Ms Faiza Effendi, Office in Charge, UNDP in Sri Lanka

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A warm welcome to all of you who have joined this International Symposium on ‘Coping with the New Normal; Changing Role of Local Authorities” organized by UNDP’s flagship programme on local governance (supported by the EU) and UNDP’s Citra Social Innovation Lab in collaboration with the Federation of Sri Lanka Local Government

Governments across the globe are grappling with the unprecedented disruption caused by the Covid-19 crisis. National and sub-national governments are presented with the daunting challenge of effectively managing an escalating health crisis in an interconnected socio-economic environment that lends itself to growing inequalities.

It is encouraging to see National and Regional practitioners and professionals coming together to discuss the challenges, best practices and lessons learnt by local authorities in the South Asian region in managing the pandemic.

UNDP’s flagship programme on Capacity Development for Local Government (CDLG) supports local governments to

i) Improve local planning, budgeting and service delivery and enable gender-responsive strategies to address marginalization

ii) Strengthen the local governance system to address multi-dimensional challenges through innovative, inclusive, and responsive service delivery, and

iii) Enhance the legal and policy framework to strengthen decentralized functions, all of which are critical to effective covid response and recovery.

In the face of the prolonged outbreak of COVID-19 and the protracted emergencies, UNDP has leveraged its local governance programme to support decentralised governments and local authorities to strengthen their response to the emerging needs on the ground.

Today’s symposium will be woven around three thematic areas that are critical to the role local authorities play against the new normal backdrop

i) Uninterrupted local government service delivery under health emergencies and disasters

Apart from strengthening the operational capacities of frontline staff at the local authority level through the provision of PPEs and other safety gear, CDLG supported the development of twenty-one by-laws relating to a broad spectrum of community services. The emerging covid context necessitated the enactment of the by-laws to facilitate effective service delivery. Apart from its’ impact in containing the spread of Covid-19 at the local level the intervention will create an impetus for local governments across the country to establish similar standards as the covid-19 response intensifies. This support also complements the Government’s commitment under its National Policy Framework to “provide provincial councils with added powers to carry out development work pertaining to its pradeshiya sabhas, urban councils and municipal councils within the regional development plan” (ref. Vistas)

ii) SGBV and domestic violence within the Covid-19 pandemic and gender mainstreaming at the local level

The rapid increase in the number of domestic violence cases since the outbreak of COVID resulted in it being referred to as the “shadow pandemic”. Leveraging UNDP’s longstanding engagement with CSOs on prevention of SGBV, the programme supported grassroot level CSOs to maintain existing shelter facilities in the North, East and Uva Provinces whilst supporting the creation of a new shelter facility in Anuradhapura for victims.

iii) The impact of the digital divide on COVID-19 response and service delivery by local authorities

UNDP through a memorandum with ICTA has been supporting the Government to implement its policy priority of “establishing a digitally inclusive Sri Lanka by Introducing a mobile & digital payment system to handle all financial transactions” (ref. Vistas). Leveraging this partnership, the CDLG programme is has collaborated with ICTA to develop and roll out a digital payment and e-revenue collection system for all local authorities – the mechanism will improve efficiency and transparency in financial transactions and improve public trust in local authorities.

The programme also facilitated business continuity and improved virtual communication capacities of local authorities through the provision of zoom licenses to the Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government Affairs, Departments of Provincial Councils, Finance Commission and 134 local authorities

COVID-19 has exacerbated economic inequalities and gender disparities widened the digital divide and magnified social inequalities.

The pandemic and its impact on all 17 SDGs have shown that what began as a health crisis has fast become a human and socio-economic crisis. While the crisis is imperilling progress towards the SDGs, it also makes their achievement all the more urgent and necessary.

It is essential that recent gains are protected as much as possible. A transformative recovery from COVID- 19 should be pursued, one that addresses the crisis reduces risks from future potential crises and relaunches the implementation efforts to deliver the 2030 Agenda and SDGs during the Decade of Action.

I wish to thank the distinguished panellists, the speakers and all in attendance for your active participation at the sessions today. I am pleased to know that the experiences and insights shared today will be collated and published as a report to be disseminated, for the benefit of wider subnational level actors and policymakers.  

I would like to reiterate UNDP Sri Lanka’s commitment to continue its support to the Government of Sri Lanka to build a more transparent, efficient and equitable governance system while improving local planning and service delivery for all.

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