Thursday, 20 April 2017

Marikkar pours scorn on Govt, Rajapaksas


S.M. Marikkar, Colombo District MP and UNP organizer for Kolonnawa electorate, says the antagonism directed by victims of the Meethotamulla tragedy, towards politicians who visited the garbage dump site after it occurred was absolutely understandable considering the intense mental pressure they might be experiencing in its aftermath. They have lost their homes and loved ones , so their anger is natural.

In a chat with Ceylon Today, Marikkar, despite being an ardent supporter of the government, castigated it for being remiss in taking preemptive action to prevent such a calamity that took over 30 lives.

He accused the authorities of lacking the determination to address the mounting garbage crisis effectively. He said this lackadaisical attitude is what led to the crisis that came at the end of years of suffering by those people. Despite a general denunciation of the government however, he gave credit to the Prime Minister for the interest shown by him to explore a solution to this garbage crisis. "No other person or authority was as enthusiastic as the Prime Minister was to resolve the Meethotamulla issue. It is so unfortunate that the Prime Minister did not receive the desired assistance."

Excerpts of the interview :

?: Despite several protests led by you against the dumping of waste in Meethotamulla area following the fire that broke out in the garbage dump last month, the authorities did not seem to be paying attention to the people's appeals against dumping garbage in the area. Had the authorities taken precautions to prevent the garbage being dumped at Meethotamulla, could the tragedy have been averted?

A: Yes of course! The tragedy could have been averted had the authorities acted in a responsible manner. This is not a natural disaster but a man-made one. The gigantic trash mountain was not formed as a result of some natural process. It is assuredly a result of human activity. Natural disasters are hard to avert but man-made ones can be prevented if acted upon effectively.
I led many a protest to persuade the authorities to shift the garbage dump at Meethotamulla and to create a conducive and healthy living environment for the people who have been compelled to live under unhygienic and unpleasant conditions. I held talks with all the responsible authorities at all levels including the Colombo Municipal Council but to no avail.
The government should be held fully responsible for the catastrophe.

?: Have you had discussions with the Minister of Megapolis and Western Development with regard to ending the dumping of garbage in the Meethotamulla area?

A: Yes! I had discussions with all the authorities. I spoke to the Minister of Megapolis and Western Development in this regard. Needless to say, we could not solve the matter irrespective of how hard I tried.

?: When a proposal was mooted to shift the Meethotamulla garbage to a location in Ekala, Ja-Ela, the residents of the area opposed the idea of Colombo's garbage being brought to Ekala and the people's representatives too opposed it. In realistic and practical terms, no residents would agree to having their surroundings turned into a garbage dump. When the people and politicians turn the issue into something that cannot be solved, how can the government resolve it?

A: As you said, no one would like to give access for garbage to be dumped near their homes. People of Meethotamulla were protesting against the garbage being dumped in that area just as much as the people of Ja-Ela did. It is their right to insist on pleasant and health-safe living conditions. The government has no mandate to deprive them of that right. I do not blame the people for their protests against garbage being brought to their areas. It is up to the government to use a suitable, less populated location in which garbage can be dumped.
The government has failed to do so. I dare say the government has lacked the grit to take decisive action in this regard.

?: You declared that you would not hesitate to risk your political position to criticize the government if the government continues to take no notice of the Meethotamulla garbage dump matter. And being an ardent supporter of the Prime Minister, you also challenge him to shoulder the blame for not introducing a solution. Wouldn't that affect your political career?

A: I neither reprimanded the Prime Minister nor spoke ill of him. He is the only figure in the government who sincerely attempted to put an end to the Meethotamulla garbage matter. Although he was diligent in searching for a solution, he did not receive the support of other politicians and especially of the concerned authorities.

?: When you use the word 'government' isn't the Prime Minister include in it? When you slam the government, a portion of the blame goes to Prime Minister as well, because he's part of the leadership. Are you hence not blaming the Prime Minister indirectly?

A: I disagree. I think you too want to make it appear that I am critical of the Prime Minister. I should say that many would be delighted if I slam the Prime Minister and find fault with him. Yet, I must disappoint them by not talking ill of the PM. I reiterate that the Prime Minister spearheaded the move to explore a practical solution to the Meethotamulla garbage issue. The Prime Minister, I should say, has used his powers for the good of the people.

Some are trying to exploit this affair to tarnish the image of the Prime Minister. When the government is mentioned, the Prime Minister is doubtlessly included in it. But when I criticize the government I exclude the Prime Minister from it. I know of the effort he made to solve this matter. Hence, I cannot blame the Prime Minister for this disaster.

When it comes to my political career, of what use is it if I fail to provide solutions to the burning issues of the people who elected me as their representative to speak for them. They placed their faith in me and cast their valuable vote to elect me to Parliament.

?: What type of support did you receive from other politicians in the area in efforts to solve this crisis prior to the catastrophe?

Only your name was prominent in the agitation for a solution to this crisis.

A: Let alone the politicians, I could barely obtain the support of the public in resolving the garbage crisis in the area. I brought this matter to the attention of the public and the relevant authorities via media and speeches in Parliament. Although I have done what I should have, it is not practical for me to fight this matter alone.

I did not receive the support of other politicians in my efforts to get rid of the garbage mountain at Meethotamulla. I also am not aware of how interested or how hard the other politicians worked to resolve the crisis before tragedy struck.

?: Hirunika Premachandra, the other MP of the UNP for the Kolonnawa electorate seems to be missing during this crisis period. People who voted for her were disappointed that she failed to attend to their needs during the flood disaster last year. Similarly, she has not yet visited the affected people this time as well. Do you think she can survive in politics if she shrugs off her responsibilities to her voters?

A: Why don't you contact her and pose these questions direct to her. I cannot speak on her behalf and it is not proper for me to comment as it is up to people to decide if such politicians should be elected again.

?: It is reported that some politicians were hooted at when they tried entering the area. How is the people's response to you right now?

A: Needless to say, these people are going through a distressing time at the moment after having lost their homes and loved ones. It is natural for them to vent their anger publicly in such a manner. I do not criticize their behaviour as I can well feel the agony they are going through right now. They have the right to vent their anguish and rage at politicians as they are also responsible for the catastrophe.

?: Do you have plans to resettle the displaced people?

A: Yes. The resettlements should take place promptly. The people cannot be kept in camps or temporary shelters for an extended period. Their livelihoods and their lifestyles should be restored quickly. Discussions are currently under process with regard to the resettlement of these people. I can assure all concerned that a satisfying solution can be provided with regard to the resettlement of these people.

?: The People's Movement Against Kolonnawa Garbage Dump accuse the Colombo Municipal Council of earning whopping profits by dumping garbage in the Kolonnawa area. Do you have any evidence to support their allegation and weren't you aware of this corruption?

A: The movement has so censured the Colombo Municipal Council. We cannot completely ignore their accusation. That may be true because the corruption still goes on everywhere in the country.

?: Former Defence Secretary under whose purview the UDA operated, claims that the disaster could have been averted had they remained in power?

A: I strongly disagree. Although he was preoccupied with beautifying the City of Colombo, he never provided a solution to the garbage problem. It is during his tenure that the garbage mountain which was previously located at Bloemendhal was shifted to Meethotamulla. He too should take the blame for this disaster.

The Rajapaksas ruled the country for ten years. It is absurd if they state that if they were remained in power, the tragedy could have been averted.