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A Nation on the Rise Halted in its stride

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Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was a true visionary with a love for our heritage Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was a true visionary with a love for our heritage (AFP)

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa earned the respect and admiration of the citizens of this country with his leadership and excellent management skills that resulted in ending a 30-year- long-war. As impressive are his post-war efforts to transform Colombo and other cities through development of infrastructure under the ten -year Urban Development Framework (UDF).

In a short period of 5 years, Colombo has blossomed into a garden city equal to any in the developed world.  Many are the achievements, which has made those of us living in Colombo, proud to call it home. The paved road network and an improved traffic lights system has made driving far less a hassle than it used to be.

His efforts to restore dilapidated colonial buildings to its former glory and beyond, especially in converting them into recreational facilities, are a true tribute to our heritage. Neglected by successive governments, these buildings languished in a sorry state for decades and in some cases were decayed almost to a point of no return. However, through Rajapaksa’s vision, combined with careful planning, execution and personal supervision along with the support of the Sri Lanka Army, these buildings have got a new lease of life today and bring pleasure to all. 

Buildings such as the Dutch Hospital precinct, Race Course, Independence Arcade are only some of those that have sprung to life already, whilst many are yet under reconstruction in the Fort area.  We only wonder at the fate of these on-going constructions, given the antipathy of the present government to anything that has been initiated by a Rajapaksa.

The myriad of walkways and cycling paths that circle not only Colombo, but suburbs of Kotte,  Nugegoda, Madiwela, Malabe, Boralesgamuwa and cities of Kandy, Gampaha etc., have created a health conscious society, offering access to anyone and everyone to free exercise, which was hitherto only available to someone who could afford a gym membership. The hundreds of people walking in the early hours or in the evenings in all these locations are a phenomenon which we never witnessed until a few years ago.

Some of these locations like Diyatha Uyana, not only facilitate exercise but also converts into a fair for goods and plants including entertainment for the ordinary person, who can easily afford a delightful evening of pleasure now. Such privileges of entertainment, hitherto exclusive to those who could afford a five star location, have been made available to everyone.

The upgrading of the waterways under the flood prevention scheme has ensured that Colombo is less susceptible to floods.  This was done by clearing clogged canals, opening up water drainage systems and creating lakes. The citizens who lived in and around low lying areas and used to dread the monsoons are today free of the misery of going under water each time there is a heavy shower. 
The rehabilitation of Galle Fort was another effort which has converted the once neglected precinct into a great tourist attraction which we can be
proud of.

Though prime Colombo city properties were cleared of shanty towns for development purposes, the dwellers were resettled in thousands of apartments in housing complexes across the city, uplifting their lifestyle and standards.  The Floating Market in Fort is a bustling locality for trade and entertainment.
Similarly many public locations such as markets/fairs (Pola), bus stations, railway stations, etc; within cities across the country, have been upgraded into clean and orderly facilities.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was a true visionary with a love for our heritage, people and country and executed his plans meticulously, driving the administration to deliver results with military precision. I have witnessed his personal supervision of the rehabilitation of several buildings with architects one day was amazed to see him giving instructions to provide support to a young tree which was growing a bit crooked at Independence Square - his eye for detail was an asset.
However, he was also criticized for having used the military cadre for the nation building efforts and this is cited as a reason why the rank and file of military voted against former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Whilst I will not debate on the merits or de-merits of using the military for this noble task of nation building, I believe he did it with the best of intentions. What is clear is that he maintained the highest of standards in all his endeavors.  He set a benchmark.  It is left to be seen if anyone could emulate him. 

Today, I see neglect already seeping in – lackluster supervision, dead leaves collecting on walkways, garbage floating, canals getting clogged etc.  It is only in Sri Lanka that we see everything and anything politicized to the extent that good work done by one government is not continued or sustained by a new government. I sincerely hope and pray this would not be the case where Urban Development is concerned.

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