‘Unit of Devolution: District or Province?’ – a response
Posted on September 22nd, 2017

Neville Ladduwahetty Courtesy The Island

Dr. Dayan Jayetilleka (Dr. DJ), in his article titled “Unit of devolution: District or Province?”(The Island, Sept. 20, 2017), has missed the essence of the difference between what I stated and what he claims as the “Sinhala nationalist’s preference for Districts to Provinces” as the primary unit of devolution.

I agree with Dr. DJ that devolving to the district, instead of the province, and ignoring the rest of what I had stated, is a non-starter. I went beyond, and it is what he missed out that makes all the difference.

The essence of what I stated was that while the district would be the best unit of devolution, in order to ensure territorial integrity, the legislative and executive powers should be shared at the center so that the sovereignty of the People could be exercised by the three major communities of Sri Lanka. What needs to be developed are the specific mechanisms of sharing power, at the centre, so that the communities are involved in the processes of governance.

The ongoing constitutional reform process is exploring all possible means to grant greater autonomy to the provinces. If, as Dr. DJ states: “It is true (that) a measure of autonomous power to a unit as large as a province does constitute a temptation to secede”, what imaginative formula does Dr. DJ suggest to prevent secession and sustain stability? It cannot be by constitutional safeguards alone because, as Dr. Colvin R. de Silva said in another context, it would be “a thin reed to lean on”. It is evident from the developments in Spain, and now Iraqi Kurdistan, both of which are moving towards independence and self-determination, despite their actions being declared illegal. The question is: What safeguards are there to ensure the sustainability of the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka with province as the unit of devolution? With all due respect, the provisions of constitutional amendment 13A within a unitary state, as advocated by Dr. DJ certainly cannot be the answer after 30 years of war and thousands dead, because that was the arrangement when the war started; if it was not acceptable then, how is it acceptable now?

If as Dr. DJ states that the solution is the right balance between “The two extremes of laissez-faire…and suffocating overprotection…similar to that of child-rearing”, it is very clear from all the evidence available that the Sri Lankan state has not been successful at “child-rearing”, and there is no guarantee that they would be any better in the future. Depending on such skills is also in my opinion too risky because as most parents know, despite all the care and nurturing given, no parent is in a position to guarantee how children would finally turn out. Could the territorial integrity be risked to such uncertainties? Therefore, we need to find a more durable arrangement to ensure territorial integrity while acknowledging the vulnerability of the province to separatism.

In the background of repeated claims of “Tamil nationhood with the right of self-determination” that have echoed over decades, a unit as large as the province would not stop only at tempting secession it would lead to secession. This is only one elephant in the room. The other is the destabilizing effect on India through separatist tendencies in Tamil Nadu. India may not be too concerned with possible threats to its territorial integrity because of assurances given by its military. Regardless of the capabilities of India’s military, secession in Sri Lanka would reverberate in Tamil Nadu with inevitable consequences on India’s stability and India would not want that to happen.

Therefore, as far as India is concerned, their one and only concern is stability in Sri Lanka. My opinion is that India is not too concerned how it is achieved as long as it is acceptable to the communities in Sri Lanka. The need therefore is for the leadership of the major communities to discuss what arrangements at the center would meet their aspirations while ensuring territorial integrity, bearing in mind that whatever the arrangements at the center, devolution has to be to a unit that guarantees territorial integrity because it is not only in Sri Lanka’s interest, but also in the interest of India. If Sri Lanka breaks up, India will unravel too.

In my article of September 19, I had suggested an arrangement for the center to share legislative and executive power. Such an arrangement could be supplemented by three Deputy Prime Ministers representing the three communities assigned to specific areas to assist the Prime Minister. This is simply the imaginations of one person. The need is for a workshop to explore as many options as possible to be presented to the leadership for them to arrive at an acceptable arrangement. Perhaps Dr. DJ could head such an exercise.

The fact that absolutely no attempt has been made thus far to explore an imaginative approach other than the hackneyed refrain of devolution to provinces, is disappointing.

6 Responses to “‘Unit of Devolution: District or Province?’ – a response”

  1. Dilrook Says:

    Ideally, devolution is unnecessary in a small nation like Sri Lanka where people of minority ethnic groups live across the island. Decentralisation of administrative powers is the way to go. As devolution is here to stay, the least damaging and least wasteful unit must be selected.

    Devolution of power to Districts as opposed to Provinces is far more dangerous and utterly useless.

    District is the basis of parliamentary representation. Why have another unit for District? People in the District have made their district choice at parliamentary elections. Why do it again? Although PC elections are held by District, the representation is for the entire province.

    With District we will have 25 councils, 25 set of ministers and 25 sets of administrative staff as opposed to 9 with the province. This will more than double (close to triple) the cost. Already PCs are white elephants. With District we will have dinosaurs.

    Then comes the danger. PC or DC, the north and east will not change. They will be as separatist and racist as now. However, with district level devolution, more and more districts will go that way including Nuwara Eliya. Districts on the verge of decisive minority power including Colombo, Badulla and Puttlam will be lost to the majority as minorities will be able to push their racist demands selectively to the two major parties. At present, all these are bundled with districts with a clear Sinhala majority. This stops them from veering too far into minority extortion. If done in Colombo, that party loses in Gampaha and Kalutara and the whole province.

    District based devolution is a recipe for compounding disaster.

    District cannot defuse separatist madness in any way. The right of self-determination of Tamil people remains same. Instead of the northern province, we will have all districts in the north, Batticaloa, Nuwara Eliya, Trincomalee, Ampara and and even possibly Colombo DC passing genocide/separatist resolutions.

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    As matters stand in Sri Lanka, accepting the Provincial Council as the unit of power, is to do the bidding of the INDIA made 13-A. The 13-A was forced on Sri Lanka under Duress on the JRJ govt in 1987 (Cold War times), and as such is an illegal piece of legislation, unsuited for Sri Lanka. The 13-A should be removed and the PCs along with it.

    As such, changing from Province to District as the unit to disseminate power to, is a good idea.
    It is time to be assertive re the Independence & Sovereignty of Lanka.

    Suggestions :
    * Make the new District Units and give them far more powers for creative work in ways which will not hinder the Unitary Status of Lanka.
    * Add the SLAS (SL Administrative Service) as a strong go between for the new District Unit & Govt.

    * Activate the 6-A (has never been activated).
    * Study PM Nehru’s Anti-Secessionist Law (1963), and enact similar laws in Lanka and follow through when necessary.
    * Appoint 5-8 time tested PATRIOTS to lead the Nation.
    * Settle the Ports (sea & air) – who gets what, keeping in mind that it has to be “Sri Lanka First”, for Safety & Security.

  3. Ananda-USA Says:


    I think DEVOLUTION of National Power to ANY local UNIT, Province or District is DANGEROUS to the territorial integrity and stability of Sri Lanka, and SHOULD BE AVOIDED.

    In thee past, I have advocated REPLACING Provinces with Districts for ADMINISTRATIVE purposes under the control of the central National Government, and NOT as an ELECTORAL UNIT exercising DEVOLVED POWER to ELECTED local officials. The latter is fraught with danger given the separatism running rampant in our country as amply demonstrated by the recently concluded 30-year separatist war.

    In my view, these Districts would be Administrative Units of the National Government, administered by a District Governor APPOINTED by the National Government and reporting to the EXECUTIVE PRESIDENT of the country, much like the Government Agents of the British Raj. They left no avenues for rebellions, and neither should we.

    To enable less populous Districts to have more influence on the National Government than their populations warrant and currently deliver through Parliamentary Electorates, we can CREATE A SENATE as the Second Chamber of the Parliament with ONE Senator ELECTED from each District. The House of Commons would initiate Legislation, but such legislation must be approved by the new Senate as well.

    The post of a Vice-President can be created, and he can Preside over the Senate much as the Speaker presides over the House.

    In such a scenario, Majority and Minority Leaders of the House and Senate would lead the business of the House and Senate.

    The post of Prime Minister would be REDUNDANT in such a system, and SHOULD BE ELIMINATED.

    1. we would PRESERVE the GREATER STABILITY and capability to PROTECT SOVEREIGN INTERESTS of the Nation offered by an EXECUTIVE PRESIDENCY,
    2. ELIMINATE the CENTRIFUGAL TENDENCIES introduced by DEVOLUTION of ELECTORAL power to SEPARATISM PRONE local regions by TOTALLY ELIMINATING sub-national devolution of power,
    3. ENABLE greater balance between populous and less-populous Districts through the Senate, and
    4. ELIMINATE ONCE and FOR ALL the current TUG-OF-WAR between an increasingly powerless figurehead President and an ambitious power-hungry Prime Minister unable to get elected as President, but hell-bent on advancing his own anti-national political agenda that is UNACCEPTABLE to the GREAT MAJORITY of CITIZENS of our country.

  4. Fran Diaz Says:


    Thank you for response.

    I agree with you that the District could be the Administrative Unit.
    Also agree with your points #1 to #4.

    However, devolving certain Powers to bring out the Creativity of the people in each District in such a way that it does not hinder the Unitary status of the country, is needed.
    The post of the District Governor selected by Central Govt. as you suggest, is alright.

    I did not address the need for the Senate in my response above, but I think that is a good idea. I stated so in an earlier entry under another article.
    Also, the post of a VP rather than a Exec PM is a good idea.

    My objective here is to do away with the PCs & the whole of the 13-A asp.

  5. Ancient Sinhalaya Says:

    350-mile long island. It’s not 3,5000. You don’t need presidents, pm (pathala man), ministers, dep. ministers,
    state ministers, ps ministers etc. etc. More deshapaluwan than ordinary citizens. Who is going to pay these low
    lives (sorry there are a handful of honest guys, the rest going there to line up their pockets)? Oh we can send our
    women to middle east to wash pots. That’s how pathetic these low life deshapaluwans are. Traitor UNPatriotic party
    with jaathidhrohee vermins party aka jvp divide the Sinhalese and make minorities king makers whose only intention
    is to carve out their them only separate kingdoms from tiny Sri Lanka. Sinhalese? They can always jump into the sea.
    After all there is enough sea to jump for all of the Sinhalese.

    Dutch brought first lot of tamils to work in tobacco plantations Then british brought the second lot to work in tea
    plantations. Then another lot came to save their lives from the severe famine in tn in the 60s. All are natives with
    100s of years of history (only in books and www.) thanks to the UNPatriotic party and the jaathidhrohee vermins’
    party aka jvp because Sinhalese have defenceless. Then you have fastest breeding religions mussies who multiply
    and multiply and taking over the country. These dirty mussies using the old trick they used to convert old Buddhist
    iran, afganisthan, pakesthan, bangladesh, maldives, malaysia and indonesia. They had Baby Machine Wives whose
    job was to multiply and multiply and outnumber the natives. Within a few hundred years countries became mussies.

    Traitor thambi mudiyanselage [email protected] put foundations to break up Sri Lanka by introducing 13, 13A to break up Sri Lanka under pressure from crafty, two faced indians whose only intention is to please tamils to stay in power with tn tamil support. Being not a Sinhalese thambi mudiyanse didn’t have to think twice. Now Sri Lanka is in turmoil. 350 miles long you have a million deshaplauwans. In the end thanks to traitor anti Buddhist, anti Sri Lankan, anti Sinhalese UNPatrioitc party succeeding by breaking up Sri Lanka to please the minorities. Some traitor brainless
    Sinhala modayas still support the UNPatriotic party. Sinhalaya modayas? Only a Sinhala modaya will dispute it!

  6. SA Kumar Says:

    All are natives with 100s of years of history – TN is only 12 (sea) miles away ???
    fyi, most of our gran dad had second wife in TN included our Thesiya Thalaivar VP.
    ie We did not waited for European to swim 12 miles to cross to Our Mother Sinhela Island .

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