Opening Remarks at the National Symposium on Local Governance

Catalysing Change: Making Local Governance Future-Fit

June 10, 2024
Azusa Kubota at Catalysing Change: Making Local Governance Future-Fit

•    Mrs. Dishna Dharmasekera - Additional Secretary, Ministry of Public Administration
•    Ms. Lauren Kahn – Director of Strate Research, Public Digital UK,
•    Mr. Edoardo Spacca - Deputy Head of Cooperation, The EU Delegation to Sri Lanka,
•    Mr. A.J. M. Muzzamil, Governor of Uva Province, 
•    Ms. P.S.M. Charles, Governor of Northern Province,
•    Senior govt officials, development partners, ladies and gentlemen
•    On behalf of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), I warmly welcome you all to the National Symposium on “Catalyzing Change: Making Local Governance Future-Fit", supported by the EU-funded Capacity Development of Local Government (CDLG) project or CDLG, in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Administration
•    In particular, I would like to acknowledge the presence of representatives from local government authorities who have travelled far from different parts of the country to share their experiences and insights. 

1.    We agree that effective governance is a prime engine of development. The recent AI-generated study conducted by UNDP in Sri Lanka supports this argument: it identified SDG 16 – transparent and accountable institutions – as the most critical goal in triggering the achievement of other SDGs. 

2.    Following the country’s challenging economic crisis, Sri Lanka is going through an ambitious reform agenda, which requires a robust, efficient, competent, and forward-looking public service to follow through.  Fast evolving and adaptive public service embraces risks and innovation, and seeks to gain efficiency by adopting digital solutions. The COVID pandemic showed that governments around the world, which have successfully emerged from the crisis with strength, had the ability to anticipate options and risks and adapt and adjust in the wake of uncertainty. 

3.    In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous new normal, these are the capabilities that institutions and individuals must nurture. 

4.    The approach, known as ‘Triple AAA Governance’ or Anticipatory, Agile, and Adaptive Governance, is essential not just for survival but for building a sustainable future. These principles can drive national recovery and systemic improvements, enabling us to better respond to and withstand future challenges.

5.    Anticipatory governance involves identifying the landscape of change, mobilizing systemic thinking, and fostering inter-organizational cooperation through a cultural and institutional shift. It allows organizations to harness collective intelligence to address emerging opportunities for development. Adaptive governance mechanisms, such as foresight training, are crucial for ensuring that our governance structures are resilient and forward-thinking.

6.    Moreover, agile governance frameworks enable governments to respond effectively to complex pressures, from social and economic shifts to environmental crises. And UNDP will continue to support building these capabilities in Sri Lanka’s public service, building on the excellent insights and achievements shown in the CDLG project.

7.    The CDLG project has been guided by core principles, which include improving local planning and service delivery, enabling local governance systems to be innovative and inclusive in addressing multidimensional challenges, and strengthening the ability of central and provincial institutions to support local government authorities in delivering better services. These principles have empowered local authorities to provide more inclusive, accountable, and effective services, addressing the emerging needs of communities, while pushing forward with new ways of doing things.

8.    Throughout my tenure, I have travelled across the CDLG sites to witness the fruits of this AAA approach. I have been deeply impressed by the openness that the local authorities have demonstrated in enhancing efficiency and accountability through digital solutions and citizens’ charter.

9.    As the CDLG comes to a close in October this year, the symposium is a pivotal platform, exploring how these values have augmented revenue generation, social accountability, digitalization, and the green transition, all through the lens of CDLG’s development of local governance. The project's impact is evident in improved service access and community trust, with 64% reporting an enhancement in the time taken for service delivery of LAs. Notably, 73% of local authorities accessed funds for projects, emphasizing the effectiveness of revenue-raising interventions. Strengthening legal frameworks and fostering collaboration among CSOs have advanced governance reforms. 

10.    We hope that the symposium will facilitate the sharing of innovative practices to propel scaling up horizontally across the country, going beyond the project's 4 provinces, and also vertically at the national level. 

11.    Digital solutions must be viewed as part of an ecosystem approach. Revenue generation and greening systems are further complex spheres. We must continue to highlight the role of citizen engagement and accountability in governance, showcase local best practices and their potential for national-level implementation, and involve thinkers and experts to add depth to our discussions. These principles and values are critical for Sri Lanka to move forward with the transformation and recovery processes from the current crisis. And there are so many lessons to be learnt from elsewhere and share these Sri Lankan experiences with others, as well.

12.    In this regard, it is our great pleasure to have our keynote speaker, Ms. Lauren Kahn. Lauren brings a wealth of international experience in supporting inclusive, responsible, and sustainable digital transformation for global impact. As the Director of Strategy & Research at Public Digital, she leads transformative initiatives with global development organizations, including UN agencies, multilateral development banks, and major philanthropic foundations. We truly look forward to hearing her insights shortly after. 

13.    As we convene today, we are mindful of the broader context of Sri Lanka’s socio-economic recovery. Our discussions here are part of a larger effort to help local government achieve the required self-sufficiency. The planned withdrawal of government funding to local governments after 2027 underscores the urgency of equipping local governments for future sustainability. 

14.    I am pleased to note that during the closing session of the symposium, there will be a set of recommendations that will be presented to the Honorable Prime Minister as the Minister for Public Administration to ensure ownership and scaling up of these examples. 

15.    I would like to also note that the symposium is held back to back with the country’s first-ever National Tax Dialogue with a focus on optimizing tax revenue for SDG attainment.  These discussions will help us identify synergies that support local governments in expanding their capabilities and ensuring financial sustainability.

16.    Before I close, I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to the donor to the CDLG project and today’s symposium, EU delegation in Sri Lanka. I would also like to acknowledge the Ministry of Public Administration and the Prime Minister's Office for their unwavering support, close relationship and collaboration that has been instrumental in our journey. It will be remiss to not recognize the hard work of the UNDP CDLG team and UNDP country office staff. It has been truly the whole of the office's effort to pull a gathering like this with over 300 participants. 

17.    Lastly, let me thank all the participants, including the speakers and panellists, for your dedication and contributions. Your participation today is a testament to our collective commitment to making local governance in Sri Lanka future-fit. I am confident that the insights and collaborations from this symposium will pave the way for a brighter and more resilient future for all Sri Lankans.

18.    Thank you.