Houses for the Poorest of the Poor? NO

By F. A. Rodrigo-Sathianathan
[Clayton, Victoria 3168

When I was in Sri Lanka last year, I observed apartments being built – high rise and skyscrapers – in the City of Colombo and its suburbs. These apartments are built for the “new rich” people over the last decade due to the mismanagement of the country by governments past and present. These apartments attract a monthly rental in excess of Rs. 50,000. 1 ask the question as to who can pay such high rents. The answer is simple: “only the rich”.

During the time of the late Pieter Keunemann, Minister of Housing in the SLFP/CP/LSSP Government an effort was made to build houses for the so-called lower class families who are actually the poor people in the country. In the early 80’s, houses comprising two to three rooms, were built by some property developers such as Keells Development, HPT Ltd., Vajira Houses, Finance companies, etc., to suit the middle class families in the country.

Since 50 percent of our people are living on the Samudhi , they cannot build their own houses and hence rely solely on the government to provide housing for them to live in peace and harmony.

The late President R. Premadasa made a huge effort to provide houses for the poorest of the poor in the country through his Gam Udawa Scheme, which was very successful. He may have had his own faults, but he was very concerned to improve the living conditions of the poor people of Sri Lanka. Prior to his becoming the President he (Mr. Premadasa) lived amongst the poor in the Colombo Central electorate in Kehelwatte. Tragically, after his death the building of houses for the poorest of the poor also died and now nobody in the Private Sector nor the Government is concerned about providing housing for the poorest of the poor.

Today, the people who live in shanties, particularly around Grandpass, Borella, Wanathamulla, Modera, Bloemendhal Road, Kotahena, Dehiwela and other suburbs of the City of Colombo, without proper sanitation (toilets) are suffering the most. During the rainy season the sanitation conditions are at their worst as a result of floods and stagnant water with the result being that these people and their innocent children suffer grave hardship and serious sickness. This problem has remained unresolved for the last few decades.

During the election campaigns all political parties make false promises to uplift the living conditions of these poor people. But once they come into power none of the governing parties take the slightest notice of the poorest of the poor and their living conditions but instead help themselves and their henchmen to line their pockets but never deliver the goods as promised during the election campaigns.

It will never ever be possible for a normal working middle class person such as a clerk, technician, paramedic, nurse, police officer, army officer, etc., to afford these ridiculous rents in the region of Rs. 50,000 which are the sort of rental prices that are being asked for the new apartments that are being built in and around the City of Colombo and its suburbs. The ever increasing and sky rocketing cost of living that is being imposed on the middle and lower class people has meant that there no longer is a middle class. They have been wiped out. In today’s Sri Lanka you are either very rich or very poor, with nothing in between.

Taxpayers money is being mismanaged, wasted and “poured down the drain” today and has been over the past decade due to corrupt and bad government with no accountability nor transparency to the citizens of the country by both the former President Chandrika Kumaratunga and the current President Mahinda Rajapakse. At a conservative estimate, I think that at least 300,000 modest houses could have been built to house the poor people of the country with the money that has been wasted.

The former President Chandrika Kumaratunga intended to build her official Presidential Palace for which purpose R. 800 million has already been spent to develop this property. It is pure arrogance and complete lack of thought or consideration for the plight of the country nor its people when she demands that she be supplied with 168 staff and 20 vehicles for herself as ex-President at taxpayers expense under the pretence of playing a meaningful role in the country’s public affairs after she retired. Surely, she could not be that forgetful about the fact that she is a major contributor to the current parlous state of affairs and shambles the country is in. Having brought the country down to its current state she still wants to “drain the remaining blood of the country” by demanding retirement perks and let the masses suffer in silence more than ever. Thankfully the Supreme Court in its recent judgment ruled that ex-President Chandrika Kumaratunga can only have 7 Police Officers including an ASP as. security.

Since assuming office, President Mahinda Rajapakse has appointed a Jumbo Cabinet of 90 Ministers. This is the world’s largest Ministerial Cabinet governing a very small country of approximately 25332 square miles. At least it will go down in history!!! This is really for the sake of clinging onto power. It is diabolical and incomprehensible to think that President Rajapakse on his recent visit to the United Nations took with him a delegation of nearly 50 close associates. Again, on a recent visit to China he took with him a delegation of nearly 200 plus close associates. The reason for this huge delegation was purportedly to promote business. Surely, does Sri Lanka which is such a small country need to send such a large delegation for the purpose.

After this overseas jaunt, President Rajapakse travelled to Barbados to watch the Cricket World Cup and took with him 10 or more of his “henchmen” The irony is that the LTTE took this opportunity to launch an air attack on Colombo. It is like “Nero was fiddling while Rome was burning”. The reality is the heedless and irresponsible behaviour of President Rajapakse in the midst of a serious crisis. When is this absolute waste of taxpayers money going to stop? Who is answerable to the masses? The -people of Sri Lanka are now fully aware that the vast majority of politicians are corrupt. They seek office only to line their pockets.

To a degree, we, the people of Sri Lanka are partly to blame for the problems in the country due to our complacency and lack of civil consciousness. We Sri Lankans have thought it best to confine ourselves to the duty of casting our vote and thereafter not being interested in demanding that the candidates whom we elected kept to their pre-election promises. Nobody seems to be taking to the streets to protest against Bribery, Corruption, Waste, Inefficiency and the plundering of national resources such as raping the forests illegally, etc.

The problem of corruption is a very serious matter in our country- It is time the public woke up to this reality and reacted to pressurise those in high office and authority to curb this cancerous menace. The leaders of all political parties are fully aware that the Sri Lankan public have short memories and are easily gullible to all election promises made at all election platforms.

Several Sri Lankans living in Australia who had generously contributed towards the rehabilitation of victims of the 2004 Tsunami disaster are extremely disappointed and angry that their generosity did not reach the needy. They had collected clothing, food items, medicines, building materials, beds, tents and also most importantly cash, but to their horror now find out that none of this aid reached the needy it was meant for. Many houses could have been built for the victims from money sent by Sri Lankans living not only in Australia but around Europe and the US as well.

It now appears that “dogs may bark, but the caravan rolls on”. This is the life in Sri Lanka and ultimately the poorest of the poor suffer the worst while the government or the private sector will never make the effort to build houses for the poorest of the poor but instead rape the country for all its worth. []

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