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Sri Lankan PM mulls new local govt structure in ‘Megapolis’ era

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka needs to reconsider the structure of its local governments to keep up with changing times and the emergence off ‘mega-cities’ like the planned Western Province Megapolis, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said.

Asian urban centers are taking the lead in integrating their national economies with global value and supply chains, he said in a key note speech at the World Cities Summit, International Water Week and Cleanenviro Summit in Singapore, Monday.

“Metropolitan regions with mega infrastructure is the key to transnational connectivity that enables global economic integration.”

Wickremesinghe said that large cities have become centres of industrialisation and modernisation. 

“They have reaped the benefits of economies of agglomeration. When firms and workers cluster together there is improved productivity and job creation.  Mega-cities have gone one step further: they have become highly productive centres which connect workers and businesses with global markets,” he said.

“Cities, therefore, have become hubs of wealth creation, attracting waves of people with opportunities for advancement not available in their villages.”

But he said the allure of urban life also resulted in the unexpectedly rapid, and therefore unplanned, expansion of cities in South and South East Asia, creating challenges of congestion such as immense population pressures on infrastructure, basic services, land, housing, and the environment. 

“Apart from constraining the benefits of agglomeration, these pressures also reduce the quality of life of a city’s residents,” Wickremesinghe said. “It leaves them unable to access sanitation, sewage, transport, and decent housing.  It condemns them to breathing polluted air and to drinking contaminated water.”

Such pressures also leaves people’s homes and lives vulnerable to the ravages of climate change and natural disasters and compels them to create subcultures in a city’s underbelly – as ghettos, gangs, drug traffickers, and transient communities, Wickremesinghe said.

“For Sri Lanka or any other country to deal with these challenges, we need to politically and financially revitalize and empower local governments,” he said.





The biggest issue in the management of mega-cities is that they involve many levels of Government and Local Authorities.

“Political power in many of our countries were distributed between the Central Government, the Provinces and the Local Authorities in the last century when concepts such as mega-cities and global connectivity had not even been thought of,” Wickremesinghe said.

“ Given that we will now have to exercise these powers for completely different objectives in a completely different environment, it is inevitable then that we must reconsider the structure of our local governments.“

Wickremesinghe said he sees a future where a sprawl of mega urban centres stretches from Beijing to Bangkok to Jakarta to Mumbai.  

Although cities across Asia are growing apace, only three (Singapore, Tokyo, and Kobe) are in the top 50 of the Mercer Quality of Life index. 

Colombo was the highest ranked South Asian city, but still only stood at 137 out of 231 cities, Wickremesinghe said. 

“At least 15 Asian cities are in the bottom 50 of this ranking.   Our challenge, as leaders, is to make these Asian cities livable for the present and the future. The sustainable development of our globe depends on whether we succeed or fail,” Wickremesinghe said.

The key thrust of the Sri Lanka initiative will be the Western Megapolis and the two connecting corridor which will cover 9 million people, he said. 

The mega infrastructure includes the development of the ports of Colombo and Hambantota in the South.  The new landfill adjacent to the Colombo Port is planned as an offshore Financial Centre.   Four Special Economic Zones will provide the infrastructure for industry.

Wickremesinghe said the government envisions the Western Province of Sri Lanka, which includes Colombo and the capital Sri Jayewardenepura as a Megapolis of interconnected metropolitan areas. 

This would include a light railway system with elevated railways, elevated highways, a multi-modal transport hub, the development of old waterways, and three LNG plants and encompass a Logistics City, a Forest City, and an Aero City.  

“We will aim for maximum livability by implementing sewerage and solid waste projects, an Eco Zone, and Riverine Buffer Zone Development,” Wickremesinghe said.  “Plans for the megapolis were prepared by Surbana Jurong and the Ministry of Megapolis are in the initial stages of implementation.”
(COLOMBO, July 09, 2018)

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