Man on eco-friendly mission


Sampath Rambukkanage

The eco-friendly battery powered car Sampath Rambukkanage uses in his campaign

By Sajitha Prematunge

Unlike candidates who flaunt coexistence like a banner, Sampath Rambukkanage, Sri Lanka Podujana Party (SLPP) candidate for Panmankada (East), ward of the Colombo Municipal Council, walks the walk. He is married to a Tamil woman. Of course, his political ideology about co-existence and equality had little to do with his falling head over heels for Nirmala. In fact, the racial difference didn’t bother him. Despite parental disapproval on both sides they tied the knot in 2000, when the war was at its height and negative sentiments among the Sinhala people against the Tamil minority was most pronounced.

"Our community is made up of Sinhala, Muslim and Tamil people. And we had to face a lot of hardships during the war," says Rambukkanage.

Rambukkanage took to politics in 1997. He was elected municipal council member for two terms. "I couldn’t win the following election because I didn’t have the money to throw around to buy votes. Poor folk like us didn’t get a chance under the previous electoral system". But he hopes to seize the advantages of the new ward system.

"There are only 2,800 households per seat. We don’t have to throw money at them, we just have to know our people and their problems." Rambukkanage opined that under the new system it was easy to identify problems at the community level. "There’s only one candidate representing a party and therefore no fights over preferential votes."

But what sets Rambukkanage apart is not his love life or politics, but his campaign. Never has he used a single poster or a scrap of plastic. Such credentials go a long way when political bigwigs throw around millions of rupees on plastic, posters, banners and billboards.

Even this time around Rambukkanage has not used plastic or any other material detrimental to the environment in his political campaign which also does not cause noise and visual pollution. He has vowed not to use loud speakers to convey his political message. "We were asked to take 10 people when we visit houses, which is what I intend to do," says Rambukkanage.

His eco-friendly campaign also includes a battery powered car donated by Enosol. Powered by a plug-in lithium-ion battery, the car can reach a 80 km per hour and cover 100 miles on a single charge. "Pollution in Colombo has reached critical levels," says Rambukkanage, justifying his decision to electrify his campaign. "I wanted to set an example to others."

The self-employment venture spearheaded by him, Lanka Hela Osu, is also commendable. "Most of the women in this community work all day as domestics to earn as little as Rs 500. We wanted to offer them more lucrative employment for a fewer number of hours," says Rambukkanage. A Rs 2,800,000 loan from the RDB Bank helped him launch the venture which currently employs approximately 80 women.

Rambukkanage, during his term as municipal council member was also able to build an office building for Grama Niladharis of Pamankada East, who used to work from home or temples or private establishments. The project was made possible by former minister Milinda Moragoda.

Rambukkanage received his education at St Thomas College, Kotte. His late father worked for the Ceylon Transport Board and his mother is a housewife. He cut his teeth in politics at the age of 28 as a UNP activist. Rambukkanage says his goal is serving society, and politics is his vessel. "I’m an ordinary person. We’re not rich enough to engage in social service on our own. For that we need connections," says Rambukkanage. And getting into politics was the best way he knew how to make those contacts. Rather than running behind politicians for help, Rambukkanage decided to become one. Seeing individuals like the late Prime Minister SWRD Bandaranaike and the late President Premadasa, no doubt, sparked in him a passion for politics.

After he became an Municipal Council member, the business community joined hands with him on an eco-friendly mission.

Some poor people ask for help," says Rambukkanage. But some are reluctant to do so despite economic oppression". With his guidance elderly citizens are provided with lunch free of charge except on Saturday, Sunday and Poya days.

Of the many matters on his list that requires immediate attention is the inability of residents of the area to produce deeds for the land to have their children admitted to popular schools in Colombo. "During Minister Sirisena Cooray’s time the squatter families were given cards, which they could produce when their children applied for school admission. But from 2018 the card is not accepted," says Rambukkanage. "We’re all human. There are other schools in the area, but every parent would want only the best school for their children".

Another item on the agenda is a sewer system for Colombo East. "Cinnamon Gardens has a sewer system, but we don’t," says Rambukkanage. Housing and development are also high on his list of priorities.

Pamankada East has 9,200 voters from 2,600 households and Rambukkanage’s ‘innocent’ campaign, as he refers to it, is aimed at uplifting their living standards. "There are enough leaders to develop the country. People have to elect individuals to local councils, who can develop their respective communities," says Rambukkanage.



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