23 September, 2023


Towards Making Colombo A Clean, Capable & Chromatic City

By Nishthar Idroos

Nishthar Idroos

A Municipal Council or City Council as it’s known in the west is much more than a sewer management, road management or garbage management institution. Though most residents and members of the public remember and associate the council with such services and for good reason too. But this institution is much more, it has to be.

Doubtless, the above are very important tasks performed by the Colombo Municipal Council. Importantly the garbage. For more reasons than one not out of character though The Colombo Municipal Council, albeit all municipalities in the country seem stuck there. For seventy years we’ve been unable to provide a clean, efficient solution to the vexing problem. Public umbrage is understandable.

Unsuspecting people have got buried under a ton of garbage for no sin of their own. The only solace the next kith and kin had received is rhetoric and more rhetoric which Sri Lanka has in abundance like the garbage. Interestingly there is so much dregs, dross and debris within these institutions than out. Even a robust fumigation process will not help it seems to push the rot. In essence garbage out pales into insignificance compared to the garbage in. Sounds paradoxical isn’t it?

The idiomatic anatomy of these institutions sustained by pernicious politics and shrouded shadiness. This may have contributed to the attendant poor functionality. Malaise entrenched and not answering to known antidotes. From the stand point of The Colombo Municipal Council only a true visionary can surgically dissect, dispense medication and restore good health. Such mayoral candidates are rare. I never saw them in Sri Lanka.

Many came and went but no legacy. In all probability the same tradition will be studiously continued alas a quixotic dreamer descends. It’s high time someone suitable for the times takes wing. This is the kind of Mayor Colombo needs right now, especially in this critical period in Sri Lanka’s history. Is such a visionary out there? This is the 21st century and the buzz word is smart city. Someone who is smart, can think smart and retain smart talent.

To prevent this piece from getting sidetracked the writer is forced to be focused. “Garbage” in every sense of the word has exhausted energies, capacities and even resources of The Colombo Municipal Council big time. This could even be uncontroversially extended to other levels of government in the country.

It’s important the average voter gets reasonably educated on the issues before they cast their vote at the forthcoming local government election and to discern for themselves who amongst them has what it takes. Following qualities will be extremely necessary if they are to dispense services efficiently.

• Competence in managing the day-to-day affairs of the city.

• Financial, business and economic affairs acumen.

• Honesty and integrity in decision-making.

• Repugnance for using the office of mayor for self-enrichment.

• Fairness in dealing with the varied needs and concerns of citizens

• Ability and ambition to be a mayor for all citizens, irrespective of their cultural, racial or social backgrounds and political beliefs.

• Passion for fostering tolerance and amity among different communities.

• Vision for a city that provides future generations of citizens with prosperity, safety and happiness.

• Conviction that protecting and enhancing the environment is not optional but an absolute must

• Caring for disadvantaged groups of citizens.

It’s a fundamental duty of the Colombo Municipal Council and the mayor to represent the public and to consider the well-being and interests of the City. They have to develop and evaluate policies and programs of the City, determine and prioritize which services people need and how frequently. Role of the Mayor on the other hand is that of a Chief Executive Officer. Some may disagree with the writer on the designation but discerning individuals in this very responsible position have done wonders with this kind of approach in other countries though without such titles. This is what is known as leadership sans title.

Naheed Nenshi is name aspiring mayoral candidates and current mayors should get to know better. He was re-elected for a third term as Calgary’s mayor. Calgary is a famous city in Alberta Canada. He is the first Muslim mayor for the entire American continent. A charismatic and eloquent dude with progressive urban issues. When he won the third term he famously said “Today Calgary is a different place than it was yesterday. How many of our politicians leave alone mayors can say this? Honestly?

In the year 2014 Calgary’s Naheed Nenshi was named best mayor in the world by a U.K based research group. They said ‘He is an urban visionary’ It was doubtless a great accolade conferred on the bloke.  The jury recognized Nenshi’s handling of Calgary’s 2013 flood, as well as the attention he had gained from urban thinkers around North America. “He is an urban visionary who doesn’t neglect the nitty-gritty of local government,” the award citation said. “For many in North America and indeed Europe, Mayor Nenshi is a role model for decisive management, inclusivity and forward planning.”

Colombo increasingly becoming a top rated city in the world, definitely leading one in South Asia. Also by far the cleanest and most well-maintained city in the South Asian region. Its citizenry well educated mild and well mannered. Its greenery and well macadamized roads a definite plus. Many challenges still exist. Its pipeline network and sewer system needs renovation. Proper, efficient and technically superior waste disposal systems have to be adopted. Such a sophisticated culture has still proven elusive. On the flip side perhaps the only country in the world that suffered mortality as a result of a mountain of garbage. The many shades of garbage and its dubious immortalization.

Its high time Colombo thinks smart, I mean real smart. Forget bin Lorries, fetid dumpsters. In Qatar, they’re planning a system of pneumatic tubes to transport rubbish to a central location for processing. In South Korea, similarly, there are no rubbish trucks or bins in the street: all household waste sucked into vast underground network of tunnels and dispatched to waste-treatment centres where it is sorted and deodorized.

Smart city concept is fast catching up and they’re contributing in great measure to integrate information and communication technology to optimize efficiency. The rapid digitization process has aided the data collected from citizens and devices processed and analyzed to monitor such diverse issues like traffic, transportation systems, power plants, water supply networks, waste management etc.

The world is embracing the “green cities movement” striving to lessen their environmental impacts by reducing waste, expanding recycling, lowering emissions, increasing housing density while expanding open space, Singapore has made some great pioneering work in this area. Sustainable cities, urban sustainability, or eco-city is a city designed with consideration for social, economic, environmental impact, and resilient habitat for existing populations.

Colombo facing more challenges. The unprecedented proliferations of condominiums juxtaposed with glaring shanties. Just as much as there are irregularities there is the urgent need to draft new legislation to streamline the process and find quick solutions for human problems. Increasing population and unauthorized settlers another unresolved issue. Some of the land ill-legally occupied seem to have high commercial value but can be put into proper and just usage if transparent processes in terms of private/public collaborations are initiated.

In Toronto Canada the City made a meaningful decision to exploit in a transformational private/public collaboration of city building. Lands were tendered for sale incorporating a mandate to provide 30 per cent affordable ownership housing within the entire community – demonstrating that significant long-term value can be achieved through intentional disposition of public assets.

Traffic congestion can kill the system. Obviously the very large number of vehicles entering the city has created heavy congestion especially at peak hours. The writer has firsthand experience of this nightmare. Construction of flyovers can only be a part of the solution. There should be a resort to quantitative restrictions as well. These can take the form of wholesale bans of vehicles from certain areas of the city.

The issues at hand are huge and too important to be in the hands of the local government exclusively. The Central government through its Megapolis Ministry, the provincial governments and the unique talents from the general public must move forward. With the realization of the Port City there shouldn’t arise another glaring juxtaposition of inferior/superior processes, attention and resources.

Colombo is our city. Let’s make it cleaner, greener and smarter.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 0

    a well thought out article. But what is the use? You refer to a Muslim Mayor being named as the best mayor in the world. What about the three Muslim mayors we have had to my knowledge? How many Condominiums have come without approval or approval given in exchange of……….. What about Azad Sally a prominant deputy mayor .? How many international restaurants have come up with adequate parking space for customers? How many restaurants are causing traffic jams? eg. KFC at Hampden lane. How many condominiums are awaiting their COC. What action Has the CMC taken for violation of rules? We can go on listing.But what purpose does it serve?

  • 1

    Please forget smart city concepts. This is an idiotic city that has never been planned and never will.

    All of that is because of this scourge called macro planning without paying heed to micro planning.

    Look at the number of very busy 3 and 4 way junctions in Colombo 6 alone, where hardware businesses are allowed by the municipality, thus causing havoc with the traffic and leading to massive congestion. Junctions should never be bottlenecks but who cares if the right pockets are lined?

    ‘Who cares’ is the attitude that works and is eating up everything in this once lovely country.

    I am pretty confident mine is a letter destined to the wilderness…….

  • 2

    Colombo is a fantastic city, with an interesting history and a promising future.

    But there are many issues that need addressing and the longer they take, the harder it becomes. The root problem is that the CMC is preoccupied with existential problems and every effort and good intention is dissipated by the distracting politics.

    Things can only get better. But I see a long haul ahead. On the other hand, someone like Gota may bang heads together and make things happen.

    • 0

      Gota certainly had his uses. He was a ‘doer’ and a fantastic one had he worked for the right men.

      As for Colombo being a fantastic city, I hold back my comments. It is to me easily one of the most noise polluted cities in the developing world (developing for a VERY long time), and very soon with so many flyovers, it will simply choke in its own exhaust, as it has happened elsewhere.

      The MRT concept is the answer to our transport woes – slick, noiseless, clean. Thank God, we have an engineer as Minister handling Megapolis who will understand.

    • 0

      Besides for a Spring Koha perched on the Tree Tops, Colombo must be a fantastic city no doubt! Not for the ordinary man on the street though….

  • 0

    Once, when he saw the sentry workers loading the garbage truck, my six years old son said, garbage is gold, but leaders of our local councils still don’t know the value of it. If collected efficiently, and put to good use, garbage could be gold for the local councils. In Dubai, the municipality has engaged a private Indian owned company to collect reusable garbage from business establishments without any any payment, by selling the recycled materials, it gets the revenue, and that company employees over two thousands Indian workers.

  • 0

    Colombo had the reputation being the “Cleanest city in the world in the 40’s and 50’s. The POWER CRAZY Bandaranayakes spoilt this image. Banda with his band of BASIC politicians, followed by the TWO WIDOWERS spoilt the reputation that this city possessed.

  • 0

    If all cities are kept clean, capable and chromatic it will be easier to keep Colombo clean.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.