15 August, 2022


Political Duplicity And Devolution Of Police Powers

By Austin Fernando

Austin Fernando

At political discussions on devolution, a protest that is often highlighted is that devolving Police Powers to the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) would ‘annihilate law and order‘.

Last week a leading lawyer went public on television that by devolution of Police Powers to Provincial Councils (PCs) would weaken central police investigations. He did not explain that offences related to the government, tri-forces, elections, money, stamps, state capital and assets, national security, international offences etc as mentioned in pages 29-30 in the 13th Amendment Appendix I are administered by the National Police only and do not fall within the purview of Provincial Police. He did the same with regard to additional items 11:2 (a), (b) 12:1, 12:2, 12:3 etc of Appendix I, which are vested only in the National Police. Hence, this statement would have given a twisted or half-baked interpretation for Police power sharing.

On the other hand, the Tamil political leaders behave as if they do not have any provincial politics without land and police powers. It appears that they had forgotten the experiences faced by the present Tamil political membership, Sinhalese and Muslim communities under the Police Force that was created by Chief Minister Vartharajah Perumal and Indian Peace Keeping Forces. Since Police Powers are shared by the Centre and Provinces, problems will arise if they do not act consensually. Due to engulfed hypocrisy and massive suspicion on each other issues are further made complex.

There are many engaged in politics and administration holding on to both these visions. Some others are mum on this problem.  This article is not a commentary on the good and bad of police powers. It is a recollection of what I have heard and known about devolving Police Powers while in the public service. Through such experience I try to explain how political duplicity remains in devolution.

Eternal truth

Though the 13th Amendment has devolved powers, history and present experiences show that all provincial authorities including the Provincial Governors, Chief Ministers, and even the central authorities are “servants” of the President. The Executive Presidency has created this status. If they do not act according to the wishes of the President they will be chopped. Therefore, they will not demand Police Powers if the President does not wish them to do so. If they yell against such, it will be most likely at the behest of the President again, or at least with concurrence!

Demanding Police Powers for the Western PC

On 6th January 1994 at the Western PC (WPC) Chief Minister Chandrika Kumaratunga moved that Police Powers be devolved to the WPC. There was active war in the north and east then. The main objective was to implement the provisions of the Police Commission Act No: 1 of 1990 through the President. By doing so she conceded that it would pave way for more democratic administration of law and order.   (PC Proceedings Report of 6-1-1994, page 13)

Perhaps, she would have missed the point that this Police Commission Act was introduced by President R Premadasa not to appoint a Police Commission, but to avoid appointing.

After the passage of the resolution in the WPC she represented matters to President DB Wijetunga. To discuss this issue President DB Wijetunga invited me. I was the Secretary to the Ministry of Home Affairs and PCs.

“Just see Austin, Chandrika has addressed me demanding Police Powers to be devolved having passed a resolution in the WPC. Can we do it?” he inquired.

Having read the letter she has sent I replied the President with a query. “Your Excellency, do you want to devolve Police Powers to the WPC or don’t you?

“What nonsense? It will be pandemonium if police powers are given to the PCs. Is there any valid reason to deny this request?” he inquired.

“There is one way to convey agreeing to give police powers. If not required, there is another way of conveying denial!” I replied.

“How do we say that we do not want to devolve?”

“It is appropriate to say that the request will be considered after appointing the National Police Commission. Until it is appointed there is no way to appoint a Provincial Police Commission.” It was my solution.

Later when I studied this issue in depth, it was revealed that PC Member Susil Premjayantha has predicted this status at the PC discussion on the resolution. He has said “Though we have brought this resolution in the PC, we know your President will never gazette the day for operation” (Report page 44). Since he is a powerful Minister now and the Secretary General of the Alliance, one should not be surprised if he advises President Rajapaksa to act as I advised President Wijetunga.  My prediction may most certainly come true if the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) wins the Northern PC elections.

By the way, President Chandrika Kumaratunga performed in office for around eleven years. During the period she never showed any keenness to devolve Police Powers to PCs which she demanded in the name of democracy. Was it that she had forgotten democracy?

Demanding Police Powers for the North Central PC

After WPC a similar request was submitted to President Wijetunga by the North Central Province (NCP).  Having received the communication the President invited me to discuss it.

With a broad smile he said “Now Mahindasoma from Anuradhapura is also demanding Police powers!”

Thinking that he wished to share Police Powers with the NCP due to common party affiliation, I said “Excellency, he is from your party.  Though you did not agree to share Police Powers with the WPC, there is no constraint to share with the NCP.  In the Police Commission Act there is provision to appoint Provincial Police Commissions on different dates, after the National Police Commission is appointed”

“Are you mad, Austin? If we give police powers to Mahindasoma, it will be wonderful! I will tell him off!” the President said.

I believe President Mahinda Rajapaksa is in a similar troubled position.  His mind must be reverberating on what would happen if Police Powers are given to some Chief Ministers. On the other hand if the power in a southern PC shifts to another party, he must be envisaging larger problems.  Secretary Defense must be justly anticipating further concerns if the TNA wins the Northern PC.

Political Stances on Police Powers

My second experience highlights the political duplicity between the two time frames – 1994 and 2013. I base my interpretation on the discussion reports of WPC when the resolution was debated.

United National Party (UNP) Councilor Titus Wimalasiri stated “Sometimes we observe certain foreign elements helping terrorist groups through some Sri Lankans. Mr. Deputy Chairman, the suspicion arises due to these foreign influences and foreign actions, whether by submission of this resolution there is some contract undertaken to strengthen the hands of Prabhakaran in the north or whether there had been participation in a conspiracy.” (Report page 28)

Today, news makers like Ministers Champika Ranawaka, Wimal Weerawansa, Parliamentarian Ven:. Athuraliye Ratana Thera when highlighting the disastrousness of sharing Police Powers  use words like “assisting terrorism” “foreign influences” “foreign actions”, “strengthening LTTE / Diaspora” since Prabhakaran is no more, “conspiring” etc. Perhaps this may be without any venom, but due to inherited Sri Lankan political culture! Councilor Wimalasiri did not have the “Non Governmental Organizations” as conspirators, which is a common addition at present! In reality what happened was that President Wijetunga’s stance was confirmed by Councilor Wimalasiri. If it was not done the head would have rolled! Whatever the party is, similar trait is observed. It is eternal.

Councilor Wimalasiri continued to say “ When the Police Commission Act which we discuss here today was debated (in the Parliament) what did the extremely responsible parliamentarians say? They said  “We are totally against this Act; the unitary status will be erased in the country; especially, these police powers should not be given to PCs.” (Report page 27)  Councilor Mahinda Samarasinghe has then argued similarly quoting parliamentarians SL Gunasekara and Dharmasiri Senanayake (Report pages 51, 53)

On these grounds even now Sri Lanka Freedom Party members opposing Police Powers is logical.  The problem is that a party that demanded police powers at a time Prabhakaran was living, during an ongoing war, why obstruct Police Power sharing when Parabhakaran and his organization had been victoriously eliminated totally. Since political, social and security environments have changed, for reconciliation their stances have to be changed too.  The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission too wished so. On the other hand, why did the UNP that introduced the 13th Amendment to the country hold an adverse stance here, if not for political gain?

Minister Ranawaka and Weerawansa, Ven Ratana Thero and Secretary Defense were not in the group that demanded Police Powers. Therefore, their stances are untied to static bondages and their protests are timely objections. However, the Councilors who spoke in favor of the resolution cannot run away from their stances. It is observed that they keep mum on sharing Police Powers with the North, having rejected in the WPC the policy adopted in the Parliament as SLFPers when the Police Commission Act was debated.

I quote a few instances.

Councilor Susil Premjayantha has then said: “The Commission will comprise of the Deputy Inspector General of Police of the Province, a nominee of the Public Service Commission as advised by the President and a person appointed on the recommendation of the Chief Minister. The powers and duties are mentioned there. There is nothing to have grave fears on Police Powers.  Once this Commission is appointed in a Province it will perform regarding appointments, transfers and disciplinary matters.” (Report page 42).

If these arguments are genuine and does not possess ulterior pretexts it is his duty to explain to Ministers Weerawansa, Ranawaka, Ven: Ratana Thera and Secretary Defense that there is no need to have “grave fears” on Police Power sharing.  Is not it his responsibility to correct them if they are doing “wrong” by orchestrating and projecting that a very simple process has disastrous consequences?

Provincial Councilor Felix Perera pointed out that there are even conceptual differences. He maintained that the Police is not a Force. It is another department, he said. It is also true. He hypothesized that proper implementation of Police Powers in the WPC will be a lesson to other PCs to emulate. “If we think logically and consider that someday peace is to be achieved in this country, I see it as a problem if there is a need for  Hon: Councilors in this House to oppose this House receiving Police Powers.” (Report page 48)

Even today it is necessary to establish peace in this country. Security authorities confirm that the north is peaceful. The future Councilors of the Northern PC who experience a favorable environment than in 1994 may say that they “see it as a problem if there is a need for Hon: Councilors in the House to oppose it receiving Police Powers.” It applies even if the demand not to share power comes from outside. Councilor Perera (now a Minister) will not wish to get his head chopped by arguing so. Further, he does not question why the government does not answer its critics by positively acting with reconciliation in view. By not questioning so he exhibits duplicity. He is dumb to revert to the stance he took as quoted above.

UNP introduced the 13th Amendment. But, we do not hear much of powerful statements demanding Police Powers devolution. What we occasionally hear is a murmur. Is it political hypocrisy?  Nevertheless, some UNP representatives who crossed over can remain in the previous stance. Mahinda Samarasinghe , the then Chief Opposition Whip said then: ”That is why at the outset I said that we are not against the implementation of the Act. What we are saying is that the timing is not correct” (Report page 50)

Even today, if necessary, they can say so and “shape up matters” and join Weerawansa- Ranawaka- Ratana Thero group. Or else, join the other group saying that the proper time to implement the Act has dawned. They are lucky!

However, there are very few Ministers who do not dilly dally and openly express positive sentiments on devolution of power. Still, when a final decision is taken whether they would maintain their straight forward stature cannot be predicted, since they too are weaklings when facing the Executive Presidency, like the Chief Ministers and Governors. Some have already proved their weakness on other issues.

Draft Bill by the Jathika Hela Urumaya

If by chance the ‘brave’ draft Bill scheduled to be submitted to the Parliament is taken for a vote, it will provide an excellent opportunity to reflect on the devolution policies of the government, Opposition and the space available for independent political personalities to respond to issues of national interest.   Its final decision will automatically reflect the majority Sinhala attitudes too.  Has not this issue taken a ethnic twist? Since governments are formed by Sinhala majority political parties this will provide a good opportunity to international powers too to evaluate our politicians. It will provide for influencing discussions in the Commonwealth Conference and the future UNHRC dialogues.  Therefore, it may be that TNA must be the happiest for the Bill! Because, this will expose the two tongue approaches on devolution by Sinhalese politicians.

Reaching a new approach

From the above discussion it is clear that there had been duplicity exhibited by all political groups on unknown pretexts.  Political stances have been changed on political realities. They have shown different colors to suit the immediate political needs. The end result had been hiding of the truth.

The southern Sinhalese politicians playing nasty double games will convert the Tamil politicians and populations to promote underhand deals. It will block any consensual management.  Therefore, to be straight forward and logical will be better means to handle this problem than trying to deceive.  Such deception will create destabilization. Rather than to be repenting it can be said that for conscious action there is still time, which reminds the saying “Better late than never.”

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Latest comments

  • 0

    Never knew ” Yes Prime Minister” was real in Srilanka.

    • 0

      K.A Sumanasekera

      A small correction, Yes Aryan/Sinhala/Buddhist President of Sinhala/Buddhist ghetto, is real alive and kicking.

  • 0

    If “police powers” means that each PC can have its own police force,then this should be welcomed,as law & order can be established.
    Why the viciferous objections, is not clear.

    • 0

      “as law & order can be established” – have a fat hope. It can also be, giving the
      authority to do what they want. Why not appoint Mervyn de Silva as the chief minister and give him police powers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • 0

    Dear Austin Sir,
    I very much appreciate your timely comments. Politicians who demanded police powers to the PC’s were keeping silence today. I like to ask few questions Sir.
    Is it any real procedural problems to implement police powers?
    Is there any realistic chances to divide the country?
    Continued denial of administrative structures in the north in the name of separation is mere propaganda is in it?
    I believe that the current political climate is enemy of change mainly the consolidation of absolute power. Am I right?
    Casting doubt on North’s ability to throw out TNA from the political arena is the manifestation of Sinhala racists politics. Am I right?
    TNA’s power base is already eroded gradually due to their lack of vision but sustained by the attitude of the state politics. Am I right?
    Please write more,how Tamil polity to play constructive role in order to deal with devolution of power.


  • 0

    Like in Canada where there are Central Police – RCMP and local police based in regions or cities like in Toronto. Why cannot we have such a system, as long as the powers of each police structure is clearly defined and there is rule of law there is nothing to worry about. At present in Sri Lanka issues are being created artificially which can never take place. Its all academic.

    • 0

      What is proposed is NOT the Canadian system.
      In any case, on top of the Canadian mounted police, there is also a centralized anadian SEcret service (CISIS) which operates with impunity all over the country.

      The whole of Sri lanka can be fitted between Ottawa and Oshawa (close to Toronto), and so you don’t NEED many different police forces that have to be later re-coordinated so that they mesh in properly.

      Just one central force is enough and that is the most efficient solution for Sri lanka. Canada is a vast country where this is needed for practical reasons. In Sri Lanka the only reason why people are talking of provincial police forces is just politics. WE already have TOO MUCH POLITICIZATION of every facet of public life.

  • 0

    When? When will the Police Powers be given? It is getting too hot for us here? Already many of our comrades have been gunned down by the [National ]Police.We want to run across to Jaffna and get lost, and even take a boat to Tamil Nadu.Lalitha is waiting to feed us Thosai. That is what the Chettiyars did in Trincomalee even in British times. After felling valuable timberin state land when the long arm of the law was reaching them they fled to Jaffna and were never found and apprehended. That is the reality we are waiting for!

    Long Live Police Powers to the Provinces! To Hell with JHU! Hell with Champika and Ratana Hamuduruwo!Long Live Sambanthan! May he go to rest with Police Powers!
    Pathala Kalliya

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy

  • 0

    Park: Do you ever think that Sri Lanka will or can accept the position you have suggested? Just make an assesment of the “Police Force” of this country. To give you an “in-depth” knowledge of this “Force”, it is more than sufficient to say it is a “Political Force” than a Force set upto “Serve” and “Protect” the citizens. In contrast this Force, “SERVE” and “PROTECT” the “All Mighty, Corrupt” Politicians. This status will never be changed. So let us be “real” and “practical”.

  • 0

    Could police powers in the hands of any Tom Dick or Harry be worse than those in the hands of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa

  • 0

    CT’s comments policy is really unique…anyway its their website so they decide what gets published and what doesnt to suit their agenda.

    Let me just say Apples and Oranges and Hospital ring any bells

  • 0

    I may respond to your queries.
    1 The procedures expected by the Constitution are incorporated in it. As time goes on new procedures can be established. For that matter the Constitution can withdraw the Provincial Police Commission and the need for procedures may not arise.
    2 This is a political issue which is not in my domain.
    3.Separation may be political propaganda. But it is a factual reality too sometimes. My reference to CM Perumal’s times show how things can change the human security aspects in the society due to political decisions.
    4 I refrain from commenting on current political climate as I am no political commentator.
    5 How can one predict it– when, how, why etc?
    6 The best person to answer this is someone like Mr. Sampanthan or Mr. Senathirajah of the old guard or Mr. Sumanthiran of the new guard of the TNA!

  • 0

    There is no place for the 13th Amendment imposed on Sri Lanka by a foreign power. Democracy deamnds that what happens within the Sri Lankan borders is what the majority population wants. Police and Land powers should never be handed over to a Provincial chief.
    The 13th Amendment is only fit for the bin.

    • 0

      Please do it I too want GoSL declare that we will repeal 13th amendment.

  • 0


    Although you are Ram, you must be a Sinhala (“majority population”)Buddhist chauvinist! Core stance for you is what the Sinhalese want has to be accepted whether one likes or not. Wonderful democratic solution! Being a Thambiya as your fellows call us we will accept it with bowed heads! If that is what you wish to see, get up from your sleep my dear because you were sleeping all this while!

    • 0

      What I am is of little relevance when all I have been asking for is democracy and equality (in terms of human rights). We cannot have no-go areas within our borders simply because a minority wants a considerable part of the land reserved exclusively for them, for no descernible reason other than greed. What happens within a democracy is what the majority demands, and not the desires of a small minority. There is Tamil, Sinhala or Canadian version of it.

      • 0

        There is NO Tamil, Sinhala or Canadian version of it.

  • 0

    Quote “If “police powers” means that each PC can have its own police force,then this should be welcomed,as law & order can be established.
    Why the viciferous objections, is not clear.”



    • 0

      so you mean you never know to live peacefully without invading your own people, then how come Tamils in north will be safe?

    • 0

      dirty seththu


      Where on earth police fight border wars.

      My elders tell me that only the armed forces engage in border wars and invasion.

      Have a bath and change your underwear and shocks everyday.

    • 0

      Absolutely. How many “border disputes”, “colonizations”, “evictions”, “uprooting”, etc, etc. is happening now according to TNA. Obviously a TNA police will have to stop these. That means war. The army will be called in.

      What will happen to the Civil Defence Force which is organized by the district? Provincial police will get into disputes with them.

      Without giving police powers to the province, how about giving provincial powers to the police!

  • 0

    Thank you Austin, Always a pleasure to read your writings.

  • 0

    Police and land powers can easily be devolved because of the enormous power wielded by the governor appointed under the 13th amendment.Evn pillayan compalained that to move a chair even he has to get the permission of the governor.So all this talk about police powers could destabilise the country etc by gota and co are just plain scaremongering because they want to keep those powers to fulfill lot of their unterior motives and plans of which we are unaware but the tamils will find out little by little as the example of the recent takeover of 7000 acres of privately owned property in th eheart of the jaffna peninsuls.

    So the clamour by the sinhala hardliners not to devolve police and land powers is not really because they fear the provincial administration will use it to their advantage,the real fear is that the hardliners will find it more difficult to use it to bully, harass and plunder the tamils.

    The whole problem is after the military victory over the LTTE,the sinhalese hardliners are all gung ho that they have absolute power over the tamils and can do whatever they want to them,especially in the two sensitive areas for the tamils of security and land.Devolving the land and police powers will dilute the bullying power a bit.Unless the tide starts to change year by year and the victory is considered as only over the LTTE and not the tamil people,this power gone to the head mentality will continue.The power aprodisiac can be got rid of only through the international anti power approdisiacs applied on their currently swollen heads.India is the biggest impediment to this because they keep on watering down the UN resolutions.High time a UN resolution is brought out that an international independent inquiry is to be done for the final stages of the war and that should bring these swollen heads down to earth a bit,because without doing that it is a waste of time to be even talking to them about reconciliation etc.

  • 0

    Wimal Weerawansa described the handing over of the Northern Provincial Council to the release of a bunch of venomous snakes without removing their deadly fangs. They will use the fangs to get Jayalalitha & the Government of India in the north to intimidate the government. Tamil Diaspora in the west who are still extorting contributions from the Tamils who are not interested in these LTTE terrorists in sheep’s clothing to use their financial clout to buy influence among the international human rights organisations, the news media and unscrupulous politicians. USA not satisfied with destabilizing Afghanistan and Pakistan has established a base in Maldives, probably with the intention of establishing their presence in Hambantota. Hence, we need to quickly resolve this thorny issue.

    Gomin Dayasiri has quite correctly pointed out the need for a referendum to handle this issue in conformity with our constitution. This appears to be the best course of action.

    “A country that demands moral perfection in its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security” ― Henry Kissinger

  • 0

    Dear Truth

    Gomin is continuing with the sins his father late NQ Dias started doing in late fifties against Tamils, as Secretary Defence, which perhaps you do not know.
    What the majority in Sri Lanka wants and what the minorities want are different. Therefore, if numbers are to decide we know the result of the referendum. No need to waste time to implement what is in your sacred Constitution. It is better if you decide to give what is in your sacred Constitution under the 13th Amendment. You like what is in the Constitution when it suit Sinhala chauvinists and dislike what suits the minorities. Please remember majority does not mean the TRUTH and REASON. You will have the problems until you join the majority if you try to settle issues in this manner!
    By the way, has Kissinger any time commented by application of his quote on the lines that moral imperfection in US foreign policy has achieved perfection and security for instance in the middle east and west Asia (Iraq, Afganistan, Libya, Syria, Pakistan) or even nearer home in Guantanamo which had been criticized by Navi Pillay this week? I do not see any perfection or security for years now in mid-east or west Asia, and no President has shown courage to touch Guantanamo in their perfect security savvy foreign policies!
    Do not be foolish to quote wrong quotes from Gomin or Kissinger to suit your bread and butter and the stock back at home!

  • 0

    One can leave the interesting anecdotes and focus only on the last paragraph which hints on the stand of Austin Fernando. He insists that it is better “to be straight forward and logical”.
    I believe he is making this profound statement with his successful experience with the ‘peace deal’ with the LTTE where he played a dominant role.
    There will be no straight game as long as the other side is crooked.
    AF has made one important statement that “Political stances have been changed on political realities.” He should have defined the present political reality. Which is as follows:
    1. Although the LTTE is militarily defeated the separatist ideology remains latent locally and dynamic internationally.
    2. The immediate neighbor TamilNadu is openly hostile to Sri Lanka.
    3. The weak central government of India cannot ignore the sentiments of Tami Nadu.
    4.The Western block and the UNHRC continues to harass and destabilize the country.
    Under these circumstances of political reality government and politicians cannot but adapt to the new political and security reality.

    • 0

      Well said!

      Police powers to provinces will create a Gestapo and SS.

  • 0

    If there are police powers to provinces at a future date.

    North will have a pro-TNA police
    East will have a pro-SLMC police
    Central province will have a pro-CWC police
    Western province will have a pro-UNP police
    Rest of the country will have a pro-SLFP police

    The fun begins when they fight each other especially at election time!!!

    Actually it happened when IPKF raise Tamil National Police for north and east. Premadasa killed them all and gave their weapons to LTTE!!!

  • 0

    If Police powers are devolved under the proposed system where the DIG is in charge and who can act without succumbing to political influence of the Provincial Chief Minster it will be a return to a non-political police. But this will be anathema to the powers that be. What is required is a devolution under the checks and balances provided for in the 13th Amendment. But our political leaders want all power to be with themselves and not under the checks and balances provided for in the 13th Amendment. So the present regime did away or emasculated the independent Police Commission so as to arrogate all power to themselves. So today we have a politicized police force which does the bidding of the politicians. Just look at the number of criminal suspects who are not being prosecuted by the police because they are friends or stooges of the powers that be. A provincial politician has assaulted two police officers who are hospitalized but the IGP will not arrest him. Do we want this system of Police to continue? But then we will have a Fascist Police which is an arm of the ruling regime. Neither Democracy nor good criminal justice can last under such a system. So the regime is opposing the devolution of police powers to the PCs because it will dilute their powers.Of course even PCs will want police powers only without the checks and balances so that they can make the provincial police force their arm. No peaceful change of ruler or ruling party will be possible under a politicized police force whether at the national level or the provincial level.

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