Collapsed groundwork for development - the way forward
LOCAL AUTHORITY: It must be acknowledged that the legal and
institutional system for development to happen, have been established in
Sri Lanka. Our legislators in Parliament, in different eras, have had
the wisdom to deliberate and enact the necessary legislation for same in
facilitating the development process.
However, over time for whatever reason, the system has not been put
into practice in the manner that it has been established. Consequently,
the typical precipitation has been the collapse in the groundwork for
development to happen.
It reflects the classic situation in our country when with time, each
layer of the system is overlaid by another.
The tendency has then been to neglect the integration of the layers,
leading to the gradual breakdown of the overall system. Its impact is
felt when its burdens erupt in volcanic style over a dominant share of
The basics of a development process mandates a continuum from
policy-making to planning and onwards to project implementation. In this
connection, it is noteworthy that Sri Lanka has excelled in policy
making, while being remarkably weak in its implementation.
On the other hand, it is the latter that ultimately converts jargon,
paperwork and numeracy, to investments, jobs, production and services,
on ground. Its enablement has comprised the legislative and
institutional systems that have been constructed to make development
It is then that its outcomes become tangible for the people to feel
the impact of policies and plans on ground. Otherwise, it becomes a
postmortem type evaluation in an Annual Report which has little meaning
to the common man.
The aforesaid requires the preparation on ground for the actual
siting of the development activity. This is a task that is inextricably
linked to the planning of land at the local level.
The latter is a duty empowered to the local authorities which have
been established by law. They presently number 330, consisting of 18
municipalities, 42 urban councils, and 270 pradeshiya sabhas. Each of
them cover mutually exclusive territories of land, which means that
every square inch of land in our country is administered by a separate
A Local Authority is authorised to prepare and implement a place -
centered physical plan by the integrated planning of the economic,
social, physical and environmental aspects of land in its area of
The plan is obligated to comply with the content and also with the
procedure to be followed in its preparation, as per the provisions in
the Town and Country Planning Ordinance No:13 of 1946 as amended by Act
No:49 of 2000.
The latter has mandated the âmatters for which provision may be made
in the physical planâ.
It includes the planning and regulation of the use of land and the
reservation of areas for specified purposes, such as zones for
residential, industries, commerce and trades, etc. It further includes,
the siting and construction of roads, and of works for the provision of
public utility services.
The latter being water supply, sewerage, surface water drainage, and
the disposal of refuse and waste material. In addition, the plan shall
include provision for lighting services and the development of land for
improving the amenities of its locality.
Also, the physical plan at the local level is âobligated to provide
for the protection of natural amenities, the conservation of the natural
environment, buildings of architectural and historic interest, and
places of natural beautyâ.
In these circumstances, physical planning is the comprehensive way to
prepare the groundwork in an area, for development to happen in a
Consequently, the physical plan is that which bonds a local authority
in the continuum with the provincial and national policy frameworks for
promoting development. It is also the spatial compact to carry out the
functions of the local authority as mandated by the laws which have
The latter being the, âregulation, control and administration of all
matters relating to the public health, public utility services and
public thoroughfares, and generally to protect and promote the comfort,
convenience and welfare of the people and the amenities of its areaâ.
The planning of land in areas which have particular attributes to
promote âurban developmentâ, has been made possible by a separate
legislative and institutional system. The latter comprises the Urban
Development Authority and its Law No:41 of 1978 as amended by Act No:4
It too has however delegated its powers, functions, and duties
related to planning, to the Local Authorities in itâs declared areas.
Consequently, the strategic institution to prepare the groundwork for
siting development activity on ground, comprise the Local Authority.
Accordingly, the empowerment of a Local Authority to comprehensively
plan the land in its spatial bounds, fits like a glove with its mandated
functions. This coupling provides the appropriate groundwork for the
siting of development activity arising from national and provincial
policies and its frameworks. Hence, it consists of a logical continuum
designed by the Legislature for development to happen on ground.
Thus, the efforts of the public and private agencies to promote
investments and to implement projects cannot be sustainable if they are
outside the mainstream of the aforesaid continuum.
Consequently, whether it be the BOI to develop its SEZs, or the
Mahaweli Authority to develop its irrigation - centered programmes, or
the Tourist Board to develop its resorts, these cannot happen
satisfactorily if they are disconnected with the physical plan of the
Local Authority. It will result in a vacuum that needs to be repaired.
A recent example has been the centre - driven post - tsunami
development which in retrospect finds that it should have in the first
place integrated with the Local Authority for mainstreaming in the
The departure of the aforesaid legal and institutional system to the
backwoods has greatly hampered the smooth implementation of development
activity. As previously mentioned, it has dislocated economic policy
from physical realities on ground.
Its consequence has been that physical infrastructure, transportation
and communication networks and other locally required essentials, have
become a drag on the realisation of what otherwise seems logically sound
economic policies. Its grim reality has been intolerable levels of
It must be reminded that the entirety of the public service exists to
promote development activity for the benefit of the people. Itâs
cornerstone in a democratic form of governance is the Legislature which
sanctions an enabling environment that will be conducive to facilitate
development to happen.
The outcome of same has been to construct the institutions, mobilise
human resources and authorise capital that will facilitate the smooth
implementation of development activity on ground. In such a context, its
overseeing has been tasked to a three - tiered system of governance at
the centre, province, and locally.
The present and future of our country deserves recovery from this
past neglect of the system established to make development happen on
More significantly, there are no Physical Planning cadres approved in
the Local Authorities to enable the formulation and execution of its
place - centred physical plans. The exceptions have been the
Municipalities of Colombo, Kotte, Dehiwela - Mt. Lavinia, and Negombo.
However, they too have been literally deprived as only two posts in
Colombo and one post in Dehiwela - Mt. Lavinia have been authorized to
be filled. One need not be a rocket - scientist, therefore conclude that
it amounts to one Planner for half million population.
The latter is similar to having a âHotel without a chefâ. The glimmer
of hope is the recent passing out of 50 Graduate Planners from the
University of Moratuwa.
They should be the prime target for engagement by the Local
Authorities in preparing their local physical plans for siting
development activity on ground.