By Indika Hettiarachchi –
Recent developments related to proposed grand entrance cum car park project for D S Senanayake College (“DSSC”) shed light on if the government is really addressing the urgent needs of the people. A recent extraordinary gazette issued by the President vests a small (but highly valuable) plot of land owned by DSSC under Urban Development Authority (“UDA”) to develop a grand entrance to DSSC, and a car park. This gazette, issued while the country is going through a tough time due to Covid-19 pandemic, surprised not only stakeholders of the School but public who are struggling with severe difficulties ranging from loss of income to inability to secure adequate healthcare services to daily essentials. The surprise was also due to the lack of clarity and apparent ad-hoc manner in which this project has come into existence.
UDA’s admission that “if DSSC does not want the envisaged grand entrance and multi-story car park they will take steps to shelve the project” (and of course to reverse the relevant gazette), is a clear indication that this project is a non-essential project. Spending time and money (reportedly Rs 1.5 billion) on non-essential projects in a country with severely constrained state finances is a crime – especially at this juncture where the country is faced with the worst economic crisis in history. Sri Lanka has not only become the weakest economy in the South Asia region, but a country with very little foreign investment.
It is extremely concerning that the government is even considering this type of non-essential projects (with no direct and indirect benefit to the government or to general public) when the whole economy has collapsed and large number of people have lost livelihood due to covid pandemic. Government should be instead looking at projects to support (directly and in direly) to uplift the economic wellbeing of effected people. Also government should be prioritizing projects which can help the county to gradually overcome current situation by generating foreign income and revenues to the government (quickly). Also it is the responsibility of the state to allocate resources to expand healthcare system and food security to face growing challenges in facing crisis situations. It is unclear how spending money on projects like this one can help the country in current situation.
Furthermore, it is very concerning to note that the basis of project conceptualizations which appears to be not driven by economic/financial or user need/requirement analysis. Conflicting views on financing and income generation from this project suggest that this project is planned in an ad-hoc manner. According to Minister Udaya Gammanpila, this project has been conceptualized as a result of an observation by the President while passing the Kanatte Junction in Borealla. According to him the president has been concerned about the lack of visibility of DSSC from the Kanatte junction, and presence of small shops facing the junction. And the president has instructed relevant parties to develop a project to remedy these concerns. It is the duty of the president to ensure good exterior visibility and parking infrastructure of all schools – not only DSSC. However given current circumstances, a programs to address the plight of students (of entire Sri Lanka) losing class room education for over one year and how to transform education to meet post Covid-19 realities should have been more appropriate.
*Writer is a freelance consultant in private market investments, a frequent writer relating to Economic Development and Investment and is also an old boy of DSSC