|The challenge of an inclusive consensus - President Rajapaksa to Asian Mayors
November 26, 2006- 12.00 GMT
Convenor of the Asian Mayors' Conference and Chairperson of the All India Council of Mayors and Mayor of the beautiful city of Dehradun - Shrimati Manorama Dobriyal Sharma, Hon. Minister of Urban Development, Government of India - Shri Jaipal Reddy, Hon. Minister for Local Government and Provincial Councils, Government of Sri Lanka - Mr. Janaka Bandara Tennekone, Hon. Ministers, His Excellency Shri Sudarshan Agarwal - Governor and Hon. Shri N.D.Tiwari - Chief Minister of Uttaranchal, Your Worship - the Mayors from the different countries of Asia, Representatives of the UN Community, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen.
I am privileged and honoured to be able to participate today in the first Asian Mayors' Conference, here in Dehradun in India. I thank you, Madam Chairperson of the All India Council of Mayors, for inviting me to the inaugural session of this conference.
Asia has been described as the Continent of the 21st Century, just as America was the Continent of the 20th Century and Europe was that of the Century before. This is the Century in which we, the Asian countries, will be industrializing fast and moving towards an era of plenty and prosperity. It will be the Century in which, - whether we like it or not, - Asia will be transformed from a largely rural to an urban economy.
Many of our countries are already experiencing the drift of population from rural to urban areas. Cities and towns are growing with rapidly in each of our countries. Cities, big towns, small towns, townships and urban centres have started to grow where sleepy villages once existed.
What then is the problem? The newly expanding towns are not able to respond adequately with services, - such as those relating to health, primary education, crime, road safety, water, sanitation, malnutrition, hunger, poverty, garbage disposal and so on, - for the continuous inflow of people to our towns.
You as Asian mayors are challenged to give leadership to the people of our towns and resolve the problems that they face. You are challenged to display leadership qualities and managerial skills of the highest order. You are called upon to resolve the problems of urbanization with the active participation of the people of your towns. City governance and urban well-being are closely intertwined.
But for you, the Mayors, to be able provide that leadership effectively, Power and Resources need to be devolved on you by the central government. Your local revenue is certainly not enough for your needs. I am convinced that for local leaders to be able to meet the challenges of leadership in local communities such as in our growing urban communities, much more resources and powers have to be devolved to the lower levels of administration, while of course protecting and ensuring the unity and integrity of our different Nation States.
I say this with emphasis because we in Asia have not enjoyed a tradition of local government that is at the same time linked to the structures of a central government. Though most of our countries had systems of Local Government such as Sri Lanka's Gamsabha System and India's Panchayati Raj, traditionally these were not linked organically to the country's central system of administration. India being a huge country where the central administration did not reach down to villages in many areas, Local Government did play a very valuable role, - but here again it was not linked to the central administrative structures of the India's various Kingdoms, States and Empires.
The reforms of India's Panchayati Raj System in the past two decades, - particularly those of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, - have devolved powers more effectively to local communities. And that is why we in Sri Lanka are studying India's Panchayati Raj experience to take lessons from it to evolve Sri Lanka's own model of Maximum Devolution within a Unitary State as a solution to the problems we are experiencing in our North and East.
Urban Good Governance also calls for an 'inclusive' approach to the solving of urban problems. Most towns consist of a diversity of persons and groups. To most towns, people have migrated in the past from different parts of the local region, bringing with them their own traditions and cultural practices. Many towns are multi - ethnic, multi - religious and multi - cultural in nature. They are also invariably stratified according to economic grade and class. Urban populations are also known to belong to different political persuasions.
The challenge before you is to craft an 'inclusive' approach through which all these diverse groups can join together, work together, trust each other with a policy of 'give and take', and evolve a positive consensus on the vital issues faced by their cities and towns. I admit this is not easy. I admit the process is slow and it takes time and great effort to achieve. But if the solutions to your urban problems are to be sustainable in the long run, such an inclusive process of consensus building is absolutely essential.
This is exactly what my government has been doing in Sri Lanka in the last 12 months, not with regard to urban problems as such but with regard to our national problem. The basic principles of Good Governance are the same, whether it concerned towns and cities or whether it concerns entire nations.
In our country we are crafting an all-party approach to our national problem with great success. We have an All Party Conference, an All Party Representative Committee and finally a Memorandum of Understanding between the Government and the Main Opposition Party to work towards a consensus on the solution to our ethnic problem: A solution that will sustain itself with
all political groups including all the Tamil groups in the country. As you know we have several democratic Tamil parties representing the Tamil people, and also one terrorist group called the LTTE.
Our achievement in a year has been enormous. And this is the approach I propose to you, the Mayors of Asia, in confronting your own problems in the towns. Some people will complain that progress is slow. They don't realize the obvious, - namely, that a festering wound cannot be healed in a day.
They also don't realize that any lasting, sustainable solution to a serious problem must have an approach that is both inclusive and consensual. They try to push us towards adopting magic formulae and cut - and - paste solutions, which we have seen from our own experience, do not stand the test of time. They do so because they do not properly understand the exact nature of our specific problem - its history, its contours, its cultural aspects and the dynamics of its _expression.
Strong enlightened leadership on your part in our towns and cities can therefore help configure the approach of a nation's leadership to the problems of the country as a whole. Our hope, therefore, is that as you the Asian Mayors exchange views on immediate urban issues, you will devote some time to the role that you can play in setting an example in resolving the wider issues of development and nation building.
And finally, in conclusion I wish the First Asian Mayors' Conference all success in your deliberations in the days to follow. I am extremely happy to be among you today, and especially in this beautiful town of Dehradun, nestled in the foothills of the great Himalayan mountains - the Spiritual Roof of the World. I thank you once again for inviting me. Thank you.