Honorable Speaker’s Speech at CityNet Congress

 

Honorable Prime Minister

Park Won-Soon, Mayor Seoul City and President, CityNet

 

Thank you for the kind invitation extended to me and it is indeed a pleasure to be present here this morning for the 2017 CityNet Congress.

 

Let me also extend my Congratulations and Best Wishes to CityNet as they celebrate their 30th Anniversary.  Your presence as a Net Work of local authorities is timely.   The world is going through several challenges with environmental destruction, climate change, food crisis’s, national disasters, spread of infectious diseases etc.  These are problems to be faced by City administration.   Looking back, I am happy to have been associated with the Colombo Municipality during 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 realized that the people elected me so convincingly because they needed a change.

 

A change from the rigid, hierarchical, bureaucratic form which was the traditional model of public administration to a performance oriented style driven by goals, vision and mission.

 

Together with the 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 organization which received the acceptance and recognition of not only the citizens but also the International Community.

 

Addressing this distinguished gathering of city leaders and delegates involved in the development of cities, let me share some of the innovative steps that my team took.

 

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 has denied or delayed the community of the services the 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 the history.

Local Government is the government closest to the people and deal 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.

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 recognized for their expertise, experience and reputation to contribute voluntarily to the development of the city.
  • Partnerships with the private sector, NGOs and GOs and 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 “Poster Buster” a powerful water sprayer to wash out all posters in the City.  This vehicle went out just after midnight and returned by dawn.
  • Partial privatization of Garbage Clearance for the first time which was later followed by many local government councils in the country.  City saw a marvelous improvement in cleanliness.
  • Setting up of an unauthorized 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 – were some of the other initiatives taken.

All of which contributed toward creating a new atmosphere to the Council.

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 as the cleanest city in South East Asia, Best Managed City in Asia and The City 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.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Society 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.  Councils which are structured and motivated to change and recognize the need for it, are those that will succeed and likely to be seen as useful, necessary and acceptable by the public.

The theme of this Congress “Our City, Our Future: Sharing Local Solutions for Sustainable Development” is indeed most relevant and I am confident that the future challenges cities face will be deliberated at length.

It is indeed a great honour and a privilege to have such a distinguished gathering of Mayors and foreign delegates and I wish all the visiting participants a very pleasant and memorable stay in Sri Lanka, the land of the smiling people, and in the City of Colombo.

I wish the deliberations all success.
Thank you

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