Good Governance and Conflict Transformation in Sri Lanka. A Political Analysis of People's Perceptions at the Local Level and the Challenges of Decentralized Governance

Type Working Paper
Title Good Governance and Conflict Transformation in Sri Lanka. A Political Analysis of People's Perceptions at the Local Level and the Challenges of Decentralized Governance
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2006
This empirical study on good governance and conflict transformation in Sri Lanka is located
within the larger scholarly discourse on good governance as a solution to conflict in
developing societies. Sri Lanka is one of the oldest post-colonial democratic systems among
the states of the South and has experienced various elections and changes of government
between 1947 and 2001. This speaks to a certain extent for consolidation of democracy.
However, Sri Lanka suffers under one of the most protracted civil wars in the world, which
raises critical questions about the functioning of the democratic institutions and the
governance system.
The starting point of the thesis is the lack of empirical information, which is necessary to
provide more rigorous knowledge on governance in different countries. Most available data
sources use fact-based data only, without consideration of perception-based data of local
citizens and stakeholders. The assumption of this thesis is that the international discourse on
good governance requires context-specific testing and the redefinition of international good
governance indicators, based on perceptions of local stakeholders. In this study a contextspecific
good governance model for Sri Lanka is developed, based on the prescriptive
definition of citizens and stakeholders of what good governance should be and their
assessment of what local governance actually is. Chapter two poses the main research
question, which is, “what are the key actors, issues and challenges at the local level that a
context-specific good governance model needs to take into account in order to promote
sustainable development and peaceful co-existence?” This research question is elaborated
on the basis of empirical case studies conducted at the local level in three regions of Sri
Chapter three specifies the political and historical context of Sri Lanka and explains how the
processes of devolution of power and political mobilisation on ethnic lines have intersected,
stymieing the transition to rule of law and effective implementation of citizenship. The
empirical core of the thesis, chapter four, introduces the three regions of empirical research,
selected on the basis of a different ethnic composition and different conflict settings. As the
unit of research, selected rural local authority areas of the three regions Central Province,
Uva-Province and Eastern Province are considered. The findings are based on a
combination of various quantitative and qualitative interview techniques, like interviews with
the elite, stakeholder interviews, household surveys and focus group discussions, which
provide a rich insight into the perceptions of local stakeholders.
The eight indicators of good governance, namely efficiency, responsiveness and equality,
professional leadership, transparency and accountability, people’s participation, rule of law
and human rights protection, trust and basic security and conflict transformation capacities
derive from the discourse of the local stakeholders. These good governance indicators are
used to describe and assess the perceptions of local stakeholders with regard to the state of
governance in the three regions.
Chapter five summarises the empirical findings by pointing out the key actors, key issues and
challenges of local governance in Sri Lanka. Regarding the key actors of local governance,
the study revealed that although a variety of semi-state and non-state actors were mentioned
as playing a role in local governance, it is particularly the political and administrative
institutions at the local level as well as within the Central Government which are considered
as the key actors for the establishment and guarantee of good governance at the local level.
The lack of co-operative interaction among these actor groups is a key to most challenges
identified at the local governance level.
With regard to the key issues, the findings from the three very different research regions
revealed many similarities: the status of the eight good governance indicators was critical in
that none of the indicators was perceived as being implemented to the satisfaction of the
people. Other critical issues are the marginalisation of the local government authority, lack of
people’s participation, patronage structures, inadequate representation of minority groups as
well as lack of qualified and motivated local political leaders. The study revealed that many
shortcomings of the local governance system are contributing to an aggravation of social
conflict. The strengthening of local governance can be regarded as an important entry point
to improve the social integration of different identity groups.
In the final chapter, the empirical and methodological value-added of the study and the
lessons learnt and potential for governance reforms at local and national level with regard to
the resolution of the ethno-political conflict in Sri Lanka are discussed. Overall the case-study
approach has allowed a detailed insight into the interactions in complex processes and
structures within a given region and a comparison of the three cases has generated policy
recommendations, which can support the national reform process in Sri Lanka.

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