Study Tour to Sri Lanka’s Central Province Opens Minds, Encourages Engagement
August 19, 2009
The end of Sri Lanka’s long 25-year civil war, declared in May, has brought renewed attention to infrastructure and social services essential for accelerating development especially in regions of the country hard hit by the conflict, such as the Eastern Province. Businesses and communities here are eager to rebuild and spark economic growth.
In an effort to strengthen the capacity of local governments in the East to facilitate better services and respond to citizens’ needs, The Asia Foundation, through its Local Economic Governance Project, conducted a study tour in June for over 40 Municipal Council (MC) members and business leaders from two Eastern towns – Batticaloa and Kalmunai. The participants spent two weeks visiting and learning from their counterparts in the Central Province who are practicing good local governance.
Participants from the East studied local governance functions in the Central Province, well known for its business-friendliness and good reputation of providing efficient and reliable services. Compared to their counterparts in the Central Province, the study tour participants lacked formal training and experience. They examined such functions as finance, budgeting procedures, management, office systems, and council meeting facilitation, and took away points that they felt could be implemented in their respective localities. The study tour strengthened relationships between local governments in the predominantly Tamil-speaking Eastern Province and local governments in other parts of the country.
Another development that emerged was a noticeable change of attitude in most of the participants. For example, in Batticaloa, elected MCs come from various walks of life, often lacking significant government or leadership experience. As a result, conflict between the MCs and staff commonly occurs. However, in most of the locations visited, the mayor, deputy mayor, or senior official emphasized the crucial role cooperation with staff plays in a successful and efficiently-functioning Council. Participants began to realize the benefits of collaboration as well as how to take more initiative in improving service standards.
Understanding the functions of an effective system is a large step forward to improving governance and effective operations in the long-term that will benefit communities and businesses alike, especially in areas of the country recovering from armed conflict. Activities that promote cooperation and understanding between Tamil- and Sinhala-speaking regions of the country, help to heal the country’s ethnic divisions.
Since then, the participants have started to implement what they learned during the tour to improve services for their local businesses and communities. Asia Foundation field staff say they have already noticed better working relationships between elected council members and their professional staff. The Foundation is facilitating activities for the Batticaloa and Kalmunai MCs to share their observations with other councils in the East and is considering similar study tours for other eastern Councils.
V.S. Srikantha is The Asia Foundation’s Program Manager in Sri Lanka. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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