Before peace with the terrorists...

Despite gloom and doom predictions by Opposition prophets and at least two motions of no-confidence likely to be moved against the government—one on Mawanella and the other on the state of the economy—President Chandrika Kumaratunga has painted a rosy future ahead in her interview on TV and published in the state-controlled press yesterday.

All problems resulting from rising fuel prices and military expenditure to end before December, increased employment, boosting irrigation facilities and electricity, sales facilities for agricultural produce in rural areas are some of the pledges given by the president.

Cynics—as cynics are prone to do—will doubt such predictions. Some point out that hopes such as the end to problems caused by rising fuel prices by December are unfounded because of American President George Bush’s measures announced on Tuesday to meet the California power crisis. Boosting fuel production, announced by Bush would result in a barrel of oil rising to at least US $ 30, yesterday’s news reports said.

More assuring was her observation that the environment was conducive to Government-LTTE peace talks and that the government’s commitment to find a solution to the Tamil people’s political, social, economic and other problems necessitated a new constitution.

Indeed, there will be no dissenters about the need for a new constitution to achieve the said objectives, but the problem is, how to enact a new constitution. The only way to do it is known to one and all—getting the required two-third majority in parliament with the support of the United National Party and that is the stumbling block as it always had been. It will be much more difficult now for the UNP leader Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe. He adopted a comparatively softline unlike previous UNP leaders in the Opposition when working out a solution to the Tamil problem. But now with his own rank and file at his throat for not going for the PA’s jugular, co-operation with the PA will indeed be difficult.

We say for the umpteenth time that such bipartisan consensus between the two main parties is a fundamental requirement for any negotiating process to get going.

If a new constitution is going to be the magical Abracadabra for peace in this land, it is obvious that hard work and sacrifices have to be made for it. Peace between the PA and the UNP is essential before peace with the terrorists.

Where Mangala can help...

Devolution of power to the grassroot level, pundits of varied assortment say, is the answer to problems of administration and development. But the inimitable Mr. Mangala Samaraweera appears to be taking away power from such organisations to his own centralised Urban Development Authority.

The Colombo Municipal Council, is representative of the citizens of Colombo and going by the theory of devolution of power, its functions should be further diffused to municipal ward levels, but Mr. Samaraweera is gradually stripping Mayor Omar Kamil of most of his powers.

First it was smashing up of unauthorised structures, which is the job of the Mayor and then taking over the only worthwhile park in the City, Vihara Maha Devi park. Now it is reported that the UDA is going to take over distribution of water and approval of building plans in the Colombo Municipality. The reason given for all this is that Town Hall has not been doing its job well enough.

Certainly, if the City Fathers can’t do a job well, citizens will prefer to have it done by some other authority. But do citizens have a say once the panjandrums of the UDA take over?

Mr. Samaraweera’s UDA has made Galle Face Green look greener and is certainly an improvement on the brown stretch that it was some months ago. But the UDA minions are not letting citizens step on to the green and have surrounded the green with huge barricades. It could well be that the grass is too tender to be walked on by the masses but entry is not even permitted into the beach by the fierce guardians of the UDA!

While the UDA seems to be quite confident in performing the tasks of the Town Hall and taking over its functions, others doubt its competence. They point out to the state of the park opposite parliament which is under the UDA as well as the maintenance of the environs around the Diyawanna Oya lake.

The public will welcome the UDA taking over public services, which the local government bodies are incapable of handling, and leave alone the services these bodies can carry out.

Perhaps, the challenge for Mr. Mangala Samaraweera is to take over garbage clearance in some municipalities where garbage mounds are stinking to high heavens. He should start with the Sri Jayewardenepura Municipality, whose residents are holding their noses.

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