The ‘gammuladaniya’ or village headman position was abolished decades ago. This was where each village has a leader who effectively controls the village (lord of the manor) and this position is hereditary passing from father to son. There were benefits and responsibilities but the benefits far outweighed them. This feudal obeisance has now been transferred.
In my opinion, these positions are now taken by two persons, the Grama Niladari, usually not a person from the village, but whose office is in the village, and this is now a political position; the other by the village moneylender, who by default or cunning is able to always lend money and other items, such as tractors, modes of transport to the villager if he or she wants it.
Both these people take full advantage of their positions, the former, by accepting direct or indirect bribes for official documents, to verify identity for identity cards, confirmation of residence for police reports and other employment related favors; the latter of course by favorable business transactions. These include people in the village duty bound to sell all paddy harvest to him, as otherwise in a future time, the farmer is unable to transport the paddy, he would not come to his help. Others may include the ownership of the only threshing machine in the village, and so all the threshing has to be done by him. They usually threaten people from outside, not permitting them to bring their threshing machines into the village, even in a crisis when like now everyone needed to thresh at the same time when the sun came out after weeks of rain.
These people are at the heart of the insoluble problem in Sinhala villages of not wanting to see your neighbor rise up, and constantly trying to prevent this, as it could upset the pecking order.
How can we empower the villager to get over this, and being less dependant on this person? One practical way is by providing some competition to the existing status quo. Depoliticizing the position and giving strict term limits or transferring them thereby not letting them get too familiar and powerful. The money-lender is compromised when banks help villagers with soft loans to improve their situation, but the trick is to lend to what one would consider the most reliable section. If they are able to show by example the problem is they may emulate or better the existing moneylender at the same game!!