Learn from the past to develop the future
Speech made by Investment Promotion Minister Navin Dissanayake at
the National Forum on City Cluster Economic Development on July 17 at
Galle Face Hotel.
When one talks about City Cluster Economic Development, one cannot
simply disregard the growth and development of such ancient cities like
Damascus in Syria, Athens in Greece, Rome in Italy, Pataliputra in
India, Jerusalem in Israel. If we take a serious look at these cities
and study their evolution from birth to the present day status, one
wonders as to how these cities stand as living monuments to man's
capacity for exquisite planning, his ambition to excel, and his
inexhaustible desire to improve on his creations.
I am not here to give you a lesson in ancient history, for I am not
qualified to do so, but I am more than willing and able to profess the
enormous potential that the present cities carry with them. In the
ancient world the administrative capital as well as the
financial/economic capital was the one and same. But in modern times it
is quite different.
Let's take for instance the three regions that Asian Development Bank
has chosen for study and analyses.
The Colombo city
They are Delhi metropolitan region in India, Metropolitan Dhaka and
Metropolitan Colombo. New Delhi is the admin capital of India, but her
commercial capital is Mumbai; Dhaka is the admin capital of Bangladesh,
but the commercial capital is Chittagong and Colombo enjoys the status
of being the commercial capital of Sri Lanka while its admin capital is
Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte. I have not studied in depth the development
and the current status of Delhi and Dhaka, but I possess a fair
knowledge of our own Colombo city and its suburbs.
What is the status of our city region? Can we be content with our
city's development pace, are we tackling the day-to-day problems of our
city, leave alone the large scale economic/socio progress of our city
and its dwellers? I am sure, some of these questions will be asked in
these sessions and you will ponder as to how these issues can be best
addressed in the overall context of the geopolitical picture. Delhi and
Dhaka are very large cities not only in terms of physical size, but also
in terms of their respective populations.
The very large populations that these two cities, Delhi and Dhaka
have are a major contributory factor to the challenges that these cities
have to grapple with. The city of Colombo pales in comparison to the
size of Delhi and Dhaka. But the problems of all three city-regions are
similar in nature; traffic congestion, air pollution, over-crowdedness,
slow pace at which infrastructure is developing, lack of jobs,
hooliganism and underground mafias; these in a sense are really not the
disease, but symptoms of a much deeper and more acute malady.
We try to treat the symptoms forgetting that the major illness does
not cure by suppressing one single symptom by way of a pill or a
band-aid. Therefore, it is imperative that we adopt a very
unconventional and unique approach. Looking at the whole and adopting a
macro approach to the resolution of the issues will definitely help us
in this venture. It is in this context that, what this program, cluster
city development initiative is doing, becomes very significant and
For instance, I ask you a very legitimate and bold question. Can you
be content with our present status of our city region? Everywhere you
look, you see, if not deposits of debris, at least room for improvement.
That is only in the sector of infrastructure needs. Some illegal
structure is coming up on a daily basis; some new dump yard is being
created for lack of organized and well-planned trash collection and
disposal, buildings are coming up with no proper provision for parking,
and callous indiscipline in traffic is causing havoc in the city. Let me
be very candid, I am not happy with this status, in fact, I am very
disappointed with the status quo.
Take for example the way the construction of buildings is taking
place in the city. Individual plans are approved by the authorities, but
there is no attempt to see if these buildings will fit into a cohesive
macro plan of the city. One has to look at the cities in the United
States, large or small.
Every street runs north-south and every avenue runs east-west and so
forth. Such meticulous planning is not only vital; it is the essential
ingredient in the recipe of meaningful development. So, taking into
consideration this entire scenario, how can you plan and achieve your
The Asian Development Bank has appointed Strategic Planning
Management Services Ltd. of Australia to lead a research project to
develop a framework to support innovative interventions for clustered
cities development in South Asian cities and three national partners
have been incorporated to undertake this venture. Our neighbours India
and Bangladesh are the other partners. I am sure the contribution that
this National Forum would render will be invaluable. I take this
opportunity of commending them for the tireless efforts they have lent
to this project.
You will remember, at the very outset of my address I mentioned the
city of Damascus as one of the ancient cities and considered to be among
the oldest continually inhabited metropolises. In fact, Damascus was one
of the 10 cities that formed the famous Decapolis of the ancient world.
The Decapolis was a group or a cluster of 10 cities on the eastern
frontier of the Roman Empire in Jordan, Palestine, and Syria. The 10
cities were not an official league or political unit, but they were
grouped together because of their language, culture, location, and
political status. The Decapolis cities were centers of Greek and Roman
culture. With the exception of Damascus, the "Region of the Decapolis"
was located in modern-day Jordan. And Damascus is still continuing as a
major metropolis in the world. It may not be a waste of time if you
examine the significant features of this city that made it last such a
In order to achieve the objectives of your project one must look at
those centres that lasted so long a time without any break. Surly, the
economic characteristics of the cities you have chosen for study, namely
Delhi, Dhaka and Colombo, and the study of major challenges in city
cluster development for sustainable urban development in this region
will help you find the solution that you seek to attain the objectives
of your program.
My Ministry plays a very vital role in the national development
effort. As a matter of fact, it is the single most important Ministry
that brings foreign investment to this country, by way of offering
various benefits and privileges to the investors to attract them to
invest. These investments will not only make profits for the investors,
but it will also introduce new ways and means of manufacturing, new
modes of marketing, and new avenues of employment. There is a very
compelling need for a program such as yours in the current context.