Gotabhaya Rajapakse it was who transformed Colombo from being yet another South Asian city into one of the cleanest in the whole of Asia, a city which we can be proud of. My ‘Gama’ is Colombo, where I was born and bred and it is here that I have lived most of my life and I hence remember what my city was like through the years. Without fear of contradiction I can say it was never like this and we certainly owe it to one man for having made the difference and that is Gotabhaya Rajapakse and his leadership; never has Colombo been so clean and looked so good.
Many of us who have lived in this city had never seen certain buildings – particularly those around Independence Square, as they were always hidden from view by high walls; they are indeed great works of Architecture from Colonial times. Today a drive down old Bullers Road is a treat, for those buildings must be seen to be believed. Two Sri Lankan Burgher families now living in Australia visited here recently after many years and they were overjoyed at the sight of those buildings that have all been renovated and refurbished and they are indeed a treat to see; the conversion of Colonial buildings such a the old Dutch Hospital into a recreational and high class restaurant area and the conversion of the Grandstand at the racecourse into a shopping mall deserves special mention. Let us also not forget the transformation of the former Victoria Park, now the Vihara Maha Devi Park. We are or were on the way to becoming a ‘Garden City’ once again.
The many walkways and special cycling lanes also impressed me very much. The well paved roads and pavements and the one way road system is good but of course the heavy traffic is another issue. From the roads I must mention the canals, for the first time in living memory some of these clogged filth filled canals have been cleaned (if that be the word); when we were children there were ‘padda-boats’ and even bigger boats that transported goods through the canal, we only hope that we would see that happen again; the opening up of these waterways and drainage systems that have been neglected for years is worthy of our recognition and appreciation.
Another matter which needs to be mentioned is the clearance of the slums in Colombo. It is of course a sad human problem. I do believe that alternate accommodation has been provided but I learned recently that many who have been living in slums are renting the premises they have received as they now cannot pay water and electricity bills and returning to living in slums, a life they are used to! The new markets that have been established also deserves mention, the night markets are a tourist attraction and should grow in size and popularity in the years ahead.
How did Gotabhaya achieve this? It was obviously a team effort and he gave leadership which was invaluable for the success of the effort; the UDA subcontracted the cleaning of the roads and the disposal of waste and the all important supervision came from the Army and the Police. We must retain this system in our national interest. Let us establish an Urban Development Force and recruit those from the Services and the Police who would wish to be seconded to serve in such a force There is no question that what has been achieved has been because of GR and since he is being accused of some wrongdoing let us hope that he admits his mistakes and is pardoned because of the good he has done; withdraw his civic rights but appoint him as Director General of Cities Development, let us make use of such people of proven ability for we do not have many such in our country.