that it was a tragedy waiting to happen. There was an outpouring of public sympathy for the victims. Compensation and alternative accommodation was pledged and there has been some progress in alleviating the distress although all that was promised has not yet been delivered. But has any action against those responsible for the failures that led to the tragedy? As far as the public is aware, nothing worth talking about has happened and nobody has resigned or been sacked. The concerned officials and politicians remain ensconced in their position, paid by taxpayer funds with neither blame nor punishment apportioned. The passage of time dims public memories and nobody but the victims will remember what they have gone through and indeed are going through. A viable solution to Colombo’s garbage problem has not yet been found and it is anybody’s guess whether we are on the way to finding that solution.

The government must urgently appoint an independent authority with the necessary muscle to inquire into public complaints of infringement of building and planning rules and regulations as construction proceeds. It is useless allowing the UDA and the CMC to go into complaints of their own failures. Neither of these authorities has demonstrated the necessary will nor the ability to tackle these matters as the poison is too often within themselves. Neighbors are well aware of the flouting of building and planning requirements as constructions proceed but often get no redress to their complaints from the concerned authorities. If an ombudsman to whom they can go is appointed, the situation can improve, we believe. This is a proposal that deserves serious consideration.

Clean or dirty energy?

In a signed article we publish today, Mr. Asoka Abeygunawardhana, the Chairman of the Strategic Enterprises Management Agency (SEMA) has questioned the Ceylon Electricity Board’s endeavor to build coal power stations to generate 2,700MW of electricity between 2018 and 2037. These plans have been submitted for approval of the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL). The SEMA Chairman says that “this strategy goes against the very foundation of the government’s development strategy for the country.” What the PUCSL will say about the proposals made is yet an open question. But the decision to scrap plans for the proposed Sampur power plant near Trincomalee, with the project to be built by India at an advanced stage, was significant. The fact that LNG is a far superior alternative to coal is a given. But Sri Lanka urgently needs additional generation capacity and the time that was lost by the decision not to go ahead with Sampur is vital. Yet that decision was taken nevertheless to go for an LNG plant instead likely to be located near Colombo.

It is now accepted fact that coal power, despite its price advantages, is a pollutant and no country in the developed world will build new coal power stations in the future. Countries like China and India, both coal producers unlike us, that had planned a large number of coal stations are gradually applying the brakes on those initiatives and will focus more on solar power and other forms or renewable energy in the future. The technology for solar power is becoming cheaper and there are other options as well. As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, we have little or no further potential of large hydroelectricity schemes. While a few mini-hydro schemes are possible, the potential for large schemes have been nearly exhausted. We are unlikely to go for nuclear power in the foreseeable future for many reasons but industries like Tokyo Cement are producing their own power using paddy husk. We are also producing some wind power, though yet on a relatively limited scale, but new projects are in the pipeline. The potential for dendro power, with gliricidia an easy to grow raw material given our climatic condition, exists.

There have been some hopeful signals about natural gas reserves in the Gulf of Mannar and if these are realized, that could be another savior. The major factor, of course, is whether with rising consumption we can get our power supply to match demand in the short term. Polluting coal and expensive fossil fuel generated electricity is the quick fix. We will be at risk of falling between these stools with climate changes we already see making us more prone to drought in the future. Although the Sampur coal station was aborted, there are allegations that a coal and diesel ‘Mafia’ exists in the CEB and these vested interests are not letting up on their attempts to drive us into dirty power. How true these allegations are we do not know, but they are being openly made by the Chairman of the Strategic Enterprise Management Agency of the government.