The long overdue Local Government elections were held on February 10, 2018, during which the newly-formed Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) won, defeating the more established United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP).

In the city of Colombo, however, the right-leaning UNP received the most amount of votes, making candidate Rosy Senanayake the first female Mayor of Colombo. Roar Media caught up with Rosy Senanayake to talk to her about female representation, and  her plans for Colombo.

You campaigned on a platform of eradicating corruption and making Colombo a smart city—how do you plan to achieve these goals?

Eradicating corruption and making the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) administration efficient are central to my platform. There are various short-term and long-term measures that I hope to implement to achieve these goals. A key part of this is transparency and accountability. We will make use of technology wherever possible to help us achieve our goals. We have already identified several tangible initiatives and measures to start this endeavor. We hope to use various technologies to monitor and collate data which to help us identify and better deliver services and facilities in the city. In terms of smart city, we have formulated a plan to digitize several existing services and also introduce new facilities and services. These will range from digitizing property ownership details, online filing of applications for various approvals, apps for communications and dissemination of information, monitoring of garbage collection etc. and many, many more initiatives.

The former Women and Children’s Affairs Minister in conversation with Minister Eran Wickramaratne. Image Source: Rosy Senanayake Twitter

What do you mean by ‘smart city’?

This is a term used to describe a city that uses information and communication technologies to both improve and redefine the way various city-related services are delivered. This not only results in overall better service delivery, but improves efficiency through reductions in consumption of resources and reductions in costs and waste. According to a study conducted by Deloitte Consulting, there are now over 1,000 smart city projects ready or under construction globally, and about 500 of these are in small and big cities around China.

So our vision is to bring Colombo up to speed with this growing global trend and be a pioneer in the South Asian region. I believe the initiative to make Colombo a smart city will immensely help us in achieving our other campaign objective of making Colombo an efficient city. Projects already operational in cities around the world have shown that the efficiencies accumulated through smart technologies have resulted in quantum improvements in services, especially at ground level.

The issue of waste disposal came up strongly in the last year; how do you plan to educate the people on smarter waste disposal?

I think this is a very important issue which requires the cooperation of the public to tackle effectively. We are planning on an integrated communication strategy for the CMC and we will use these communication channels to educate the public on smarter, environmentally-friendly and more responsible garbage management and disposal. Whilst educating the public on smarter disposal, it is also important to educate and get the cooperation of the general public to reduce the quantity of garbage disposed. At the moment we have approximately 650MT of garbage collected daily within the city limits, of which approximately 300MT is mixed waste. This mixed waste cannot be disposed in an environmentally-friendly manner, and is causing a huge problem at the disposal end. This mixed waste is the result of residents of Colombo, and even those from outside, dumping garbage in public spaces. We have to educate the public to separate the waste, and the public and law enforcement authorities to be more vigilant, to put an end to the illegal dumping of waste.

We are presently formulating certain measures and initiatives and these will be put it into practice no sooner we take charge of the CMC administration. We also hope to formulate long-term plans to complement the existing plans for garbage disposal through waste to energy projects, separation techniques etc.

Flooding in areas in Colombo is a serious problem—what plans do you have to tackle that?

The flooding in Colombo is the result of the massive increase in buildings in the city, the dilapidated and inadequate storm water drainage infrastructure and the clogging of the canals and waterways. Some improvements have been made in the infrastructure in the last couple of years but this needs more investment and long-term solutions. We plan to work very closely with the central government to improve this infrastructure. We will also work closely with and coordinate with the other central agencies in taking care of the waterways and canals.

Ms. Senanayake attends as Chief Guest at the University of Colombo’s Faculty of Graduate Studies’ Women’s Day, Image Source: Rosy Senanayake Twitter

The city of Colombo, and the Western Province, were among the hardest hit by the dengue epidemic, how do you plan to control that?

Our target is zero dengue fatalities within the city. We have several plans to complement the existing work done by the CMC. We have studied the patterns and will be aggressively targeting potential dengue hotspots, raising awareness among the public, monitoring dengue control and incidents very closely, and overall keeping the city clean and free of potential dengue mosquito breeding spots. We hope to be proactive in our fight against dengue and I am confident that we can deliver the results.

You said you would have a three-month plan, a six-month plan, and then a one-year plan, and so on, for achieving goals; what are the key areas you will be tackling in the three-month plan?

In the first three months, we will be looking at making improvements in service delivery to our residents, addressing some pressing needs, setting up a mechanism for citizen participation in decision-making and monitoring CMC activities, tackling the ongoing garbage issues, and getting on top of the fight against dengue.

What prompted you to get involved in politics in the first place?

I have always had a passion for public service, and I feel politics is a means by which I can engage in this.

What changes did you want to make then?

I always felt that if we are genuine in our desire to serve the country and its people, we can make a huge difference in the lives of people. I still believe that and will showcase public service through our work in the CMC.

Rosy Senanayake at the Graduation Ceremony of the Oxford College of Business. Image Source: Rosy Senanayake Twitter

Where do you see Colombo now, and what is your vision for it in the next four years?

Colombo is our beloved city. While there is a lot we love about Colombo, there is a lot we can also do to improve Colombo. I have set out our vision in our manifesto and am determined to make it a reality. That is to make Colombo smart and efficient. I believe through these two pillars will flow many good things and everyone will see a transformed Colombo in the near future.

This is the first election that includes 25 percent quota for women. How well do you think that has impacted female representation at the local government?

Well, it has ensured 25% representation for women, except in a few councils where they are facing some practical difficulties. However, this does not mean that it has been a failure. We should all be happy that a significant change has been made and most councils will end up having close to 25% women members. I am happy that I was able to play my part in making this a reality.

You said in 2012 that while men are able to win through money and muscle power, women are able to stand up to them with ‘transparency, hard work and by building a relationship with the people’—in general, is this conduct you advocate, whether male or female?

Definitely. As politicians, we are servants of the public. This demands us to work hard, be transparent in our actions, and as servants of the public have an ongoing and continuous relationship with the public.

Cover: Former Deputy Chief-of-Staff at the Prime Minister’s office Rosy Senanayake addresses the press. Image Source: kajalmag.com