Highways, skyscrapers and the
Mahinda Rajapaksa's on-the-spot inspections of the material
conditions of our provinces and the observations made by him
during these visits should have proved eye-openers to many an
arm chair development planner. Unfortunately, this country is
not short of this species of development expert.
Whereas, it is only a close familiarity with the concrete
conditions of the countryside which will enable our development
experts to devise programmes which would bring empowerment and a
degree of immediate relief to the people living on the margins
of society, this is rarely the case.
The irony is that many of these 'experts' are safely
ensconced in their air conditioned offices and plush and
soporific conference rooms, writing out prescriptions for
'development' in smug complacency, while the so-called ordinary
people grimly engage with real life in the harsh terrain of our
provinces. It is high time our development experts, in both
public and private sectors or NGOs, adopt the methodology of
'lived-in' research to detect the bottle-necks to development in
the countryside rather than choose the easy way out of surveying
the struggles of the ordinary people from afar.
Sounding out his administration and UPFA MPs on what needs to
be done by way of development, President Rajapaksa said that
they need to go beyond the smoothly-carpeted roads of the
provinces, to the interior of the countryside to find out for
themselves what the people really need. This is a timely bit of
advice that needs to be urgently acted on. While the current
infrastructure development is most welcome, focusing on this
aspect of progress alone simply would not do. Roads, highways
and the like invariably open-up possibilities for the people but
this is no comprehensive sign that the development effort is
going extremely well.
Accordingly, there is no alternative to inspecting the real
life conditions of the people and this is a responsibility that
devolves mainly on the 'people's representatives' at the
national, provincial and local levels. Unfortunately, on this
score much is being left to be desired because, as the President
himself discovered, while on tour during the recent Provincial
Council polls, things are at sixes and sevens at the village
level in particular. It was left to the President to tell the
'people's representatives', how they need to go about resolving
the problems encountered by the ordinary people.
Apparently, the interest of the respective representatives,
in provincial and local governance, seems to be stopping at
'fighting' elections and going no further. This is the appalling
factual situation and, needless to say, one cannot expect
development in the real sense of the term to materialize in our
provinces or urban centres.
It satisfies the vanity of the politician in particular to
see skyscrapers, sprawling concrete jungles and the like
springing up before his eyes but these seemingly awesome
achievements do not necessarily translate into development. We
need to go well beyond these material attractions if
development, understood essentially as people's empowerment, is
to be fully achieved, and it is this goal that must be reached.
These are truths that need to be borne in mind by governments
as budget preparation gets under way. It would not do to merely
focus on per capita incomes and like abstractions while
assessing achievements in the development field. Development is
essentially about capacity-building. People need to possess the
capability to meet their essential needs without having to beg
for them from persons seen as powerful, and to the degree to
which this happens we are entitled to say that development has
The sole purpose in conducting polls, at whatever level, is
to enable the people to be possessed of the capacity to meet
their legitimate needs. The 'people's representatives'
facilitate this process by championing the needs of the people
and by helping to frame legislation which would enable the
people to fulfill their requirements, so that they would be
empowered enough to lead independent, dignified lives. This is
the prime purpose of polls and a deviation from this aim would
render the 'democratic process' a wasteful exercise.