BATTLE FOR COLOMBO:”I work very closely with the Defence Secretary”- Milinda

Raisa Wickrematunge | Published on August 31, 2011 at 3:33 am

SLFP member Milinda Moragoda is a veteran in politics, having in the past held several Ministry portfolios. He

Milinda Moragoda

alongside M.J.M Muzzamil also handed in his nomination papers for the post of Mayor for Colombo’s Municipal Council this week. We carry below excerpts of an interview when we spoke with him at his office.

Q: How does it feel contesting from the UPFA for this post, considering you were once a UNP candidate? Would you say you are now in a position of strength?

A: I wouldn’t say a position of strength. In politics I never consider strength or weakness. In the general election I took a different approach and the President gave me an opportunity to contest the mayor’s post. He invited me through the SLFP because that is the biggest party in the coalition, so the candidate had to come from there. The President also noted that I have maintained a certain identity within the SLFP framework, which was what he wanted to see when it came to Colombo. Colombo city consists of all races, religions and classes. He felt my approach would be interesting in that context. When I approach an election I see it as reaching out to the people with my policies and philosophy and seeing whether they’re acceptable or not. If the people do not find it acceptable then I’ll accept that decision.

I see challenge as opportunity

Q: Colombo is seen as a UNP stronghold. How confident are you that the SLFP will be able to prevail in this area?

A: In my political and business career I have always seen every challenge as an opportunity. I’ve always stood for changes in political culture, in placing policies before ‘personalities’ who try to campaign on policies. I don’t believe in the idea that political parties are like tribes which is a commonly held view in Sri Lanka. In my own political party the idea was always to cross party lines.

Q: You were once a Cabinet Minister. Do you think this is a step down in your career?

Biggest disappointment

A: Interesting question. The biggest disappointment in serving Parliament or a Ministry is that what you do is not immediately felt by the people. That was always a source of frustration for me. Your electorate expects you to do things on their behalf and I don’t think I was able to fulfill that to some extent because of the nature of the system. MPs have very large districts, so you don’t have that connection. At a macro level you can be part of important policy making but you don’t see the immediate results of the decisions and initiatives you take.

It can be frustrating, starting something and moving on when it is not completed. The Municipality was traditionally meant for public service, not politics, and that’s how I see it, though there is a political element. So for me, being Mayor of Colombo cannot be called coming down from a position. Even if it is seen that way, I feel it is an opportunity to directly serve. I felt that this was something I would like to do because I think this is a place where you can make a difference. So this to me is a new challenge.

“I have a long association with the defence secretary”

Q: The Army and police have been increasingly involved in CMC related projects such as the beautification programme and prevention of dengue. In this sense, these projects come under the purview of the Defence Ministry. Are you willing to work under the Defence Secretary on projects?

A: I have had a long association with the Defence Secretary and we work very closely together. He also felt that it was time for the Municipality to come forward in its own right. He’s taken some bold decisions. Since Independence, he initiated a major change in the face of Colombo. He felt that it was important that he help create an institution to bring in the democratic aspect of it. The feeling was there would be a lot of synergy in this. So it is not a case of one person reporting to the other, it’s a case of working as a team. His feeling is this is also the right time to do this, because you have both elements to work together.

Q: So, you think this kind of synergy is a step in the right direction?

A: I think so. We are in a transition phase of our development. We have come out of a thirty year war and in this interim transition phase you see both elements the military and the democratic institutions.

Centre for excellence

Q: What are your plans for Colombo, should you be elected?

A: Our aim is to make Colombo a ‘centre of excellence’. We’ll have a 100 day and then a medium term programme. People are skeptical of politicians and promises so it needs to be realistic to ensure that promises can be delivered.

One topic we deal with is a city with competent and professional administration. We are also going to facilitate access to information, (legislation at a local council level) which citizens would have the right to know. Maybe that could be a model- if it works it would be interesting to try it out elsewhere. Another theme is to make Colombo a regional economic hub. A beautiful city. A safe city. Though the police clearly are not under the Municipality it would have to work with law enforcement. A healthy, Dengue-free city. An efficient city, because that’s what people expect from a metropolis. A better bus system. A city which provides shelter for all since the majority of the city is poor. Finally, a city which practices equal rights for all, respecting all citizens regardless of race, religion or class. What we’re having are practical initiatives not just philosophy. This is one platform which is available to all, but will focus on different aspects depending on which segments we are dealing in.

Q: What plans do you have to improve the drainage system?

A: Already there is a difference in the past year and half. We had an old system dating back to the Dutch period. Initially things were really bad, but the Secretary of Defence has since cleaned it up. Our idea is to work with multilateral institutions to improve water drainage and sewerage. The sewerage system in Colombo was not meant for more than 100,000 people. Today, we have 650,000 people living in Colombo so you can see the stress on the system. Above all it’s important to have very good relations with the central government. Our intention is to work with them on these initiatives. The situation has improved but you need to go beyond that and that’s what we intend to do.

Q: Colombo city is one of those with the highest number of Dengue cases. What do you plan to do to solve the problem?

A: I think the Municipality has a very important role, but society is equally important. All of us have to be mobilized; not only the government but also civil society. It has to be a joint effort. Sometimes, the wealthier houses are more irresponsible than the poorer areas. So I think through the Municipal Council, moral authority and leadership has to be given to mobilize society as a whole.

Shanty dwellers

Q: What about the shanty-dwellers? Would they have to relocate?

A: When it comes to urban poor, there has been a concern that there are going to be major relocations. That is nonsense really, because a city is an integrated society and economy. If you take one component and dump it somewhere else, there will be a hole in the economic structure as well. The idea is to change the paradigm by creating new housing. We are still trying to find a model apartment because Sri Lankans are not used to living in apartments. So lots of experiments are being done and I think we’ll find a solution. People are worried about new things. Part of the challenge we face is to make people comfortable. Change does not necessarily mean your way of life or income sources will also dry up.

People in some areas have named their dwellings in different ways. Some say they are living in Somaliawatte. When you create new community with different facilities, hopefully they won’t have to say they are living in a place called Somaliawatte.

On raising taxes

Q: Do you think the Municipal Council has enough funds right now to carry out projects? Would you raise rates and taxes once you became Mayor?

A: There is no thinking of raising rates and taxes. You have to look at other sources. One could look at going to multilateral organizations, with the support of the central government. Getting funding from the Government itself — someone has to fight for funding for the city. Municipal bonds have never been issued here, though they have been elsewhere. For that you need competent and professional administration, because if you release bonds irresponsibly, there will be a bigger mess. Then there are private- public partnerships. There are many ways of earning money outside of taxes, because the Municipal Council has a lot of land and facilities.

Taken from The Sunday Leader

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BATTLE FOR COLOMBO:”I work very closely with the Defence Secretary”- Milinda

SLFP member Milinda Moragoda is a veteran in politics, having in the past held several Ministry portfolios. He Milinda Moragoda alongside M.J.M Muzzamil also handed in his ...