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Sri Lanka’s National Administrative System – Revisiting and Rationalising Towards Greater Efficiency

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by Anila Dias Bandaranaike. Ph.D.

1. Introduction

A country needs timely, reliable information to implement policy, allocate resources and deliver services, such as education, health, environmental protection, justice and security, to the people. In Sri Lanka, information is collected through the national administrative system (NAS), while different services are delivered to service-specific areas – Education Zones, Medical Officer of Health (MOH) areas and Police Divisions – whose geographical boundaries differ from each other.

An efficient NAS should divide the country into administratively manageable geographical units, to collect information from, and deliver services to them effectively. For effective administration and service delivery, the size of these units should reflect their population and land characteristics.

Against this background, this article will discuss why we need to review, and how we can further rationalise, Sri Lanka’s current NAS to identify and address any shortcomings towards greater efficiency in service delivery to the people.

2. Overview of Sri Lanka’s National Administration System

Sri Lanka’s service delivery to even the smallest hamlet in the country has been made possible by our current national administrative system (NAS). For example, during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka was able to monitor and manage the country situation, including the vaccination programme, because of our long standing Primary Healthcare System. Under this system, Primary Healthcare Inspectors (PHIs), Nurses (PHNs) and Mid-wives (PHMs) are assigned to each Grama Niladhari Division (GND), Sri Lanka’s smallest administrative unit. PHIs and PHNs, have been monitoring households and communities under their purview in extremely difficult conditions and providing them with information and services to deal with the pandemic. In contrast, early in the pandemic in the USA, which has no such healthcare system, citizens in some areas had no information on where to get vaccinated.

The smallest administrative unit in the NAS is a GND. GNDs group into Divisional Secretariats (DSs). DSs combine into administrative districts (Districts), the largest administration units. We use the NAS to collect demographic and environmental information from the smallest units, GNDs. Thereafter, this information can be collated to the required level of aggregation, by DS, District or Province, for efficient resource allocation, policy-making and implementation.

The Grama Niladhari is the public officer responsible for administering each GND. Currently, Sri Lanka has 14,022 GNDs (Table 1). The 2012 Census of Population and Housing (Census 2012), recorded the average population and land area per GND as 1,457 persons and 4.7 km2, respectively. However, GND land areas and populations vary significantly across Districts. GND areas range from 516 km2 (Hambantota) to 0.04 km2 (Ampara, Batticaloa), while populations range from 28,003 persons (Colombo) to less than 100 persons (Batticaloa, Jaffna, Killinochchi, Mullaitivu, Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee).

The Divisional Secretary is responsible for administering each DS. Currently, Sri Lanka has 331 DSs. The average number of GNDs per DS is 42, while the average population and land area per DS are 61,704 persons and 198 km2, respectively. However, GND numbers, land areas and populations within a single DS vary among Districts, from 151 GNDs (Nuwara Eliya) to 5 GNDs (Moneragala), from 323,257 persons (Colombo) to 3,824 persons (Jaffna) and from 1,066 km2 (Moneragala) to 2.48 km2 (Ampara), respectively.

Also, the largest District, Anuradhapura, at 7,179 km2, is 10 times that of Colombo at 699 km2. Population density in highly urban Colombo with flat terrain and easy access, at 3,333 persons/km2, is more than 40 times that in remote, forested Moneragala at 80/km2 . Only Colombo and Gampaha, with populations of more than 2 million, have population densities of over 1, 500/km2. Population density in 18 other districts is much lower, at between 800/km2 and 100/km2. Population density in the remaining 5 Districts is under 100/km2.

3. Proposed Rationalisation

The population size and land area to be administered should be practically manageable for a single Grama Niladhari, Divisional Secretary or official responsible for a service to each GND. As importantly, an inhabitant of any GND/DS/service unit should be able to access their office or service delivery contact point within a time interval that could deal with an emergency.

For example, in urban areas with high population density (>1,500/km2) and easy access, a Grama Niladhari could administer many more households within a very small area, whereas in remote, flat, rural regions with low population density (<100/km2) and easy access, the Grama Niladhari could administer a much larger land area, to address floods, droughts, landslides, deforestation, poaching, etc.) with less households. In mountainous, forested, sparsely populated regions with difficult road access, manageable land area would be less for a GND, with a lower number of households.

As with GNDs, the population size, land area and number of GNDs in any DS should also fall within a range that is practically manageable for a Divisional Secretary to supervise the GNDs in that DS, as well as the geographical area that s/he is responsible for.

On an initiative of the former Delimitation Commission, following a detailed study of the present NAS, a consistent, practical methodology was developed, which addressed the population and land characteristics of each District separately, to determine whether the current numbers and sizes of GNDs within each District required boundary adjustments. Using this methodology, adjustments were made as required.

Using this methodology, Sri Lanka’s 25 Districts were grouped into 9 broad categories, based on population density, terrain, elevation and the current status of road access. This provided a basis for a suitable size range of a GND for each category, which varied from 0-1.5 km2 to 15-30 km2 (Table 2).

On this basis, the only districts with population density above 1,500/km2, highly urban Colombo and Gampaha, with flat terrain and easy road access, fit into one category (Table 2, Columns 1 and 2).

Another 7 districts (Galle, Jaffna, Kalutara, Kandy, Kegalle, Matara, and Nuwara Eliya) have population densities of between 400 and 800/km2, but their terrains vary significantly. Galle, Jaffna and Matara have relatively flat terrain and easy road access. Kalutara, Kandy, Kegalle and Nuwara Eliya with hilly or mountainous terrain have more difficult road access. Hence, the proposed methodology divides these 7 districts into 2 distinct categories (Table 2, Column 4).

Another 11 districts ( Ampara, Anuradhapura, Badulla, Batticaloa, Hambantota, Kurunegala, Matale, Polonnaruwa, Puttalam, Ratnapura and Trincomalee) have population densities of between 100 and 400/km2 and difficult road access. Their terrains vary significantly, from Batticaloa, Puttalam and Trincomalee, with flat terrain, to Kurunegala, with some rocky outcrops, to Ampara, Anuradhapura, Hambantota and Polonnaruwa, with some hilly areas, to mountainous Badulla, Matale and Ratnapura. Hence, the proposed methodology divides these 11 districts into 4 distinct categories (Table 2, Column 5).

The remaining 5 districts have heavy forest cover with difficult road access and population densities of less than 100/km2. Terrain ranges from hilly Moneragala to flat Killinochchi, Mannar, Mullativu and Vavuniya. Hence, the proposed methodology divides these 5 districts into 2 distinct categories, placing Moneragala in a separate category (Table 2, Column 6).

A comparison of the current number of GNDs with the upper and lower limits derived for the number of GNDs from the proposed methodology in each District, shows that the current number of GNDs is within the proposed range in 15 Districts. In the other 10 Districts, most of which now have good road access, the current number of GNDs is too high. The number of GNDs in those 10 districts could be rationalised and reduced. Furthermore, several GNDs exceed the proposed population and area ranges for their Districts. In particular, 838 GNDs in the 25 Districts exceed the proposed upper limits for population and 253 GNDs in 20 Districts exceed the proposed upper limits for area, while 15 GNDs in 8 Districts exceed both. These GNDs can be split and, where possible, the split parts combined with contiguous smaller GNDs, to create new GNDs that satisfy the proposed population and area criteria for each District. At the same time, in all 25 districts, there are many GNDs which fall below the proposed lower limits for area and population. Such contiguous GNDs can be combined to form larger GNDs that are within the proposed limits for those districts, thereby reducing the number of GNDs, if necessary.

4. Conclusion

Using the proposed methodology the current GND system can be rationalised for greater efficiency, where each GND will have a population and land area that is suitable for administration of, and service delivery to, its population density and terrain.

The former Delimitation Commission sent copies of the Report on this methodology to the President and relevant Ministry Secretary in 2020. It is hoped that this Report will be studied and the methodology implemented, to improve administration and service delivery across the country. Thereafter, further modifications and improvements can be made, as needed.

(From November 2015 to December 2020, the author was a member of the three-member Delimitation Commission, one of nine Independent Commissions appointed by the President under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. She was also on the Delimitation Committee for Provincial Councils Elections appointed by the President in October 2017, which completed its task within its four-month mandate. She retired as Assistant Governor from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in 2007.)



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Features

Dangerous rail travel by tourists: Why not create an opportunity?

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Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

Before the Covid Pandemic hit Sri Lanka, there was some debate and concern voiced about tourists standing at the door ways of trains and even hanging out, while the train is moving. Some pictures of a young couple hanging out of an upcountry train, while clutching on to the side rails, went viral, on social media, with debates of the ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ reaching fever pitch. While certainly this is a dangerous practice, not to be condoned, If we ‘think out of the box’ could there be a way to make this seemingly popular, though dangerous pastime among some tourists, into an opportunity to be exploited. This paper aims to explore these options pragmatically.

By Srilal Miththapala

Social media, and even some of the more conventional media, were all a-buzz before the CoVid crisis, when some pictures of a young tourist couple appeared, hanging out of a Sri Lankan upcountry train in gay abandon, savouring the exciting moment. There were hot debates about this form of ‘promotion of Sri Lanka’, with many people talking about the dangers of such a practice, and that it would bring negative publicity for Sri Lanka if something dangerous were to happen. This part of the train ride, along the upcountry route, is arguably one of the most scenic train routes in the world.

And quite rightly so, I guess. I myself was one who joined the chorus who vehemently spoke against this.

However thinking out of the box, I got thinking – Can we create an opportunity here ?

The ‘new’, experience and thrill seeking tourist of today

There is no doubt that there is a new segment of discerning, younger, experience and adventure seeking tourists, emerging and travelling all over the world. They are very internet and social media savvy, seeking more adventurous and exciting experiences, and are usually very environmentally conscious. They are most often seen exploring ‘off-the-beaten-track’ holidays, planned out individually according to their needs and wants.

Through the ages, mankind has been pushing the limits of exploration: We have conquered land, sea and space. We have discovered many hitherto unknown wonders of our planet with our unabated thirst for knowledge.

Tourists are no different. To get away from their daily stressful life, they seek something different, even venturing into hostile or dangerous places to experience the excitement of discovery and the feeling of adventure. No longer is a clean hotel room with a range of facilities, good food and some sunshine good enough to a tourist.

According to booking.com, the yearning for experiences, over material possessions, continues to drive travellers’ desire for more incredible and memorable trips: 45% of travellers have a bucket list in mind. Most likely to appear on a bucket list are thrill seekers wanting to visit a world famous theme park, travellers looking to go on an epic rail journey or visiting a remote or challenging location. ()

Drive-reduction theory in psychology postulates that one is never in a state of complete fulfilment, and thus, there are always drives that need to be satisfied. Humans and other animals voluntarily increase tension by exploring their unknown environments, self-inducing stress and moving out of their comfort zones. This gives them a sense of achievement and self-satisfaction. ()

Therefore, unknown thrills, adventures and the ‘adrenaline rush’ does attract travellers.

What have other countries done ?

As mentioned many countries are developing unique , memorable and thrilling experiences into their product offering.

A few are described below

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Walk along Sydney Harbour Bridge

Small groups are taken on a walk along the massive, arched steel structured Sydney Harbour Bridge . The dramatic 360 deg. view from the bridge, 135 meters above ground, of the harbour, and the nearby Sydney Opera house, while being completely exposed to the elements, is, indeed, a rare and thrilling experience.

Coiling Dragon Cliff skywalk, Zhangjiajie, China

In the northwest of China’s Hunan province, visitors can take a leisurely stroll along the walkway attached to Tianmen Mountain — 4,700 feet above the ground.

The glass-bottomed walkway is more than 300 feet long and only about five feet wide, providing an experience that is said to be exhilarating and frightening .

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

The tallest attraction in Toronto lets people stand right at the edge of the CN tower and lean over. It is the world’s highest full circle, hands-free walk on a 1.5 m wide ledge encircling the top of the Tower’s main pod, 356m , 116 storeys above the ground. EdgeWalk is a Canadian Signature Experience and an Ontario Signature Experience.

A variety of unique trekking opportunities, in Rwanda and Uganda, allow you trek into the jungle to gaze into the eyes of the Gorillas in their natural habitat. It’s a completely unique African safari experience. This moment leaves a lasting and unforgettable impression, coming so close to this majestic wild animal.

These are just a few. So there are already a range of unique, visitor attractions that thrill tourists the world over.

The CN tower Edge walk, Canada

Safety – the one overriding condition

All these thrill seeking, and seemingly dangerous tourist attractions have one common denominator that is never ever compromised – Safety.

Safety is of paramount importance in all these activities and are subject to stringent checks and review, periodically. All personnel who guide and instruct these thrill seeking tourists are well trained and disciplined.

Any equipment that is used for safety, such as harnesses and safety belts, are designed to the highest standards and are periodically tested. Nothing is left to chance and if there is the slightest semblance of danger, due to any unforeseen environmental conditions, the attraction is closed down temporarily. ( e.g when there are strong winds the Sydney Harbour bridge walk is suspended).

Such safety measures are an imperative necessity, because any unforeseen accident can lead to serious and grave consequences of litigation and even closing down of the attraction.

Suggested railings

So what about our train ride ?

The attraction of the Sri Lankan upcountry train ride (most often between Nanu Oya and Ella – the most scenic section) is the fact that a tourist can stand ‘on the footboard’ of the open train carriageway door, and feel the cool breeze against their faces while absorbing the beautiful hill country and tea plantations. This is something most western tourists cannot do back home, where all train carriageway doors are automatically shut when the train starts moving.

In fact I am told that some Tour Agents in Australia are specifically asked by tourists to arrange this ‘experience’ for them, when booking their tour.

So why not be creative and make a proper attraction out of this ?

Cannot we modify one carriage to have an open ‘balcony’ along the side where a person can stand ‘outside’ and ‘feel the open environment’? It could be fitted with proper safety rails and each person can be anchored to the carriage with a harness (like what is used in other attractions where the interaction is open to the elements). A special charge can be levied for this experience.

One factor that favours the safety aspect is that during traversing this stretch, due to the steep gradient, the train travels at a ‘snail’s pace’, unlike in foreign countries where speeds could reach 80-100 kms per hour.

This attraction could be used as an income generator for the Railway Department as tourists wanting to experience this ‘thrill’ can be charged a fee, for a specific time period that they could use the facility.

Conclusion

Although this may seem simplistic, in reality there may be several logistical issues that need to be addressed.

But, if there is a will, and the different departments involved can all see the opportunity, and get on to the same ‘wavelength’, cutting through the inordinate bureaucracy that usually prevails, then surely it would not be at all difficult.

But the overall point in this entire treatise, is that we have to ‘think out of the box’ and grasp at all possible opportunities that are available, especially as we gradually open up for tourists after the pandemic. We are quite used to ranting and raving about all the shortfalls that prevail.. But there’s so much that still can be done if there are a few motivated and dedicated people who can get together.

Tourism after all is really ‘show businesses’ and without creativity, panache, actors and showmanship, what is show business?

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Features

Remebering Prophet Muhammad’s legacy – ECOLOGICAL WELFARE

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By Dr M Haris Deen

COVID-19 came and as yet remains, at the same time the world is plagued with another serious issue, that of global warming and other ecological disturbances. While remembering the birth of Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be upon him) let us recall the contributions he made towards the applying Islamic principles of Islamic welfare towards protection of the environment.

The Prophet of Islam (May peace be upon him) advocated during his lifetime the stringent application of Islamic principles in respect of ecological welfare. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) taught his followers to live on less, neither to be extravagant nor to be miserly and to protect animal and plant life and to worship the Creator by being merciful to His creations. He forbade the killing of any animal unless out of necessity to feed the people. Al Albani reports that the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “If the Hou r (meaning the day of Resurrection) is about to be established and one of you was holding a palm shoot, let him take advantage of even one second before the Hour is established to plant it”. Imam Bukhari reported the Prophet (Peace be on him) as having said that “if a Muslim plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, or a person or an animal eats from it, it is regarded as a charitable gift (sadaqah) for him”. It is also reported in Ibn Majah that once the Prophet (peace be upon him) happened to pass by his companion Sa’ad (May God be pleased with him) and found him performing ablution (wudu) next to a river and questioned him “Sa;ad what is this squandering? And when Sa’ad asked in return “can there be an idea if squandering (israf) in ablution?’ the Prophet replied “yes, even if you are by the side of a flowing river”.

In another Hadith narrated by Ibn Majah, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Beware of the three acts that cause you to be cursed: (1) relieving yourself in shaded places (that people utilise), in a walkway or in a watering place”.

The Qur’an in chapter 56 verses 68 to 70 states “consider the water which you drink. Was it you that brought it down from the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter”.

Prophet’s companion Abu Dhar Al Ghaffari (May Allah be pleased with him) reported the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “Removing harmful things from the road is an act of charity” and in another Hadith authenticated by Albani, the Prophet (on whom be peace) said “the believer is not he who eats his fill while his neighbour is hungry”. The Prophet further cautioned as reported by Tirmadhi and Ibn Majah that “Nothing is worst than a person who fills his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be : one third for his food, one third for his liquids and one third for his breath”.

Imam Bukhari reported an amazing story narrated by the Prophet (on whom be peace) that “A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out. Meanwhile, he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself. “This dog is suffering from thirst as I did, “So, he went down the well again, filled his shoe with water, held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah appreciated him for that deed and forgave him”. The companions inquired, “O Allah’s Messenger, is there a reward for us in serving the animals?” He replied: “There is a reward for saving any living being”.

Animals have a huge role in the ecological welfare system. The tenets of the Shariah Law towards animal rights make it obligatory for any individual to take care of crippled animals, to rescue strays and to guard birds’ nests of eggs’.

Sal Allahu Ala Muhammad Sal Allahu Alaihi wa Sallam. May Allah Shower His Choicest Blessings on the Soul of Prophet Muhammad.

Email: deenmohamed835@gmail.com

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Features

Gypsies…to continue

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The original Gypsies, with Sunil (centre)

Of course, I know for sure fans of the Gypsies, and music lovers, in general, not only in Sri Lanka but around the world, as well, would be thrilled to know that this awesome outfit hasn’t called it a day.

After the demise of the legendary Sunil Perera, everyone thought that the Gypsies would disband.

Perhaps that would have been in the minds of even the members, themselves, as Sunil was not only their leader, and frontline vocalist, but also an icon in the music scene – he was special in every way.

Many, if not all, thought that the Gypsies, without Sunil, would find the going tough and that is because they all associated the Gypsies with Sunil Perera.

Sunil receiving The Island Music Award for ‘Showbiz Personality of the Year’ 1990

It generally happens, with certain outfits, where the rest of the members go unnoticed and the spotlight is only on one particular member – the leader of the group.

Some of the names that come to mind are Gabo and The Breakaways (Gabo) Misty (Rajitha), Darktan (Alston Koch), Upekkha (Manilal), Jetliners (Mignonne), Sohan & The X-Periments (Sohan), and the list is quite lengthy….

Yes, the Gypsies will continue, says Piyal Perera, and he mapped out to us what he has in mind.

They will take on a new look, he said, adding that in no way would they try to recreate the era of the Gypsies with Sunil Perera..

“That era is completely gone and we will never ever look to bringing that era into our scene again.

“My brother was a very special individual and his place in the band can never ever be replaced.”

Will Sunil join this scene…at Madame Tussauds!

Piyal went to say that the Gypsies will return to the showbiz scene, in a different setting.

“In all probability, we may have a female vocalist, in the vocal spotlight, and our repertoire will not be the songs generally associated with Sunil and the Gypsies.

“It will be a totally new approach by the new look Gypsies,” said Piyal.

In the meanwhile, Piyal also mentioned that they are working on the possibility of having an image of the late Sunil Perera at the Madame Tussauds wax museum, in London.

He says they have been asked, by the authorities concerned, to submit a PowerPoint presentation of Sunil’s achievements, and that they are working on it.

It’s, indeed, a wonderful way to keep Sunil’s image alive.

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