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by Anila Dias Bandaranaike, Ph. D.

Public discourse everywhere confirms that Sri Lanka is in a parlous situation on several fronts. This paper appraises our current situation against a proposed national development framework.

National Resources

Sri Lanka’s two key resources are its people and environment. People have had access to traditional, healthy nutrition and free preventive and curative health services, as well as two ancient languages (Sinhala, Tamil), a global language (English) and free education up to tertiary level.

Our unique environment provides the natural security of an island, a strategic geographic location and manageable size, with extraordinary biodiversity. It is mostly arable, mainly flat, with accessible mountains, plentiful water and easy road, air and sea access.

Since Independence, successive governments under-utilised these resources. First, they complacently followed the unsustainable colonial development path, without forward-looking reforms for us. More recently, they mimicked the development paths of western industrialised countries and city states, Dubai and Singapore, inappropriate for Sri Lanka. They prioritised infrastructure above people. While lip service was paid to their importance, teaching English, our language issues and labour market reforms were neglected. This trajectory failed to retain Sri Lanka’s human capital. Neglect of minority concerns, inadequate incomes and employment opportunities led to brains and skills drain, as many who benefitted from free health and education left Sri Lanka. We now face a critical human capital shortage.

Governments also failed to recognise our environment’s potential for sustainable food security and earnings from exports and tourism. Instead, we see degradation and contraction of rainforests (Sinharaja), detrimental landfills, garbage dumps and ad hoc construction in wetlands (Muthurajawela), invasive plant expansion in national parks and irrigation tanks (Minneriya, Uda Walawe), violation of building guidelines in historical sites and resort areas (Colombo, Sigiriya, Unawatuna), plastic and chemical pollution (island-wide) and urban air pollution (Colombo, Kandy). Wasteful, thoughtless construction (Mattala Airport, Hambantota International Conference Centre, Colombo evictions and destruction of historic buildings) focussed on means to well-being (GDP growth, FDI, export growth, physical infrastructure, etc.), not the goal.

Lack of a framework and priorities for our key resources has led to multiple crises Sri Lanka faces today.

* Fiscal, foreign exchange and debt crisis – Against wasteful expenditure, inconsistent tax and trade policies have drastically reduced revenue and foreign earnings, leading to ballooning debt. We face financial, monetary and fiscal instability.

* Law and order crisis – Rampant corruption, pardoning of convicted criminals, ad-hoc dismissal of cases, indiscriminate detentions and delays in legal proceedings have destroyed people’s faith in the police and judicial systems to deliver protection and justice.

* COVD-related health, welfare and economic crisis – Mishandling of the pandemic, food distribution, people’s movements, transport and economic activities have many people without health protection, food or incomes.

* Maritime environmental crisis – Sheer bungling of a ship with hazardous cargo in distress created an unprecedented maritime environmental disaster.

* Labour crisis – Skills and brain drain, exacerbated by state support for labour migration, has led to labour shortages in many economic sectors.

* Habitat loss crisis – Unregulated clearing of forest lands, beachfronts and ad hoc landfills for political gain, for unstructured agriculture, for private housing, tourism, agro-industrial and industrial projects, without consistent policies, guidelines and mechanisms to monitor and evaluate large scale infrastructure or agriculture projects, has degraded and reduced our biodiversity.

* Plastic and toxic chemical pollution crisis – Lack of clear policies for a phased reduction plan, monitoring mechanisms and punishments for the harmful use of plastic and agrochemicals and for proper sanitary landfill and solid waste disposal mechanisms, including for e-waste, has aggravated environmental pollution. Meanwhile, the overnight ban on chemical fertiliser, unless reversed soon, will precipitate another food and export crop reduction crisis.

National Goals and Framework

Sri Lanka can overcome these crises. For this, governments need commitment to sustainable national goals and a framework prioritising people and environment.

Basic Premise:

Nations strive to improve the well-being of all citizens, which requires sustainable development and social justice.

Goal for People:

To improve their well -being, which encompasses 3 dimensions – material, intellectual and emotional -, with social justice. Material needs include physical health, food, clothing, shelter, utilities, transport and communication. Intellectual needs include education, skills development, employment opportunities and leisure activities. Emotional needs include mental health and a sense of personal security within the home and country to follow one’s religious beliefs, cultural traditions, sexual orientation, etc., without harm to others. Social justice ensures impartiality in access and opportunities for all citizens, regardless of any differentiating factor.

Goal for Environment:

To safeguard all biodiversity through sustainable development – lasting improvement in the well-being of current and future generations. Biodiversity includes rainforests, dry-zone forests, mountain plains, wetlands, beaches, dunes, reefs, lagoons, mangroves, rivers, waterfalls, reservoirs, tanks and air quality.

These goals are best understood as a government’s responsibility to provide to its citizens, through constant review and reforms, the following:

* Representation – Electoral systems for meaningful representation at national, regional and local levels, including relevant criteria for suitability of candidates. To meet people’s needs not representatives’ greed.

* Justice – Judicial reforms to ensure an independent, accountable judiciary, and law reforms for timely delivery of justice to people.

* Domestic Security – Police and legal reforms to ensure zero tolerance of discrimination on grounds of ethnic, religious, gender, sexual orientation, age, disability, social status, income, political affiliation or other differentiating factor.

* A Sustainable Natural Environment – Action plans and guidelines to reverse environmental destruction. Sustained review and reforms of existing laws and procedures which hamper safeguarding of Sri Lanka’s resources.

* An Ethical and Transparent Business Environment – Institutional and legal reforms to rationalise and simplify access, procedures, approvals and licences to facilitate doing ethical business.

* Access to State Services – National administrative system reform to create realistic geographical boundaries for greater efficiency of service delivery. Clear demarcation of what state services are to be delivered at national, provincial and local level. Rationalisation of multi-tiered services where people have to seek multiple levels of authorisation for simple acts.

* Education – Reforms in educational infrastructure, curricula and teacher training to meet current market needs for analytical, problem-solving and writing skills with English proficiency. Regulation of private institutions to supplement state institutions. Removal of inconsistencies in access, with capacity building for national level schools at Divisional Secretariat level.

* Health – Policy reforms and better budgets to improve preventive and curative health delivery systems.

* Nutrition – Policy consistency in land use, agriculture and trade, to ensure food security and price stability.

* Housing – Policy reforms for access to housing markets at all income levels.

* Financial System Stability and Responsible Fiscal Management – Reform of monetary and fiscal authorities to ensure monetary, financial and fiscal stability. Capacity building for Parliamentary oversight of fiscal and financial management.

* Gainful Employment – Labour market and related legal reforms to reverse people migration (200-300,000/year). Recognise and regulate new forms of atypical employment. Ensure liveable minimum wages and decent working conditions. Allow hiring flexibility, while protecting worker rights.

* Social Safety Net –Welfare and social security reforms to support those below the poverty line and ensure retirement benefits for all.

* Access to Information – Access to public data and methodology. Expanded budgets and capacity building to address supply-side constraints in national data agencies.

• National Security – Capacity building for safety against international threats – physical, social or economic. Defined role for Tri-Forces. Foreign policy consistency in geopolitical relationships with global and regional powers.

Current Situation

Sri Lanka has a bloated public service and excessive layers of political representation. The public sector employs about 1.2 million people (15% of total work force) in 1,200 major institutions covering over 30,000 smaller units.

Sri Lanka’s population of 22 million, has a parliament of 225 members with about 30 Cabinet Ministers and 40 State Ministers at national level. In contrast, India’s population of 1,326 million (6 times) has a Lok Sabha of 545, 15 Cabinet ministers and 28 state ministers. Malaysia’s population of 33 million (1.5 times) has 222 members in its House of Representatives, 32 ministers and 38 deputy ministers.

At Local Government level, Sri Lanka has 8,708 elected representatives in 341 local authorities (24 Municipal Councils (MCs), 41 Urban Councils (UCs) and 276 Pradeshiya Sabhas (PS)). If Provincial Councils were in place, there would be about 500 Provincial Counsellors and another level of ministers.

With no clear delegation of responsibilities among these layers and overlapping institutions, there is considerable confusion in policy-making and service delivery. For decades, instead of focussing on their substantive role of policy-making and implementation for longer term national objectives, Cabinet and other ministers have been micro-managing day-to-day activities, such as transfers, promotions, job and school placements, etc. Overlap of functions has killed accountability. Senior bureaucrats, fearful for their jobs in a politicised culture, have forgotten their advisory role. Most muddle around at the bidding of their political masters or hoodwink them, in order to remain in favour. Those with integrity have paid the price for their commitment and professionalism, by removal.

With such a serious breakdown of independence, professionalism, accountability, channel-of-command and decision-making processes in key systems of authority and electoral representation, successive governments have failed to deliver universal rights.

The cumulative outcome has Sri Lanka in an extremely unstable and precarious situation. There is neither time nor space for further bungling or foolish posturing that we see among those responsible for running the country today.

Way Forward

A well-planned path prioritising critical reforms which optimise our key resources, would retain our people at higher incomes and safeguard our environment. To carve such a path, the country urgently needs to rationalise the size and layers of government and have a merit-based selection of professionals to key positions to plan a way forward, implement related policies and much-needed reforms. My wish list:

* National Framework and Goals – A small competent team to prepare it, with goals based on Citizens’ Rights.

* Public Sector Contraction – Professionally review roles and responsibilities of existing institutions under each Right. Cull and combine to rationalise and remove duplication.

* Merit-based promotions and recruitments – Establish guidelines and efficient procedures to fill key positions with professionals of acumen and independence. Reconsider categories of Presidential Appointees.

* Accountability – Establish systems for channel-of-command and responsibility, with continuous monitoring and evaluation. Re-establish Monitoring Authorities – Constitutional Council, Independent Commissions.

* Language – Build official capacity to ensure tri-lingual language rights for all.

Electoral Representation

* Effectiveness – Rationalise existing electoral systems at national, provincial and local levels.

* Consistency – Assign all electoral delimitation to one independent delimitation authority.

* Eligibility – Introduce minimal eligibility criteria to raise quality of representatives.


Sri Lanka has a wealth of competent professionals of integrity and acumen who can move this country on a path to sustainable development. For this, the Executive and Legislature (President, Cabinet and Parliament), have to admit their abject failure and ask for help. Till then, men and women of ability will remain in the wings until it is too late. Sadly, that day may not be far off.

The author is a former Assistant Governor and Director of Statistics of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka. She served on the Delimitation Commission of Sri Lanka from 2015 to 2020.

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Dispute over cobalt-rich seabed: FSP alleges India exploiting hapless Lanka



Pubudu Jagoda

… Indian HC denies dispute

By Shamindra Ferdinando

Top spokesperson for Jana Aragala Sandhanaya, Pubudu Jagoda, yesterday (12) said that India was brazenly exploiting the continuing political and economic crisis here to secure rights to explore a cobalt-rich underwater mountain in the Indian Ocean, situated in an area staked by Sri Lanka in terms of Article 76 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

Jagoda, who also represents the Peratugaami Pakshaya (Frontline Socialist Party), a breakaway faction of the JVP, said so when The Island sought further clarification after he discussed the developing situation with India, in an interview with Asoka Dias on Sirasa ‘Pathikada.’ telecast earlier in the day.

Jagoda told The Island that the unprecedented Indian move on Afanasy Nikitin seamount that lies entirely within an area, also claimed by Sri Lanka way back in 2009 as being within the boundaries of its continental shelf, should be a warning to both the government and the Opposition.

The former JVPer declared that Jana Aragala Sandhanaya would take up this issue vigorously in the run-up to the forthcoming presidential election. Jagoda emphasized that India took advantage of hapless Sri Lanka while frequently uttering like a mantra its self-proclaimed Neighbourhood First Policy and Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR). The Peratagaamis-led grouping recently pledged to contest both the Presidential and Parliamentary polls.

While asserting that political parties represented in Parliament, along with the government, lacked the courage to take up this issue with India, Jagoda therefore urged the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government to deal with it diplomatically at the highest level.

The Indian High Commission spokesperson said there was no dispute and asked The Island to refer to a statement dated July 08, 2024 issued by Sri Lanka Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Appearing on ‘Pathikada’, Jagoda questioned the failure on the part of the government to respond to the Indian move much earlier.

Pointing out that India sought the intervention of Kingston Jamaica-based International Seabed Authority (ISA) to secure approval for exploration of cobalt-rich ferromanganese crusts located at the Afanasy Nikitin seamount thereby undermined Sri Lanka’s efforts to win recognition of the outer limits of its continental shelf, Jagoda said that India seemed to be resorting once again to bullying tactics.

War-winning President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who always jealously guarded the country’s interests, made Sri Lanka’s claim on May 08, 2009, as ground forces were engaged in the last phase of operations on the Vanni east front. The war was brought to a successful conclusion 10 days later.

Jagoda explained how India unfairly pressured Sri Lanka over Chinese research ship visits, finally leading to the government to declare a ban on such stays during whole of this year. The FSP spokesman also expressed concerns over the Katchatheevu issue, massive Indian poaching and the recent death of a Special Boat Squadron (SBS) member as a result of aggressive maneuvers resorted to by an intercepted trawler off Kankesanthurai.

Jagoda alleged that poaching on such a scale couldn’t take place without India’s tacit approval. “They have a much bigger Navy and significant Coast Guard assets therefore there cannot be any excuse for not being able to effectively hinder crossing of the Indo-Lanka maritime boundary at will by their poachers,” Jagoda said. Declaring that destructive bottom trawling had been banned in Indian waters though the invading Indian fishing fleet freely adopted the highly harmful method in our waters, Jagoda alleged that New Delhi conveniently turned a blind eye to what was going on in the neighbour’s waters.

Referring to the dispute over the Indian claim contrary to that of Sri Lanka, the FSPer said the Indian media coverage of the issue indicated that they intended to go ahead with the exploration of the cobalt rich region. Reference was made to India reaching agreement with Taiwan to undertake the exploration amidst rising tensions between China and India.

Acknowledging that the two issues – Sri Lanka’s submission made in terms of UNCLOS in 2009 and India’s appeal to ISA this year – were before the UN as declared by Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry, Jagoda said that the government should discuss the contentious matters with India without further delay.

Jagoda said that no political party represented in Parliament so far commented on the developing situation.

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Another FR petition to stay Presidential Poll at 11th hour



Another fundamental rights petition was filed in the Supreme Court yesterday (12), requesting the court to prevent the Election Commission from declaring the next presidential election.The petitioner, a lawyer by profession, has argued that the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, which reduced the President’s tenure to five years from six, was not passed properly.

He has argued that the 19A must be approved by the people at a referendum and holding a presidential election, as per the aforementioned amendment, is a violation of the Constitution.

The members of the Elections Commission, the Secretary General of the Parliament and the AG were named as respondents.

The petition says that the 19th Amendment strips the President of the power to dissolve Parliament a year after it was elected. The Supreme Court at that time said the provision had to be approved by the people at a referendum for it to become law. A referendum was never held, and therefore 19A could not be considered law.

The petitioner has said the Elections Commission is planning to hold a presidential election this year based on 19A and that it is unconstitutional to hold the election until 19A is subjected to a referendum.

The petitioner has asked the Supreme Court to declare the holding a presidential election, five years into the term of the President, unconstitutional. He also urged the court to instruct the Secretary General of Parliament to subject 19A to a referendum.

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COPF uncovers major failings in online visa procurement process



Harsha de Silva

The Committee on Public Finance (COPF), chaired by Dr. Harsha de Silva, released a critical report revealing major discrepancies in the procurement process and agreement with a Consortium, comprising GBS Technology Services, IVS Global-FZCO, and VF Worldwide Holdings Ltd.

Issuing a press release, MP de Silva said the Committee’s findings highlight significant concerns and recommend urgent corrective actions.

The COPF found that the company got the deal through an uncompetitive Procurement Process

“The Consortium was appointed without a competitive bidding process, preventing the Department of Immigration and Emigration (DOIE) from securing the best value for money.

“Proposals were submitted before finalising the System Specification Requirement (SSR), raising concerns on procedural integrity.

“Critical Issues Identified:

Unclear Fee Structure: Lack of transparency in fee components, including discrepancies in service fees and convenience fees.

“Data Breach and Termination: A significant data breach was reported by a major travel vlogger in May 2024 potentially triggering a termination clause.

“Conflicting Exclusivity: The exclusivity granted to the Consortium contradicts the presence of existing service providers and the recommendation by the evaluation committee.

“Uninvested Funds: The USD 200 million investment promised to Cabinet remains uninvested and not mentioned anywhere in the agreement.

“Terminated Service Provider: Mobitel, the previous ETA service provider since 2012, submitted multiple proposals for system improvements and a comprehensive proposal for new services was overlooked.


Comprehensive Forensic Audit: The COPF recommends that the Auditor General undertake a comprehensive forensic audit of the entire procurement process. This audit should be completed at the earliest opportunity to serve as the foundation for necessary actions, which could include abrogating or amending the Consortium Outsourcing Agreement.

“Data Protection Measures: The COPF urges the Ministry of Public Security (MOPS), DOIE, and the Sri Lankan Data Protection Authority to review the KPMG report and take immediate and decisive actions to ensure the complete security and protection of all data handled through the ETA application process.

“Dr. Harsha de Silva, Chairman of COPF, stated, “The absence of a competitive bidding process in the procurement of online visa services has likely resulted in an agreement that does not provide the best value for money. Our findings call for immediate action by the Auditor General to address these critical issues and ensure transparency and accountability, which could even mean abrogation of this agreement.”

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