President Maithripala Sirisena has told the newspaper editors and the heads of the electronic media institutions last week that he would appoint a retired judge to investigate the causes that led to the Meethotamulla garbage tragedy, which left 32 people killed, eight missing and hundreds homeless.
However, the President did not say whether the retired judge would act as a one-man Presidential Commission or Court-of-Inquiry or as to the nature of the investigation.
According to the statements made by various politicians and officials, the Meethotamulla garbage crisis had been shrouded in highhandedness, lethargy and corruption, which has to be investigated.
Interestingly enough, reports say that corruption was rampant even in the supply of, what had now been revealed as substandard coffins for the burial of the victims.
Politicians, including Megapolis and Western Development Minister Patali Champika Ranawaka, have said the garbage dump was a goldmine for many people.
The statement implies corruption.The JVP Parliamentarians were more specific in pinpointing the corruption surrounding the garbage dump. JVP Parliamentarians Sunil Handunnetti, who is also the Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprise (COPE) and Vijitha Herath have said 108 companies had during the past several years, submitted proposals recycling the garbage, providing openings for the Government to earn revenue out of garbage, but nothing came out of these proposals because of corrupt politicians.
Mr. Handunnetti said a Sri Lankan by the name of Sudesh, who is operating a successful garbage recycling project in Canada had even obtained a license from the BOI during Mahinda Rajapaksa regime to recycle the plastic in this dump, but had abandoned the project after a politician in that Government had demanded 50 per cent of the shares as a bribe if the factory were to be allowed to operate without a hitch.
This is a specific allegation worth investigating by the retired judge. Apart from the allegation that about 108 companies that had abandoned projects aimed at clearing of Meethotamulla garbage dump all other allegations too have to be taken seriously because they are being levelled by none other than the Chairman of COPE, which is mandated to monitor the financial and institutional discipline of government institutions.
The question also remains as to why the JVP did not complain these matters to the FCID or the Bribery Commission (Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery and Corruption) until the disaster occurred. There had also been statements made by so many people after the disaster that politicians had obstructed the moves to clear the dump from Meethotamulla as they thrived on various garbage contracts.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, whose Government ignored even a court ruling to create this death trap in Meethotamulla, had said that his Government had planned to transport the garbage in this dump to Puttalam District to fill the craters created because of limestone excavations after obtaining a report from the World Bank, following which funds had also been allocated for the purpose, through the 2015 Budget, the last Budget his Government passed.
In spite of his Government’s highhandedness and shortsightedness in creating this mess, the allegation that the funds he had allocated for the clearance of the garbage dump had not been utilised for the purpose also worth investigating into.
If this allegation were to be proved, the culprits should be charged for the disaster. The JVP’s suggestion that those who ignored the threats posed by the garbage dump to the lives of the people must be charged with manslaughter is too worth consideration, since the UDA, according to Minister Champika Ranawaka, had pointed out several times during the last two years the danger in having such a huge garbage mountain near human habitats.
These are a few issues that have to be investigated if a mechanism is instituted for the purpose, as suggested by the President.
Despite the poor record of the present Government in keeping its promises on eradicating corruption, we hope that all those responsible for the deaths of more than thirty persons in Meethotamulla would be punished, after a thorough investigation through a proper mechanism.