COLOMBO needs a new mayor. The contest to see who gets the coveted post has gathered the most amount of interest that the other 22 local government bodies together have not received. The stakes are high, especially for the United National Party (UNP) that has the last vestiges of its credibility riding on it.
Policies or manifestos being presented to the public at this time is common practice. Whether or not the people believe in the promises that are being so generously fed to them remains to be decided; but one thing is certain, the pledges will have an effect on the voters.
So far the United People’s Freedom Alliance (UPFA) candidate Milinda Moragoda seems to have lofty plans for Colombo. The government, likewise, insists that it wants to convert Colombo to be the most beautiful city in Asia by 2016. A more ambitious goal can hardly be envisioned when one looks at the canals, banal architecture, traffic snarls and pollution levels in the capital.
However one point that has been stressed by the ruling party candidate is that he would establish a special committee that will work together with all the different organisations under the central government as well as the provincial council so that it can deal with the legal and logistical problems facing the people.
This will range from the slum dwellers to the richest businesses in the capital. It will also take the step to encourage investment and businesses while reducing corruption and wastage of funds caused by the overlapping of functions of different State departments.
This is an element that is commonly seen across the board in Sri Lanka. The restructuring of the Board of Investment (BOI) can be taken as one example of how bringing a range of authorities together and reducing the footwork for an investor can increase business opportunities.
Although it is seen as a simple step, cutting bureaucratic red tape is one of the hardest things that Sri Lanka has had to struggle with consistently. The recent cement shortage could be cited as one of the many instances where the citizens of this country were left high and dry by the different government departments. The Cooperatives Ministry under whose purview the institution that imported the cement fell, did not consult the Sri Lanka Standards Institution on which company to source the cement from. Despite the fact that the Standards Institution has to approve all cement imports before they are released to the market, the Ministry decided to buy the cement from a company that had been blacklisted in Sri Lanka.
The current standoff between the Higher Education Ministry and the doctors is over the fact that although the Russian mother university of the private medical college in Malabe had been given approval by the Sri Lanka medical council to award degrees to local doctors; its substitute university in Malabe is not allowed to do the same. Here again the Education Ministry did not bother to consult the medical council of its decision.
Umpteen number of such cases can be cited here which confirm the point that government departments and organisations need to coordinate better. This also means that there must be better planning when allocating departments under ministries as well as an efficient network when new organisations are established.
This challenge goes beyond Colombo and will dictate Sri Lanka’s future chances of achieving prosperity.