• Last Update 2021-10-17 21:11:00

Sri Lanka’s National Administrative System - Revisitingand Rationalising Towards Greater Efficiency

Opinion

By Anila Dias Bandaranaike. Ph.D.

  1. Introduction

A country needs timely, reliable information to implement policy, allocate resources and deliver services, such as education, health, environmental protection, justice and security, to the people. In Sri Lanka, information is collected through the national administrative system (NAS), while different services are delivered to service-specific areas - Education Zones, Medical Officer of Health (MOH) areas and Police Divisions - whose geographical boundaries differ from each other.

An efficient NAS should divide the country into administratively manageable geographical units, to collect  information from, and deliver services to them effectively. For effective administration and service delivery,the size of these units should reflect their population and land characteristics.

Against this background,this article will discuss why we need to review, and how we can further rationalise, Sri Lanka’s current NAS to identify and address any shortcomingstowards greater efficiency in service delivery to the people.

  1. Overview of Sri Lanka’s National Administration System

Sri Lanka’s service delivery to even the smallest hamlet in the country has been made possible by our current national administrative system (NAS). For example, during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Sri Lanka was able to monitor and manage the country situation, including the vaccination programme, because of our long standing Primary Healthcare System.Under this system, Primary Healthcare Inspectors (PHIs), Nurses (PHNs) and Mid-wives (PHMs) are assigned toeach Grama Niladhari Division (GND), Sri Lanka’s smallest administrative unit. PHIs and PHNs, have been monitoring households and communities under their purview in extremely difficult conditions and providing them with information and services to deal with the pandemic. In contrast, early in the pandemic in the USA, which has no such healthcare system, citizens in some areas had no information onwhere to get vaccinated.

 

The smallest administrative unit in the NAS is a GND. GNDs group into Divisional Secretariats (DSs). DSs combine into administrative districts (Districts), the largest administration units. We use the NAS to collect demographic and environmental information from the smallest units, GNDs. Thereafter, this information can be collated to the required level of aggregation, by DS, District or Province, for efficient resource allocation, policy-making and implementation.

 

The Grama Niladhari is the public officer responsible for administering each GND.  Currently, Sri Lanka has 14,022 GNDs (Table 1). The 2012 Census of Population and Housing (Census 2012), recorded the average population and land area per GND as 1,457 persons and 4.7 km2, respectively.  However, GND land areas and populations vary significantly across Districts. GND areas range from 516 km2 (Hambantota) to 0.04 km2 (Ampara, Batticaloa), while populations range from 28,003 persons (Colombo) to less than 100 persons (Batticaloa, Jaffna, Killinochchi, Mullaitivu, Polonnaruwa, Trincomalee).

 

The Divisional Secretary is responsible for administering each DS.  Currently, Sri Lanka has 331 DSs.The average number of GNDs per DS is 42, while the average population and land area per DS are 61,704 persons and 198 km2, respectively. However, GND numbers, land areas and populations within a single DS vary among Districts, from 151 GNDs (Nuwara Eliya) to 5 GNDs (Moneragala), from 323,257 persons (Colombo) to 3,824 persons (Jaffna) and from 1,066 km2 (Moneragala) to 2.48 km2 (Ampara), respectively.

 

 

TABLE 1: Geographical and Demographic Data Variations by District

District

Total Area    Sq Km

Inland Waters   Sq Km

High-estEleva-tion             M

Popu-lation '000s

PP Density (Ppn/Total Area with water bodies)

No. of DS

No. of GND

No. of GND/DS

Total Area/DS with water bodies

PP/DS

Total Area/GND with water bodies

PP/GND

Sri Lanka

65,610

2,905

2,530

20,424

311

331

14,022

42

198

61,704

4.7

1,457

Western

3,684

91

720

5,866

1,592

40

2,496

62

92

146,650

1.5

2,350

Colombo

699

23

450

2,330

3,333

13

557

43

54

179,231

1.3

4,183

Gampaha

1,387

46

310

2,311

1,666

13

1,177

91

107

177,769

1.2

1,963

Kalutara

1,598

22

720

1,225

767

14

762

54

114

87,500

2.1

1,608

Central

5,674

99

2,530

2,582

455

36

2,224

62

158

71,722

2.6

1,161

Kandy

1,940

23

1,890

1,380

711

20

1,188

59

97

69,000

1.6

1,162

Matale

1,993

41

1,890

487

244

11

545

50

181

44,273

3.7

894

Nuwara Eliya

1,741

35

2,530

715

411

5

491

98

348

143,000

3.5

1,456

Southern

5,544

161

1,220

2,485

448

47

2,121

45

118

52,872

2.6

1,172

Galle

1,652

35

820

1,066

645

19

895

47

87

56,105

1.8

1,191

Matara

1,283

13

1,220

817

637

16

650

41

80

51,063

2.0

1,257

Hambantota

2,609

113

780

602

231

12

576

48

217

50,167

4.5

1,045

Northern

8,884

594

189

1,064

120

34

921

27

261

31,294

9.6

1,155

Jaffna

1,025

96

15

585

571

15

435

29

68

39,000

2.4

1,345

Kilinochchi

1,279

74

50

114

89

4

95

24

320

28,500

13.5

1,200

Mannar

1,996

116

90

100

50

5

153

31

399

20,000

13.0

654

Vavuniya

1,967

106

189

173

88

4

102

26

492

43,250

19.3

1,696

Mullaitivu

2,617

202

86

92

35

6

136

23

436

15,333

19.2

676

Eastern

9,996

635

860

1,561

156

45

1,079

24

222

34,689

9.3

1,447

Batticaloa

2,854

244

390

528

185

14

346

25

204

37,714

8.2

1,526

Ampara

4,415

193

860

652

148

20

503

25

221

32,600

8.8

1,296

Trincomalee

2,727

198

244

381

140

11

230

21

248

34,636

11.9

1,657

North-Western

7,888

382

1,220

2,389

303

46

2,158

47

171

51,935

3.7

1,107

Kurunegala

4,816

192

1,220

1,624

337

30

1,610

54

161

54,133

3.0

1,009

Puttalam

3,072

190

250

765

249

16

548

34

192

47,813

5.6

1,396

North Central

10,472

731

768

1,271

121

29

989

34

361

43,828

10.6

1,285

Anuradhapura

7,179

515

768

864

120

22

694

32

326

39,273

10.3

1,245

Polonnaruwa

3,293

216

600

407

124

7

295

42

470

58,143

11.2

1,380

Uva

8,500

165

2,320

1,271

150

26

886

34

327

48,885

9.6

1,435

Badulla

2,861

34

2,320

818

286

15

567

38

191

54,533

5.0

1,443

Moneragala

5,639

131

1,520

453

80

11

319

29

513

41,182

17.7

1,420

Sabaragamuwa

4,968

47

2,230

1,935

389

28

1,148

41

177

69,107

4.3

1,686

Ratnapura

3,275

39

2,230

1,092

333

17

575

34

193

64,235

5.7

1,899

Kegalle

1,693

8

1,930

843

498

11

573

52

154

76,636

3.0

1,471

Sources: DCS and Survey Dept., Census 2012

 

Also, the largest District, Anuradhapura, at 7,179 km2, is 10 times that of Colombo at 699 km2. Population density in highly urban Colombo with flat terrain and easy access, at 3,333 persons/km2, is more than 40 times that in remote, forested Moneragala at 80/km2 . Only Colombo and Gampaha, with populations of more than 2 million, have population densities of over 1, 500/km2. Population density in 18 other districts is much lower, at between 800/km2 and 100/km2. Population density in the remaining 5 Districts is under 100/km2.

 

  1. Proposed Rationalisation

The population size and land area to be administered should be practically manageable for a single Grama Niladhari, Divisional Secretary or official responsible for a service to each GND. As importantly, an inhabitant of any GND/DS/service unit should be able to access their office or service delivery contact point within a time interval that could deal with an emergency.

 

For example, in urban areas with high population density (>1,500/km2) and easy access, a Grama Niladhari could administer many more households within a very small area,whereas in remote, flat, rural regions with low population density (<100/km2) and easy access, the Grama Niladhari could administer a much larger land area, to address floods, droughts, landslides, deforestation, poaching, etc.) with less households. In mountainous, forested, sparsely populated regions with difficult road access, manageable land area would be less for a GND, with a lower number of households.

 

As with GNDs, the population size, land area and number of GNDs in any DS should also fall within a range that is practically manageable for a Divisional Secretary to supervise the GNDs in that DS, as well as the geographical area that s/he is responsible for.

 

On an initiative of the former Delimitation Commission, following a detailed study of the present NAS, a consistent, practical methodology was developed,which addressed the population and land characteristics of each District separately, to determine whether the current numbers and sizes of GNDs within each District required boundary adjustments.Using this methodology,adjustments weremade as required.

 

Using this methodology, Sri Lanka’s 25 Districts were grouped into 9 broad categories, based on population density, terrain, elevation and the current status of road access.  This provided a basis for a suitable size range of a GND for each category, which varied from 0-1.5 km2 to 15-30 km2(Table 2).

 

TABLE 2: Proposed Area Ranges for the Size of GNs within the 25 Administrative Districts - km2

Elevation above Sea Level and Road Access

Population Density – Population/km2

Column 1

 

3,001 - 3,600

Column 2

 

1,501-3,000

Column 3

 

801 – 1,500

Column 4

 

401-800

Column 5

 

101- 400

Column 6

 

<= 100)

0 - 500M,

Easy

Less than 1.5(Cb)

Less than 1.5 (Gm)

n/a

3 - 5 (Jf)

n/a

n/a

0 - 500M,

Difficult

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

10 - 15 (Pu, Bc, Tr)

15 - 30 (Kn,Vv, Mn, Mu)

500 - 1,500M,

Easy

n/a

n/a

n/a

3-5 (Gl, Mr)

6-10 (Kg)

n/a

500 - 1,500M,

Difficult

n/a

n/a

n/a

2 - 4 (Kl)

5 -15 (Ha, Am, Po, Ap)

n/a

1,500 - 2,600M,

Easy

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

n/a

1,500 - 2,600M, Difficult

n/a

n/a

n/a

2 - 4 (Ky, Ke, NE)

4-6 (Rp, Bd, Ml)

10 - 30 (Mg)

Key: Cb-Colombo, Gm-Gampaha, Jf-Jaffna, Pu-Puttalam, Bc-Batticaloa, Tr-Trincomalee, Kn-Kilinochchi, Vv-Vavuniya, Mn-Mannar, Mu-Mullaitivu, Gl-Galle, Mr-Matara, Kg-Kurunegala, Kl-Kalutara, Ha- Hambantota, Am-Ampara, Po-Polonnaruwa, Ap-Anuradhapura, Ky-Kandy, Ke-Kegalle, NE-Nuwara Eliya, Rp-Ratnapura, Bd-Badulla, Ml-Matale, Mg-Moneragala

 

On this basis, the only districts with population density above 1,500/km2, highly urban Colombo and Gampaha, with flat terrain and easy road access, fit into one category (Table 2, Columns 1 and 2).

Another 7 districts (Galle, Jaffna, Kalutara, Kandy, Kegalle, Matara, and Nuwara Eliya) have population densities of between 400 and 800/km2, but their terrains vary significantly. Galle, Jaffna and Matara have relatively flat terrain and easy road access. Kalutara, Kandy, Kegalle and Nuwara Eliya with hilly or mountainous terrain have more difficult road access. Hence, the proposed methodology divides these 7 districts into 2 distinct categories (Table 2, Column 4).

 

Another 11 districts ( Ampara, Anuradhapura, Badulla, Batticaloa, Hambantota, Kurunegala, Matale,Polonnaruwa, Puttalam, Ratnapura and Trincomalee) have population densities of between 100 and 400/km2 and difficult road access.Their terrains vary significantly, from Batticaloa, Puttalam and Trincomalee, with flat terrain, to Kurunegala, with some rocky outcrops,to Ampara, Anuradhapura, Hambantota and Polonnaruwa, with some hilly areas, to mountainous Badulla, Matale and Ratnapura. Hence, the proposed methodology divides these 11 districts into 4 distinct categories (Table 2, Column 5).

 

The remaining 5 districts have heavy forest cover with difficult road access and population densities of less than 100/km2.Terrain ranges from hilly Moneragala to flat Killinochchi, Mannar, Mullativu and Vavuniya. Hence, the proposed methodology divides these 5 districts into 2 distinct categories, placing Moneragala in a separate category (Table 2, Column 6).

 

A comparison of the current number of GNDs with the upper and lower limits derived for the number of GNDs from the proposed methodology in each District,shows that the current number of GNDs is within the proposed range in 15 Districts. In the other 10 Districts, most of which now have good road access, the current number of GNDs is too high. The number of GNDs in those 10 districts could be rationalised and reduced. Furthermore, several GNDs exceed the proposed population and area ranges for their Districts. In particular, 838 GNDs in the 25 Districtsexceed the proposed upper limits for population and 253 GNDs in 20 Districts exceed the proposed upper limits for area, while 15 GNDs in 8 Districts exceed both.  These GNDs can be split and, where possible, the split parts combined with contiguous smaller GNDs, to create new GNDs that satisfy the proposed population and area criteria for each District. At the same time, in all 25 districts, there are many GNDs which fall below the proposed lower limits for area and population. Such contiguous GNDs can be combined to form larger GNDs that are within the proposed limits for those districts, thereby reducing the number of GNDs,if necessary.

 

  1. Conclusion

Using the proposed methodology the current GND system can be rationalised for greater efficiency, where each GND will have a population and land area that is suitable for administration of,and service delivery to,its population density and terrain.

 

The former Delimitation Commission sent copies of the Report on this methodology to the President and relevant Ministry Secretaryin 2020. It is hoped that this Report will be studied and the methodology implemented,toimprove administration and service delivery across the country. Thereafter, further modifications and improvements can be made, as needed.

 

(From November 2015 to December 2020, the author was a member of the 3-member Delimitation Commission, one of 9 Independent Commissions appointed by the President under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. She was also on the Delimitation Committee for Provincial Councils Elections appointed by the President in October 2017, which completed its task within its 4-month mandate. She retired as Assistant Governor from the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in 2007.)

 

 

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