Strengthening governance in Sri Lanka’s East
- With the end of the conflict, the Eastern Development Plan 2012-2016, which was prepared with technical and financial support from UNDP, will be significant in drawing investments into the province in the coming years.
- This is also the first such provincial development plan in Sri Lanka. Identifying the needs and aspirations of the people of the Eastern Province, the Plan has been recognized as a good model for communicating the priorities and concerns of a region at the district and national level.
When the newly-elected members of Sri Lanka’s Eastern Provincial Council took office in 2008 they had a daunting task ahead of them. Their Provincial Council was being re-established after a period of 20 years that was mainly marred by war. Young and energetic, most of the newly-elected members, among them ex-combatants, found themselves working in government for the first time. The need to build knowledge, strengthen governance structures and establish greater trust between public officials and the community were some of the challenges they faced.
UNDP’s Local Governance Project (LoGoPro) has, since 2008, been investing in increasing capacities of elected officials and strengthening institutions and processes in the Eastern Province. This support was aimed at improving service delivery, enhancing trust in democratic processes and ensuring that elected members have a better understanding of good governance and decision-making processes. Today, finding strength from this support, members of the Eastern Provincial Council look to the future with a renewed confidence as they work towards the further development of their province.
“We were able to identify our real needs and adequately address them through these initiatives of UNDP,” says Mr. V. Mahendrarajah, Deputy Chief Secretary Planning of the Eastern Provincial Council.
With most of the elected officials being new, following an extensive needs assessment, training was provided focusing on their roles and responsibilities, policy-making and management of development activities. Members of the Provincial Council also participated in an exposure visit to Kerala, India, where they were able to gain a better understanding of the governance structures there. “The knowledge gained from these learnings has now been incorporated into the development and planning activities of the province. There is a clear difference between how we functioned four years ago and now, especially when you look at the officials who were new. They have a good understanding of their responsibilities and processes, and are able to deliver better and more efficiently,” explains Mr. Mahendrarajah.
The lack of a concrete plan for development of this once conflict-affected province was also a challenge. Yet, today, the Eastern Development Plan 2012-2016, which was prepared with technical and financial support from UNDP, is expected to draw significant investments into the province in the coming years.
Developed in line with the Mahinda Chinthana 10 year National Development Framework, this is also the first such provincial development plan in Sri Lanka. Identifying the needs and aspirations of the people of the Eastern Province, the Plan has been recognized as a good model for communicating the priorities and concerns of a region at the district and national level.
In addition to including a pipeline of projects for implementation, the plan also consists of sector analysis documents on agricultural development, housing and infrastructure development, industrial development, human development, provincial governance and service delivery, and environment and disaster management.
Wide consultations were held at both the national and provincial levels in preparing the Eastern Development Plan. Among them, the engagement of the provincial administration and sector specialists was significant. Experts with knowledge and experience in the local economy and development of the province worked alongside sector specialists. Frequent meetings were also held with representatives from the Government, senior officials from the Ministries, secretaries of the Eastern Provincial Council and former development managers.
While this ensured the local ownership of the plan, it also helped strengthen the knowledge and capacities of the sector representatives, provincial council members and local officials who were engaged in its process. “The officials are now better aware of the needs of the people of their province, and have improved knowledge of policy development, planning processes and governance structures. With the community consulted throughout the preparatory stage, it contributed towards an increase in trust between the people and the public officials,” explains Mr. Mahendrarajah.
He goes on to add that the establishment of a communication and publication unit with support from LoGoPro was also significant. The publication unit, which is housed at the Assembly Secretariat, produces quarterly newsletters, which reach out to all segments of the community. Covering development related activities, it is produced in both the major languages, Sinhala and Tamil. Yet, more importantly,it encourages feedback from the readers. “This way, it helps our communities understand what we are doing, and in turn, helps us gain better knowledge of their needs and expectations.” Although the Provincial Council supported the Assembly Secretariat in the development of the newsletter last year, the most recent newsletter for January-March this year was produced entirely by them.
There are more activities in the pipeline that the Eastern Provincial Council has planned for the coming years. Equipped with knowledge and skills, and a strengthened governance structure, they are confident of meeting the needs of their people more effectively.