Big milestone, big challenges for Colombo’s first female mayor | Sunday Observer

Big milestone, big challenges for Colombo’s first female mayor


Fact sheet

Sri Lanka’s Financial city
The city covers an area of 37 sq km
Over 550,000 inhabitants and 400,000 floating population
Housing Units 103,408
Slums and Others 13,928

Mayor Rosy Senanayake has her work cut out for her in the city of 700,000 people and she carries an additional burden to showcase that women in roles of political leadership can make a difference

The new councillors of the Colombo Municipal Council gathered up at the Town Hall on Thursday (22), to welcome Mayor elect Rosy Senanayake on the occasion of her assumption of duty.

She was accompanied to office by her elder daughter Thisakya, son Kanishka and husband Athula to see her hoist the national flag on the green lawn in front of the Town Hall and walk in to make a speech before signing in a giant book to mark her taking over the reins. The new Mayor elect Senanayake who is the first ever female Mayor of the 152 year old CMC has promised to take the office to a new level of efficiency.

But the task before her, to manage the affairs of the country’s number one city is no easy job. The first official meeting of the Council is to take place shortly, as planned at a committee room of the BMICH. This alone speaks volumes of the challenges ahead.

The Council which bloated from 53 to 119 members for this term beginning 2018 with the nine wards reporting ‘over-hang’ or additional members under the new electoral system, cannot be accommodated for regular meetings at Town Hall.

But this will be the least of Senanayake’s problems.

Garbage collection and waste management has become such an overarching problem in the teeming capital city that the CMC has already made announcements that it will request assistance from the Police and Military to help administer this all important aspect of its functions. Heaps of uncollected garbage are once again a common sight within the Colombo metropolis. The shadow of the Meetotamulla tragedy continues to linger. In April 2017, 24 people were killed when an explosion on a garbage mountain caused an avalanche of stinking waste, burying residents living at the bottom of the hill.

The city is also beset with other public health issues. The Western Province remains worst affected by the dengue epidemic. The Epidemiology Unit of the Ministry of Health reports 13,479 cases reported in the first three months of 2018 alone. More than 2,000 of these cases were reported from the Colombo District. Drinking water issues, sanitation and housing problems also persist in the city of nearly 700,000 residents and are subjects the CMC will have to contend with in its four year term.

Senior Journalist and women’s rights activist Seetha Ranjani welcomed the election of the first woman Colombo Mayor. “We must not forget that not long ago the women representation in local politics was extremely low. Years of agitation won women a 25% quota in local councils. In this backdrop, it was a great achievement to have a woman Mayor for the CMC,” she said.

Promises of the Senanayake Administration

  •  A digitalized, efficient CMC
  • Ten year plan for smart, empowered and green Colombo.
  • Beautification of the City with emphasis on Beira Lake
  • Streamlined garbage collection
  • Dengue management through smart Apps like ‘Epihack’
  • Zero dengue deaths by 2020
  • Council Homes for 50,000 low income families
  • Ease traffic congestion by new city bus service
  • Implement national language policy
  • Address substance abuse
  • Overhaul 50 year old sewage system
  • Multifaceted community centres
  • Town Hall meetings with constituents every three months
  • Implement the citizen’s charter to allow people to review CMC budget

Even today female representation in Parliament is as low as 4%. At Provincial Councils and local bodies this was less than 1% during the previous term. Ranjani cautioned however that if Senanayake’s administration continues with business as usual, this greatly celebrated achievement for women would yield nothing.

“Senanayake has a reputation as a good administrator. She has proven herself before as Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Malaysia and as a former Child Affairs State Minister. But, she must work with a vision to help women and especially, to ease the plight of those in the families of urban poor,” Ranjani insisted.

For the past 50 years the country’s largest local government council in the country has been governed by the UNP. At the February 10 election, the UNP won 60 seats out of 110, comfortably securing a controlling share of the CMC.

Along with 20 other local government bodies, the CMC’s term was to expire in October 2015. It was granted extensions twice up to June 2016. Thereafter, the CMC functioned under Municipal Commissioner V.K. Anura until fresh elections were held on February 10, 2018 under a new mixed electoral system.

CMC has a significant number of women councillors with the eight UNP female members elected.

In the run up to the election Senanayake, who was then Colombo’s first female Mayoral hopeful, said, she was looking forward to working with a large contingent of female members for the first time in Sri Lanka’s history, and believes women will prove they can take the Council to a new level of efficiency.

N.P. Rukmani, 59, has been working for CMC for the past 39 years. She has been a traffic warden in the city for over 20 years. “We are so happy about the fact that the new Mayor is a woman. She will be more understanding towards our issues. It is a great relief,” Rukmani told the Sunday Observer last week.

A mother of two grown up kids with families of their own, she raised her children as a single mother after the demise of her husband 18 years ago. “I was the sole bread winner of my family and I am used to this street life,” she said with a smile.

Rukmani will reach retirement age in 2019. “I hope our Mayor will be a mother to all of us and she will have time to listen to us,” she says. Rukmani hails from Kotadeniyaya, Divulapitiya and hopes to return to her village after retirement. “My children live there,” she said eagerly.

As a long-serving CMC worker, Rukmani will be entitled to a pension when she retires.

Given the city administration has been restored after over two years of virtual standstill, the new Mayor will have a lot to do to clear her path.

The Colombo elite have exacting standards about city management and their local government council has disappointed them every time.

But perhaps, the Senanayake administration’s real priority should be uplifting the living standards of the urban poor, the teeming underbelly of a metropolitan city that whisks her party to power in Colombo every single time.

Pix:Sarath Peiris


And what about the beggar problem within a kilometer of the Town Hall. and for that matter the whole of Colombo city