29 June, 2022


Meethotamulla: Casualty Of A Dysfunctional Model

By Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

The dreadful tragedy of Meethotamulla has shocked even those who usually go about minding their own business, to spin around and look back at what could possibly have led to such needless waste of human lives. In a country that faced frequent terrorist violence in its main streets for decades and yet was resilient, Meethotamulla struck like a sharp knife in the collective gut of the country’s conscience. It’s a wound that’s refusing to heal until each of us finds answers.

Conversations with cab drivers, social media posts, speak to this need.  Today, my cabbie told me that several thousand people come in to Colombo each day, and if they could bring their lunch in their own lunch box like he did, rather than wrapped in paper, tens of thousands of plastic papers could be eliminated from the city’s dustbins. Many people are trying to find ways of helping with the problem of garbage, taking individual responsibility for this enormous tragedy and resolving to do whatever they can to prevent a recurrence. 

This incident however, apart from inflicting a stab of conscience, has also shone a light on the conditions that some of our citizens have been condemned to live under.  My husband and I were living in Washington DC when Hurricane Katrina hit the US. People there were shocked out of their complacence when they saw the devastation that was visited on the residents of Louisiana. The Washington Post, I think it was, ran a story with a caption which read “America has just discovered a new species. The poor.” Their plight became known to the rest of the country only when a natural disaster laid bare the extreme neglect of those parts of the United States.

What was laid bare in Meethotamulla last week was no natural disaster.

Sri Lanka certainly discovered that while most of us don’t live under ideal conditions, some of us have been forced to live next to ‘extreme garbage’ of unconscionable proportions. Reminiscent of 19th century London where Cholera spread through the city, killing its poor due to contaminated water, 21st century Sri Lanka, a country that reached middle income status, saw its city dwellers buried under a pile of garbage as big as a mountain, in a disaster waiting to happen. A man-made disaster, if ever there was one. Shirani Kaushalya, a friend, wrote angrily on my Facebook that “the country has gone to the dumpster”. I thought I couldn’t have put it better.

While it is admirable that we examine our own responsibility in contributing to this disaster, I was compelled to look for a systemic reason. How could a sitting government let this happen? I have heard all the arguments on television. It was the previous government, it was a 30 year problem, it was implementation, it was corruption, and even that it was the people of Meethotamulla who were to blame for their own deaths.

Through this screeching cacophony of blame, guilt and regret, I saw a huge gap appear like a black hole, where the silence was deafening. I asked myself, where is the voice of the official Opposition, the TNA? 

It may be a regional party with just 16 seats but the President, Prime Minister and the Speaker in their collective wisdom had appointed or recognized the TNA as the Parliamentary Opposition, to be the ones to take care of our interests and to hold the Government to account. Not a peep out of them thus far, in the face of this tragedy. I wondered if they would be quite as silent if such a disaster took place in the region that they represent. I don’t think so.

This behavior which would be glaringly anomalous in any decent democracy, indicates to me where at least one facet of the problem lies.  It is an open secret that the TNA is not in fact in opposition to the Government, but is a partner. Appointing it the Opposition was a politically expedient act at the expense of the people, who in a parliamentary democracy, have the right to expect serious, adequate and legitimate representation on both sides of the House.

This week, the TNA proved that they are not interested in the rest of the country, outside of the region they represent, and don’t have the decency, even for appearances sake, to voice the distress of the people at the enormous failure of the Government. By appointing a small regional party as the main Opposition with its resultant privileges in Parliament such as speaking time and of media coverage, the President and Prime Minister have defrauded the people. For this cynical act of self-interest, the people have paid with their lives.

The Government has closed off the vital feedback loop which any organization, any system, needs as a means of initiating corrective action, to sound the alarm, to question and challenge the decisions of the Government. When the various Local Government elections were postponed time and again, did the official Opposition represent our fears that when normal services provided by those bodies come to a grinding halt, it would pose a danger to the residents of those areas?

Every type of ’flu seems to be spreading across the country. Obviously, garbage is a problem in more than one area. Who would take responsibility? When the Municipal Councils and Pradesheeya Sabhas don’t perform their duties, who ensures they are taken to task? Where are the health and safety inspectors? Are there any?

I see a pattern developing in the working of this Government. The President steps in, after disaster has struck. He uses his executive power to order officials not to continue their misdeeds, such as no more dumping garbage in Meethotamulla.  What prevents him from acting before lives are lost? He was elected President with executive powers to engage them fully and robustly, to serve the people, not to use them sparingly like herbs in mild curry.

I suggest it is at least in part because there is no proper Opposition to bring the issues to light and to put pressure on the Government as a whole, the President, the Prime Minister, the Cabinet of Ministers and the government MPs. The only dissenting voices we hear loudly are from those in the Joint Opposition. Yet, since the 51 of them are not recognized as the official Opposition, they don’t get enough time in Parliament to represent our dissent effectively.

I predict one, two, many more disasters in the future. The system is deeply flawed and skewed against the people. The “Unity” Government and the 16 member Opposition was paraded across the world as a new, innovative experiment in “good governance”, and Meethotamulla just proved that it was a spectacular failure. It has been shown up for the fraud it always was.

Since our voices are pretty much silenced in Parliament, it is only the media that mercifully acts as the guardians of our interest. Voicing my frustration through it, I offer my suggestion that the Government stop fooling the people with their newfangled structures of governance, and restore ‘normal’ democracy with its safeguards for the citizens. Recognize and appoint an Opposition and an Opposition Leader who care enough to represent the views of the people of the full length and breadth of this country, who will warn you when you are going wrong and challenge you to defend your policies.

Also, please get on with the local government elections before more “Unity” Government-made disasters bury more lives. 

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Latest comments

  • 9

    Why are you connecting the TNA with the Meethotamulla tragedy? Next thing you will do is blame the LTTE for the disaster!

    • 2

      Because TNA is the opposition in the parliament. That’s the connection.
      “Next thing you will do is blame the LTTE for the disaster!” No it won’t happen. We have MR for that. Sorry to disappoint you.

    • 4

      At least this time the Jayatillakes got it right. Both of them think outside the box.

      There was no garbage dump in Meethottamulla prior to Jan 9 2015.

      So, the Yahapalanaya mob should take full responsibility for the tragedy. And yes, throw in the TNA in there as well for not keeping an eye on the garbage matters of the chosen race.

      • 3

        Nimal Fernando: “There was no garbage dump in Meethottamulla prior to Jan 9 2015.”
        An absolute lie lie lie.

        MR and GR have said that they had planned to rail the garbage mountain to Puttalam limestone quarries. They made financial provisions for this.

  • 10

    What about the givernment that had time and money to build new airport, new harbour, new cricket stadiums, new jogging tracks but didn’t do anything about the garbage issue?

  • 9

    so sad to see this much shit. Shame shame shame.sanja.
    Coming to meethotamulla to accuse TNA. people they represent feel it painful.
    Why bring frustrations and self interest to meethotamulla too.
    What a suggestion, hold elections soon.
    Wish you didn’t write this.
    silence is better.

    • 9

      According to the author, the TNA has been silent on the Meethotamulla tragedy. However, I recollect the leader of opposition, Mr Sampanthan commenting on this tragedy and offering condolences to its victims. As I recollect, it was published in Daily Mirror, on the 17th of April under the caption: “Sampanthan extends deepest condolences – Meethotamulla Tragedy”. Still, I believe his comments on the government’s responsibility on this matter were mild and insufficient. Yet, the TNA appears to be trying to show some interest in what happens in the south of the country.

  • 8

    It is all the fault of the Tamils, as usual. Deep thinking. There is no opposition because we have had MR and his brothers as virtual dictators in the country. People were treated as garbage by them.

    Please do not score points from this tragedy. It is sad that the poor are the first to be affected by the rich lives that the corrupt lead.

    The Sinhalese poor have been misled all the while. All that you have to do is point the finger at the Tamils. Time that the Sinhalese face up to the fact that their leaders are corrupt, that they have cheated on the Sinhala poor by beating the communal and religious drums and done nothing for them. Sadly, the only left parties, the CP and the LSSP, that cared for the Sinhala poor have been destroyed.

  • 5

    Dear Sanja,
    You are sooo shocked ,are you, dear lady? Well why don’t you ask darling hubby who set up this dump in the first pace, so that all those pretty little walking paths for fat middle-class twits would be free of their own garbage?
    I believe it was in or about 2008, to give you a clue.

  • 3

    The statement on TNA’s behaviour is quite true. They are absolutely appalling. In contrast a group of youth in Batti, had a vigil a day after.
    I think it is mostly the Vellala mentality of TNA if anything, which may explain their behaviour.Frustrating.

    • 2


      “The statement on TNA’s behaviour is quite true.”

      Who was in charge of waste management?

      Was it Sambandan, Senathirajah, Sumanthiran, C V Wigneshwaran, ….. or Sivajilingam?

      Since early 2017 parts of South Sudan have been experiencing a famine.

      I think the TNA is responsible for it, and lot of other disasters natural or otherwise.

      In the last 20 years or so mysterious kidney disease has killed over 20,000 and made sick another 400,000. The average number of people killed is about 10 death a month.

      Could you get Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka to write a story about kidney disease and blame it on TNA.

      According to reports published in 2012 there were 40,000 child prostitutes actively selling sex.

      Could you get Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka to write a story about Child Sex Trade and blame it on TNA.


      There are so many other issues that Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka could blame the TNA.

  • 2

    sanja says “it is only the media that mercifully acts as the guardians of our interest”…she has inadvertently admitted under the current govt, media freedom is flourishing..thanks for that sanja….Rest assured ‘NORMAL DEMOCRACY’ was well and truly restored on and after 08.01.2015.
    Isn’t it ironical that sanja can express her views on a website that was banned by the previous govt. she questions, “How could a sitting government let this happen?’.Perhaps she should rephrase the question as ” what had the previous govt in it’s 10yrs of rule and an all powerful president with brother Gota as the head of UDA done to implement a successful waste management system?
    It was the previous Govt that batton charged and tear gassed the Meethotamulla residants when they protested against the dumping of garbage (want to restore normal democracy you say?)…but than again she probably may have been in washngton DC, so not read about it.

  • 4

    Pardon my ignorance. Wasn’t this garbage dump in existence long before Yahapaalayana? I do agree an opposition in Parliament should represent the entire nation and not an ethnic community and their woes but wasn’t that deal struck by the UNP and their Unity government? It seems absurd that a group with 51 MPs is impotent.

    As for pointing fingers, with apologies to the unverifiable quote attributed to Marie Antoinette “if there is no bread, let them eat cake”, should it read “if there is no Kavun, let them eat Kunu” this New Year Season?

    As the Island Editorial said so correctly, politicians are jumping on each other and blaming each other. So what is new? As Mrs. Koch used to sing after a few shots at Queen’s House in the 1970s “Sinhalaya Modaya Kavun Kanna Yodaya”. This got the Sinhala staff irate but mostly they were jealous of her wonderful husband the Best smartest OA my grandfather had; and he was volunteer officer of the Royal Ceylon Airforce. So the only thing they tried to use to get him in the bad books was to use what she sang at the staff Quarters at Queen’s House. My Grandfather did not fall for it; he just cautioned the gentleman but he was not going to get rid of one of the best smart civil servants because of something silly his wife did after a few shots.

    So keep blaming each other. UNP is as good as SLFP. But people deserve the leaders they elect.

    This garbage dump was not written about by anyone here on CT before this no? What is with this sudden discovery of a serious problem that has existed for a long time? Aiyo Sirisena! Colombata Kiri Apita Kekiri?

    Love peace and happiness.

  • 4


    Funny you would highlight Washington post’s story that read “America has just discovered a new species. The poor.”

    Remember the MR/GR/BR hurricane (tsunami?) in Sri Lanka that helped not discover but rather “generate a new species. The ULTRA RICH!”

    And that mutated species (from a 7-eleven gas-pump attendant fauna) came at a cost of making the entirety of the rest of Sri Lanka “destitute for generations to come”!

    As for the Meethotamulla tragedy, do you not see the MR regime, and GR in particular, as having the prime responsibility for the hasty and ill-conceived decision to dump ‘extreme garbage’ of unconscionable proportions, all in the name of Beautifying Colombo?!

    Make-up sure seems a rather compulsive attraction for the clan, even the extended one. Perhaps it is on that count that you would rather keep yourself busy whitewashing the most despicable stinking trash the country has ever produced and now relegated back to and heaped at Weeraketiya?

  • 0

    Sanja has raised the important question “…… where is the voice of the official Opposition…….. ?”

    Sambanthan has issued the usual “condolences and our hearts are with the victims” stuff.

  • 2

    Who is the parliamentarian responsible for Kolonnawa ?

    Who is the Provincial council member responsible for Kolonnawa ?

    IS there a Municipality councillor responmsible for that area ?

    Why Ranil is not responsible for directing his ministers ?

    why Maithripala sirisena is not firing any one ?

    It is all puppets at the top are better than these paid people.

  • 0

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  • 1

    Sanja De Silva Jayatilleka

    FYI, Dayan Jayatilleka writes articles in the same manner that you write!

    Better methode to counte the comments!

    Blood is thicker than water.

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