The 13 th Amendment: The Devolution of Powers and the Provincial Councils has killed the economy. What is required is Decentralization; not Devolution
Posted on November 4th, 2012

By Garvin Karunaratne, former Government Agent, Matara District.

 As an administrative officer for eighteen years I have handled the purchase and sale of vegetables and fruits islandwide in the Department for Development of Agricultural        Marketing, granting agricultural loans to cooperatives islandwide,  Purchase of Paddy under the Guaranteed Price Scheme and Rice Milling islandwide, the registration of small industrialists and making allocations of foreign exchange for import of essentials island wide and have also handled the working of every department attending to development functions as a Government Agent of a District. At that time once a Ministry is in charge of a subject there are no hindrances or roadblocks in implementation.

 The administrative provisions of the 13 th Amendment is inimical for development

It is my conviction that the political and administrative structure imposed by the 13 th Amendment is inimical for development.

 The crisis point has now arrived with the inability to pass the Divineguma Bill, the most progressive piece of legislation of the Rajapaksa Government.  Already under the Divineguma functions headway has been made in spurring people to get down to production. An instance known to me is the production of flowers, orchids in particular.  A few years ago we imported flowers- something for which we should never have incurred foreign exchange. My experience of living in Nuwara Eliya tells me that we can even produce flowers for export. Now the import of flowers in banned and flower growers thrive in producing for the market, A visit to the Garden Exhibition on weekends at the Exhibition grounds near  Water’s Edge will convince anyone that we are on the path to success. The Divineguma has also been successful in increasing the incomes of many families through home gardens, the distribution of seeds and creation of self employment.  The necessity today is to take Divineguma further to increase the incomes for all people and that is to be done by the amalgamation of the Divineguma with Samurdhi and the Southern Development.

 The creation of departments, the amalgamation of departments and expansion is nothing new. I was an Assistant Commissioner handpicked to implement the Paddy Lands Act. A new Department- the Agrarian Services was created overnight with the functions of Rice Milling and Paddy Purchase taken over from the Marketing Department, coupled with the Paddy Lands Act where we elected cultivation committees from among farmers and got down to a program of development. Today in order to establish a major department we have to get the approval of the various Provincial Councils to handle development. This is because agriculture and other nation building functions are all devolved subjects. We cannot even take the first step, when in the Fifties we did a hop step and a jump with no hindrance.

 The Provincial Councils, elected by the people have proved a hindrance. This is due to the fact that Sri Lanka is a small country. In the Sixties I sent out the first circular detailing the use of fertilizer for the various the improved varieties of paddy and it was immediately implemented islandwide.  The cultivation committees did their task under the advice of the Agrarian Overseers, the Overseers and the Instructors of the Agriculture Department. Now under the Thirteenth Amendment this task has to get the approval of the Provincial Councils and the Provincial Council’s Ministers.  Otherwise nothing can get done. When  the Governor of the Central Province, Mr Imbulana tried to get a special programme of poverty alleviation and employment creation done and summoned the Chief Minister and the Minister for Agriculture and all officials, it was only the officials that attended the meeting and the inauguration. The Chief Minister and the Minister for Agriculture were not interested. They never cooperated.(For details Chapter 20 of my book: How the IMF Ruined Sri Lanka, Godages, 2006) I can remember that about two years ago the Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremasinghe made a statement that he will instruct his Provincial Councillors to support a programme.  It is a ridiculous situation to subject  Parliamentary decisions to another provincial body.

 Let me explain from a different angle about how the devolution of powers will never work.

Take vegetable marketing. About eight to ten lorry loads  of vegetables are dispatched daily from Nuwara Eliya to Tripoli Market in Colombo, the Marketing Department headquarters. A similar amount is dispatched from Bandarawela. At Tripoli Market the vegetables are graded and dispatched to the retails units in Colombo. This cannot be done if vegetable marketing is a devolved subject. Then the Minister for Agriculture in the Western Province has to approve such sales. At Tripoli Market we decided the purchase prices for every important vegetable at every major fair in the island and this was implemented immediately. During the Red Onion season, about three to four wagon loads if red onions are dispatched from Jaffna to Galle for sale to retailers and the consumers. The producers in Jaffna have to get paid and the consumers in the Southern Province have to get the red onions for consumption. As the Assistant Commissioner in the Southern Province the smooth sale of red onions was my task, but if a Provincial Minister did not approve,  the red onions will rot in the wagons. Similarly during the paddy harvesting season, for a full four months of the year twenty wagon loads of paddy are despatched everyday from Batticaloa to Matara and Boosa for milling and distribution to consumers. We ran in circles trying to clear these wagons.

 Take Pineapples.  This is grown mainly in the Gampaha District but is canned and was sold island wide and also exported.  Take Tomatoes, Hanguranketa is our tomatoes area and during the season the prices are very low. The Tomatoes have to be marketed in Colombo for which the grace of the Colombo  Provincial Council Minister will be required. The Cannery in Colombo can make tomatoes sauce, but if the Provincial Minister thinks otherwise tomatoes will rot in the field. Take Strawberries.  This can be grown in NuwaraEliya and Rahangala and the fate of strawberry farmers will be decided by a provincial Minister in Colombo!

 In short if the Provincial Ministers of Agriculture do not cooperate none of these can be achieved.

 Sri Lanka has certain major climatic zones., The crops are different in each. Nuwara Eliya is the home for apples and pears. Take coconuts the area is Kurunegala and Colombo.  Take oranges the production was in Bilile and the consumers islandwide.  The consumers are islandwide

 In a small country like Sri Lanka no development functions can be done if agriculture and marketing are devolved subjects.

Unnecessary Expenditure

Each Provincial  Council has a Chief Minister and four other subject ministers and every one of them have an administrative staff with all perks, incurring a massive expenditure, I can even remember that a few years ago the elected members of a Provincial Council went abroad to study what is required for our country.

 What is requied is decentralization and not devolution

What is required is not devolution. Instead it is decentralization., where decisions can be made locally and also through the participation of the people. The Divineguma Bill contains that provision. We need the decentralization of power to the village area where the people in the community will take charge of development. In nostalgia I can recall the yeoman work we did under the Paddy Lands Act through cultivation committees for the cause of increasing yields of paddy and organizing cultivation and repairs to irrigation work.

Take any government department and one will find that the functions have to be decentralized to the district and the divisional and finally to the village level.  Once Parliament decides on the policy and hands over the implementation of any programme to a Ministry responsible to Parliament there should not be another level of political approval in functioning. 

 The Indian Part of the Constitution of Sri Lanka

This leads to another aspect as to why such an anachronistic and  impractical system of devolution was  specified in the 13 th Amendment. This is an interesting point and I am of the opinion that the 13 th Amendment was imposed on us by India to make it impossible for any development to take place so that we will for ever fail in developing our resources. This is a fact because after the 13 th Amendment was passed I see no development in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka has fallen into deep debt and we now provide employment for people in India and other countries. 

 This takes us to the point as to how and when the 13 th Amendment was made to our Constitution.  That happened during the time of President Jayawardena, when India sent sorties of fighter planes to roar over Colombo, made an Indian destroyer appear off the coast of Colombo and India did actually drop parippu in Jaffna merely to tell President  Jayaewardena as to who was in charge. By that time the “ƒ”¹…”Democrat” he was President Jayawardena had obtained under duress undated letters of resignation from every Member of Parliament(other than Ronnie de Mel, the Finance Minister). This was to tell the Members of Parliament that they will lose their seats if they disagreed with him. Further  President Jayawardena took over a Five Star Hotel and incarcerated all Members of Parliament there. When he wanted them to vote for him in Parliament he would personally go the Five Star Hotel and accompany the Members of Parliament and get them to vote as he wished. That was how the 13 th Amendment was passed in Parliament. There was disagreement among the people. President Jayawardena silenced this by getting the Supreme Court to approve the 13 th Amendment. That happened when the residences of the Judges were repeatedly stoned and when even a peaceful  protest  could not be held. My guru Professor Sarathchandra was pulled out of the stage and attacked by a mob when he dared to speak out. That was the birth of the 13 th Amendment. It is totally an Indian creation imposed on our Constitution and every Sri Lankan should be ashamed of it.

 It is therefore high time that we got rid of this anachronism.

 Garvin Karunaratne, Ph.D.


16 Responses to “The 13 th Amendment: The Devolution of Powers and the Provincial Councils has killed the economy. What is required is Decentralization; not Devolution”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    ABSOLUTELY, Garvin!

    Here is ANOTHER example of a Potential Problem in Devolving Power to Provincial Councils: Hospitals.

    Multiple-Overlapping-Bureaucracies Sapping the Economic Vitality of the Nation!
    Minister promises to develop all hospitals

    By Ridma Disssanayake
    November 03, 2012

    The government’s policy is to develop all hospitals in state and provincial sectors, Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena said. “All hospitals in the public sector provide a free health service to the public. The government’s aim is to upgrade the standards of the country’s free health service, whether they come under the central government or provincial councils,” he added. Minister Sirisena was speaking during an inspection tour of Wathupitiwala Base and Gampaha General Hospitals.

    The minister discussed the development process of these hospitals with their controlling authorities and promptly solved some of key problems affecting the hospitals.

    “While the country claimed to run 1,047 hospitals,only 47 of them come under the purview of the government .

    The other 1,000 hospitals are under the purview of the Provincial Councils. I have no idea to take over any hospital to the central government. We only need to upgrade the country’s free health service. The government has taken a number of measures,” the minister said.

    “Even though, I am the Health Minister, it is not possible for me to visit all the hospitals in the country. It is not practical as well. We The Provincial Councils should be held responsible with matters regarding to provincial things,”the minister added. He said the assistance of Provincial Councils is important for the government to go forward with their development projects.

    Other governing authorities should provide all assistance to the development projects initiated by the government.

    Health Ministry Deputy Director General (Laboratory Services) Dr.Gamini Samarasinghe,Deputy Director General (Medical Services)

    Dr.Ananda Gunasekara,Medical Supplies Division Director Dr.Kamal Jayasinghe and Western Provincial Health Services Director Dr.Amal Harsha Silva were also participated.

  2. Kit Athul Says:

    Gavin excellent, historical reminder. It’s time Sinhala got out and KICKED THE INDIANS ON THE TEETH. Clowns that say SL must be friendly with INDIA must be silenced by articles like what Gavin has written.

  3. Kit Athul Says:

    Health Minister should create an STATE INSURANCE Agency for the poor to pay a small pemium every month and the Government must subsidies with a contribution. In this way, hospitals can be upgraded to modern standrads.

  4. Melbourne Patriot Says:

    If the provincial councils are abolished I will be the happiest person. Whether or not the government has guts to do it, I have a big question mark. The recent discourse by the goverment may have been initiated due to Divineguma, once it is resolved, the idea may again be swept under the carpet. Like the patriotic Diaspora, the citizens must also join the outcry. Only through a mammoth campaign, (preferably headed by Gotabhaya), the country may be able to achieve this sweetest most goal. There is way to go

  5. Sirih Says:

    Agree 100%, that we need decentralisation specially if we take planing and investment considerations.. Meeting with president and his brothers with my brother 2 yrs ago, we put the same proposal to the president and the defence sec…
    They ask our advise since we have business in east more than 70 yrs…We also supplied fuel to all defence forces in east and only Sinhalese to do so since ltte had a blockade… It cost us a fortune but we never stopped.
    Our point was give people security, housing and most of all security of a job and we will minimise TNA undue influence.
    We are now helping to get foreign capital to east and north and our family see past bad planning created this mess.

  6. Dilrook Says:

    There is a wrong belief that the $1.3 billion wasted on provincial councils has its benefits. Those who hold this view say part of this money goes to schools, hospitals, road development, etc.

    It is a half truth. As we can see now clearly, provincial councils did a very lousy job in doing all these. All proper and planned activities relating to schools, hospitals, road development, etc. were done by the central government.

    The little money that trickled from provincial councils would have been much larger in the hands of the recipients had there not been so many needless intermediaries.

    It is an absurd view held by those who secretly want to keep the provincial councils and those uneducated on fiscal, monetary and economic management. Some secret admirers of the 13A include prominent nationalists. Now the government is facing an economic crisis. With defence budget allocation increasing by $500 million next year, this money must be found from somewhere without hurting the economy. There is only one thing that can do it – abolishing Provincial Councils and repealing 13A.

    Sri Lanka does not need any more decentralised units. The current decentralisation structure of Municipal councils, Urban councils, Predeshiya Sabhas, Grama Niladhari, Grama Sevaka and Government Agent units are more than sufficient for meaningful decentralisation. TNA controls most of the Municipal councils, Urban councils, Predeshiya Sabhas in the north so they cannot complain.

  7. Sirih Says:

    Dilrook, I do not think you have given some thoughts to this issue.
    I agree PCs are waste, decentral planning is needed since Colombo planners never looked after outer regions in last 60 yrs since I can give enough anecdotal evidence since our family involved in some infrastructure funding directly in Trinco and south. My late father was always battling Colombo since they never give due credit to outer regions.
    Tamils took this issue as racial since it suited their ulterior motives.
    We are not talking about political decentralisation but resource decentralisation .

  8. nandimitra Says:

    Sinhalese are all lotus eaters completely taken by the false propaganda of the government. Look at their development programme and the regaining Sri lanka programme of Ranil Wicks, US aid, IMF and World Bank. The process was to make Sri Lanka the playing field of the Rich europeans ( Now Bankrupt) The policy of massive investment in hotel building, new roads , acquisition of the sea beaches, etc. is currently the policy. Go to the south, north and east and see the hotel different from regaining SL programme. The long and short of it is that this is centralised development the centre being in washington not in colombo. The debt has risen from 9Billion in 2001 to 27 Billion now. The IMF and World bank instigated reduction of the subsidy on education, healthcare is obvious , Privatisation of the so called free health and education subtly continues. Now they want to take this further with the Dive Neguma programme. Selling of Sri Lanka will continues. Indians and the chinese and the IMF and World bank are buying up SL. The Sri Lankans are gradually loosing their economic independence the rulers are filling up their pockets at the expense of the country. All this talk of decentralisation is nothing more than eye wash. It is time the people question the governments intentions.

  9. Susantha Wijesinghe Says:





  10. Fran Diaz Says:

    We agree with Dr Karunaratne’s analysis on development of the Rural areas without hindrances imposed by 13-A. Our grateful thanks to him for enlightening us about development issues at rural level.

    The ‘healthy’ DiviNeguma Bill has to replace the ‘unhealthy’ 13-A which has to be removed in toto. I am supposing that there are aspects in the DiviNeguma Bill which address development issues not already addressed by other local bodies. We shall be grateful if Dr Karunaratne can write to us about that part of the issue too.

    We must remember that the present GoSL inherited the 13-A which was created during the JRJ time. It was only after the ltte terrorism was quelled that the 13-A was brought out of the closet belatedly and addressed, by which time it had drawn roots of power all over the island, and people benefitting from it do not want to let go.

    Re building hotels, and development infrastructure : this is a good thing, in a way. But tourism has its own down side too, anywhere in the world, not just in Sri Lanka. The trick is to develop the rural areas so that people gain more funds for their private use, without depending so much on tourism or feeding into the tourist trade. Keeping our morals & ethics intact is very important whilst doing the tourist trade.

    Folks, it’s going to be a tough battle to get rid of the 13-A. Are we ready for this worthy battle ?

  11. lingamAndy Says:

    battle to get rid of the 13-A. Are we ready for this worthy battle ?- this 13A for united Sri lanka ( avoid any seperation) !
    so battle to separe the country ??? – not making any sense !

  12. Fran Diaz Says:

    Can’t help you, Andy, if you don’t see hope for your family in mainstream living i.e. freedom to speak your language whilst also speaking mainstream languages, follow your religion, do a business, work toward the best education system, live in harmony with others, no wars, insurrections, etc.

  13. M.S.MUDALI Says:

    This fool Garvin got his promotions through back doors. That is why he never think about TAXATION or any other issues. Sri Lanka needs a good taxation technique to bring the people “responsible” in the civil life. All the idiots make comments here live in the west but they dont open their mouths on taxation. Fraud is the ill of the Sri Lankans.

    Lalith Ambanwela of Kandy is a good example.

  14. lingamAndy Says:

    Fran Diaz
    Hiden agenda is keep Sinhala Bhuddism to live & Tamil Saivate to die in mother lanka since idependant !!!
    until this policy of SL Govt change We Tamil don’t see hope for your family in mainstream living !!!
    13A is first stone than 13P is second stone than NP election is third stone to achieve our dream of Thamil Eelam !!!

    We never learn do We ? If india want to create Tamil Eelam they can creat over night ???
    At this point in time India do not want Tamil Eelam to exist !

    so be happy !!!

  15. Fran Diaz Says:


    What will die naturally in ANY area of human activity is Ignorance.

    Re carving up countries that help gives you a goal : Such acts only backfire on those who plan such acts, that is the Ashtaloka Dharma, well recognised in both Buddhism & Hinduism.

    The kind of Happiness we are seeking lives only in our Hearts, the most peaceful and happy of places. No where else.

  16. lingamAndy Says:

    Fran Diaz
    The kind of Happiness we are seeking lives only in our Hearts, the most peaceful and happy of places. No where else.-Fully agrred ! I’ve small touch in this happienes when I do metitation !
    hope & pray all human kind understand this atleast our mother lankan !!!
    but I am confident this kind of happieness last long in mother lanka !

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