Colombo: The European Union (EU) and the State Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government Affairs of Sri Lanka co-chaired the first National Steering Committee for the Strengthening Transformation, Reconciliation and Inclusive Democratic Engagement (STRIDE) program recently.
STRIDE is a multi-stakeholder initiative worth over 9 billion rupees, funded by the EU to promote dialogue between communities and local governments by improving access and quality of services at the local level. The activities are implemented by the World Bank (WB), United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the British Council together with The Asia Foundation (TAF) in partnership with the State Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government Affairs as well as the Ministry of Justice.
Under the STRIDE umbrella, the WB provides small grants to local authorities, UNDP provides capacity building, and the British Council together with TAF promotes mediation as an alternative dispute resolution mechanism at the community level.
Speaking at the Steering Committee meeting, Mr. Frank Hess, Head of Development Cooperation at the EU Delegation to Sri Lanka and the Maldives said “In the EU, we believe that good governance and community participation in the planning and decision-making processes will contribute to everybody’s benefit. Local authorities should engage with people, mobilise and listen to their opinions and act as a catalyst for change in every community, and in this program we are seeing this happening. Therefore, I am glad that the EU is funding this program with 40 million euros (over 9 billion rupees).”
Commenting on the STRIDE Steering Committee, Mr. S.D.A.D. Boralessa, Secretary, State Ministry of Provincial Councils and Local Government Affairs, noted “It is a great honour to co-chair the National Steering Committee for the STRIDE program which is aiming to improve the access and quality of local government services in 134 Local Authorities in Northern, Eastern, North Central and Uva Provinces in Sri Lanka. This steering committee will definitely enhance the results for assistance made by European Union and the World Bank and also minimize the bottlenecks at the implementation. I believe that the valuable guidance by the steering committee will generate more benefits to the people in the country.”
Speaking on UNDP’s role, Mr. Navaneethan Vijayakumar, Project Manager from UNDP in Sri Lanka stated, “It is a pleasure to see stakeholders with diverse backgrounds coming together to provide important feedback to improve the implementing partners’ efforts and maximize the finite resources available. We are confident that with the guidance of the Steering Committee, we can work towards reaching our project goals that will, in turn, bring local authorities to the forefront in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”
An important part of the program, and its National Steering Committee, is to listen to voices from local authorities at national, provincial, district and local levels. Ms. Savithri Wijesekara, Executive Director of Women in Need (WIN), a member of the Committee noted that “the program initiated at the local government level has to be inclusive, responsive and accountable and build institutional capacity to provide good and effective service delivery to benefit cross communities of people. The inclusivity and engagement of the local government with civil society, the poor and the marginalized in development plans will strengthen and help in reconciliation, gender responsiveness and local needs.”
Mr. Asoka Gunawardana, Chairman, Marga Institute, a fellow member of the Steering Committee sharing his thoughts stated that “bringing together government and civil society representatives at the Steering Committee is a valuable chance to exchange views and share experiences”.
The STRIDE program is expected to run until 2023 and to benefit approximately one million Sri Lankans under over 100 local government authorities in the Northern, Eastern, Uva and North Central Provinces.