19 July, 2024


The Provincial Council For The North?

By R.M.B Senanayake

R.M.B. Senanayake

If the people are to participate in governance then devolution of power to the periphery is essential. This reflects Tocqueville’ assertion of decentralization being indispensable for a system of active popular rule – power to the people and equal opportunities for all.

But politicians who get elected don’t want people’s participation thereafter. They would prefer the people to mind their business until the next election. The colonial state was not a democracy. With the mobilization of the majority Sinhala Buddhists carried out by SWRD in 19566 the State disinherited the Tamil population. The post 1956 State became a majoritarian State and it failed to carry out the twin tasks of ‘nation-building and non-discriminatory economic development. Powers were concentrated, and with the progress of the war the powers became authoritarian, and the law made an unmediated instrument of force where administrative fiat was more a rule, than the rule of law. This is where we are today after the passing of the 18th Amendment and the subjection of the Judiciary to the Executive Presidency.

Presently, the political space is monopolized by a centralized authoritarian system. The fear of losing power is not the fear of the Sinhalese people but of the politicians in power who do not want to devolve power not even to those Provincial Councils where their own party is in control. So they project their fear of loss of power to the Sinhalese masses invoking the risk of secession. So to allow a Northern Provincial Council to function will be a great step forward.

The next question is to what extent is centralized political authority willing to relinquish power to the periphery? The Government doesn’t want to devolve police and land powers. But the Police powers were to be subject to the independent Police Commission and the powers of land alienation were to be subject to the control of the National Land Commission. But these important checks and balances were done away with by the present regime and it now wants to amend the 13th Amendment to remove these powers.  An important issue is the attitude of India which wants devolution of power as a solution to the grievances of the Tamil people.  What is the attitude of the international community towards the devolution of power? They certainly welcome the devolution of power to enable the local people to decide matters for themselves.

The implementation of policy and programmes by the public service must be under the surveillance of the people and exerted through their elected representatives. But there must be a clear separation between the role of the elected representative and the bureaucracy. Under the present regime the elected representatives although lacking in knowledge and competency have taken full control of the public service. But the role of the politician vis  a vis the public service is not to interfere in technical decision making or in running the department but only in supervising the bureaucracy to ensure that their decision making is transparent and in the public interest. They are required to act according to the law and without discrimination. It cannot be gainsaid that “the citizen has a surveillance role to play to ensure that the public servant comply with the mandate that was given them” [Hilliard and Kemp 1949:43].So the appointment, promotion and discipline of the bureaucracy is under the purview of an independent Provincial Public Service Commission. Elected representatives should not take these powers to themselves.

The Provincial Council is a collective body in the nature of an assembly with the Executive power in the hands of the Chief Minister. It must focus its efforts and resources on improving the quality of life of the communities. In addition to enhancing understanding of needs, civil society participation enhances understanding of the impact of policy and programmes as well as promotes the development of priorities. It is though interaction with the public that the state and local authorities can discover what citizens expects from their governments, local and national, areas where the implementation of policy and programmes are inadequate, and thereby promote the development of priorities.

It must be borne in mind that this institution was worked out under the Indo-Lanka Agreement to provide minorities the opportunity to share power with the Centre. While devolution although primarily focuses on power sharing for the ethnic minorities, it must also be viewed as an institution that can play a vital role in bringing the rural sector in partnership as a stake holder in managing the priorities of the area and the community.  If this institution is given the freedom to function freely within its mandate, it can act as the mechanism to resolve the grievances of the people. Community participatory engagement with the leverage to take initiatives at the community level will undoubtedly bring satisfaction to the people and keep them away from ‘disruptive politics’ and social upheavals as experienced in the country with the ‘71 and ‘87 southern revolts. This holds true for the ethnic conflict too.

The problem will be the role of the Governor who is expected to be a figurehead but unfortunately have become involved in acting as a channel for the ruling power and the ruling politicians at the Center. One hopes the Provincial Council for the North won’t end up the way the Jaffna District Council ended up.

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  • 0

    As pointed out by the author 13A is beneficial not only for minorities but for majority Sinhalese areass as well. It provides the opportunity for the Provinces to address their issues of development as best known to them and for local politicians and the populace to unite in developing the provinces. Such an arrangement could only have a positive impact on the provinces and the nation.

    The Center has become an unwieldy monster with 200 odd MP’s, 100 of whom are ministers, body guards, backup vehicles, nepotism, corruption etc. The role of the Center has to be reduced and number of MP’s, Ministers cut back. Power has to move to the provinces. Instead of tinkering around Govt should allow 13A to work and then see what has to be improved. It will be great to see all Provinces competeing shoulder to shoulder to develop the nation.

  • 0

    The Executive Power is in terms of the 13th amendment delegated to the Govrrnor, at present. The Governor, is a nominee of the President. The provincial public service reports to the governor and the purse strings in the hands of the Governor. Unless the Governor has instructions to function as a figurehead, he is by law the master at the the service of his master!

    The Cheif Minister and his Council of Ministers are only there to warm their chairs, if the Governor ( in reality the President’s man in the province)) does not give them the space to do something.

    I do not understand why a big fuss is being made about police and land powers vested in the PCs! These powers too would be in reality exercised by the Governor.

    Unless there is a WILL to make the intent behind the PC system work in the north, it is bound to be nothing more than a grand illusion leading to great delusion at best or a giant step forward towards greater rancour and simultaneously backwards in national reconciliation.

    Reading Lord Soulbury’s reply to Prof. C. Suntharalingam, I think he knew more about us as peoples even then, than we know of ourselves now. We Tamils will be always chasing after mirages and rainbows, unless we open our eyes to realities and see what Lord Soulbury saw in Federalism and Autonomy as solutions in the context of Sri Lanka.

    Three lawyers – Sumantiran, GajendraKumar Ponamblam and Guruparan- have been appointed to formulate Tamil aspirations a few days back. Only Sumanthiran, is a man with a vision. Should Tamil aspirations be pulled out once again by a bunch of lawyers, who have been the bane of Tamils? What does this bode for the Tamils?

    Dr.Rajasingham Narendran.,

    • 0

      Sorry. this committee is supposed to do is to address Tamil issues and draft proposals for basic solutions. I provide the relevant news report below:

      “Draft proposal on Tamil solution

      May 12, 2013

      A draft proposal to address Tamil issues is to be formulated by a three member Tamil political party committee, it was decided at a meeting between Tamil political parties held in Mannar.

      The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF) attended the meeting together with civil society representatives.

      At that meting it was decided that a three member committee will be appointed to formulate a draft proposal to address some of the Tamil concerns.

      Accordingly TNA MP M. Sumandiran, TNPF leader Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam and lawyer Kumara Gurubaran were appointed as the committee members.

      The committee was given two weeks to formulate the draft proposals on a basic solution to the Tamils.

      The Tamil parties will meet again on June 8 in Vavuniya for further discussions on Tamil issues. (Colombo Gazette)”

      Who were the civil society representatives and on what basis were the selected? Is a particular coterie once again hijacking Tamil politics and trying to define Tamil aspirations?


    • 0

      An addendum:

      There is huge chasm between the intent of the PC system and its design . The design makes sure the intent is not delivered! There is a lot of shadow boxing being staged on the political stage for the entertainment of what is presumed to be a stupid public?


    • 0

      Lord Soulbury wrote “Federation is cumbersome and difficult to operate” conveniently buried the fact that some of the Indian states given statehood at that time were at ground zero and he believed sec.29 of constitution will safe guard minority interest, a complete misjudgement of affairs however we can’t blame Soulbury for that because it was indian decision to establish lingual states what was our decision? why we didn’t understand the simple fact human society founded on differences rather affinities? Since you uphold Lord Soulbury’s view do you consider provincial/regional autonomy is a mirage? having rightfully criticised 13th amendment but fail to understand that is the only way out from the present mess? Centralised systems will work with autocratic socialist regimes they usually recognizes the social differences (Religion, Ethnicity, lingual, etc )at the same time independent from administration, Sri lanka being a functioning democracy (still not a fully military administered) social variables will play major role in shaping policies, on this back drop Why still you believe our focus should go towards sharing in center than working towards fully functional provincial/regional autonomy?

      I have changed my name to Jayam in order not to confuse with other jay who writes racial comments

      • 0


        The whole question of devolution , power-sharing at the centre and units for devolution have to be revisited, in terms of our experiences since 1948. I have made various suggestions over the past few years on this score. Unfortunately, our politicians- Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims- are unable to climb out of the hole they are in, to make decisions in the national interest. I am convinced there has to be devolution + power sharing , coupled with the reduction in the number of provinces.


  • 0

    RMB is one of those in civil society who fits into the category of a
    good thinker in an era where, speaking in the local idiom, garlands have gone into the hands of monkeys. The highly experienced and well-read public-private sector man enjoys the capacity to think outside the compulsion of race and religion.

    How many realise the truism that has destroyed the fabric of the nation, which RMB describes eloquently thus – “The fear of losing power is not the fear of the Sinhalese people but of the politicians in power” I dare say the average Sinhala voter throughout the country wants to live in harmony and peace with the Tamils. They have now begun to understand a terrible harm was done to the Tamils far too long.

    As to the “attitude of the international community” their role is limited. They can only counsel but finally the formulae has to be a home-grown one, which we have delayed and subverted with falsehoods far too long. The necessary “clear separation between the elected representatives and the bureaucracy” is unlikely to work in a system
    dominated by rogues and semi-literate misfits to whom politics “is family business” as haughtily claimed by a woman consigned presently to the political wilderness.

    The average voter is far too ignorant he has a right to demand and hold the political leadership when they fail to “improve the quality of life of the communities” How many Sinhalese will honestly swear the many guarantees provided by the Mahinda Chintana has improved their own quality of life. The truth is with every passing day their lot is thrust into greater misery and want.


  • 0

    Noble thoughts and suggestions.

    Are they practical?.

    Can the inhabitabts trust provincial politicians with Police Powers and Land banks when the A league PMs and even a President are on record for selling prime real estate to their buddies at Mates Rates,and the latter making her own title for a piece of most valuable Real Estate in the country?.

    Can Police Powers be invested in the hands of a minority political party , which is working against even their own people and hell bent on creating separate enclaves or SGAs and keep the other ethnics out?.

    And what is this devolution is going to give the poor ,rural people who are the great majority of the inhabitant population?.

    Are these new Provincial Politicians with their special Police and Land Banks going to make these inhabitants eat better, dress better, work less and earn more money?.

    Probably our Sinhala Vellalas in the Capital, who have been on diminishing returns since Banda appeared on the seen will say yes.

  • 0

    This obstinacy against Land and Police Powers is one more deceptive instrument put forward to prevent a Sinhala-Tamil rapprochement. In both the Governor, acting for the Centre, has the powers to nullify any political action by the PC that the Governor/State figures is inimical to the country’s wider interest. This is so in India that has successfully ruled that functioning anarchy (Galbraith) for many decades.


  • 0

    Raja, I think it was Ranjan Ramanayake who once explained the occupations of some of his colleagues in the Parliament. It was not at all complementary.

    The politicians in the Provincials Councils and the Pradeshiya Sabha’s are ten times worse. Most of them are focused on getting Duty Free Permits for sale, land grabbing,rape, prostitution, illegal timber trade, distribution of drugs and illicit liquor. What is the progress with the murders in Tangalle & Kahawatte?

    I hope and pray that the recent amendment to revert to a greater percentage for first past the post system will improve the quality of politicians. A percentage of seats or nominations for women can also improve the quality of politicians. Greater media exposure for discussions in the Parliament and Provincial Councils can also help.

    If there is no improvement in the quality of local politicians, a centralized system through a Governor and HONEST OFFICIALS is a better alternative.

  • 0

    It is a well thought article and it is the duty of the Sinhala politicians to explain poor Sinhala masses who are victims of power hungry racist politicians. I agree that it is not the people who are afraid of devolution, it is these politicians who are afraid of their power.

    The people of Sri Lanka are rational thinking people and they will make a rational decision if the correct information is available to them. It is important for those who are interested in peace, love and harmony and has a vision for building a united nation should commit themselves to educate the masses what happened to our nation, where are we now and what future we have.

    It is the duty of the educated professionals, civil activists, and politicians among the Sinhala people those who believe in the rule of law, power sharing and people power should come out and speak honestly and commit themselves for a brighter Sri lanka.

    As I always maintain that the trust between the Tamil and Sinhala community has been widen apart and it is the both communities should work together. The proper functioning of the Northern Provincial Council is essential for breaking the barriers for unity.

    It is a myth and a lie that Sinhalese won the war and Tamils lost it. The reality is that Sri Lanka is a lost Nation.
    a)thousands of Tamils and Sinhalese both lost their loved ones over the six decades of (insurgencies, riots, war)
    b) Both Tamils and Sinhalese lost their properties, businesses.
    c) Both Tamils and Sinhalese lost their rights and independence.

    As a Nation, Sri Lanka lost everything!

    1. A nation accused of war crimes!
    2. A nation accused of human rights violation!
    3. A nation accused of genocide!
    4. A nation accused of worst place of journalists!
    5. A nation accused of large number of unlawful disappearances!
    6. A nation accused of large number of mass graves!
    7. A nation accused of discriminating its citizens against race,language and religion!
    8. A nation of refugees!
    9. A nation accused of corruption!
    10. The people of the nation has lost their power,their rights and independence. It is now a nation of criminals and a playground for India, China and the West!

  • 0

    It is always a pleasure to read articles written by R.M.B Senanayake –the former civil servant.

    RMB is a prolific writer covering mainly economics but has very enlightened views on the national question.

    however he seems to have misread the 13 Amendment and the Provincial Council act Not 42 of 1987,both these legislations were brought in as a consequence to the indo- Sri Lanka pact and certified by speaker on the same date-24 November 1987.

    The Provincial Governor occupies a position similar to that of a colonial Governor with executive powers.

    (The Provincial Governor-rights and Dities under thge 13 Amendment by Prof Laksman Marasinghe)

    Governor has full power overstatutes, finance and administration.

    The members of the Provincial Public Service Commision PPSC are appointed by the Governor and the Governor delegates his powers to the PPSC.

    The final authority on any matter in respect of administration- recruitment ,promotion , disciplenary control and dismissal is with the Governor.

    Similarly the Provincial Budget called financial statement is placed before the Provincial Council with the approval of the Governor.

    A statue with financial consequences could be placed before the Provincial council only with the approval of the Governor. Further once the statues are passed by the Provincial council the statutes become law only after the Governor gives his assents,

    The role of the Chief Minister and the other Provincial Ministers are veryu miniml and marginal.

    According to the 13A, power is devolved to the executive, nominated Governor and not to the elected Chief minister or to any other elected member.

    This is an inherent lapse in the 13 A and the Provincial Council aqct No 42 of 1987.

  • 0

    It is shocking to note that the majority community does not want the powers given to them under the 13th amendment in the constitution, which is the law of the land. I do not know to call it stupidity or brain washing that the majority of the Provincial Councils are in the South and are for the benefit of the majority community. By the majority community requesting abolition of the 13th amendment they themselves are losing the powers given to those Provincial Councils for the benefit of those living in those areas. No where in the world such a stupid thing will happen. What a shame.

  • 0

    RMB who is prone to quote Western political science gurus has made reference to “Tocqueville’ assertion of decentralization being indispensable for a system of active popular rule – power to the people and equal opportunities for all” has ignored what our own LLRC had to say on devolution of power to the periphery.
    The LLRC in paragraph 8.220, state:
    “In addressing the question of devolution two matters require the attention of the government. Firstly, empowering the Local Government institutions to ensure greater peoples’ participation at the grass roots level. Secondly, it is also imperative that the lessons learnt from the shortcomings in the functioning of the Provincial Councils system be taken into account, in devising an appropriate system of devolution that addresses the needs of the people. It should at the same time provide for safeguarding the territorial integrity and unity of Sri Lanka whilst fostering its rich diversity.”

    RMB claims that the Provincial Councils must be fully implemented as it was worked out under the Indo-Lanka Agreement. As an expert in political science it is strange that he does not realize that the forced Agreement is defunct as the key obligation of on the side of India of bringing the LTTE under control was never met.
    What is required is a power sharing at the periphery, which does not lead to inefficiency, nepotism and the nurturing of centrifugal tendencies.

    • 0


      The IPKF was asked to leave before they could do this. President Premadasa armed the LTTE to fight the IPKF and even threaten to commit suicide if they did not leave. The principle outcome of the Indo -Sri Lanka agreement, the 13th amendment was doomed from its birth. All the principle participants and co-optees, including the mid-wife, India, had a hand in this outcome.


      • 0

        The threat to commit suicide part came later in the discussion.
        According to former IHC Shri Mehrotra the Keselwatte Chandiya – like the other learned General who called the other side “Jokers” in his own limited vocabulary, is supposed to have said he (RP) would have to go to War against India??? Heat of the moment – perhaps. Jokers, Jokers and Jokers while our crumbling position demands we have Aces by the score.


      • 0

        Dr.Rajasingham Narendran

        “Premadasa armed the LTTE to fight the IPKF and even threaten to commit suicide if they did not leave. “

        Why didn’t Premadasa order his armed forces to fight the Innocent People Killing Force (IPKF)?

        Why did the very very very stupid/psychopath VP agree to fight the IPKF on behalf of Sri Lankan state?

        Instead,VP should have got the IPKF to kick his permanent enemy the Sri Lankan state and it forces.

        The stupid VP should have realised whilst he was tempted to engage the IPKF in an unnecessary war, Premadasa used his armed forces to kill innocent unarmed civilians in the South.

        VP’s immanence contribution (inadvertently of course) to Sri Lankan state’s stability is invaluable and he helped to get rid of equally racist Sinhala/Buddhist JVP Polpots.

        I am not sure if the Sinhala/Buddhists are grateful to VP.

        • 0

          Dear Native,

          Where were you when our Praba was around?.

          • 0

            K.A Sumanasekera

            Oh I was in deep deep jungle hoping that after the war stupid Sinhalese and stupid Tamils would leave my island.

            The war was fought by two stupid people where I had no business.

            As you said he was your Praba and not ours.

            As first cousins one day you chose to kill each other the next day both of you might chose to fight the Hindians.

            Some days VP kills his own siblings on other days you kill your own people.

            My people didn’t want to take sides through out the your wars and stayed neutral since we don’t trust you for both VP and Sinhala/Buddhist leaders could make deals to train their gun on us.

            Wisely we avoided your family quarrels.

            By the way where were you when your Praba was around?.

        • 0

          Native Veddah,

          A very interesting article by Niru Dissanaike on how VP helped modern Dutu Gemunus dreams come true, was published in the Asian Tribune long before the war ended. It is the best article on VP and the LTTE , I have read yet.


  • 0

    I believe, devolution at PC level is a recipe for separatism and disaster under the current political climate. However, devolution at district level would enhance democratic governance by bringing people closer to the centre and its decision making processes.

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