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A group of concerned citizens have written to Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe expressing concerns over the government’s proposed Western Region Megapolis Development Plan.

The group has requested the prime minister to commit to certain measures regarding the plan before it is implemented.

Below is the full text of the letter sent to the prime minister:

Letter from Concerned Citizens Regarding the Proposed Western Region Megapolis Development Plan

10 December 2015

Colombo

Honourable Ranil Wickramasinghe

Prime Minister of Sri Lanka

Colombo.

Dear Prime Minister,

We welcome and laud the National Unity government’s efforts to initiate an integrated approach to the planned development of the Western Province including Colombo.  We appreciate the potential for national economic and sustainable development that is inherent in well-planned urbanisation.  We also note that underlying the plan to develop the western region as a megapolis is the objective, outlined in your recent economic policy statement, of ensuring a “high level of economic activity, powered by global and local businesses that will have the opportunity to provide employment and the facilities needed to build and sustain an advanced level of living.”

We appreciate the initiative to seek people’s views and concerns regarding the proposed megapolis.  Events such as the forum convened in Colombo on 30 November by the Minister for Megapolis and Western Region Development are most welcome, being a clear and refreshing departure from the practices of the past.

However, given the history of past attempts at such development, especially the experience in Colombo of the last few years, as concerned citizens we call on you to consider and commit to the following measures, which we believe are in line with the National Unity Government’s commitment to good governance:

  • Deepen public participation and transparency: We learn from the media and other sources that a draft of the plan for the western region megapolis is due to be completed as early as this week and taken to Parliament in January. While an expeditious approach is needed, there is significant concern that in view of the importance of this development planning exercise there must be, public consultation across the western region and systematic engagement with various professional bodies on the proposed draft plan for the megapolis. In this context, we request you to kindly outline and clarify:
  1. The process and structure for public consultation that will be followed across the western region.
  2. The schedule and sequencing of various activities including planning, consultation, review, and the phases of implementation.
  3. Measures taken to ensure complete transparency and public access to all information regarding the planning in all three languages.
  4. The sequencing and scheduling of major individual projects that make up the megapolis plan—it is especially important that public have prior knowledge of proposed projects.
  • Ensure participation and strengthening of elected local government authorities: Local authorities in the western region currently appear marginalised from the process. This is not conducive to democracy and good governance, or for expansion of their capacities. We urge you to outline measures that will be taken to ensure their fullest participation and shared ownership as well as build their capacities.
  • Ensure inter-agency balance, coordination and learning: It is crucial that the agency responsible for the planning of the megapolis does not become what the Urban Development Authority was under the previous regime: all-powerful and vertically rather than horizontally aligned with other agencies. There needs to be more effective institutional balance and synergies between various agencies mandated to deal with housing, transport, basic services, environment, etc., that must be involved and we call on you to outline specific measures for inter-agency coordination and involvement so that expertise and experience is effectively transferred and deployed.
  • Consult before legislating special powers: From statements made by Minister Ranawaka as well as media sources it is clear that a new law is being proposed to grant special powers to plan and implement the megapolis project. We are concerned about the scale and extent of these special powers and the impact they may have on people and communities. We request you to ensure a draft is placed in the public domain for discussion before being tabled in Parliament.
  • Commit to strengthening and applying the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy: We welcome Minister Ranawaka’s assurance that no one will be forcibly relocated and that due process will be followed for any land acquisition in connection with the megapolis project. However we call on you to commit that the National Involuntary Resettlement Policy, introduced by your government in 2001, will be a) updated where needed to reflect the best international safeguards standards and b) applied in all cases where relocation or land acquisition is found to be absolutely necessary.
  • Adopt community-driven location specific housing solutions: Sri Lanka has a history of pioneering community-centred participatory housing projects for the poor and the lower middle classes. We are concerned over reports that high maintenance and energy intensive high-rise buildings are being advocated as the primary approach to re-housing disadvantaged communities, despite its many drawbacks. We call on you to commit to adopting a community driven and participatory, location specific in-situ housing rather than one-size fits all high-rise projects.
  • Prioritise public transport and avoid supplier-driven capital-intensive solutions: We call on you to ensure that transport solutions are geared towards prioritising public transport, lowering fuel consumption, enhancing sustainability. We urge you to commit to a phased implementation of the urban transport master plan for the Colombo metro region that was developed with support from the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and recently revised by the University of Moratuwa.
  • Prioritise environmental protection: Ensure environmental assessments, which are conducted independently and professionally are placed in the public domain for review, underpin the overall plan for the megapolis as well as every major project component.
  • Develop a comprehensive set of principles to guide the planning and implementation process: We urge you to draft a comprehensive set of principles and goals drawing on and reflecting all of the above to steer the thinking of planners and other experts involved in the planning, design and implementation of the megapolis. Such principles must take into account the fact that the western region actually has a large concentration of relatively poor and economically marginalized population that is actively contributing to the region’s formal and informal economy. It is vital that any development plan centre on enhancing their full participation, well-being and quality of life. It is also equally important that such development is in line with equitable national resource allocations to meet development needs in other parts of the country, especially regions with comparatively low standards of essential infrastructure and services. The forthcoming White Paper on the megapolis presents an opportunity to enunciate these principles and goals.

We appreciate the urgency to launch specific measures and projects related to the western region as demonstrable evidence of benefits. We also appreciate your intention to base such initiatives upon a comprehensive urban development plan. However, we ask that you would first outline a comprehensive set of principles with goals, to guide some initial projects that may be commenced expeditiously while allowing time for a more comprehensive and participatory development and review of the plan as a whole, in all its detail.

Honourable Prime Minister, in the light of government’s repeated assurances of strong commitment to democracy and good governance we are hopeful that you will consider citizen’s participation, the concerns and issues we have raised.  The Western Region Megapolis Plan is a unique opportunity to create a development scheme that is truly democratic in both its creation and application, and genuinely a ‘plan of the people’.  We believe that addressing the issues we have raised will not only go a long way in ensuring wider ownership of the process but also more positive outcomes for the western region and the country as a whole.

We look forward to hearing from you at the earliest.

Sincerely,

Jayantha Dhanapala              Prof. Savitri Goonesekere                Susil Sirwardena

For and on behalf of:

Prof. Amal S. Kumarage, Mr. Chandraguptha Thenuwara, Mr. Gamini Viyangoda, Dr. Harini Amarasuriya, Prof. Kumar David, Dr. Jezima Ismail Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, Prof. Ranjini Obeyesekere, Mr. Tissa Jayatilaka, Mr. Shibly Aziz, Dr. T.L. Gunaruwan, Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare, Mr. Danesh Casie-Chetty, Mr. Priyantha Gamage, Dr. Vinya Ariyaratne, Prof. Sivaguru Ganesan, Mr. Ananda Galappatti, Ms. Visaka Dharmadasa, Dr. Selvy Thiruchandran, Rev. Dr. Jayasiri Peiris, Mr. Faiz-ur-Rahman, Dr. Devanesan Nesiah, Ms. Anita Nesiah, Mr. Ranjith Cabral, Prof. Camena Guneratne, Ms. Anushya Coomaraswamy, Mr. D. Wijayanandana, Mr. S.C.C. Elankovan, Ms. Shyamala Gomez, Dr. A.C. Visvalingam, Ms. Damaris Wickremesekera, Dr. Upatissa Pethiyagoda,

CC: His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena, President of Sri Lanka

Honourable Champika Ranawaka, Minister for Megapolis and Western Region Development

Honourable Lasantha Alagiyawanna, Deputy Minister for Megapolis and Western Region     Development