A friend who resides in Galle had an interesting observation. Apart from personal services (mainly doctors and lawyers, who would need to be near their clients) there is very very limited scope for employment outside the capital and its suburbs. The only other opportunities are for a few bank staff, supermarkets and hotels.
He added that, even by the standards of the UK, which has a high concentration of businesses in or around the capital, Sri Lanka was excessively centralised.
Part of this is natural; due to the port and airport and relatively poor transport infrastructure elsewhere, any import or export business will locate close to the capital. When the density of population is high, it becomes viable to offer other services (restaurants, gyms, schools etc) and thie in turn attracts more people.
At one time I think the plantation companies used to run regional offices and so did the engineering firms (Browns, Walker & Grieg etc) that catered to the industry but these seem to have withered away. Better telecommunications probably means that it is possible to control a remote branch from head office.
Apart from overcrowding and excess pressure on resources and infrastructure, the lack of suitable employment opportunities in the regions is troubling.
My friend's suggestion was that Government offices be moved to the regions (something that can be done by fiat) with a set of regular pick up points in each city for documents to be moved. For example one could deposit a passport application at a supermarket or a bank in Colombo and it would be picked up and couriered to the passport office in Matara. Even better if most of the documentation could be done on-line, the couriering being limited to the most critical items only.
Making the popular schools open branches to cater to people in the regions will ease a huge burden on the transport and educational infrastructure. One only needs to look at the destination boards on school vans (some are from as far away as Hikkaduwa) to realise the magnitude of the problem.
President Premadasa tried to address this with his '500 garment factories' programme of getting companies to open factories in the regions, this was partially successful but the majority of them are still Colombo centric, being located within an hour or two of the capital.
Any thoughts on how this lop sidedness came about or possible solutions?