Equity and well-being in Sri Lanka
Address by Finance and Planning Deputy
Minister Gitanjana Gunawardena at the launch of the study titled ‘Equity
and well-being: measurement and policy practice’ at the IPS auditorium
on March 13. The study is a collaborative product of the Institute of
Policy Studies of Sri Lanka and the ADB.
Finance and Planning Deputy Minister
The development policy of the government aims to reposition Sri Lanka
in the global arena as a developed country with leading knowledge hub in
the region. The Vision of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the future
of Sri Lanka, The Mahinda Chintana, envisages the country to aspire to
be a nation with a high quality of life for all of its people having
access to decent living, electricity, water, schooling and health
facilities. The government development policy framework also stresses
inclusive growth, to share the benefits of growth across all segments of
the population and also to prevent inequities as well as social
Sri Lanka has long been recognized for its achievements in human
development. Sri Lanka is an early achiever of the Millennium
Development Goals (MDGs) of universal primary education, gender equity
in primary education and also in respect of better health outcomes such
as reduced infant and maternal mortality rates. Over the years, several
policy interventions in the areas of education, health and social
welfare have been carried out with the intention of upgrading the human
development of the country. In the latest Human Development Report,
released by the UNDP, Sri Lanka is categorized in the ‘Medium Human
Development’ group. Sri Lanka has the highest level of human development
in the South Asian region.
The creation of prosperity to the majority of the people requires
connectivity through roads, electricity, telecommunication, information
technology and education and ensured quality in the fields of health
services, sanitation and in water supply. Hence, the development
strategy relies not only on promoting investments for infrastructure
based on commercial and economic returns, but also on the creation of
equitable access to such infrastructure development to enable people to
engage in gainful economic activities. Providing quality services and
improving service delivery, which cater to the changing demands of rapid
economic growth and social development of the country has been a central
concern of the government.
Various policy measures such as Gama Neguma, Divi Neguma and Maga
Neguma have been introduced to improve living conditions of people, in
particular with respect to access to roads, rural industry and
agriculture, electricity, safe water and sanitation facilities. During
the last five years, more than 100,000 houses were constructed all over
the country under different schemes such as Gama Neguma, estate housing,
Jathika Saviya, fisheries community housing, roofing sheet assistance
and other upgrading programmes.
Poverty alleviation programmes
Maintaining and upgrading the existing social services while the
restoration, rehabilitation and reconstruction of the services in
conflict-affected areas are the foremost concerns in the post-conflict
era. These are more challenging when we consider them in the perspective
of inclusive growth.
The country’s economy has been growing at an impressive rate of 8
percent during 2009-2011 in the follow-up of establishment of peace and
stability. The government envisages continuing the momentum of
development to achieve the targets of its vision. All key sectors of the
economy demonstrated a commendable performance in the last two years,
underpinned by the peaceful domestic environment, and improved investor
confidence, favourable macro-economic conditions and gradual recovery of
the global economy from one of the deepest recessions in history.
Despite the conflict, government’s policy of ensuring basic
infrastructure has improved. This allows benefits to trickle down to low
income households. The incidence of poverty in Sri Lanka has
significantly reduced from 26.1 percent in 1990/91 to 8.9 percent in
2009/10. All the sectors have experienced a fall in poverty levels
significantly during the period 2006-2009. Particularly in the estate
sector, the percentage of poor has almost reduced to one third of the
level that existed in 2006/07. Sri Lanka has achieved the MDG goal
‘halving the incidence of poverty’ ahead the target. Poverty alleviation
programmes of the government and improved infrastructure facilities,
industrial and commercial activities have largely contributed to this
Education is part and parcel of economic and social development of
the country. We have been providing access to Free Education for over
six decades. Sri Lanka takes pride in supporting its free education
system throughout primary and secondary school levels as well at
university level and in adhering to ethics and standards as proclaimed
by provisions in international conventions. Our sustained efforts in
free education has achieved for Sri Lanka and outstanding 91.4 percent
The free public education system remains the predominant education
service provider of general education in the country. The present
schools system comprises 10,492 schools, of which 92 percent are
To improve access to general education, the government has adopted a
variety of demand and supply-side policies that include the Development
of 1,000 fully fledged Secondary Schools Programme towards ensuring
quality education for rural children, school mid day meal programme,
subsidized transport, free uniforms and textbooks etc.
The government policy document, Mahainda Chinthana - Vision for the
Future, aims for a Knowledge Hub within an education system which
contributes to the rapid economic and social development of the country.
It has recognized the need for promoting equity and enhancing the
quality and relevance of general education.
The key policy priorities for the sector as identified by the
government are: a) ensure that all students complete primary and
secondary education successfully, b) ensure that education services are
designed around the needs of each child, c) improve the quality and
relevance of general education, d) ensure that children achieve
competence in languages and Mathematics.
Health services are crucial for enhancing human development,
promoting equity and contributing to the wealth and well being of a
nation. Sri Lanka is regarded as a success story in achieving most of
the vital health indicators much earlier than its regional counterparts.
Most of the key health indicators for Sri Lanka are almost at the same
level as that of developed economies.
Improving equitable access to quality services are key concerns of
the government policies. A rapid demographic transition and aging
population, and emerging health risks such as NCDs are major health
sector challenges. Further, being a country which has experienced a 30
year civil war is another major challenge of realigning the country’s
economy and regaining its lost opportunities for development.
The government’s development policy framework has developed a
strategy to stimulate economic growth and ensure it trickles down
equitably. The strategy focuses on more equitable growth and augers for
a more prominent role for the state in economic development by improving
service delivery. At the same time the new strategy proposes to promote
private sector development, and expand the role of public-private
partnerships, especially in lagging regions, and focus on infrastructure
development to accelerate growth and to narrow regional disparities
Sri Lanka has taken several initiatives to increase food consumption
and ensure adequate nutrition intake among households and individuals.
The main intervention has been the ‘Thriposha’ (a pre-cooked cereal
based food) national programme, made available to pregnant and lactating
mothers during the first 6 months and infants between 6-11 months of
age. It is estimated to have catered to nearly 580,000 beneficiaries in
2007. A school-feeding programme under which poor children are given a
hot meal in school, and provision of a food package for expected mothers
(poshana malle) are some other interventions. In addition, a ‘National
Nutrition Surveillance System’ was launched in 2008 to obtain timely
data at provincial and central level.
The government has already launched a ‘National Nutrition Policy’ for
the period 2008-18. The government has also identified the gravity of
NCD-related health challenges and taken several policy initiatives. A
‘National Policy and Strategic Framework for Prevention and Control of
Chronic Non-communicable Diseases’ was approved by government in 2010.
In the Budget 2011, an additional allocation of Rs. 900 million was
approved for a three year action plan targeting the control of NCDs, to
be implemented from 2011 through improvements in the primary healthcare
The government has given high priority to the development of the
conflict affected Northern and Eastern provinces. Allocations for
investments in such lively hood, social and service infrastructure
programmes under the Uthuru Vasnathaya and Negenahira Navodaya
programmes in the North and East have been Rs. 19,770 million and Rs.
6,916 million respectively since 2009.
Cultural and religious tradition
In as much as equity and well-being needs to be looked at with
consideration towards specific situations and circumstances in different
settings, it is necessary to keep in mind the cultural and historical
Sri Lanka is home to more than 2300 years of civilization since
Arahant Mahinda, the son of the Great Emperor Asoka brought Buddhism to
Sri Lanka. The religion has since been practiced for centuries by
dynasties of rulers and generations of Sri Lankans - impacting upon
building up of centuries old traditions, values and practices in
cultural, social and educational spheres as well as in matters of
Bhutan, a country in the region with similar cultural and religious
tradition depends on its ‘Gross National Happiness Index’ to assess
progress in development - a practice which has evoked interest to
emulate in other countries.
I congratulate Dr. Hyun H. Son on the Publication ‘Equity and
well-being: measurement and policy practice’ and the IPS Researchers on
their contribution to the publication. I am thankful to the IPS for
inviting me to this book launch and providing me the opportunity to
highlight some of the initiatives of the government of Sri Lanka which
have strong equity component as well as share some thoughts.
May the Noble Triple Gem bless you all!