Decentralization in Sri Lanka A Critical Analysis of Decentralization during the 1970s and its Impact on Rural Development

R. Ramesh, H. U. S. Pradeep, Ranjith Dickwella, R. Sathis


The United Front Government, which came to power in 1970, concentrated onselective administration, decentralization and the establishment of numerous local levelinstitutions for bringing decision-making authority down to lower levels and thereby topromote rural development. Another feature of the new approach was the emphasis ondecentralized planning and greater opportunities provided for rural development.District Development Councils (DDCs), Divisional Development Councils (Div. DCs)Agricultural Productivity Committees (APCs), Cultivation Committees and People'sCommittees, District Political Authority and Decentralized Budget were some of theimportant initiatives for the promotion of rural development (Perera, 1999, Lietan, 1979& Wijeweera, 1994).

Theoretically, the above institutional framework, thus established covering thethree sub national levels, i.e. the district, division and the village, provided ampleopportunities and a broad base for local participation in decision-making at all levels inthe rural development process. However, these efforts proved futile owing to certainreasons; hence, rural development also faced a setback during this period.

Therefore, the study intends to examine issues and problems encountered bythese institutions in achieving rural development. Few key informants interviews wereconducted with academics and large amount of data were gathered through a desk study.Published and unpublished government reports on above institutions were also used asprimary data. Exploratory analysis method has been employed to analyze data. Thestudy has specifically focused on decentralization efforts and their impact on ruraldevelopment during 1970s.

The study found that, enlistment of the Member of Parliament as the Chairmanof the Divisional Development Council led to dominance of party politics in theCouncils and they were turned into party political instruments. Politically favoritism,unequal and patronage-based allocation of district decentralized budget, politicization of local development to secure power bases, high degree of control by District PoliticalAuthority on development council‟s works and erosion of autonomy have negativelyaffected rural development. However, there were also some positive impacts on ruraldevelopment such as people participation in local development, formation of variousdevelopment related societies and councils targeting rural development, local planningand plan implementation etc.

Thus, it is pertinent to conclude that, decentralization during the 1970-1977periods had both positive and negative effects. Decentralization contributed to theconcept of decentralized rural development. Establishment of an institutional base forthe interaction between administrators and non-administrators in planning,implementation, monitoring and evaluating local development and inception of aDistrict Budget system targeting district level development provided positive results. Onthe other hand, decentralization created non-transparency, corruption, politicalpatronage etc at the local development programs.

Key words: Decentralization, Rural development, Decentralized budget, Districtpolitical authority, District and Divisional Councils

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