8 August, 2022


Jaffna Development Council – Efforts And Demise

By S. Sivathasan


When the Jaffna Development Council started functioning a Minister who made frequent official visits to Jaffna was Hon. Gamini Dissanayake. His known closeness to the President lent some significance to the discussions he had with Mr. Nadarajah the Chairman of the Council. A warm rapport developed between the two. To the Chairman it opened a two way communication connecting the District with the Centre. The Minister perhaps was not unaware of the political fall-l out for the government, if things turned out well.

Quite a few meetings with the Minister were held in Colombo. The Chairman, the GA Dr. Nesiah and the writer participated at these meetings. What were emphasized from the Council side were substantially larger funding and more devolved powers to utilize the finances effectively. The proposition struck a sensitive chord with the Minister and he took the initiative in arranging for a meeting with President JR Jayawardene one evening at his residence. It was in the latter part of 1982.The five of us took part in the discussions for over an hour. Development priorities with central funding were outlined by us. The Jaffna Lagoon Scheme and bridging the Mahadeva Causeway were among them. There was responsive interaction.

In mid 1982, to mark the first anniversary of the Development Council a special sitting was organized. Policy and programme set out in a document of fifty pages was readout by the Chairman at this ceremonial sitting. It became the base for discussions in Colombo. In a subsequent document, another exercise was undertaken to define objective principles for block grants to Development Councils. The capital votes were taken together and after setting apart a certain percentage for central government works, the balance was to be given to the districts. Distribution based on the criteria of population and area of each district will compose a share and the remaining amount will be apportioned according to a district’s state of growth, development needs and other relevant criteria.

This proposition with figures extracted from the Printed Estimates and worked out with a district perspective was sent to the powers that be in Colombo. To continuous correspondence and personal contact, there was a response from the President. Three from the Development Council, Chairman, GA and the writer were invited for a discussion on a day of a Cabinet meeting. After the conclusion of the meeting, President retained a handful of Ministers including Lalith Athulathmudali and Cyril Mathew and called on the Chairman to address them. The strategy appeared to be to expose them to the suffocation suffered by a Development Council for want of finances and of authority. The Chairman a former Senator had the respect of the President for his outspokenness. He explained the proposition urging the need for meaningful financial devolution and for increased funding. Lalith showed interest and even appeared impressed with the proposition.

The above meeting was about January 1983, after the conclusion of the referendum and the general election in 1982. About two weeks subsequently, I was summoned by the President for a discussion on budgetary support.  Those present included Lalith, Dr. Ranjit Attapattu from the deep South and the DST. Issues related to making the Councils effective were discussed. In passing even the creation of a District based Public Service from among serving officers was touched on. An important decision taken was to appoint a Committee of Secretaries – about six – to suggest ways for greater financial support. Lalith was to be Chairman and Mr. Bradman Weerakoon Secretary. Mr. Felix Dias Abeysinghe though retired was in the committee for his Local Government background. I was appointed Assistant Secretary, so that as a wearer of the shoe in Jaffna District, I could explain where it pinched and how hard. After deliberations spread over a few weeks, an Interim Report was submitted in May 1983. The highlight of it was a recommendation for an allocation to all Development Councils of a sum equivalent to the allocation for the Decentralized Budget (DCB). It meant a doubling of Rs. 420 million to 840 million for direct spending by the districts.

This was far from satisfying. The North South dialogue with the President from October 1982 to September 1983 achieved precious little. No meeting ground came about. Each side was reinforced in its own position and policy stance on the scope of devolution. Political power residing in the South prevailed over the North. There was not even a thought of sharing. The failed attempt at building bridges alienated the Tamils still further. They saw the effort and the minimal financial support through the prism of a Tamil saying, show the moon to distract the child that pesters. The simmering Tamil problem only festered. The Tamil side was neither distracted nor convinced nor satisfied. To those who pegged their vision on a federal arrangement, the Development Council with proven impotence was a far cry.

The Chairman did not wish to continue with a position that offered little prospects for meaningful engagement. He relinquished his post and informed the President accordingly, about the 12th July 1983. The next week the Ex-Chairman and I were invited for a discussion on devolution at the President’s residence. At this point of time we had come to the position that a Province and not a District should be the unit of devolution. We wanted to put forward this point of view.  At the conference seated on one side were about five others including Lalith and facing them were both of us. President’s opening sentence was “Chairman, if you are thinking of any scheme outside the Development Council set up, WE PART”. So the discussion was limited to refining the existing scheme.

The next day July 22nd, we travelled back to Jaffna by car with the GA. Explosions that midnight changed the political scene. In late September I was called for a one to one discussion on Development Council and Devolution.  In a fortnight I was summoned again. At this discussion senior officials too participated. I said “Sir, if we can take up the most sensitive issue of land and make some progress, it will clear the way to success in other subjects”. Devolution of all powers relating to land was put across. After some deliberations on land Mr.GVP Samarasinghe said, “you can’t override the Minister”. After some more discussions the meeting ended. It marked the end of an year’s effort. India’s involvement grew thereafter eclipsing any local initiative.

After the riots many of the MPs were in self – exile. The Development Council lingered on for a few more months making little impact on economic life. When it was born, there were no comets seen. At its demise there was not a whimper. Having lived up to the objective of the President it derived neither power nor finances. It just withered away. There was no devolution and little development. Even the meager expectations of some Tamils were completely belied. In the words of a Tamil recluse, uttered 1,000 years ago, “everything receded as a phantasm, an old tale and a dream”. The Council merged in the Kachcheri, losing its brief authority and identity. The district had to wait for the next five years for the North – East Provincial Council.

*The writer is a former Advisor to President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Mr Sivathasan, we see, was privy to many important developments in the 1980-2000 year periods. Calm, collected, articulate he was held in much esteem by several Govts and their heads. I knew of one Senior Minister who found his experience and counsel useful – a period in which I, close to the Minister, used to occasionally speak to him personally and on the telephone. He reminds one of the class and efficiency of good administrators. His thinking and countenance is as spick and span as the well-laundered snow-whitenational he was always seen in. I hope there will be space in the future for the Govt – either Central or Provincial – to use his enormous talent and knowledge.


    • 0

      Senguttuwan, Mr. Sivathasan,

      I remember meeting a Sivathasan, probably from the education sector, who organized a function in Jaffna in the early 1980’s at the Open Air Theater in which Gamini Dissanayake spoke and gave awards for essays (one from myself included) on the Mahaweli Development Plan. But that Sivathasan was in trousers and shirt, not “snow white national,” so was there another administrator by the name Sivathasan also liaising with Minister Dissanayake in Jaffna?

      • 0

        He looked to me like the one in the photograph here.


  • 0

    Dear Mr. Sivathasan,

    “When the Jaffna Development Council started functioning a Minister who made frequent official visits to Jaffna was Hon. Gamini Dissanayake. His known closeness to the President lent some significance to the discussions he had with Mr. Nadarajah the Chairman of the Council. A warm rapport developed between the two. To the Chairman it opened a two way communication connecting the District with the Centre.”

    The word “Council” and electing members to the “Council” the errors in the concept of the District Development mechanism. Until introduction of DDCs it was the GAs who were responsible for the finances in the district on behalf of the centre. DDCs were expected to fill the gap between the centre regarding the policy and priorities on allocation of funds for district development. Town & Country Planning Department had the power to prepare regional development plans and whether this was effectively used is now history.

    I personally believe that even now that DDC is a viable home grown solution subject to replacing the word “Council” with “Committee” and instead of electing members by people appointing all heads and opposition leaders of local authorities to the Committee. The Chairman of the Committee can be elected by the members of the Committee. The GA or the District Secretary or somebody from civil administration can be the Secretary of the Committee. The National Physical Planning Department (successor to the Town & Country Department) should prepare the District Development Plan exercising its statutory mandate. The budgets proposed by the “DDC” should be reflected in the National Budget under allocations for appropriate Ministries.

    The important issue her is that clear understanding of the terms “Allocation” and “Availability” in regard to funds. No project or program can be implemented on “allocation” which is on paper but politicians take people for a ride with what is on paper.

    This my personal opinion.


    The Professional

    • 0

      The Professional,

      Much water has flowed under the bridge since the DDC projects of old. Devolution based on the provinces has come to stay. Governance needs to devolved for greater efficiency and efficacy. The number of provinces can reduced and their borders redesigned. Further, the mechanisms for greater power-sharing for the provinces at the centre can be designed. A bicameral legislature with a Senate and Parliament can be a solution. The parliament can be electorate based as at present, while the Senate can be province based. Each province should elect the same number of Senators.

      Further, a mechanism to consitute the Provincial Councils of MPs and Senators elected from each province can be an innovation. Cabinet ministers from the provinces will be in the PCs and, PC ministers and members will be in the parliament or Senate. This could also help establish a working relationship between the centre and the provinces. However, cabinet members should not be PC ministers and PC ministers should not be cabinet members. One set of elections will be elimnated. In a lighter vein, other benefits I see in such a system is that fewer duty free vehicle permits will be issued and there will be lessor number of security personnel assigned!

      Decentralisation of administration has gone on apace over the decades. But in the absence of more localized political direction it will work only according to the script provided by a remote centre. The people of the provinces should have a say in their affairs through their elected representatives, to make democracy work and meet their needs.

      The separatist movement and the wars in the north and east, should not be the reason for the devolution exercise to be abandoned. But separatism should be instead recognised the result of the failures to devolve and share power.

      Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

  • 1

    Sivathasan is intellectually dishonest. A few facts are in order to place him in perspective. Since independence, the Tamils (or at least the dominant political formation of the Ceylon Tamils) had agitated for federalism or devolution. The Bandaranaike Chelvanayakam Pact in July 1957 sought one or more regional councils with significant power devolved to it/them. The Tamils understood that if different regional councils were to be established, that they would be given the right to merge through the democratic process. The Dudley Chelvanayakam Pact in March 1965 instead envisaged district councils but once again the powers to be delegated to such councils and the right to merge had not been worked out. Regardless, the councils were to be fairly powerful entities in their own right. By contrast, the District Development Councils of 1981 were like the Pradeshiya Sabha in terms of the power to be delegated to it. There was no significant devolution at all. Jayewardene had pulled wool over the eyes of the then Tamil MPs! This was hype and hoopla in typical Jayewardene mold. C.A. Chandraprema, an individual that many would place on the Sinhalese political right, used to be a columnist to the Island Newspaper. He had written perhaps 15 years ago that the rigging of the DDC polls by Jayewardene was intended to ensure that the TULF had its 4/5ths majority in the North thereby convincing the international community that the Tamils had accepted this miniscule level of decentralization akin to what a municipal council had enjoyed. Jayewardene’s intent was to demonstrate that no further decentralization was required! This was the solution! Unfortunately for him, the conflict only worsened. The Indo Sri Lanka Peace Accord in 1987 led to the 13th Amendment which had far more devolution built in while Chandrika Bandaranaike’s constitutional proposal of 2000 with earlier drafts in 1995 envisaged an even more radical restructuring of the Sri Lankan state on the lines of a Union of Regions. The LTTE’s proposal of an ISGA, coincidentally also de facto envisaged a union of regions even if it did not employ that language. This was the spectrum of devolution that the Tamils of Sri Lanka had discussed. The DDCs are a myth and the likes of Sivathasan who speak of it could well be a conspiracy to deflect Tamil public opinion. The Pradeshiya Sabha – district development council type solution is what Mahinda will like to reintroduce. Lets be aware of the undercurrents and varied actors acting on the behest of the powers that be. We have had enough of people who would dishonestly provide an ideological legitimization to what the Rajapakse administration will propose – Sivathasan being one. His articles – on money power of the provincial councils, on a Marshall Plan for Sri Lanka, on China and now this – makes one think whether he would be the new Chief Secretary under a UPFA led rigged Northern Provincial Council!

  • 0

    13A envisages the setting up of a Finance Commission

    (1) There shall be a Finance Commission consisting of –
    (a) The Governor of the Central Bank of Srilanka;
    (b) The Secretary to the Treasury; and
    (c) Three other members .to represent the three major communities each of whom shall be a person who has distinguished himself, or held high office, in the field of finance, law, administration, business or learning.
    (2) Every members of the Commission shall, unless he earlier dies, Resigns or is removed from office, hold office for a period of three years.
    (3) The Governor shall, on the recommendation of and in consultation with, the Commission, allocate from the Annual Budgets, such funds as are adequate for the purpose of meeting the needs of the Provinces.
    (4) It shall be the duty of the Commission to make recommendations to the President as to-
    (a) The principles on which such funds as are granted annually by the
    Government for the use of Provinces, should be apportioned between the
    various Provinces; and
    (b) Any other matter referred to the Commission by the President relating to Provincial finance.
    (5) The Commission shall formulate such principles with the objective of achieving balanced regional development in the country, and shall accordingly
    take into account-
    (a) The population of each Province;
    (b) The per capita income of each Province;
    (c) The need progressively, to reduce social and economic disparities; and
    (d) The need, progressively to reduce the difference between the per capital income of each province and the highest per capital income among the
    (6) The Commission shall determine its own procedure and shall have such powers in the performance of its duties as Parliament may, by law, confer on if.
    (7) The president shall cause every recommendation made by the Finance
    Commission under this Article to laid before Parliament, and shall notify Parliament as to action taken thereon.
    (8) No Court or Tribunal shall inquire in to, or pronounce on, or in any manner entertain, determine or rule upon, any question relating to the adequacy of such funds or any recommendation made, or principle formulated by the Commission.

    There is or was a Finance Commission in operation close to the Kanatte Cemetry but no one knows what it really does. In any case the North is now under the Miltary. Let us see if this changes.

    • 0


      Thanks for highlighting what is in the 13 th amendment. The 13 th amendment has been subverted beyond recognition now. It is only a collection of words in the constitution. It is a skeleton without I adds in practice. Sri Lanka is the only democracy in the world, where constitutional provisions can be ignored and subverted in practice! The men who take the oath to uphold the constitution, in fact are in the habit of dynamiting it. This is the sad story of Sri Lanka and it will be so for a while, until we the people demand a change.

      Dr. RN

      • 0

        Correction: — skeleton without innards in practice.


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