UNP presents concept paper for comprehensive grassroots level reforms on polls pledge “New country in 60 months” Dispute over timing of local council polls; Ranil wants date before National New Year, Sirisena not keen Rajapaksa gets active again amid speculation of a new third front for local polls President Maithripala Sirisena had some words of [...]


2,500 village development centres to restructure economy


  • UNP presents concept paper for comprehensive grassroots level reforms on polls pledge “New country in 60 months”
  • Dispute over timing of local council polls; Ranil wants date before National New Year, Sirisena not keen
  • Rajapaksa gets active again amid speculation of a new third front for local polls

President Maithripala Sirisena had some words of caution to his ministers this week. Speaking at the weekly ministerial meeting on Wednesday night, he said they should work as a team to ensure the passage of the third reading of the budget on Thursday. He said they should not make any individual comments that are critical of the budget proposals. After the passage of the third reading, he said, a campaign would have to be launched to educate the public on the significance of each proposal and how it would benefit the people.

Next Thursday, when the vote on the third reading of the budget is taken up, Finance Minister Ravi Karunananayake will move amendments to his proposals. One is to extend the fertilizer subsidy, which now applies only to one hectare. It will be doubled to two. Though not being spelt out, the duty free car permits for parliamentarians is being scrapped. Instead, the Government is to make available vehicles for use by them and grant them a concessionary loan if they wished to buy such vehicles. The move is intended to prevent MPs from selling their permits for higher sums of money.

Sirisena’s remarks came after Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe hit out at trade unions which he said were out to whip up opposition to the budget proposals for political reasons. Several ministers endorsed the view. The criticism for whipping up opposition appeared to centre on former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. In addition to Rajapaksa, Sirisena named two of his family members. In a way, that seemed a compliment for Rajapaksa that he could still muster some political clout. His loyalists in Parliament, it came to light during the voting on the second reading, formed half the strength of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) represented there. Now, he is being accused of fomenting trouble against the budget proposals.

Wickremesinghe was particularly critical of the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) with whom he had had a series of public verbal exchanges. On Friday, in Parliament he charged that the GMOA’s senior members had worked against President Sirisena before the presidential election. He then went beyond a prepared statement to announce that efforts were being made to conduct local government elections before the National New Year in April. For that purpose, it would be imperative for the Government to effect a series of amendments to laws relating to local authorities and gazette changes in the delimitation of wards in some local authorities. It is clear those measures would have to be adopted ahead of the local council polls.

Interesting enough, for the United National Party (UNP) component of the United Front for Good Governance (UFGG) Government, the elections ahead of April appear very advantageous. The question is whether for the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) component, half of whom voted against the second reading of the budget last week, an early local poll would be salutary? In essence, President Sirisena, who has ventured to seek total control of the SLFP, has found that to be a difficult task. This is despite several incentives he offered to win over SLFP law makers. Moreover, it is known that Rajapaksa still commands grassroots level support and could pose a formidable threat.

Amid all this, there are still uncertainties over whether the polls could be held before April. The diverse positions of different political parties emerged at a conference chaired by President Sirisena on Friday. More importantly, the views of the President and the Prime Minister differed. Prime Minister Wickremesinghe was to assert that whichever system was followed, whether it be the proportional representation or the first-past-the-post, it was his considered view that elections should be held before the National New Year. Wickremesinghe said cosensus over elections should be reached at least by the first week of January next year. He said it would take nearly a month for the UNP to decide on their list of candidates. Some UNPers even suggested a date as early as January 15. A decision had to be made in this regard by all political parties. That the view contrasted with that of President Sirisena became clear. He said everyone had agreed that the local government polls should be held under a new system. Most parties had earlier backed proposals to introduce the first-past-the-post system. Thus, Sirisena is not in favour of the local polls being held under the proportional representation system. The contradictory positions raise doubts on whether the polls could be held before the National New Year.

Delimitation Commission Chairman Asoka Peiris told the meeting that they still had to consider some 2,000 more public petitions. He admitted that the previous delimitation in some instances had been carried out in such a way as to benefit only one political party. Minority or caste votes which remained in a bloc have been divided into different wards. There were also other disparities. The local authority for Sammanthurai, with a voter strength of 60,000 had a lesser number of members while the one at Dehiattakandiya with the same voter strength had 30 members. On the other hand, the one at Laggala with a voter strength of 3,000 had ten members. The Commission will take another fortnight to study the petitions before it and recommend other changes. In addition, such a move would require more time for the Department of Elections to study the newer wards. A party leader who took part in the meeting said, “At the end, we all agreed to disagree. That is all that happened.” The leader who did not wish to be identified was categorical that no elections would be possible ahead of April. A seminar on the subject followed in the afternoon.

President Sirisena, Premier Wickremesinghe and others attending Friday's all-party meeting to discuss the upcoming local council elections and delimitation issues.

Publicly announcing early polls was the new Deputy Media Minister Karunaratne Paranavithana. He told a news briefing: “We hope that the elections will be held as scheduled in March. Though there are some 700 submissions made to the Committee which is looking into the issues on delimitation, some of them are overlapping. Therefore we hope the process can be completed and elections be held as scheduled before end of March.”

UNP leaders believe an early local poll would place them at a highly advantageous position vis-à-vis the SLFP. This, they claim, is because their grassroots level organisations have been re-vitalised. As against this, they point out that the SLFP vote base at the grassroots level would be divided between Sirisena and Rajapaksa loyalists. A much worse scenario they forecast is the emergence of a third force, a pro-Rajapaksa group, which could even relegate the Sirisena led SLFP to third place. A victory in the majority of local councils, the UNFGG believes would help it introduce what is being described as ‘grassroots level reforms.’ Some 2,500 Gramarajya Development Centres (Sanwardhana Kendraya – GSK ) are to be set up. Identified funds allocated under development programmes of the Central Government, Provincial Council and Pradeshiya Sabha are to be allotted for spending in the GSK. Here are significant highlights of a concept paper before the UNFGG. This is one of the ‘five point’ plans – a new country in 60 months, an election pledge of the UNP ahead of the parliamentary polls in August.

“……….The administrative considerations of efficiency through greater control over implementation that brought about centralised planning and implementation during the sixties distanced the village and isolated the new social elements, leading to the youth insurrection in 1971. Despite several initiatives to engage with the village and bring villages into the planning and implementation decision making process, notably the Gramodaya Mandala (1982) and in recent times Jana Sabha, the village administration has remained, essentially, a service delivery extension of the decentralised system of administration.

“The village level administration constitutes the primary level of the de-concentrated system (comprising the district and divisional levels as tertiary and secondary levels), and is the unit of territorial responsibility of the Grama Niladhari, constituting the Grama Niladhari Division. The GN is multi-functional, and is responsible for performing a wide spectrum of regulatory, protection and development tasks primarily for central government agencies, reflecting the service delivery content at the village level. These include, (i) services provided directly on behalf of central government departments, (ii) referral of needy citizens to service providers or mobilising the community for access by service providers, (iii) assisting in the identification of village level development needs, (iv) participation in community activities, and (v) linking the community with the next higher level of administration.

“……………The absence of a village level institutional platform for community to come together and engage with service providers isolates the village from the service provision system. It requires an inclusive design of local level planning structure, process and methodology. Despite being the interface between rights-holders and duty-bearers, current village level institutions do not establish a well-defined accountability for service delivery.
“The space available for community-based planning and monitoring is an elite led bargaining process. It raises issues about the role and functions of villages in human development, in relation to the internal organisation of the village service delivery system as well as the institutional space available for villages to engage in planning and implementing development activities. The village remains distant from the division, though linked by the GN, as the service delivery system does not have bottom-up integration to ensure becoming a village-centric one. The village is also isolated within the local level service delivery system on account of its size…..

“The Government has proposed the establishment of 2,500 Gramarajya Development Centres for planning and implementation in taking forward economic, social and cultural development activities in villages, devoid of political representatives. Villages will continue to be administered by their own people.
“…………..The Gramarajya Development Centre will bring about significant improvement in village level development by leveraging several institutional performance effects.

  • Efficiency gains arising out of clustering villages.
  • Enhanced spread and greater coverage of service delivery.
  • Pro-poor potential in terms of improved targeting of service delivery.

The Government’s proposals for building the economy envisage strengthening the rural economy and eliminating disparity in living standards between the rural and urban areas.

The Gramarajya Development Centres (GSK) will cluster villages, administratively bring together four/five GNDs under its purview. This will transform the village level administrative structure into a two-level arrangement, the GNDs remaining the primary level of government administration and the GSK as a collective of villages. The main features of the GSK system of local organisation will be as follows.

A collective of Villages, positioned mediating the Grama Niladhari Division and the Divisional Secretariat.

The role of the GSK will be to link, horizontally the development efforts and activities of the villages and vertically, the service deliveries of the central government, provincial council and the pradeshiya sabha with the villages. The GSK will unify service delivery and establish a village development results framework that will link village level development needs with planning and implementing public sector service deliveries.


  • Coordinate the identification of village development needs, defining desired economic, social and cultural development results.
  • Coordinate the preparation of development plans to achieve the desired results in the economic, social and cultural situation of villages specifying required services and infrastructure. 
  • Consolidate village development plans for bottom-up engagement with planning processes at the divisional and district levels.
  • Provide guidance and leadership:
  • In the selection of beneficiaries, raising awareness of the vulnerable, and identification and supervision of local capital works at the GND level. 

i. In promoting village partnerships for joint action in respect of common local development needs.
ii. For the cluster to function as a demand-side instrument to engage with the service delivery system.
Organise and implement local development projects.
Organizational Structure:
The organisation of the GSK will comprise:

  • A general body of village level members selected from each “gangodella” of the villages in the GNDs. A mandatory share of women and youth will be ensured by nominating members in addition to those selected by the Gangodella. Overall the General Body will consist of 15 to 20 members.
  • An Advisory Council of religious leaders and senior citizens
  • An executive body, selected from the membership on a rotational basis.
  • A grievance and redress committee on a rotational basis comprised of members from the general body and the advisory council.
  • The activities undertaken in the performance of the functions as well as the operations of the processes will be funded through several sources.
  • Identified funds allocated under development programmes of the Central Government, Provincial Council and Pradeshiya Sabha for spending in the GSK.
  • Pooled funding, mobilising resources from Non-Government, Private Sector and Community sources.

If the conduct of local polls is turning out to be a bone of contention between the two major partners of the coalition Government, the issues arising from them have been engaging the attention of the pro Rajapaksa group. The former President himself has been somewhat active. Last week, he had an informal meeting with Premier Wickremesinghe amidst widespread media speculation that it was over the alleged murder of ruggerite Wasim Thajudeen. However, Premier Wickremesinghe told the Sunday Times Rajapaksa came to see him in his office in Parliament to talk on a variety of other matters. They included the proposed Constitutional changes, electoral reforms and the need to formulate a schedule for backbenchers (who support him) to speak in Parliament. The meeting showed that Rajapaksa was gradually stepping up political activity. On Thursday, he took part in a Bodhi Pooja ceremony at a temple in Delgoda in the Gampaha District.

When the event ended, microphones had already been set up on a lectern for a speech. Rajapaksa lambasted the Government for what he called a witch-hunt of him and his family. However, a more important development in the recent weeks has been discussions Rajapaksa is holding with his confidants over the formation of a new party. Though it is not yet certain whether he would join the party, it is expected to be functional under his aegis and field candidates at the local government polls. Among the many registered parties that have been considered is one by the name “Our Sri Lanka Freedom Front”. Sources familiar with the ongoing discussions said the name of this party and its symbol would be changed. It is being considered together with others since they already remain registered, the source said. In the event a pro-Rajapaksa party emerges to contest the polls, the fate of the SLFP candidates will become a critical question.

These developments come at a time when the Government is busy addressing issues arising from the UN Human Rights Council resolution in Geneva on alleged war crimes. The US Embassy in Colombo announced on Thursday that Ambassador Thomas Shannon, Counsellor of the Department of State, would be in Sri Lanka from tomorrow till Wednesday. He will be accompanied by Manpreet Singh Anand, Deputy Assistant Secretary for South Asia. There was an erroneous reference in last week’s columns to say Samantha Power, US Ambassador to the United Nations had visited the Eastern Area Naval Command in Trincomalee during her visit to Sri Lanka. The east was not in her itinerary. It was the UN Human Rights Commission’s team on involuntary disappearances that was in Trincomalee.

There is no gainsaying that sooner or later the local government polls countrywide will have to be held. It could be based either on the first-past-the-post or the proportional representation system. The biggest question will be how both the UNP and the SLFP will enter the fray and at the same time preserve the unity in their alliance. Added to that would be the worries for the SLFP, particularly for President Sirisena, with the emergence of a third force which may take away a part of the vote that would be his own party’s.

Rajapaksa’s security: To cut or not to cut
Last week’s front-page lead story in the Sunday Times about President Maithripala Sirisena ordering an “immediate withdrawal of the Army security contingent of some 500 personnel assigned to his predecessor Mahinda Rajapaksa” led to strong responses.Rohan Welivita, Spokesperson for Mr. Rajapaksa, said in a statement: “This report is not correct. At present only 102 Army personnel have been assigned to provide security to former President Rajapaksa. Of this number, 80 provide security while 22 are administrative personnel.” He added: “The government has started releasing dangerous LTTE suspects who had been held in detention under the PTA. The Rajapaksa government rehabilitated and released over 11,000 LTTE cadres and only two to three hundred hard core terrorists were kept in detention with a view to taking legal action against them. These are the terrorists who are now being released. It need not be stressed that this has placed the life of President Rajapaksa in danger. In these circumstances, it is the duty of the government to strengthen the security arrangements for former President Rajapaksa by assigning more personnel for his security.”

Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa in separate remarks declared that there were two undercover operatives among the hardcore guerrillas to be released and warned there could be a threat to national security.

Mahajana Eksath Peramuna (MEP leader) Dinesh Gunawardena who heads the pro-Rajapaksa faction in Parliament raised issue in the House. Minister and House Leader Lakshman Kiriella replied that the former President’s security had not been withdrawn. As for the reference to 500 personnel, he said that the question should be directed to the Sunday Times.

As revealed in our story last week, President Sirisena had earlier directed Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake to submit a report to the Cabinet of Ministers on how much it cost the Government to maintain the former President. This included the strength provided for his security, the number of vehicles allocated and staff provided by the state.

It is the Ministry of Finance that prepared the report which went before President Sirisena at the ministerial meeting on December 2. The Sunday Times learnt that Police Headquarters informed the Ministry that a total of 103 Police personnel were assigned to Rajapaksa. However, according to a security source, the Finance Ministry was not successful in obtaining details of the Army strength except to be told it was around 500.

Spokesperson Welivita has now said that the Army strength assigned is 102 which includes 22 administrative personnel. Thus, the total assigned, both Police and Army, add up to 205 personnel. President Sirisena has directed that the Army component in the security contingent be withdrawn. Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiaratchchi has confirmed that no Army security will in future be provided for personal security. Whether the shortfall in numbers would be supplemented with Police strength would have to be decided by the National Security Council.

The fact that President Sirisena called for a report was reported in the Sunday Times (Political Commentary) of September 27. Here is what the relevant part said:

“Mey ratey Janadipathivaru dennek inna beha. Ey vagey deval wena eka navaththanna oney (there cannot be two Presidents in the country. Such things have to be stopped),” Sirisena remarked on reports that the Army, Navy and Police had placed a heavy security cordon around a tourist resort in Pasikudah where Rajapaksa and his family were holidaying…….

“Sirisena pointed out that Rajapaksa was now using some 240 security personnel. After I finish my tenure in office, I don’t want to go looking for official bungalows. I will go to Polonnaruwa and live in my house,” he said. He pointed out that Rajapaksa had more vehicles for use than him as President. ……..

“An angry Sirisena then directed Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake to submit a report to the next meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers on the costs to the taxpayer to sustain Rajapaksa’s security, his support staff and related activity. Thereafter, he is to obtain a fresh threat assessment and call upon the National Security Council to decide on the form of security that should be afforded to Rajapaksa both as a former President and now MP.”

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