By Emil van der Poorten –
I have, often, been accused of pillorying the current government and not giving it time to live up to the promises made at the time it was seeking to be elected to run this country.
Well, here’s an acknowledgement of the efforts of one MP (and Cabinet Minister) Mr. Haleem who appears to have begun living up to at least one of his promises.
I am submitting three photographs with this piece which I hope the editors will publish together with the script because I believe in the old adage about “a picture speaking a thousand words!”
Just prior to the last general election in January 2015 the “locals,” myself included, organized a “Pocket meeting” to greet the UNP candidate for the area who was already a sitting member of the legislature and of cabinet rank. Mr. Haleem was, I was told, the nephew of an UNP stalwart of another generation, Mr.A.C.S. Hameed, the perhaps-unjustifiably pilloried Minister of Foreign Affairs in the J. R. Jayewardene cabinet whose initials – “A.C.S” – allegedly stood for All Countries Seen!”
In any event, the politico and his minions, I am sure, did not expect the active participation of the audience in the discussion that followed Minister Haleem’s speech. What we heard that afternoon could have been described as a litany of woes, stemming from lack of road access to a large number of families. Having encouraged the “locals” to voice their complaints to the candidate, it was an absolute pleasure to see them do so with only the level of constraint that kept the language used within the bounds of decency! Children having to walk three miles each way to kindergarten was but one of the complaints made, with lack of access to emergency medical assistance and other serious problems also being emphasized. I don’t think the candidate had any previous experience of that level of participation by local folk in what ended up being a forum for serious local issues, not, simply yet another mutual admiration society in action! It was crystal clear that the access issue needed to be addressed first and without further delay. Those of us who were somewhat skeptical about initiating and/or assisting this primary community action were being proved dead wrong! And I, for one, after more years than I care to recount as a community organizer and activist was, as that old saying goes, “pleased as Punch!”
Then a few weeks ago, we heard rumours of some government functionaries surveying the footpath and road that fell within the Poojapitiya Pradeshiya Sabha boundary. Three days ago, my contact from Harankahawa village, a retired Grama Niladhari, Mr. Navaratne told me that a piece of wheeled heavy equipment with a large grader blade had begun clearing the way from above. The day following, the beginnings of a roadway were cleared from the lower end, only a small stream requiring a bridge or culvert separating the two. I did have the opportunity of thanking the equipment operators and one of the local activists who’d worked so hard for this “miracle.” The icing on the cake for me was the fact that a good part of the new road was in fact cleared in the “bad old days before Hector Kobbekaduwa’s land reform” by the writer, as part of an agricultural development initiative that was stopped by a Kandyan without even a bean plant in his backyard to his credit! Historical vindication of even a minor nature which was reinforced as these old bones moved slowly up the “new” road a day prior to this piece being written!
All of the preceding notwithstanding, the completion of this work, inclusive of the length of road below where the bulldozer’s impact is seen, is going to be a huge task, requiring the cooperation of local people, the political apparatuses at several levels and the technical folk who have, ultimately, to deliver the goods. What is particularly pleasing, though, is that it has proved to poor, previously disenfranchised rural folk that, if they work together, they can move the proverbial mountains!
Another meeting of all the players, of necessity including the Ministerial entourage (!), will, it is anticipated, be necessary to keep the project on track and the wheels have already begun to turn in that respect.
What many of us politically-jaded folk have been heartened by is the fact that there are still politicians who listen and act on issues of this kind that are not particularly “glamourous.” There is also going to be a “down side” to this equation in that increased traffic on a rural road will be a necessary concomitant of the initiative. However, in the matter of the greater good of the greater number, all of that fades into insignificance. Minister Haleem, we thank you for your quiet and unobtrusive contribution to what has been achieved so far, something that succeeding governments could have achieved (and didn’t!) over nearly half a century. All of the congratulations and thanks aside, let me also convey the sentiments of those around here, that we won’t allow you off this particular hook until the road connecting Harankahawa in the Central Province meets Metibokka in the N. W. Province on Highway A10 and, most important thereafter, is maintained in a manner befitting a “main road” and not allowed to go to rack and ruin as so often happens with so many “political” roads!