Meetotamulla garbage tragedy : Passing the buck continues | Sunday Observer

Meetotamulla garbage tragedy : Passing the buck continues

21 April, 2019
The Meethotamulla tragedy - a consequence of negligence and lethargy
The Meethotamulla tragedy - a consequence of negligence and lethargy

The blame game over the Meetotamulla tragedy was renewed last week when eight CMC officials were summoned before the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) for explanation on the Auditor General’s observations, in his special audit report on the garbage mound collapse.

In his March 2018 report the Auditor General faltered the CMC, Municipal Commissioner and other officials for the New Year day tragedy that killed 32 residents near the garbage mound. The report concluded, “The CMC officials should promptly find a long term solution to solid waste disposal giving emphasis to minimise and recycle the garbage generated within the municipality…and make it a profitable venture.”

The Auditor General faltered the CMC officials also for the loss to the government by having to pay compensation amounting to Rs. 600 million and to provide alternative dwellings for the victims adding that this was a tragedy that could have been avoided, given that experts had publicly cautioned about the looming danger.

Despite the AG’s verdict, the CMC Commissioner refused to be bound by the ruling.

In two separate letters addressed to the Colombo Mayor Rosie Senanayake, the Municipal Commissioner V.K.A. Anura last week sought her intervention to initiate a preliminary inquiry to find those responsible for the breaches stated in the audit report.

His action comes after two years into the tragic incident and one year into the special report by the Auditor General which raised grave shortcomings on the part of the Municipal authorities.

Chairman COPA, Lasantha Alagiyawanna MP giving reasons for COPAs delay to take up the AG’s Meetotamulla report said there were 800 public institutions and 30 special reports by the Auditor General lined up before the Public Accounts Committee. “It was no mean feat for the COPA to clear them,” he said.

The Municipal Commissioner in his letters to the Colombo Mayor stressed that a single person cannot be held accountable for the tragedy and the deaths at Meetotamulla.

He said the collection and dumping of garbage at Meetotamulla was done under the supervision of a team of Municipal Engineers who should own up if the collapse was due to any technical fault.

He also said the Municipal Treasurer was in charge of all the payments to private parties working at the dump site – collecting, dumping and managing the garbage at the site. The hiring of vehicles and payments for other work carried out at the site by private parties are made on the recommendation of a panel of five Engineers. He said the Municipal Commissioner will only sanction what is already recommended by the Engineers.

The Municipal Commissioner told the Sunday Observer that he explained this situation at the Public Accounts Committee and there will be a preliminary inquiry by the Mayor, insinuating that he will not be taking the blame for what had happened.

In March 2018, the Colombo Municipal Commissioner V.K.A. Anura was removed from his position by the then Governor K.C. Logeswaran. The decision followed a report by a Presidential Commission appointed to probe into the Meethotumulla tragedy comprising Justice Dr. Chandrasena Nanayakkara.

The Commission was appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena on April 26, 2017. The Municipal Commissioner was reinstated by Governor Hemakumara Nanayakkara in August 2018, after the staff of the CMC including the Engineers staged a protest against his removal.

COPA Chairman Lasantha Alagiyawanna said it would not be easy for the senior CMC officials to wash their hands or pass the ball to the next court. However, the particular COPA meeting which raised this matter was chaired by MP Udaya Gammanpila in the absence of MP Alagiyawanna. MP Gammanpila could not be reached for comment as he was overseas.

The CMC officials including the Mayor was summoned before the COPA the previous week for questioning on the discrepancies and the loss to the State. The Municipal Commissioner on being contacted said the COPA meeting was part of a regular happening and it was ‘nothing special’, despite the gravity of what has come out.

In the report, among other things, the Auditor General has faltered the CMC for;

- Lacking a sustainable plan and policy to manage solid waste collected in the CMC area

- Despite funds being allocated to buy new vehicles, CMC continues to hire vehicles for dump site work incurring heavy expenditure

- Ignoring Supreme Court rulings, existing laws and rules and management rules on waste management

- Non publication and implementation of the report by the Japanese Government on the Metotamulla dump tragedy and recommendations therein

The Commissioner said they did not agree with some of the conclusions in the Audit Report and they conveyed this to the Public Accounts Committee.“For instance, we have in fact utilised budgetary allocations to buy new vehicles, contrary to what the Auditor General has observed.”

Yet, the Auditor General Gamini Wijesinghe said the CMC officials admitted that there were faults which needed rectifying. “Even after the tragedy, the CMC is dragging its feet and has not proposed any sustainable solution to the solid waste management problem in Colombo,” he said.

It has been revealed by the audit that 45% of CMC’s operational income is spent on the management of solid waste within Colombo. The AG has also faltered the CMC decision to dump garbage at the new 28 acre site – a scenic wetland at Kerawalapitiya.