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Government Gazette

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 population.

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 happen.

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.

Local authority

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 local authority.

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 jurisdiction.

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 “matters for which provision may be made in the physical plan”.

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 “obligated to provide for the protection of natural amenities, the conservation of the natural environment, buildings of architectural and historic interest, and places of natural beauty”.

Comprehensive way

In these circumstances, physical planning is the comprehensive way to prepare the groundwork in an area, for development to happen in a sustainable manner.

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 established same.

The latter being the, “regulation, 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 area”.

The planning of land in areas which have particular attributes to promote “urban development”, 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 of 1982.

Grim reality

It too has however delegated its powers, functions, and duties related to planning, to the Local Authorities in it’s 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 locality.

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 regional disparity.

It must be reminded that the entirety of the public service exists to promote development activity for the benefit of the people. It’s 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 ground.

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 ‘Hotel without a chef’. 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.


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service

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