5 July, 2022


Citizens’ Engagement In Local Administration; Vital Factor For Good Governance

By Dinesh Kirthinanda

Dinesh Kirthinanda

Dinesh Kirthinanda

An indigenous model for peoples’ participation in local governance, invariably will be an effective tool to make the local government institutions to be just, equitable, transparent, accountable, responsive, inclusive, efficient and consensus oriented.

It would pave the way for the emergence of a system which could well become a panacea for all ills of the nation not excluding the process of reconciliation and building a Sri Lankan identity.

However, the million dollar question stands tall; will the government take the plunge? Yes or No.

Citizens’ engagement in the local government administration is a concept worth pursuing in Sri Lanka. It is timely and appropriate to set the process in motion right now; as the country has the ideal situation and a conductive environment for the purpose.

Good Governance

The present government has been voted into power with an overwhelming majority cross cutting all geographic, demographic and socio-economic factors with a strong mandate to usher in good governance.

Civil society movement, becoming more prominent and dominant than the political parties, spearheaded by the brave and unbowed erudite Buddhist prelate the late Venerable Maduluwawe Sobitha Nayaka Thero took the message of good governance direct to the villages throughout the island transcending all ethnic, religious and other differences.

The concept of good governance started flowing to every nook and corner in the length and breadth of the country in the latter half of 2014 with the anticipation of the proclamation of a Presidential election; after four years in office by the then incumbent President.

Yahapalanaya, the literal translation in Sinhala for good governance soon became the buzz word in Sri Lankan politics, which got into the daily parlance of the people; well anchored now to stay put for long. They perceived it as administration free from corruption committed to creating a just society where all beings are treated equally before the law. Although it encapsulates all the goodness of good governance in an abridged version, the circumstances demand a clear definition of the concept with a broader analysis.

However, it must be accepted that as noted in a United Nations University publication “good governance is an extremely elusive objective. It means different things to different organizations.”

It further states, in a well-cited quote, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan noted that ‘good governance is perhaps the single most important factor in eradicating poverty and promoting development’.

In global financial lending, good governance is invariably coined with ‘reforms’ and those are relatively different from country to country depending on the structure of governance prevailing in the country under reference; at a given point of time.

In the above context it is prudent to perceive the concept as applicable to our situations and identify the parameters for designing a model for implementation on national scale beginning at grass root level, the local government administration.

The concept of Governance is defined as “the exercise of economic, political and administrative authority to manage a country’s affairs at all levels”. Therefore, the exercise of authority with the good characteristics of governance can be construed as Good Governance for the purpose of managing the affairs of our country at all levels in all spheres by all stake holders.

In this context the characteristics of good governance as well as the stakeholders have to be identified. Although the government has the main responsibility in adhering to the practices and adopting procedures of good governance while promoting and creating the ideal environment for the sustenance of the exercise, the subject is too much important to be left out in the hands of the government machinery alone.


In terms of a UN-ESCAP report published in Thailand the “actors involved in governance vary depending on the level of government that is under discussion. In rural areas, for example, other actors may include influential land lords, associations of peasant farmers, cooperatives, NGOs, research institutes, religious leaders, finance institutions political parties, the military etc.”

The stakeholders of good governance have been identified as the Executive, Legislatures, Judiciary, Media, Public officials, Political parties, Social organizations and the Civil society. Although the roles of these stake holders differ, their actions would fit into a single framework with common characteristics.


The UNDP in an article titled Governance for Sustainable Human Development (1997) has outlined eight characteristics of ‘good governance’ which are stated below.

Participation – All men and women should have a voice in decision-making, either directly or through legitimate intermediate institutions that represent their interests. Such broad participation is built on freedom of association and speech, as well as capacities to participate constructively.

Rule of law- Legal frameworks should be fair and enforced impartially, particularly the laws on human rights.

Transparency Transparency is built on the free flow of information. Processes, institutions and information are directly accessible to those concerned with them, and enough information is provided to understand and monitor them.

Responsiveness – Institutions and processes try to serve all stakeholders.
Consensus orientation-Good governance mediates differing interests to reach a broad consensus on what is in the best interests of the group and where possible, on policies and procedures.

Equity – All men and women have opportunities to improve or maintain their well-being.

Effectiveness and efficiency – Processes and institutions produce results that meet needs while making the best use of resources.

Accountability – Decision-makers in government, the private sector and civil society organizations are accountable to the public, as well as to institutional stakeholders. This accountability differs depending on the organizations and whether the decision is internal or external to an organization.

Strategic vision – Leaders and the public have a broad and long-term perspective on good governance and human development, along with a sense of what is needed for such development. There is also an understanding of the historical, cultural and social complexities in which that perspective is grounded.

All actors stated above with the exception of the military can be classified into the broad category of the ‘Civil Society’. It is this civil society and the citizenry who through the process of representative democracy choose local councilors.

Thus, it would be seen that the social entities at grass-root level provide the ideal nursery to plant the seeds of good governance. It has to take root at the ground level rather than at the zenith.

Therefore, the onus of building the edifice of good governance lies squarely with the Ministry of local government. The subject Ministry through the local government institutions have to take the lead and formulate a plan of action.

For this purpose, the situation is ideal and the environment is conducive to undertake the responsibility of introducing good local governance through the local government institutions.
The Ministry has at its command all the tools, machinery and equipment needed for undertaking this historic national task.

A new electoral system, a new set of peoples representatives with small voter bases, a unified nation agitating for good governance spearheaded by a vibrant civil society and a government in office upholding democratic ideals with a mandate and pledge to usher in the best practices of governance at the base of public administration.

Hence, the process itself has created space and structure to install and nurture the bedrock for good governance at ground level.


The Ministry could design a model with guidelines covering each of the characteristics of good governance listed above. This model should specify a process, a mechanism and define procedures to ensure that the citizens articulate their interests, exercise their rights, deliver their responsibilities and above all meet with their aspirations.

This concept had been vaguely stated and faintly present in describing the scope of the Local Government Enhancement Sector Project (LGESP) launched by the government in 2011with a loan of US dollars Fifty Nine million. The project was politically baptized as PURANEGUMA and in the process of implementation it was more a politically maneuvered development oriented project rather than serving the need for institution building for efficient delivery of services with a progressive outlook on the lines of peoples’ participation in governance.

Peoples’ participation in planning ensures inclusivity whereby the less represented segments of the population, even the vulnerable sections like the differently abled and senior citizens rendered homeless due to social issues to voice their grievances directly at decision making fora. It will also pave the way for the women and the youth to join the mainstream planning process.
Countries in the region offer many examples of initiatives taken by governments and local authorities towards promoting peoples participation in governance. The State government of Kerala launched the People’s Plan campaign in 1996 with the objective of ensuring people’s participation in the planning process starting from the preliminary stage.

In Malaysia, the local authorities in Kuching, Sarawak and Malaysia peninsula different structures for peoples’ participation are present in varied degrees.

“In Peninsula Malaysia, public participation is not just an alternative for better planning, but it is a requirement prescribed under the planning laws. These legislations require the public to participate in the process of preparing development plans. However, these rules and regulations do not apply to Sarawak, where the role of public participation is limited and focused only on certain area of local authority administration and does not cover development”; as observed in a research article attributed to Ahi Sarok and Leha Salman.

Public participation in development planning will ensure that the development projects are need based as against being selective on whims and fancies of individuals. Furthermore, it will provide an opportunity for the effective participation of people in public governance. The Council Member, officials, religious leaders, community leaders and the people, at a public assembly can identify and decide on the priority needs of the area.

A selected group can watch the progress of implementation of project. It would not only ensure that quality is maintained in the construction work but also minimize the instances of corruption.

Such a model will invariably will be an effective tool to make the local government institutions to be just, equitable, transparent, accountable, responsive, inclusive, efficient and consensus oriented.

It would pave the way for the emergence of a system which could well become a panacea for all ills of the nation not excluding the process of reconciliation and building a Sri Lankan identity.

However, the million dollar question stands tall; will the government take the plunge? Yes or No.

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Latest comments

  • 3

    The move to “Good Governance” spread right throughout South/East Asia like a wave. The Indians are quite sensitive to corruption more than before.

    Countries like the Philippines have done quite well too economically getting rid of rampant corruption.

    There is certainly a need to define a model of good governance. I think more than a written rules the politicians need to inherently know what works and what doesn’t.

    For example Palitha Thewarapperuma MP forced himself into a school yesterday and forced the principle to accept a student to the school.

    I think the guy is of the opinion he did a good thing. As a law maker his purpose is to make sure the system works. He needs to system fix the system and not meddle in individual cases micro-managing in such a manner.

  • 2

    The title of this article is “Citizens’ Engagement In Local Administration; Vital Factor For Good Governance.” The author brings up numerous esoteric and philosophical issues, which are all extraneous to the central issue of the times. Namely, the ruling junta has decided, citing some technicality with delimitation, that they will not hold local Govt elections this year too, which in any event should have been held last year. In a country, which got universal adult franchise in 1931 and which consistently held elections according to a poll cycle, and which now claims to have an independent Election Commission, this is an aberration of democracy. How do citizens engage in local administration when there are no elections ?

  • 1

    Here is a top shelf Good Governance measure from Batalanda PM for the Yahapalana suckers to ponder.

    UNP Government has allocated One Billion LKR ( 993 Million ) for the MPs in Batalanda’s CA, to indulge in new Houses, Motor Cars, Public relations and even overseas Junkets.

    How cool.

    Were these MPs living in shanties along the Wellala Gardens Canal and in Slave Islands and taking the Tuk Tuk to Kotte, before?.

    Does Batalanada PM want them to be more freshened up and more relaxed after travelling to Bangkok with the missus, partners and boy friends before they sit down for formulating the new Constitution for the Yahapalana suckers?..

  • 1

    Here is another “beauty”, folks on Good Governance of course, which what this Yahapalanaya is all about.

    This is not from Ada Derana or LankaCnews or not even the Island.

    It is from the broad sheet of the high rollers in Yahaplana Capital, Colombo FT.

    The Singaporean spent US 11,000 for his suit. And the Yahaplana Tax Payers picked up the tab.

    And FT categorically states that the PM Batalanda Ranil wouldn’t to do anything about it.

    The FT implies that the PM gave the one finger salute to the President the first time, when he was called to account for ” Fixing ” the he Inaugural Bond issue.

    And the PM will do the same this time.

  • 1

    Dinesh Kirthinanda,

    What you have told here is well known – with regards to what constitutes good governance. Even the otherwise not very wise Sri Lankans also know what Yahapalanaya is. However what occurs on the ground is what occurs always and will for the foreseeable future.

    We in Sri Lanka defy the well known adage about all being fooled some of the time. We are the only country in the world where the citizens are fooled by politicians all the time. Politicians come to power in Sri Lanka only for one thing – to accumulate maximum amount of wealth while chanting the Buddhist maxim, ‘thanha jayatho soko’. Almost always these rogues are accompanied by a retinue of monks who actively help camouflage the politician’s reprehensible intent.

    So there you are.

    You can be absolutely certain Dinesh, that the Citizens Committees that you promote to be the panacea for all Sri Lankan ills will also become corrupt like all else in Sri Lanka.

  • 2

    That term “Good Governance” has already become an opium to the people, because of the way the Political parties nominated people to run the administration of the Local Government. From the past experience it is very clear that we do not get the correct type of people to run the affairs entrusted to Local Government. Hence it cannot be made a bench mark for “Good Governance”.

  • 1

    Dinesh Kirthinanda,

    Your reference to Local Government Enhancement Sector Project (LGESP) launched by the government in 2011with a World Bank loan of 59 million US dollars excluding Northern and Eastern Provinces reminded me of another World Bank Project for 86.0 Million US Dollars exclusively for the Northern and Eastern Provinces called North East Local Services Project NELSIP.

    Both LGESP and NELSIP had similar objectives and were called “PURANEGUMUVA.
    The objective of NELSIP was to support Local Government Authorities in the Northern and Eastern Provinces of Sri Lanka to deliver services and local infrastructure in a responsive and accountable manner.

    Thus the elements of Good Governance were incorporated within the objectives itself.

    The Project period was 03 years (2011-2013), but later extended up to 31 December 2015.

    But whether the objectives were achieved or not is a different question.

    However participatory planning approach with participatory rural appraisal PRP techniques were used to identify, select and prioritize items for implementation.

    But everything went disturbed latter due to political and bureaucratic interferences.

    Further the National Policy Declaration for Local government made on 17 July 2007 at BMICH also still awaiting take off.

    These are frustrating sad stories may be because these were not indigenous efforts, but set to satisfy Foreign Donor Agenda .

  • 3

    Overall I like this article. It’s short and sweet. There were instances that we lost GSP++ by the WTO for violating human rights. If we have good governance, the eyes of the WTO will be opened.

  • 1

    As the author of this article,I consider myself obligatory to thank the readers particularly those of you who have written their responses.Thanks for your encouragement;you have been a great inspiration.I need to write better knowing I come under watch and unlike in the print media we get the opportunity to interact.

    Thanks all.You may please contact me on email dinesh.kirthi@gmail.com

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