We refer to the article titled “Mega “Kandy City Urban Upgrading Project” on track to ease congestion” published in the Business Times, August 30, 2015 edition. A Colombo-based company, Engineering Consultants (Pvt) Ltd (ECL) that claims to be implementing the “Kandy City Urban Upgrading Project” with the assistance of Kieos Development Consulting of Italy may [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

World Bank “Development” Project for Kandy – Issues and Challenges


We refer to the article titled “Mega “Kandy City Urban Upgrading Project” on track to ease congestion” published in the Business Times, August 30, 2015 edition. A Colombo-based company, Engineering Consultants (Pvt) Ltd (ECL) that claims to be implementing the “Kandy City Urban Upgrading Project” with the assistance of Kieos Development Consulting of Italy may have issued it to the media. We welcome it because information and transparency help others who are concerned to constructively respond to what is being proposed for Kandy.

We have framed our review taking into account, among other things, the following: the current urban problems that Kandy is facing, priorities of Kandy from the point of view of its citizens, Kandy’s historic and religious significance, and the status of Kandy as a World Heritage City, and the regional context.

Most importantly, we also took into account the commitments that the new President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have made not only to the Kandy city but also to people of the Kandy “Region.”

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s vision for the development of Kandy city and the entire central region goes a long way back. In 2001-04 as Prime Minister he established the Central Region (Central Province, North Central Province and Badulla) Development Ministry with the ambitious goal of developing the entire region. He proposed that the boundaries of the Kandy Municipal Council should be expanded to include what he called “Greater Kandy” inclusive of the towns of Digana, Pilimatalawa, Kudugala, Barigama, Akurana and Wattegama. This new municipality would have developed urban facilities in the larger towns as well in smaller townships such as Polgolla, Jambugahapitiya, Murutalawa, Kiribathkumbura, Thalathuya, and Galaha relieving the pressure on Kandy city. He also wanted the Ministry for Central Region Development to have a scheme of zoning for the Greater Kandy area. For example, Katugastota would specialize in health facilities, Pallekelle in sports, Galaha in tourism and so on. Unfortunately while the groundwork was being laid to realize his vision, his government fell.

Western Province Megapolis
The proposed Megapolis in the Western Province enhances the prospects for the Kandy region. The Kandy region is environmentally fragile. Mahaweli and other rivers that flow through the region are a major source of water for the national irrigation system and the hydropower grid. Thus the region must be developed without damaging the environment. The Kandy region is ideal as a complementary service region – residential, education, healthcare, vacationing and so on – for the Megapolis. The Colombo-Kandy expressway will provide an efficient road transport link and an improved railway can supplement it. With upgraded link roads the entire Kandy/Central region can be organically linked to the Megapolis.

Prime Minister Wickremesinghe in his recent campaign speeches made several references to the need to develop the surrounding towns such as Kundasale, Wattegama, Teldeniya and Gampola. That goal can also be achieved if the development of the Kandy region is conceptualised in the broad terms that we have described above. Such a programme will also make a major contribution to the “New Sri Lanka in 60 Months” that he promised the country.

World Bank Project
The World Bank project called the “Strategic Cities Development Project” targets two cities, Kandy and Galle. For Kandy it has set aside US$94 million (Rs. 12,600 million) for a period of six years from 2015 to 2020. For Galle the allocation is $43 million.
For perspective, Kandy will get an average of about Rs. 2 billion in each of the six years. In the fiscal year 2015 the Kandy Municipal Council (KMC) budget also was Rs. 2 billion.

Mahinda Chinthana and Urban Development
The World Bank report has framed the project in terms of the Mahinda Chinthana that the people rejected in the last two elections. The institutional framework is also from the same bygone era when urban development was a part of the Ministry of Defence (MOD). This framework must be reviewed before the project is allowed to proceed.

Source of funding
The total cost of the project (Kandy and Galle) is $192 million. Of this amount $45 million (23 per cent) is Sri Lankan taxpayer money. The balance is a loan from the World Bank’s soft lending arm International Development Association (IDA). It is a “low” interest loan but not a grant.

The World Bank proposal has set aside 45 per cent of the funds for transportation, 35 per cent for water, sanitation and flood protection and 20 per cent for public administration, law and justice. Thematically, the money is allocated as follows: City-wide infrastructure and service delivery 40 per cent, Municipal government and institutions building 20 per cent, Urban planning and housing 15 per cent, Other environment and natural resources management 15 per cent, and financial and private sector development 10 per cent.

The World Bank project report also specifically states that the “overall project risk” is “substantial” partly because of the limited capacity of the KMC. This needs to be addressed. There is a compelling case for a new institutional mechanism to implement the new ideas of the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration for Kandy development.

Under Yaha Paalanaya the new government owes it to the Kandy public to make sure that the contracts that have been given out under this project to local and foreign firms are in conformity with good governance principles. This means they should be open tender competitive bid contracts and not solicited no-bid contracts that were common under the previous regime.

Public consultation
We do not know how much of public consultation was done in Kandy before the project was finalised. Public consultation is an integral part of Yaha Paalanaya and this project should go ahead only after adequate public consultation.

The World Bank project proposal lists some specific activities to be undertaken under the project. The best example is the proposed solution for traffic congestion in the Kandy town that includes construction/improvement of by-pass roads, satellite bus-stations and so forth. For sure such facilities may help ease the traffic. But for how long?

Those of us who live in Kandy are aware of the ground reality. The Kandy city currently has about 30 “large” schools that accommodate a total of about 60,000 students. There are five government schools, each having around 5,000 or more students. About 25,000 of the pupils are primary school children.

A good part of the Kandy traffic congestion is due to the transportation of children from the suburbs and beyond to the city. Another reason for the traffic congestion is the location of major government offices in the city centre and on the main approach roads. The growth of two massive hospitals, one in Kandy town and the other in Peradeniya also contribute to the traffic congestion. A sustainable solution to the Kandy traffic problem must address these issues as well. For example, relocation of primary schools in the suburbs and the development of good schools in the smaller towns would help. Government services including better hospital care made available in service centres located in the different towns in the region would be another solution. “Better” roads alone will not solve this problem and may even make matters worse by attracting more traffic to the Kandy city. More generally conservation of Kandy’s historical and cultural sites and urban development is possible only if towns in the surrounding areas are developed as Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has proposed.

We are very supportive of the idea of improving the Kandy city to enhance the quality of life of its residents and visitors. The proposed project has some positive elements to help achieve that goal. Given the recent poltical changes that have occurred in the country and the call for fresh thinking made by the new President and Prime Minister this project must be re evaluated to get its priorities right and make the best use of the Rs.13,000 million earmarked for it.

(Harindra Dunuwille is former Mayor of Kandy and former MP for Senkadagala. Palitha Elkaduwa is Former Secretary, Ministry for Central Region Development.
Sam Samarasinghe is an economist and founder editor of The Kandy News)

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