3 July, 2022


Can Bottom Of The Pyramid Needs & Aspirations Be Met Without Socio-Economic Rights?

By Chandra Jayaratne

Chandra Jayaratne

Chandra Jayaratne

It is nearly 70 years since independence. Sri Lanka has been governed by many green, blue, blue intertwined with red governments, and now by a green and blue government. The constitutions have changed to a Republican framework dropping all links with the former colonial rulers and the British crown. The economic policies enforced over this period have reflected links to capitalism, market, socialism, mixed, middle path and now social market.

Have any of these governance regimes and policy frameworks addressed the needs and aspirations of those at the bottom of the pyramid? Despite statistics, Central Bank and Census data, glossy publications, international presentations, policy statements, budget speeches, media communications and leadership pronouncements in parliament; and publicly before and after elections, have the bottom segment of society been effectively touched?

Despite published GDP per capita numbers, enhancing house hold incomes, acceptable gini-coefficients, better regional distribution of incomes, improving numbers on poverty statistics, reducing unemployment, and high level achievements in meeting millennium development goals, the answer appears to be a definite “No”.

The above conclusion is drawn by following the findings supported by recorded evidence in TV pictures, derived under the Capital Maharajah News 1st “Gammadda- Geying Geta 2016” report, prepared in collaboration with the University of Peradeniya. This report has been prepared by visiting 738 villages in the country covering all districts and identifying the pivotal issues, hidden below the surface, confronted by the communities in the respective areas.

The three main issues identified related to;

  • below acceptable level infrastructure, with the lack of connectivity and access via bridges and village roads to towns where education, health, other services and market opportunities are available
  • Water problems dominated the next major hidden issue, with the lack of clean drinking water and water for irrigation and household consumption being major demands in all provinces
  • Lack of opportunities for generation livelihoods supportive incomes sufficient for basic sustenance was the next major issue. The lack of markets for produce, lack of financial capacity for even home garden cultivation activities and in some cases the total lack of opportunities for young and old and especially female householders, to engage in economic activities were key constraints

Thereafter a host of other key issues emerged in areas linked to lack of acceptable housing, human –animal conflict, education and schools, transportation, health land ownership challenges, consequential impact of war and natural disasters, environmental pollution and irrigation.

The common thread that appears to run through this segments of society, equally across the island, appears to be that their needs and aspirations have not been recognized and prioritized by the state, due to the villagers being powerless and voiceless; and being unfocussed by all levels of persons in governance ( village, pradeshiya, local government and district level). The only focused attention appears to emerge closer to elections, where promises and commitments are freely given; but never honoured post elections.

It appears from news reports that the Gammadda Report and its findings have been duly communicated to the authorities in governance at the Centre, but their response actions have not been forthcoming. From news reports it appears that only the President has reacted positively to the findings and come out openly in support of programmes delivering the needs and aspirations of these segments at the bottom of the pyramid. This has led to the News First Group organizing a collective business and civil society initiatives to address some of the pressing issues as a Social Responsibility Initiative.

The unique finding which appears to have emerged from “Gammedda Project” is that the provision of most of these basic needs, required financial allocations of Rs 5 million or less per village. If the average per village requirement to meet the basic needs and aspiration of these villagers is estimated at Rs 2.5 million per village, the total outlay for the 768 villages will be Rs. 1,920 million. In comparison the Daily FT of 9th June 2016 noted that “Moving a supplementary estimate in Parliament on Tuesday Government sought approval for Rs. 1,175.5 million to purchase 32 cars for 30 Ministers, State Ministers, and Deputy Ministers.

Regrettably some of the leading powers in governance appear to have even taken a hostile and critical view of the News 1st initiative, calling it “political”, and “playing politics”. They appear to feel that the media’s role is limited only to exposing the plight of those at the bottom of the pyramid; and the media institutions should not extend its mandate to taking publicly, the role reserved to governments in dealing with the findings, as thought best by the government.

These persons in governance and their coterie of advisors appear to be firmly of the view that Socio Economic rights should not also be made a justiciable fundamental rights embodied within the Constitution. Their fears are based on the likely beyond capacity consequential costs, the likely judicial intervention in a purely political and governance arena decision making and above all the likely unmanageable public expectation set at a highly raised bar.

It must be recognized that there are cogent arguments supporting both for and against the embodiment of socio-economic rights as a justiciable right within a constitution – A well balanced reference is found in the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA ) publication titled ‘Social and Economic Rights,’ which begin with a quote by Julie McDowall, Scottish author and social activist reading “But it’s hard to stand on your own two feet when your bones are softened with rickets and you’re wheezing with asthma from the black blots of dampness on the spongy bedroom wall”.

However in a third world democracy with a powerless, voiceless and socio-economically neglected segments at the bottom of the pyramid, there may be no other choice but make socio – cultural rights a justiciable fundamental right, in order at least to flag in the open, their basic needs and aspirations in a prioritization of resource allocations of the nation.

How else can in a local context after 70 years of independence can those at the bottom of the pyramid bring out their basic needs to stand alongside the other demands for allocations made by undemocratically governed party hierarchy thinking and decision making driven political processes, which end up placing their own priorities before a legislature supposed to represent the sovereign people of the country.

For instance, as examples, how can those at the bottom of the pyramid seek budgetary allocations in meeting their basic needs, including;

  • Adequate allocations for education to correct the present inequities ( there is significant variation in learning outcomes among provinces) as recently highlighted by Dr. Deshal De Mel in his presentation “We Don’t Need No Education” ( including the need to improve educational outcomes in rural and estate sectors and among students from the types of schools attended by low income households);
  • In war torn areas households without homes and female headed households without livelihood supportive employment or home garden cultivation options;
  • Villages, Households and schools without safe drinking water, adequate competent teachers and teaching aides;
  • Villages without irrigation for cultivation and water for household consumption;
  • Fisher families with their livelihood options negatively impacted by development and external threats (eg. Colombo Port City construction linked sand mining, wind turbines constructed in Puttalam, Indian bottom trawling incursions to Sri Lankan territorial waters and due to restrictions in high security zones in the North/East)

Whereas governing political leaders stive to advance their pet projects with significant national resource allocations for;

  • Western Region Megapolis
  • Colombo Port Financial City connected Infrastructure support
  • Colombo Metro Rail Project
  • Kandy and Other City Development Plans
  • Establishment of Tourism Zones
  • Establishment of ICT Parks

If the Constitutional amendments embed socio – economic rights as a part of fundamental rights, despite the negatives outlined herein before, the plight of those powerless and voiceless persons at the bottom of the pyramid and their basic needs and aspirations will have avenues to be surfaced, be focused in the minds of the political leaders and the Executive and their conscience pricked, when critical decisions on national resource allocations are made and thereafter adopted by the legislature.

In terms of the global initiative of Sustainable Development by 2030, Sri Lanka is required to have in place an agenda of action for people, planet and prosperity with goals and targets which stimulate action over the years in areas of critical importance for humanity and the planet:

  • People – To end poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfill their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.
  • Planet – To protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.
  • Prosperity – To ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.
  • Peace – To foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies which are free from fear and violence.
  • Partnership – To mobilize the means required to implement this agenda through a revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focused in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

It is therefore essential that the proposed Constitutional Reforms, devolve basic decision making power to the village communities and such devolvement are supported by compulsory resource allocation commitments, with decision making on the priority and projects for such resource spends being vested in the relevant communities.

In the above context, it is recommended that the proposed Constitutional Reforms, include articles to convey that the “Gram Raj “ concept has been firmly embedded within the new Constitution, and that these provisions will ‘empower and enthrone common citizens of society’ and will effectively bring them within the decision making governance framework of each “Grama Sevaka” Division.

In furtherance of this empowerment, the Constitution must compel the Finance Commission to ensure that 5 % of the Capital Expenditure voted in any budget year or an allocation for each “Grama Sevaka” division of not less than Rs 5 million, whichever is higher is allotted by the annual budget, as reserved spend for village development. The investment priority and relevant projects covering this spend must be determined by the “Grama Sevaka” Division communities, by majority consensus.

These funds will be allocated to the relevant Provincial Councils and the Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary of the Province should be jointly held accountable for effective deployment of funds at “Gramasevaka Division’ level. The Chief Secretary, as the Chief Accounting Officer, should be required to submit annually a report to the Parliament of the effective deployment of funds, the description of projects, how implemented and setting out what positive outcomes accrued to the village communities.

If there are 15,000 Grama Sewaka divisions in the country, the funds outlay required for this provision will be a minimum of Rs. 75 Billion annually. The Total Capital Expenditure voted in 2016 was Rs 1274 Billion. This allocation then converts to 5.9% of the voted Capital Expenditure.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Latest comments

  • 2

    Mr.Jayaratne before crtitizing politicians can you respond to your lapses as a member of the accounting profession not agitating about the corruption in the Audit firms. Doctor should heal thyself first

    • 2

      Chandra, thanks some good ideas here!
      Your are quite correct that the Political culture of Corruption is the root cause of poverty and economic inequality in Sri Lanka today.

      You are talking about a model of development that is bottom up, rather than top down, and hence one that meets the needs of people, rather than global capital, that his corrupt to the core as the Panama Papers expose shows.

      Fact is that the Rani-Sira MEGA projects Cabinet of clowns do not know the meaning of the term DEVELOPMENT, seriously! They think that development is concrete urban jungles, fast cars and fast food. They do not know the difference between the REAL ECONOMY that is (agricultrual production and industrial output) and the fake paper castles financial sector. They do not know that economic development must be ENVIRONMENT and PEOPLE friendly in an era of GLOBAL WARMING and ari conditioning is the biggest polluter!

      The Parliament of morons needs a crash course in the meaning of development, but the UNDP’s trainings for these clowns will leave out Economic and Social Rights to development. The aid industry – UNDP- World Bank IMF are the biggest contributors to the acquired IGNORANCE regarding what development should be among the Ranil-Sira Cabinet of corrupt clowns!

      But also, let us not forget the whole Grama Sevaka and niladari (GS/GN)local admin system is corruption ridden. GS relatives tend to be Samurdhi beneficiaries while the real poor tend to be left out due to politicization of national poverty reduction programs and corruption at local and national levels.

      Hence there needs to be much better training of the GS and GNs and corruption needs to be rooted out at local and national level. Political culture of Corruption is the root cause of poverty and economic inequality in Sri Lanka today.

  • 0

    I have no difficulty in agreeing with the main thrust or the diagnosis of the article. I also agree that if not all, some fundamental economic and social rights (e.g. right to work, education and health) should be enshrined in the proposed new constitution. Equally, cultural rights also should be enshrined. However, we have to admit that there is a broad difference between the application of civil/political rights and the application of economic/social rights in the present (may I say capitalist!) society, unless individually targeted discrimination comes into play. Therefore, what I have proposed is ‘public interest litigation’ in respect of economic and social rights. See https://www.colombotelegraph.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Annex-I.pdf

    Mere enshrinement of justiciable human rights in a constitution does not guarantee human rights, whether civil/political/cultural or economic/social. Post 1978 period in Sri Lanka is a global example. It is possible that the author proposes ‘Grama Raj’ perhaps in this context. While I consider the proposed allocation of a targeted amount of (Rs. 2.5 million) per GS division is a very positive idea, I am not sure why ‘Grama Raj’ concept fits into this situation. ‘Grama Raj’ is practiced in India in some states with mixed results. It came into being after some research because of some historical roots.

    As far as I know, the Sri Lankan historical parallel is ‘Gam Sabha.’ It is more egalitarian. R. Premadasa replaced them with ‘Pradeshiya Sabhas’ in 1987. But the Sabha concept remains. Not that I have any objection for an Indian concept, but why create unnecessary problems? More importantly, is it possible that our ‘Grama Sevakas’ under the scheme would become ‘Grama Rajs’? Could Chandra Jayaratne explain the genesis of this concept, as he has proposed it to be embedded in the proposed new constitution?

  • 0


    “Have any of these governance regimes and policy frameworks addressed the needs and aspirations of those at the bottom of the pyramid?”

    No they have mostly not.

    Thank you for the article.

  • 0

    Well,….they are doing all of their high level capitalism without installing the essentials that successful capitalistic countries have implemented – notably, the Comprehensive Tax Plan. VAT isn’t enough. VAT is used to only pay back borrowed loans. And GoSL must first put its house in order, before venturing out to borrow from others. The success of the current GoSL will depend on their ability to implement the Comprehensive Tax Plan.

    • 0

      Yes, it is the perfect article! Thanks to Chandra Jayaratne for spelling it out most comprehensively.

      Rajapaksa’s method was to create the globalized opportunity via China – it was up to the masses to fulfill the expectation (never mind the means to the end…it was supposed to happen automatically…..height of libertarian capitalism….no wonder things like BBS came up). (bottom of the pyramid probably being 75% of the population).

      Ranil on the other hand makes no bones about his disdain and disregard towards the struggling masses (….trickle down economics, per his election manifesto – what blatant disrespect!). And if they can’t be whipped up to perform, then left aside to be ignored.

      So, it’s up to Sirisena to forge the middle-path (hope it will become a 3-D tangible middle-path…..maybe that temple at Tirumala will help that 4- D concept become 3-D).

  • 0

    First and foremost can the MPs majority of whom do not process the GCE oL can comprehend this argument. Secondly the deprivation of the Poor is the result of modern economics dictated to by the IMF and WB. This is not confined to SL In the US it is the top 1% Vs the rest 99%. Unless there is a fundamental change in the economics this will not change.
    When A SLkan was questioned about the state of the country he Said ” Since independence the politicians have done nothing but sell our rights” How right he is

  • 0

    Chandra Jayaratna did a phenomenal job to get rid of Batalanada Ranil’s mate Bond Mahendran, who helped the Son in Law to rake in shit loads of Tax Payers money in to their Family Trust, for the next three decades.

    I am glad Mr Jayaratana has now turned his radar towards our Dalit inhabitants.

    That will at least highlight their miserable plight,in this Yahapalana Era, where the Ministers, Junior Ministers and their mums, dads, uncles , aunts children and even grand children are raking in big time, with juicy jobs in all sorts of capacities, with or without basic qualifications.

    I know how even a few hundred Rupiahs a month are appreciated by the poor in our rural areas.

    But my Colombo mates spend LKR 500- 600 for 25 Mls of Indian Red Label.

    And another hundred for the Soda.

    That is the magnitude of the gap between the Rich and the Poor under Yahapalanaya.

    In addition Senasinghes collect LKR 34 million just by selling a free Yahapalana Car permit and become instant Millionaires.

    And the Yahapalanaya has produced 99 of them so far, and still growing with another 3 years to run.

    Yahapalana PM Batalanda Ranil drives a set of wheels which cost the Tax Payers 700 Million.

    Yahapalana Prez’s General Sec Dumiya paid LKR 200 Million to his mate as Rent for a premises which Dumiya doesn’t even need.

    With the Boss assuring the Yahapalana suckers in Matara, that he is going to carry Batalanda on his shoulders for the next five years no matter what, Dumiya’s mate is assured of having LKR One Billion in his BOC account, by the time Sira calls it quits.

    But Sira may decide to even go for another 5 to give Sonna and the Daughters a chance after getting the blessings from Tirupathi Poosaris..

    BTW, wonder which Yahapalana Big Wig’s daughter who bought two Pads in the Empire Luxury Towers in Colpetty costing LKR 550 Million each?.

    A clue. It can’t be Galleon’s because she and mom bought a Warehouse in Colombo Port for LKR 400 Million to store Yahapalana Goods, which land in Containers.

    Or are they diversifying their investment portfolio?…

  • 0

    ‘Have any of these governance regimes and policy frameworks addressed the needs and aspirations of those at the bottom of the pyramid? ‘

    No indeed. Our governments could have done better adressing the needs of the entire pyramid. The gammada program is exemplary in its formulation and action : best thing is they don’t want any votes and are making money anyway.

    What we need here is a Political Crimes Investigation Division: PCID to investigate crimes against the people of this country since 1947.

    The PCID will not have the power to prosecute, just produce damming reports.

    It should have foreign judges.

    Remember the name: P.C.I.D.

Leave A Comment

Comments should not exceed 200 words. Embedding external links and writing in capital letters are discouraged. Commenting is automatically disabled after 5 days and approval may take up to 24 hours. Please read our Comments Policy for further details. Your email address will not be published.