Collaborative Partnership to Improve the Low Income Neighbourhoods


‘Community Construction Contract System’ in Sri Lanka.

Even though a central government agency had developed and applied this procedure very successfully in Colombo until 1993/94 it had been unable to institutionalize such procedures in the local government system, which is the oldest administrative unit and the one most close to the people in the country. A pilot project carried out in one of the tow income settlements in Kandy through a partnership arrangement between a non-government developmental organization and a Municipal Council has resulted in successfully establishing the community construction contract procedure as an alternative institutional option. The role played by SEVANATHA as a non- governmental organization in this project has been crucial in:

  • Identifying community needs,
  • Creating local ownership, management and also strengthening the capacity of the community and
  • Reorienting bureaucracies to support community empowerment and the provision of environmental services through users’ participation in decision making.

It has been possible to introduce alternative institutional options to the local government for micro level environmental management because of the supportive government policies for participatory local level development. The establishment of Housing and Development Communities at urban local authority levels and the promotion of Community Action Planning Methodology by the National Housing Development Authority have been useful support Mechanisms to strengthen the collaborative partnership between local government and the NGO for human settlement development.

This paper is divided into seven chapters to highlight macro level support policies and the community and local government level partnership development for urban environmental improvement and management. The first chapter briefly outlines the level of urbanization in Sri Lanka and the locational aspects of the Kandy Municipality. Chapters 2 and 3 explain the Urban Housing Sub-Programme of the Million Houses Programme and the implementation of the Community Action Planning Programme. Chapter 4 focuses on the physical and social infrastructure of the low-income settlement selected for the pilot exercise. Chapter 5 introduces the Community Construction Contract System. Chapter 6 and 7 present the experience and learning of NGO-Local Government cooperation in the establishment of Community Construction Contract Procedure to improve low-income neighbourhoods in the Kandy Municipal Council.


Lack of infrastructure facilities is a serious issue in urban low-income settlements. Even though the Urban Housing Sub-Programme of the Million Houses Programme has been successful in solving land tenure issues for most of the low-income families, people were still facing the problem of infrastructure deficiencies. According to the central government programmes and the existing local government legislation, provision of infrastructure and services to the rate payers of the city has been a major function of the central and local government. It has been the practice that communities are also living without basic amenities in low-income areas until the government provides amenities. The community construction contract system is a new procedure adopted by the Kandy Municipal Council. It is a partnership arrangement by which the end-user become responsible for amenities in planning, designing, construction, operation and maintenance. The community construction contract procedure has been popular among the community organizations and in Kandy Municipality because it has a number of advantages over construction by commercial contractors or municipal direct construction system. They are: lower cost for municipality speedier completion of constructions, better quality of works, the creation of employment and learning opportunities for low income people, the recognition of community organizations as micro level institutions for development, and greater satisfaction by the end-users and an enhanced feeling of responsibility by the community for the amenity provided. Even though there are number of advantages in this system, somebody has to be very patient to fully convince both local authorities and community organizations. Sometimes, the most difficult part of this process is the introduction of alternative methodologies and procedures into the conventional government bureaucracy.

In Kandy Municipal Council this has been possible due to several factors. The supportive government policy towards a self-reliant and people centered development was an important factor for Kandy Municipality to institutionalize the community construction contract system. Under the Million Houses Programme, the government had realized that the housing and the micro level infrastructure supervision and management were an activity of the people that they have been doing for centuries in rural and urban areas in Sri Lanka. The government role is to recognize the people’s ability and willingness to organize them selves to develop physical and social infrastructure in their neighbourhoods. Under the Million Houses Programme, not only Community Based Organizations were recognized as micro level developmental institutions but also several support mechanisms were introduced to strengthen community organizations and to make them the actual decision makers in the programme and project implementation. The new institutional structure built at local authority level as ‘Housing and Community Development Committee (HCDC) and the participatory development methodologies like Community Action Planning (CAP) have been very effective tools to change the attitude of public administrators and politicians. The change of their attitude resulted in changing the municipal rules, regulations, standards and procedures.

Another important factor is the collaborative partnership developed between Municipality and the NGO. The Government responsibility always has been the formulation of national level broader policies. The government sponsored, decentralized, participatory development programmes have failed to make a lasting impact on the living conditions of the poor people. This has happened because the public administrators in the government and local authorities do not have much experience in participatory development and also they prefer the communities to be dependent on their favours in development activities.

Under these circumstances, the role of developmental NGOs like SEVANATHA is crucial. It believes that the poverty alleviation and the micro-level urban environmental management can be achieved through the promotion of capacity building and partnership developmental local government and community through support to municipalities and low-income community organizations. Experienced NGOs as an intermediary organizations can bring these supports to municipalities in terms of training, information and also in participating actively to carry out pilot projects for demonstration, training and to change people’s attitudes as well as rules, regulations and procedures. It is important that the NGO always plays a supportive role rather than a dominant typical charity or welfare oriented role. In Kandy Municipality, SEVANATHA, was able to institutionalize the community construction procedures because it worked through the existing programmes and tried to convert the government’s broad pro-poor policies into participatory actions. Therefore, as a lasting solution for infrastructure deficiencies in urban low-income settlements, partnership arrangements among local authorities, CBOs and NGOs should be developed at local government and community level. Developmental NGOs can play an important supportive role to institutionalize community based development process into local government agencies.