One`s gorge rises at the absurd goings-on at the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC). The city administration has become as nauseating as those open garbage trucks doing the rounds during daytime with obnoxious juices trickling down. The CMC was never run?like all other political institutions?to the satisfaction of the public. It has always been reeking of many things including corruption and inefficiency but today its stench is stronger than ever. The blame for the CMC stink should be apportioned to the UNP and the SLFP.
Mayor Mohamed Imtiyaz and his deputy S. Rajendran stay put despite their defeat in last week`s no confidence vote, which was passed with a majority of 21 votes. They question the validity of the vote on the grounds that it had been passed after the suspension of the sessions.
CMC Councillor and SLFP Mayoral candidate Vasudeva Nanayakkara has said that according to the local government traditions the mayor and the deputy mayor don`t have to resign because of the vote at issue. He is right in that local government institutions are vested with so much of power that they can function even if their budgets get defeated. Undemocratic as such provisions may seem, they were designed to enable those grassroots institutions to function despite chaos which is likely to result from razor thin majorities under the present electoral system. That remedy has obviously gone the wrong way where the CMC is concerned. It is now up to the Western Province Chief Minister to step in to clear the mess. But, that is no easy task for him as he, too, is driven by political interests. He will have to do as his party says.
The genesis of the CMC turmoil is in an internal problem of the UNP, which led to the party`s nominations list for Colombo being tampered with at the eleventh hour to replace some of the names on it with new ones, at the last LG polls. The outcome was the rejection of the list on technical grounds. The UNP, determined to prevent the SLFP from bagging that premier council decided to back Imtiyaz`s independent group with a view to hijacking it subsequently so that some of those on the ill-fated list would be able to replace the Independents and enter the council through the backdoor.
Faithful UNP voters answered the party`s call and Imtiyaz`s group won. But, the UNP`s plan went awry as Imtiyaz reneged on his promise and sided with the SLFP. There were legal barriers as well, which made the UNP`s plan unfeasible but it turned a blind eye to them out of its desperation to keep the SLFPat bay.
The Independents demonstrated their stupidity in no small measure after joining forces with the SLFP. They painted the Town Hall fence blue. However, they had to repaint it green later because the colour change became too embarrassing for the powers that be.
Then a notorious narcotics dealer and his ruling party political master, who had masterminded the political horse-trading, which helped the government bag the CMC, became eminences grises. They put up massive cutouts promising a `clean city administration`! Little did they realise that the best way to make a contribution to cleansing the city administration or politics for that matter was for them to walk into prison voluntarily where they belong. Nothing has been heard of the drug baron of late and it is believed that he has fled the country to avoid arrest but his master continues to make an ass of himself wherever he goes.
One of the reasons that the ruling party councillors have given for their revolt against the Mayor and his deputy is that they had helped the UNP hold a public event where the government was severely criticised. Corruption, maladministration etc., are being cited as other reasons for moving the vote of no confidence but the real cause appears to be the alleged conflict of allegiance.
The loss of the CMC has been unbearable to the UNP, which is dependent on it to nurse several electorates in Colombo. If the government could use the municipality wisely without letting it be controlled by unsavoury elements to promote themselves, it would be able to eat into the UNP vote bank, especially among the urban poor who constitute over 55 per cent of the city population. The UNP will therefore not give up the CMC easily: It will go all out to regain its control or to render it uncontrollable thus denying the government an opportunity to use it to gain political mileage.
The CMC is too valuable for the government to let go of however problematic it may become. It is not likely to dissolve the council and go for a fresh election in spite of speculation in some quarters that it might be compelled to do so in the end. For, Colombo traditionally votes with the UNP, unless there is a massive wave of popular support for the SLFP like at the presidential election in 1994 and an electoral loss is the last thing the government needs at this juncture.
The government, the smart money says, will therefore opt for anything but an election. So, the crisis ridden CMC is likely to hobble along. Ratepayers will have to grin and bear it, however resentful they may be.