19th Amendment is a key step forward in Sri Lanka’s path towards sustainable human development

Excellencies, distinguished colleagues on the podium, members of the media, ladies and gentlemen,

Ayubowan, Vannakkum, Good Afternoon.

I am going to talk to you on the 19th Amendment as a scientist and professional, and I will talk about its relationship to Sri Lanka’s path towards sustainable human development (SHD) – ie., sustainable development with a human face.

The first point I want to make is on the well-known sustainable development triangle (Figure 1). It has an economic dimension, because in any country, growth and income are important factors. It also has a social dimension with elements such as empowerment, governance and inclusion. And of course, last but not least the environmental dimension includes elements like natural resources and pollution. Clearly the elements of the triangle have to be kept in balance, integrated and harmonized. That equilibrium creates the democratic space in which we can pursue sustainable human development.

Figure 1: Harmonize, balance & integrate economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development triangle to create democratic space for sustainable human development in SL.

Source: Munasinghe (Rio Earth Summit 1992)

Unfortunately, in the last few years, and certainly before the last election, we have had an unsustainable development pattern in Sri Lanka. The social dimension was driven by very unethical social values like greed, nepotism, corruption, violence, injustice and so on. This led to a model of economic mal-development which was based on debt, unproductive megaprojects, corruption and growing inequality. Finally, the environment was also harmed, through pollution, depletion of natural resources and the like. And certainly the democratic space in the middle was greatly diminished.

This is further elaborated in Figure 2, which shows the imbalance in investment. Sustainable human development needs three types of capital (or assets): economic (built capital), environmental (natural resources), and social. In Sri Lanka, the previous regime’s over-emphasis on unproductive built capital, coupled with corruption, nepotism and inequality dominated and actually undermined both natural capital (air, land and water) and social capital. The latter is extremely important – it is ignored, undervalued and invisible. At the individual/human level, social capital it is built on helpful personal and professional networks. At the community and national levels, it is the invisible glue that binds society together – involving values, ethics, culture, behaviour, and social linkages. And I think one of the things that this government has started to do is to restore eroded social capital and natural resources, through more balanced investment for SHD.


Figure 2: INVESTMENT IMBALANCE: Over-emphasis on built capital destroyed vital social and natural capital, due to unproductive megaprojects, nepotism, corruption and inequality.

Source: Munasinghe (Rio Earth Summit 1992)

It is also useful to look at the relationship between the three main stake holders (government, civil society and business) within a sustainable development framework (Figure 3). The government of the previous administration dominated overwhelmingly. As so eloquently explained by Jayantha Dhanapala, the weight of executive presidency, the 18th amendment, the 2/3rds majority in parliament, the nepotism, the corruption, the violence, the intimidation, the control of media, and the security state, really crushed civil society and business, thereby effectively destroying the democratic space. So the electoral process of the recent election, the 100 day program and the 19th Amendment symbolize a restoration of that balance between the stakeholders.

Figure 3 : STAKEHOLDER IMBALANCE: Dominance of executive presidency and government control crushed civil society and business, and destroyed democratic space.

Source: Munasinghe (Rio Earth Summit 1992)


Figure 4 shows how the government, civil society and business have begun to work together in harmony, to recover the democratic space in the middle where sustainable human development could resume. We are now moving towards a governance framework characterized by more, ethical values, justice, equity, harmony and hopefully a lasting peace at the end of the road.

So the electoral process in particular, reinforced democracy and the will of the people through nonviolent means — against all odds. It restored faith in key institutions, like the  office of the elections commissioner, broadened the democratic discourse via newspapers, websites, social media, personal emails, blogs, public platforms and debate tv shows. The 100 day program and the 19th Amendment maintained the momentum. This is a fundamental requirement for sustainable human development. I can summarize by saying that much has been achieved in spite of the many blocks in parliament and elsewhere. Key steps have been taken towards a sustainable human development vision, and there is more to come, I promise you. Although I’m not a spokesperson for the government, I’m confident (together with my colleagues) that this will happen.

Figure 4: Restored stakeholder balance and recovered Democratic Space after January 2015 election, 100 day programme and 19th Amendment.

Source: Munasinghe (Rio Earth Summit 1992)

Let me conclude by explaining the current status of global suitability. Internationally we know that there is a risk of breakdown because of the many issues that the world faces: the financial-economic crisis which is still going on in many western countries, the persistent poverty and growing inequity, resource shortages (water, food, energy, etc.), many kinds of environmental harm, and finally climate change which is the ultimate threat amplifier because it makes all the other problems worse.

Unfortunately, these problems interact synergistically, in a bad way. The stakeholder interests are very divergent and their efforts are poorly coordinated. We need integrated solutions. That is where sustainable development comes in. We will be making another attempt at the UN general assembly and after that at the climate conference in Paris. Let us wish them all success, because progress in recent years has been painfully slow due to of lack of leadership in the globe today.

Let me summarize one problem which encapsulates what I have been saying at the global level. Consider the ecological footprint of the human race – the total burden we place on global ecosystems. We are consuming today more than 50% of the planet’s sustainable carrying capacity. By 2030 we will need two planets worth to sustain our lifestyles. The pattern of consumption is very unfairly distributed. 85% of human consumption is done by the richest 20 % of the world’s population who consume 60 times more than the poorest 20%. So basically the rich are consuming more than one planet worth. And the question I have asked many world leaders at many conferences is how we can keep the promises we make, like the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDG), and now 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). While such targets are worthy, if the rich are already consuming more than one planet worth, where are the resources to feed the poor? This is a huge contradiction.

What we are trying to do in Sri Lanka can become a model for the whole world. The sustainable development goals (SDG) of the UN’s post 2015 agenda are very much in tune with Yahapalanaya and what President Sirisena has promised.  For instance, SDG 16 says promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) did not focus on those particular aspects. In fact, we in Sri Lanka have already taken the first precursor steps to anticipate the thinking in the global community. These 17 SDGs will be ratified in New York, in September, and I hope President Sirisena will be there to confirm our commitment to them.

Finally, the world is seeking a global eco civilization, with the three elements of the sustainable development triangle in harmony. For Sri Lanka, our long term goal is a society which meets the basic human needs of all, especially the poor and vulnerable, ensuring reconciliation, peace, harmony, social justice and security. Environmentally, we want to respect nature and contain Sri Lanka’s resource use, within the sustainable capacity of our country. Economically, we do want to have a prosperous economy – with adequate growth but respecting critical social and environmental limits. Socially we have the human and social capital committed to peace and unity. Environmentally, we can draw on our ancient values and a culture that respects nature. Economically, we have the technology, resources and skills. So we are in a good position.

I give you this ancients Pali blessing from Sri Lanka:  “Devo Vassatu kalena, Sassa sampatti hetu ca, Pito bhavatu loko ca, Raja bhavatu dhammiko,” which means “May the rains come in time” (environment), “May the harvests be bountiful” (economy), and “May the people be happy and contented; may the king be righteous” (society).  So many hundreds of years ago our forefathers knew about the sustainable development triangle, and we are rediscovering it now.

Just some final thoughts to our friends in the diplomatic community. We know that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it (Santayana). We know that critics are our friends, because they show us how to correct our faults (Franklin). But, we must also unite against common challenges that we face and not necessarily dwell on past changes that will divide us. So help us. Criticize constructively. Do not lecture, threaten or impose. Have faith, be generous and give us the time and space to further enlarge the democratic space we have already created. Sri Lanka is firmly non-aligned and a long-time member of the G77. A friend to all, and foe to none. We are small, but we will surprise you and become a shining example for the world. We can do it, together.

Sthuthi, Nandri, Thank you.


Prof. Mohan Munasinghe is Founder Chairman of the Munasinghe Inst. of Development (MIND), Colombo, and Vice Chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC-AR4), who shared the 2007 Nobel Prize for Peace. He is also KIVA Guest Professor at Darmstadt University, Germany; Visiting Professor at the Vale Sustainable Development Inst., Federal Univ. of Para, Brazil; Distinguished Guest Professor at Peking University, China, and Senior Advisor to the Government of Sri Lanka.

Prof. Munasinghe made this speech at “19 A: Landmark of Democratic Revival” a panel discussion and Q & A for the diplomatic community of Sri Lanka on the 19th Amendment on June 16, 2015, 4pm at Jaic Hilton. The transcript of the speech was provided by the President’s Media Division.