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Sunday, 11 July 2010

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Colombo, a model city soon - Omar Kamil



I certainly deny the allegations levelled against me because those who make such allegations donít seem to be aware of what they are really talking.

After the dissolution of the Colombo Municipal Council by Western Province Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga and following a Commission of Inquiry which faulted the Council for certain irregularities President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed Omar Kamil as the Special Commissioner of the CMC. HE was one time Deputy Mayor and also a Councillor of the CMC.

The Sunday Observer interviewed him to get a clear picture of his position and also to learn his future plans for the Colombo city development.

Excerpts of the interview :

Q: You have been appointed the Special Commissioner for Colombo Municipal Council by the President. Under what circumstances have you been appointed to this post ?

A: Consequent to the dissolution of the Colombo Municipal Council, President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed me under the Municipal Council ordinance Special Commissioner. The power to make such appointment is vested with when a Municipal Council is dissolved.

Q: Earlier you were appointed the Chief City Administrator of the Colombo Municipal Council. Now you have been appointed the Special Commissioner. What is the difference between these two appointments ?

A: As you know the City Chief Administrator appointment was made by the President under the Emergency regulations. The President made the appointment under emergency regulations, because at that time the Council remained suspended.

Q: Is there any difference between your exercise of power as Chief City Administrator and as the Special Commissioner ?

A: The Post of Chief Administrator exists while the Council remains suspended. So there is the Mayor and the Council but they are suspended.

The Council and the Mayor stand dissolved when the powers of the Municipal Council are vested with the Special Commissioner.

Q: Your appointment as the Special Commissioner was made after the Council was dissolved by the Chief Minister of the Western Province on charges of irregularities. Would you explain this situation ?

A: Justice Chandradasa Nanayakkara was appointed to inquire into the charges levelled against the Mayor and the Council by the then Chief Minister, Reginald Cooray.

At that inquiry the Council was found guilty of six out of the nine charges. Subsequently another commission was appointed under Justice Wimalachandra to look into the findings of the first Commission.

Q: How long the Colombo Municipal Council could be run under a Special Commissioner ?

A: There is no restriction on time. The Commissioner can function until the end of the term of the Council. There is no time stipulation.

Q: Will there be early elections for the Colombo Municipal Council ?

A: There is no need to have an election only for this Council. Elections are due for all the Councils after April 2011. So the CMC elections will be held along with the elections for all Local government bodies once their term expires in April 2011.

Q: A section of politicians alleges that you cannot hold your portfolio as you are also responsible for the irregularities in the Council. Is there any truth behind these allegations?

A: I certainly deny the allegations levelled against me because those who make such allegations don't seem to be aware of what they are really talking. Commissions of Inquiry by the Judges were in respect of the period from June 2006 to October 2008.

That was the period the Council was functioning. My appointment made in July 2009 does not therefore come under the purview of the inquiry.

Q: What are your prospects of becoming the Mayoral candidate once the elections are held for the Council ?

A: As you know, I had been a Mayor once and the services I rendered to the city received the admiration of the voters. If the opportunity is afforded, certainly we will field a good team to ensure that we would win the votes of the city folk.

Q: If you are contesting the election it would be certainly under the UPFA ticket. What are the chances for the UPFA to secure victory ?

A: As you know the UPFA is in control of the Government, Parliament and the Provincial Councils. It is in the best interests of the voters in the city to vote for the UPFA to ensure continuity of outgoing programs.

Q: Already you have served the Colombo city for nine months as the Chief City Administrator. What could you do for the betterment of the city during this period ?

A: During the last nine months the CMC brought about many innovative changes in the city. The garbage collection and disposal has been largely improved. The surfacing of main roads and by-roads, Traffic movement, and street lighting have been improved. The Public Health and the medical facilities for the low income groups are being developed with the establishment of two new dispensaries, one at Modara and the other at new Bazaar. Two new dispensaries are under construction at Cotta Road, Borella and at the George R. de Silva Mawatha, Kotahena to be completed at the end of this year.

Another two projects one at Kirulapone and the other at St. Sebasthian are to be launched soon. We have constructed two Ayurvedic Dispensaries at Slave Island and at Hulftsdorf. Many of the drains have been improved. Floods-prone Public Library area, Bauddhaloka Mawatha and Bluemandhal Road too have been developed.

During the next couple of months the city folk will see a much more improved city. The development priorities would be implemented with the assistance of private sector. We have now improved the Vihara Maha Devi Park and two other parks at Slave Island and at Park Road. We will be putting up two new parks in low income areas in the city. We have taken steps to ensure that over 200 settlements would be improved and upgraded under Nagamu Puravara programme of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In the next few months all residents in the city from upper class to lower middle class will see an improved environment in their vicinity. This will certainly be a confidence vote for us when we go before the people.

Q: Despite all your efforts people are still complaining about garbage collection and disposal in the city ?

A: We have identified priority areas for regular garbage collection. We have also appointed an officer to oversee this job and two Police officers to ensure that the public adheres to our guidelines.

Police are today doing community service as well together with the Municipal Council officers.

We must be thankful to Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa who is also is very keen to ensure that garbage disposal and collection is done in a much more organised manner. Since last week the collection and disposal of garbage has improved. This will continue. We hope the public will extend their cooperation to facilitate the disposal of garbage.

Q: Are you getting enough support from the relevant authorities in the performance of your duties ?

A: I must place on record my appreciation to the Chief Minister Prasanna Ranatunga. He is giving his unstinted support. Governor Alavi Mowlana also extends his corporation to me. As for the top management and the middle level management of the Council I should say they all are responding favourably. The minor grades too perform their deliver well. They are doing their job well. Their productivity has been largely informed.

Q: You took over your new job after the Colombo Municipal Council was in a neglected situation for almost three years. How did you overcome the inefficiency in the Council?

A: As you know the Municipal Council is a political institution. It needs a strong political leadership to ensure the execution of work according to plan. In the past three years, this Council had a very weak political leadership. There was no proper direction from the top.

I was fortunate I had been a Mayor and a Councillor, and had known most of the officers as they have served during my period as Mayor. It helped me to bring the team together within a short time.

Our officials began to work in pursuit of certain targets. There was continuous monitoring from the top which ensured that we were able to reach the targets.

I must place on record this Council has an accomplished top and middle management and they also have a good work force. If you give them proper direction they would certainly deliver the goods!

Q: What is the strength of the CMC workforce ?

A: Although there is a fixed cadre of 12,000, we have only 8,000 workers. Most of the workers are now in their fifties. We have 4,000 vacancies in the Council. In another five years most of the labourers and overseers will reach their retirement age. Unless we take steps to recruit personnel now and train them we will have a very big problem in delivering our services.

Q: What are your immediate requirements?

A: The CMC is a multifaceted organisation with various types of services we provide to the people. Therefore, in my view, we need to recruit 500 labourers and 100 overseers soon and train them, to succeed those retiring in due course.

Q: What is your future vision for the Colombo city ?

A: We are looking at Colombo as a city that should attract investment and tourism. It should be economically and environmentally friendly city. We are working on that direction.

We are also working to attract the private sector for investment and also harness their expertise. This city belongs to the citizenry of the Colombo metropolis. They all have the responsibility in subscribing to the city development and maintenance.

Q: Do you have any vision of a dream city, that Colombo would one day be ?

A: We are looking at Colombo as a city which will have modern transport such as mono rail, automated traffic control systems, which is environmentally friendly and where people could transact their business in the shortest possible time without let or hindrance.

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