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Gyms & Jogging Tracks instead of Roads and Bridges

When a ferry capsized in Kinniya on November 23, Namal Rajapaksa, the Minister for Many Affairs, tweeted out his condolences.

Guess he believes that the families of the victims would be so honoured by his tweet; except that living in the far off Trincomalee District where internet availability is intermittent at best, it is doubtful his message would have been seen to be appreciated! Furthermore, in times of tragedy, except for the tech savvy groups who spend every living breathing moment on social media, twitter and such platforms are not the best method to tell victims how sorry you are.

But of course, if he was hoping to score brownie points amongst twiterati, he may have had some success.

The Kinniya tragedy should never have happened.

A bridge built in 1977 over the lagoon gave way under bad weather six years ago. Yet, neither public officials, nor politicians who crawl around at elections begging for votes, took notice.

Seven months ago, with the usual fanfare that accompanies any function in Sri Lanka, a foundation stone was laid to build a 120 metre bridge across the Kurunkancharni Lagoon in Kinniya. And, like most projects that serve our rural residents, hardly any progress was made after that. In the meantime, residents had no choice but to brave all weathers and travel by ferry. On the 23rd, when it capsized, there were 20 passengers including school children on board. Six of them drowned, including four children and twelve were hospitalised. Another child succumbed to injuries on November 28th.

In parliament, MP Rauf Hakeem asked questions, and a Samagi Janabalawegaya Parliamentarina too joined in asking about the delay in completing the bridge. Government Minister Johnston Fernando rose to defend his side, pointing out that during the Yahapalana government there had been little effort to build the bridge.

And, like every other situation, the government and the opposition played the blame game; a complete waste of public money used to pay parliamentarians for attending sittings, where all they do is trade insults at each other. And certainly, utterly useless to the families of the dead, the injured and all others who need a safe method to cross the lagoon. The same can be said of all other “development projects”, which are often left half complete.

The day after the tragedy President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared open the six-lane Bridge that spans the Kelani River and a roadway. Titled the Golden Gate Kalyani , and improvement of the New Kelani Bridge and built with Japanese aid and the latest technology, it’s a huge contrast from all other bridges and roadways in the country.

Urban residents enjoy well carpeted roadways, one that has expatriate Sri Lankans reporting back to friends about their smooth travel experiences. But the sad reality is that our villagers must still walk miles to get to a town, on gravel roads, sometimes strewn with rocks and boulders and braving wild animals and other dangers.

And then we have young Rajapaksa’s who mission is to dot the country with Gyms, jogging tracks and of course the latest, the sand dune tracks at the Port City. He seems to think our rural residents, most who plough the fields and walk miles to get to town to access even basic necessities, seriously need a work out. Hence the gyms and jogging tracks. Projects for which millions of rupees will be spent; monies that could be used to improve services across the country, and make life that much easier for low income earners and village folk.

Monies that should have been used to complete the bridge across that lagoon.

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