Closing Remarks at the National Symposium on Local Governance

Catalysing Change: Making Local Governance Future-Fit

June 11, 2024
Azusa Kubota at the Closing Ceremony of Catalysing Change: Making Local Governance Future-Fit


•    Honourable State Minister of Home Affairs, Mr. Ashoka Priyantha  
•    Ambassador of the European Union to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, Excellency Carmen Moreno
•    Mr. Aaron Manaim, Keynote speaker, Fellow of Practice and Director, Digital Transformation Education, University of Oxford 
•    Honorable Governors, Chief Secretaries, senior government officials, members of the civil society, academia and development partner community 
•    Ladies and Gentlemen

1.    On behalf of the United Nations Development Programme, I am pleased to welcome you to the closing ceremony of the National Symposium on “Catalyzing Change: Making Local Governance Future Fit.”

2.    As we reflect on the past day and a half, we can appreciate the depth and breadth of discussions that have taken place. Under the framing of the AAAG concept, topics ranging from revenue generation, empowered communities, social accountability, digitalization, and the green transformation in local governance have all been thoroughly explored. And I must say that these exchanges have been enriched by real insights shared by a diverse group of practitioners, who ensured that recommendations would emerge through both participatory and inclusive means.

3.    As I mentioned during the opening session yesterday, as the Capacity Development for Local Governments (or CDLG) project comes to a close in October 2024, we felt it is important to optimize this symposium to capture and share the experiences and lessons learned and catalyze scaling up of best practices beyond the four provinces of the project focus, and also upwards at the national level.

4.    My frequent visits to the project sites have confirmed the transformational changes the CDLG has brought to the communities in terms of their engagement in local governance affairs and decision-making processes, as well as their substantially improved experiences in accessing services.

5.    As Professor Ajith suggested yesterday, the relevance of adding one more A – accountability, while collectively unpacking the concept of AAAG in the context of Sri Lankan’s local governance, we must ensure to continue to drive a citizen-centric reform agenda, which directly responds to the fast-evolving needs of the people.

6.    I, therefore, salute many of you who have shared examples of how you have enhanced citizens' inputs in the re-engineering processes of service delivery, updating the citizen’s charter, and also linking people’s feedback on services with performance management. One example I would like to share from my visit is that in the Anudharapura Municipal Council, the introduction of an e-tax system has led to a reduction from 30 minutes to 2 minutes in the turn-around time for citizens to pay taxes. The actual impact goes further as this also saves significant time on the part of taxpayers by not having to come to the office physically. A simple introduction of digital solutions has significantly improved overall efficiency and transparency, and in turn trust in the institutions.

7.    Many of you will be taking part in the country’s first National Tax Dialogue to be held in the same room tomorrow. There is a substantial amount of resonance between the recommendations of the CDLG conference and the point of deliberation at the Tax Dialogue. Transparent, accountable, and efficient institutions and service delivery are the cornerstone of enhancing tax culture and morale in Sri Lanka and across the globe. And without this, no reform will be sustainable. The reform agenda must consider the inter-generational impact on people and the planet.

8.    Throughout the symposium, the power of embracing digital has become evident. We are firmly committed to supporting Sri Lanka's journey towards robust digital ecosystems. Sri Lanka's dedication to its digital agenda is truly commendable. Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) is a powerful tool that can unlock national development, and UNDP is already exploring its potential in leveraging interoperable solutions for the country through other streams of partnerships with the government.

9.    CDLG’s successes on the ground speak to its impact, further strengthening the case for scale-up. Building on UNDP’s proven track record and global offer of using digital means as an enabler to drive sustainable development, we will continue to work hand-in-hand with governments, civil society, and the private sector to create impactful solutions beyond CDLG. In doing so, we will continue to advocate for the principle of the AAAG – “think big but start small and learn quickly” as mentioned by Ms. Lauren Kahn during her keynote speech.

10.    Putting all these together, I firmly believe the interventions to be made shortly by Aron will be perfectly fitting to tie all the threads, energize and inspire us in learning how our neighbouring countries in the region, in this case, Singapore, have embarked on a journey of transformation. Aaron has held senior policymaking roles in the Singaporean government and is now a Fellow of Practice and Director of Digital Transformation Education, at the University of Oxford, focusing on technology, public policy, and public administration. He co-chairs the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Technology Policy and is a member of the OECD’s AI Futures Expert Group. I have heard talks by Aron in various settings previously and have been deeply inspired by his insights. I hope you too will be energized as we conclude the two days of learning, fellowship and inspiration.

11.    And the success of CDLG is possible thanks to the hard work and dedication of the UNDP project team, as well as incredibly committed partners and counterparts at the local government institutions. Let me take this opportunity to sincerely thank the European Union Delegation through Excellency the Ambassador to Sri Lanka for its generous funding throughout every stage of the CDLG project.

12.    It is our sincere hope that the lessons learnt will be not only sustained but also replicated across the country, as well as the national level. In this regard, I am truly honored to have the esteemed presence of the State Minister of Home Affairs as his leadership will ensure sustainability as well as the uptake of the lessons learnt for future efforts led by the government. Building on the proceedings that will come out of this symposium, UNDP and the Government will continue to work closely on governance, digitization, and capacity development, highlighting our shared commitment to developing Sri Lanka. I would like to take the opportunity to thank my entire UNDP Sri Lanka team for working across to pull this symposium together.

13.    Lastly, I would like to sincerely thank each of you for your dedication and contributions to this symposium. I know many of you have travelled from far to be here. Your participation and insights have been invaluable, and I am confident that the collaborations and discussions from this event will pave the way for a brighter and more resilient future for all Sri Lankans.

14.    Thank you