Joint Opposition parliament group leader Dinesh Gunawardena has requested Speaker Karu Jayasuriya to summon an emergency session of parliament. The Speaker, on his part, says parliament can be summoned only at the instance of the Prime Minister. What parliament can achieve at this stage is indeed a moot point unless the JO is planning to use a parliament debate on Meethotamulla to attack the government and blame it for the tragedy.
A sample of what form a parliament debate would take was shown by Gunawardena himself when he told a media briefing on Wednesday that the government ought to be ashamed for offering a mere Rs. 100,000 as compensation on behalf of a victim. This, after Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake having assured that the sum mentioned by the MP was only an insurance payment and that full compensation would follow.
Anyway, the damage has been done and how a parliament debate is going to help the Meethotamulla victims is difficult to fathom. On the contrary, a slanging match over the whole affair will only increase the ire of an already incensed general public who attribute the tragedy to the negligence of politicians of all hues.
This, at a time the country witnessed the dignified presence of our national cricketers led by skipper Rangana Herath at the tragedy site, offering solace and material comfort to the victims. Hopefully this gesture on the part of our cricketers would spur an avalanche of largesse from others, particularly the corporate sector. It must be remembered that the Meethotamulla garbage mountain includes a not inconsiderable portion of factory waste and discards in addition to the garbage and litter from wealthy homes in the city. Hence they are all obliged to come to the assistance of the victims in whatever form.
Meanwhile garbage trucks keep roaming the streets of Colombo and elsewhere, aimlessly, trying to locate dumping grounds while still others are driven from pillar to post after being chased away by irate residents who would not want another Meethotamulla in their backyards. The blame game is also continuing apace, the latest addition to the babel of voices is that of Gamini Lokuge who was nowhere near the Meethotamulla garbage site following the tragedy, although as an MP representing the Colombo District he would have been a recipient of the manapeys of the Meethotamulla residents. Like fellow Colombo District MP Udaya Gammanpila he has emerged from the shadows to take aim at the government. The former UNP stalwart, now an abject follower of Mahinda Rajapaksa, is repeating the claim of Gammanpila that had Gota's Puttalam project being implemented the tragedy could have been averted.
He also reiterates Gammanpila's claim that funds were allocated in the 2015 budget for Gota's project but a change in government put paid to the matter. Lokuge who is based in an electorate where the garbage problem is most acute should have been among the first to urge the former Defence Secretary to get on with the project at the very outset and not in 2015 when the garbage problem had got out of hand. Credit is also sought to be given to Gotabhaya Rajapaksa for conditioning the military for such arduous tasks as the rescue mission in Meethotamulla when it is common knowledge that even in the pre-war days the army was well geared to handle emergency operations, as witnessed in the cyclone devastation in the East in 1977.
A parliament debate, called for by Dinesh G., no doubt will also centre on the merits of Gotabhaya, curtsy JO speakers, and on what might have been, had his projects and plans for the city being implemented, never mind if the Puttalam project was pigeon holed and funds allocated only in 2015.
Be that as it may, the directive issued by President Maithripala Sirisena for speedy resettlement of the victims of the Meethotamulla tragedy is to be welcomed. Steps have been taken to provide homes to 98 families as an initial measure and a programme has already been drawn up in this connection. It is not just homes and accommodation, the victims should be given assistance to rebuild their devastated lives. As television showed there are a large number of children among the displaced, whose education is going to suffer. Among these children there are those who had lost one or both parents. A special programme should be devised to seek out these children, lest they be left to their own devises and be exploited by unsavoury elements. The Ministry of Women and Childcare should move in the matter. It is laudable indeed that our national cricketers who visited the scene had taken cognizance of this factor and have pledged to support the children to rebuild their future. Others too should join in without leaving everything in the hands of the government. Private Television channels who give wide publicity to their charitable projects can take the lead in this connection. No one will begrudge them for the publicity they shower on themselves by assisting the victims of the Meethotamulla tragedy.