Colombo Plan: a long-awaited resurgence | Sunday Observer

Colombo Plan: a long-awaited resurgence

23 July, 2023
Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena addressing the  Colombo Plan anniversary event
Minister Dr. Bandula Gunawardena addressing the Colombo Plan anniversary event

The Colombo Plan remains a relevant and valuable organisation for providing aid to Sri Lanka and other developing countries in the region, considering their unique developmental needs.

The inception of the Colombo Plan, whose motto is “Planning Prosperity Together” can be traced back to 1949 when then Finance Minister J.R. Jayewardene laid its groundwork during the Commonwealth Finance Ministers’ Conference in London, UK. Subsequently, in 1951, the proposal achieved success, leading to the establishment of the ‘Colombo Plan.’ (Incidentally, this was the same year that Jayewardene addressed the San Francisco Peace Conference, which healed a war-scarred world). To this day, its headquarters are located in Colombo.

Over the years, this initiative has brought numerous benefits to Sri Lanka and other developing countries. As of July 1, 2023, the Colombo Plan has completed 72 years of assisting Sri Lanka in its development and progress. It has grown from a group of seven Commonwealth nations – Australia, Britain, Canada, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), India, New Zealand, and Pakistan – into an inter-Governmental organisation of 27 members, including several non-Commonwealth countries.


When it adopted a new constitution in 1977, its name was changed to “The Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic and Social Development in Asia and the Pacific” to reflect the expanded composition of its enhanced membership and the scope of its activities.

This year, the 72nd anniversary of the Colombo Plan was commemorated with grand celebrations at the Colombo Galle Face Hotel premises. The event was presided over by Dr. Bandula Gunawardena, Minister of Transport, Highways, and Mass Media. Dr. Benjamin P. Reyes, the current Secretary General of the organisation, had compiled a special commemorative book for this milestone anniversary of the Colombo Plan program, which began on July 1, 1951. During the celebrations, Dr. Reyes presented the special commemorative book to Minister Dr. Gunawardena, marking the significant occasion and acknowledging the lasting impact of the Colombo Plan on Sri Lanka’s development and progress.

On that momentous day, diplomats and intellectuals from the Colombo Plan, engaged in discussions, speeches, and proposals inspired by the visionary idea of a Sri Lankan politician, who later became the country’s first Executive President. The keynote address at the event was delivered by Minister Dr. Gunawardena. The occasion drew a large gathering, including representatives from numerous countries participating in the Colombo Plan program, as well as diplomatic delegates from both local and international spheres.

During the event, Minister Dr. Gunawardena expressed his pride in playing a crucial role in the mission of ensuring the success of the program with Sri Lanka as the host country, which laid the foundation for the Colombo Plan. He emphasised the significance of sharing Sri Lanka’s rich culture and heritage among all the member countries of the Colombo Plan, fostering lasting friendships and collaborations.


The Minister stressed the importance of maximising the benefits that the country can receive through active participation in the Colombo Plan, ultimately contributing to the overall progress and prosperity of Sri Lanka and also other developing nations.

Dr. Gunawardena invited everyone to celebrate this happy occasion and come together to rebuild the lasting and permanent friendship between Sri Lanka and the Colombo Plan, with the hope of reviving the Colombo Plan for the benefit of the future generations.

The Colombo Plan continues to bestow numerous benefits upon Sri Lanka. As the country approaches a critical juncture in 2023, there are now renewed opportunities for the successful revival of the Colombo Plan. Following the initiation of the ‘Colombo Plan,’ significant funds were allocated for the progress and advancement of Sri Lanka’s crucial sectors, including transport, health, education, and agriculture. Several development schemes were set in motion as a result of this initiative.

Among the remarkable benefits derived from the ‘Colombo Plan’ was the establishment of breeding centres to enhance agricultural activities, the founding of the Hingurana sugar factory, the implementation of the Lakshapana electricity scheme, and the substantial improvement of infrastructure for citizens, as well as the expansion of free public health services.

As a significant outcome of the Colombo Plan, the establishment of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) took place in 1950, serving as a pivotal institution for Sri Lanka’s financial governance. Subsequently, in 1962, further advancements were made under the Colombo Plan, with the commencement of the construction of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) in Katunayake (IATA Code CMB) and the introduction of Canadian diesel locomotives in the country, both facilitated by generous assistance from the Canadian Government. One can still see these locomotives bearing the names of Canadian Provinces engaged in daily operations around the country’s extensive rail network.

Starting in 1977, the program underwent a transformation and became known as the ‘Colombo Plan for Cooperative Economic Development in South and Southeast Asia.’ However, during the early 90s, two of the most influential members, Britain (UK) and Canada, decided to withdraw from the organisation. Despite these changes, the Colombo Plan continues to thrive, and at present, it comprises 28 member countries. It continues to be relevant in spite of the existence of many other organisations and blocs such as BIMSTEC and RCEP.


As the Colombo Plan continues to remain active, numerous countries, including Sri Lanka, continue to reap the benefits of the aid scheme initiated by the visionary idea of the Sri Lankan politician who proposed it many decades ago.

The organisation currently operates six programs aimed at addressing diverse developmental areas and challenges in the member nations. These programs encompass the Private Sector Development Program, Herbal Advocacy Program, Public Administration and Environment Program, Long Term Scholarship Program, Environment and Climate Change Program, and the Sex Education Program for Youth.

As the Colombo Plan remains an active and impactful organisation, the name of the visionary Sri Lankan politician who founded it – J.R. Jayewardene - will continue to shine brightly among the countries that have benefited from the Colombo Plan’s immense success. Looking ahead to the future, we hold the hope that those who are taking the initiative to revive and reinvigorate the Colombo system in 2023 will demonstrate the same level of ability and dedication.