Bonn's Lord Mayor Ashok Sridharan is largely satisfied with the behavior Bonn residents during the corona crisis. He also considers the city to be well positioned in terms of medical care, as he told our editorial staff in an interview.
The City of Bonn is facing a huge challenge during the corona crisis. Helge Matthiesen, Lisa Inhoffen and Rüdiger Franz spoke with Lord Mayor Ashok Sridharan.
Mr. Sridharan, have you actually been tested?
Ashok Sridharan: No. I haven't had any symptoms, nor have I had any direct contact with a person who has the corona virus. So I have not had to be tested.
Is there a shortage of protective clothing and disinfectants at the public health department and for the city administration in general?
Sridharan: We don't have any acute shortages, but we are also dependent on receiving additional supplies, which are organized at federal level via the district governments. We are also making efforts to obtain supplies ourselves. And we are kindly provided with information from the public as to where supplies can be bought. We then follow up very quickly.
How do you rate the behavior of Bonn residents after the 'ban on contact' was issued?
Sridharan: I would like to stress that a ‘ban on contact’ is not a curfew. It is less drastic. I have the impression that the vast majority of Bonners comply with the guidelines. Those whom I meet and where I notice that they have not yet fully comprehended the situation, I speak to this and am met with great understanding.
Does this mean that the city doesn't have to work so much with coercive means, but instead manages well through conversation and explaining?
Sridharan: No, we have certainly punished offenders. There are people who do not comply. So far we have written a total of 90 fines for violations.
Will it be possible to process these fines within a reasonable time?
Sridharan: I think so. Günter Dick, the head of the city's public order department, has given assurances that the city's public order field staff will take immediate action and that the office will process the cases very promptly. If there are any shortfalls, we will be able to provide additional staff. 27 fine notices will have already been sent out by the weekend.
Are there any rules at city level that extend beyond what the federal government has ordered?
Sridharan: Not initially, but the federal government has set April 19 as the end date for the directives. Our general directives based on these regulations are open-ended. But we can change or repeal them overnight. We are paying close attention to how the situation develops. In the event that the situation were to ease for several days and the federal government were to withdraw its decrees, the city would be able to withdraw its orders just as quickly.As head of the corona crisis team, city director Wolfgang Fuchs has explicitly encouraged citizens to report violations to the city.
Is it good for the social climate to encourage this?
Sridharan: There are people who turn to us because they are worried about further spread of the virus. The people who have contacted us so far, we take them seriously, and then consider how we should proceed. Personally, I do not want and will not call for people to observe others to report violations. I believe that we can only get through this crisis together and with a high degree of mutual respect, solidarity and also trust.
So this was not discussed and agreed upon by you?
Sridharan: The General-Anzeiger interviewed Mr. Fuchs about this, I was not there. In this respect, it could not have been agreed upon with me. Of course, afterwards I told Mr. Fuchs that this was not my position.
Why is it actually the city director and not the mayor who heads the crisis team?
Sridharan: That is precisely what is stipulated in a communication issued at federal level on crisis management. This states that the Lord Mayor has overall political responsibility for the project and that the crisis team is subordinate to him. The crisis team is headed by the city director and operates separately from the Lord Mayor, so that the crisis team and the Lord Mayor can work independently of each other when necessary. Nonetheless, in the current situation, I consider it a given to participate in practically all meetings of the crisis unit.
How satisfied are you with the city crisis management? Looking from the outside in, one sometimes has the impression that it takes awhile until the information is crystal clear?
Sridharan: I do not share that impression. We as a city and I personally communicate every day. We hold press conferences at least twice a week and also answer a lot of inquiries that come in through the social media. There are also videos that are available online regularly, for example on our homepage bonn.de. According to the feedback I receive, people feel well informed and are also grateful for it.However, the plan to close the hotels hit a big stumbling block. It was put back on the shelf after some hoteliers protested against a complete closure.
Did the City of Bonn act hastily in announcing the closure?
Sridharan: I don't think that the City of Bonn acted rashly. Other cities had already initiated a closure, but not all of them. I can well understand the hoteliers who would like to see a closure ordered by the authorities. However, in one municipality in NRW, where the hotels have been completely closed, there is now a complaint filed by a hotelier against the closure. It is an urgent case and we want to wait for the outcome. But apart from that, we have to look into how we can help the hotel businesses financially. I am in talks with the German Hotel and Restaurant Association on this.Let's look ahead. This whole thing is going to cost the municipality a lot of money. One can't say for sure how much it will cost at the moment, because one doesn't know how long it will last.
Is there a projection?
Sridharan: There is not yet a projection. We can only say something about the measures that we have already initiated. We are one of the first municipalities to announce that we will not collect parental fees for the day care centers and open all-day schools as long as the crisis lasts. That is around EUR 2.5 million for April, half of which will be taken from the budget, with the approval of the city council.
How do you help companies and organizations that are currently in a difficult situation?
Sridharan: The first steps were, for example, the solidarity fund for the independent cultural scene or the suspension of parental contributions for kindergartens and open all-day schools as well as the waiving of leases and special user fees for outdoor spaces at restaurants. I am confident that extensive measures will also be adopted by the federal government, which will then help local businesses. But here, too, we can all show solidarity by, for example, doing our shopping online at Bonn stores and ordering and picking up or having our food delivered in Bonn's restaurants.
Many companies are currently switching to reduced working hours. Is an excess of resources also an issue in the city administration?
Sridharan: We try to place employees who are not so busy at the moment in departments that are extremely busy right now. I don't just mean the fire department, ambulance services, nursing staff and diagnostic center. Think also of all those who support colleagues on the front line. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all those, including the volunteers and the people who are there for the general public and the sick during the crisis, for their great work.
So you have the support you want from the administration and beyond?
Sridharan: An unqualified yes.Are there things where you say: Here we have to find solutions soon? Sridharan: I can tell you that every day we are confronted with questions for which we need a quick solution. These include very personal needs with which people approach us. Just one example is the many letters from expectant parents who did not want to accept that fathers are no longer allowed to be present at the birth. In a conversation with a lead midwife, I advocated that fathers should be able to be present at the birth. I was present at the birth of our three sons and can understand the feelings of those affected very well. With my administration and many volunteers I am there for the people of Bonn, seven days a week.
Ashok-Alexander Sridharan was born in Bonn in 1965. He is married and the father of three sons, the family lives in Röttgen. In 2015, the CDU politician was elected in the first round of voting as successor to Jürgen Nimptsch (SPD), who did not run for re-election. Sridharan will run again in the local elections in September. Before becoming mayor of Bonn, the lawyer was first alderman and treasurer of the city of Königswinter.
(Parts of the interview have been condensed in the translated form.)