Former Mayor of Colombo Speaker Karu Jayasuriya has observed Councils which are structured and motivated to change and recognize the need for it are those that will succeed and are likely to be seen as useful, necessary and acceptable by the public.
He added that societies throughout the world will continue to change. They will be driven by changes in values, changes in technology, changes brought about by global trade and many other changes.
He was addressing the opening session of the 8th City Net Congress hosted by the Colombo Municipal Council.
During his address, sharing his experiences as former Mayor of Colombo, Karu Jayasuriya said: “Local Government is the Government closest to the people and deals with them from birth to death. It was Socrates who said: “Fields and trees teach me nothing, but the people in a city do.” Citizens’ participation in the affairs of the city is the only way to not only meet the needs of the city but also to gain the confidence and acceptance of the community.
The world is going through several challenges with environmental destruction, climate change, food crisises, national disasters, the spread of infectious diseases, etc. These are problems to be faced by the city’s administration.
Looking back, I am happy to have been associated with the Colombo Municipality from 1997-98 with a team of dedicated, honest and talented officers. This was the first time I entered the political arena. Having been one of those thoroughly involved in the growth of the private sector in this country, I soon realised that the people elected me so convincingly because they needed a change; a change from the rigid, hierarchical and bureaucratic form, which was the traditional model of public administration, to a performance-oriented style driven by goals, vision and mission.
Together with a team of committed and capable officials, we introduced many innovative and productive programs and succeeded in changing the council into a people-friendly and service-oriented organisation which received the acceptance and recognition of not only the citizens but also the international community.
The belief that democracy equated to elections had to change. Politics should be confined only to times of elections. In local democracy, wasteful interparty conflicts and political confrontation have denied or delayed the community of the services it deserved.
As Mayor, I invited members of the Opposition parties to be Chairmen of statutory Standing Committees so that all parties could pool their resources towards the common good of the community. We met weekly like a Cabinet. It was in effect power sharing and was a tremendous success.
In Sri Lanka, we are implementing the concept of working together with the Opposition parties at the national level, with the two major political parties forming a unity Government for the first time in history. In this context we initiated a number of programs. The mayor, together with all senior officials, met the people every Wednesday to attend to their problems. Thousands came in to solve their day-to-day problems.
The establishment of advisory committees inviting leading citizens who were recognised for their expertise, experience and reputation to contribute voluntarily to the development of the city was useful. Partnerships with the private sector, NGOs and GOs and the international community enabled us to improve many services such as health, roads and traffic, environment and beautification of the city. City Watch Committees consisting of civil leaders and professionals who would initiate and maintain regular dialogue with the council on matters pertaining to the city. Introduction of the vehicle ‘Poster Buster’, a powerful water sprayer to wash out all posters in the city went out just after midnight and returned by dawn. Partial privatisation of garbage clearance for the first time was later followed by many local government councils in the country. The city saw a marvelous improvement in cleanliness. They were the establishment of an unauthorised construction demolition unit. training of officials from the lowest rank, establishing an information desk. strengthening the housing and development committees to meet the needs of the slum dweller, 24-hour emergency service etc. The citizens saw a change and people felt they were wanted. They were kept informed of city plans at regular intervals.
City life generated itself in Colombo. ADB named Colombo the cleanest city in South East Asia, Best Managed City in Asia and the city’s mayor as the most innovative mayor in Asia. All this was possible due to political and official team play and commitment by all players. Colombo then became a model for many cities to follow.”