devolved system of governance
Senior Professor, University of Moratuwa
This is part of an ongoing series of articles by the author
raising critical issues of devolution of power in the peace process.
Today's report is relevant in the context of next week's donor conference
in Tokyo and current efforts to meet LTTE demands for an interim
administration. Sri Lanka is at the crossroads of choosing the most
appropriate system of governance. The backdrop leading to this has
been `controversial', as the five-and-half decades of post - independence
history will reveal a trail of public discontent in the choices
made from time to time. The accompanying `civil insurrections' and
`ethnic war' have constrained the potentials of the highly literate
people of this country. It has even prompted the designation of
its people as a `lost generation'. At the other extreme a `de-facto
administration' has been claimed to prevail in a part of the country.
In such an unorthodox mix of public management and governance, the
making of a rational choice in similar institutions will necessarily
be an outcome of a process of public debate and consultation to
be eventually validated by an instrument having a stamp of legitimacy.
of the chosen mode of governance against a background of democracy,
transparency, and accountability, can only be assured if the above
process takes place. It is not a choice that can be imposed on the
people who need to be essentially active participants here. Hence,
it is imperative that the `mindset' of the people is totally immersed
in the practices of governance. Consequently, the culture of governance
must become a `way of life'.
In the current
context, a fundamental necessity for every Sri Lankan is therefore
to consciously become a part of the process of reform in governance.
The starting block here is the perusal of the Constitution of the
Republic. The latter has explicitly laid down "the Directive
Principles of State Policy which shall guide Parliament, the President,
and the Cabinet of Ministers, in the enactment of laws and the governance
of Sri Lanka
has recognised three tiers of governance within a Unitary State.
The President who is the Head of the State, the Head of the Executive
and of the Government, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces
shall be responsible to Parliament for the due exercise, performance
and discharge of his/her powers, duties, and functions under the
Constitution and any written law, including the law relating to
public security. The Cabinet of Ministers is charged with the direction
and control of the Government of the Republic, and shall be collectively
responsible and answerable to Parliament.
The 13th Amendment
to the Constitution has established a Provincial Council for every
specified Province, subject to the provisions of the Constitution.
Similarly it has been empowered with the supervision of the administration
of Local Authorities established by law. It will be open to any
Provincial Council to confer additional powers on Local Authorities
but not to take away their powers.
this system of a three-tier structure of governance, its enablement
has been provided by the delineation of subjects between them. Accordingly,
the Ninth Schedule of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, has
arranged the matters for which the Centre and the Province shall
be responsible, in three Lists as follows: -
List 1: Every Provincial Council may subject to the provisions of
the Constitution, make statutes applicable to the Province for which
it is established, with respect to any matter set out therein, (referred
to as the Provincial Council List)
List II: A
Provincial Council shall have no power to make statutes on any matter
set out herein, (referred to as the Reserved List).
List III: Parliament
may make laws with respect to any matter set out herein, (referred
to as the Concurrent List), after consultation with all Provincial
Councils as Parliament may consider appropriate in the circumstances
of each case.
for which Local Authorities have been constituted are independently
enshrined in its own laws comprised of the Municipal Councils Ordinance
(Chapter 252), Urban Councils Ordinance (Chapter 255), and the Pradeshiya
Sabhas Act No. 15 of 1987.
power of the Government of the Republic is exercised by the President
and the Cabinet of Ministers as aforesaid with the enactment of
laws by Parliament which are consistent with the provisions of the
power extending to the matters with respect to which a Provincial
Council can make statutes shall be exercised by the Governor appointed
by the President for the Province for which that Provincial Council
has been established, either directly or through the Ministers of
its Board of Ministers.
The Board of
Ministers with the Chief Minister at the Head, and not more than
four other Ministers will aid and advise the Governor of the Province
in the exercise of his functions. The Board of Ministers shall be
collectively responsible and answerable to the Provincial Council.
each Local Authority shall consist of the Mayor/Chairman and Deputy
Mayor/Vice-Chairman, as the case may be, and such number of Councillors
as the Minister may prescribe by Order published in the Gazette.
The Executive power extending to the matters with respect to which
a Local Authority may make, revoke, or amend By - Laws as may appear
necessary for the purpose of carrying out the principles and provisions
of the law on which it has been established, shall be exercised
by the Mayor / Chairman who shall be the Chief Executive Officer
of that Local Authority. All executive acts of responsibilities
which are by its law or by any other written law directed or empowered
to be done or discharged by the Local Authority may, unless the
contrary intention appears from the context, be done or discharged
by the Mayor / Chairman.
The Mayor /
Chairman may by Order in writing delegate to the Deputy Mayor /
Vice-Chairman or Commissioner / Secretary or any other Officer of
the Local Authority, any of the powers, duties, or functions conferred
or imposed upon or vested in the Mayor / Chairman by the law on
which the Local Authority has been established, or by any other
written law. Such delegation shall, however, be subject to such
conditions and restrictions and limited to such purpose or purposes
as may be specified in the Order. The latter may at any time be
varied or cancelled by Order of the Mayor / Chairman.
The three - tier structure of governance as described above
is linked vertically with the Government of the Republic at the
apex, and with the Provincial Councils in the second tier, and the
Local Authorities in the third tier. Consequently, central control
and supervision of the administration of the immediate lower tier
is provided by law; especially with regard to the sharing of funds
or by fiscal devolution.
of funds between the Government and the Provincial Councils, is
provided for in Section 154R(3) of the Constitution. It stipulates
that "the Government shall, on the recommendation of and in
consultation with the Finance Commission, allocate from the Annual
Budget, such funds as are adequate for the purpose of meeting the
needs of the Provinces". Accordingly, the Commission will be
required to firstly compute the needs of each of the Provinces and
then aggregate the whole to compute the `needs of the provinces'.
In this connection, since the Provincial Councils have been permitted
revenue sources of their own, including borrowings, the allocation
by the Government would not extend to all the needs of the Provinces,
but only in respect of such needs which they cannot meet by exercising
their fiscal and borrowing powers. The Government guided by the
recommendation of the Finance Commission would then have to meet
to making a determination on the `adequacy' of funds, the Finance
Commission has been required by the Constitution to "
formulate such principles in making its recommendation, with the
objective of achieving balanced regional development in the country
.. taking into account the need to progressively reduce social
and economic disparities, and the need to progressively reduce the
difference between the per capita income of each Province and the
highest per capita income among the Provinces".
At the third
tier of the Local Authority, the Mayor/Chairman of each Local Authority
shall after consultation with the several Standing Committees, submit
to its Council in each year a Budget containing an estimate of the
available income, and details of the proposed expenditure for the
ensuing financial year. The fiscal and borrowing powers of the Local
Authorities supplemented by the grants as may be made by the Provincial
Council, will reflect the income side of the Budget. It shall be
the discretion of the Council of the Local Authority to pass, modify
or reject all or any of the items of expenditure in the Budget.
In the above
context, it is evident that the powers and the amount of funds at
the disposal of the Government of Sri Lanka far exceeds those in
the other two tiers of governance. The Provincial Councils are yet
evolving its capacity to frame statutes and to raise revenue for
its role in provincial governance. The regular holding of the Conference
of Chief Ministers in recent years is a progressive step in this
In this situation, the institutions entrusted with the task
of capacity building measures at all three tiers of governance have
compellingly risen in importance to the frontiers of the scale of
`critical levels'. The first tier is supported by the Sri Lanka
Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA), established by
Act No. 9 of 1982. Its mission is:
the development of an efficient, effective, and forward looking
public service through the provision of training, consultancy, and
The review of
the role of SLIDA in the emerging scenario of reforms in public
management and governance is already underway within itself, and
also in the Administrative Reforms Committee of the Regaining Sri
Lanka Policy Initiative. It has just been assigned the Degree Awarding
Status under the Universities Act of 1978 for the purpose of developing
Post-Graduate Courses in Public Administration, Public Management
and Public Financial Management.
On the other
hand the focus which is more urgently needed is on the capacity
building measures at the second and third tiers of governance. The
Sri Lanka Institute of Local Governance (SLILG) established by Act
No. 31 of 1999 has been specifically tasked to undertake the capacity
building of Provincial Councils and Local Authorities in association
with the Provincial Management Development Training Units (MDTUs).
Its mission is to provide training to members, officers and servants
of these bodies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness in the
performance of their duties. The aim of similar institutions with
regard to local authorities being to equip them to carry out its
mandated functions, are as follows:
control and administration of all matters relating to public health,
public utility services, and public thoroughfares, and generally
with the protection and promotion of the comfort, convenience, and
welfare of the people, and the amenities."
also derive powers as designated Planning and Executive Authorities
under two Planning Statutes comprised of the Urban Development Authority
Law and the Town and Country Planning Ordinance. These empower the
Local Authorities to prepare Development Plans to promote and regulate
the integrated planning and implementation of economic, social,
physical and environmental aspects of land in their respective areas.
Each such Plan in its corresponding Local Authorities area is accompanied
by Planning and Building Regulations which reflect the promotion
of its aforesaid statutory functions. Thus, the Schedule in the
respective Planning Statutes specifically includes `public utilities'
and `thoroughfares', as matters for which provision may be in the
Development Plan and therefore for its regulation. Co-terminously,
these are the two sectors undergoing radical reform at the first
tier of governance, particularly in respect of water supply, electricity,
telecommunications and expressways. These are growth areas from
which new revenue too can be derived in significant amounts, provided
the Local Authorities develop their capacities to capture the benefits
from similar structures. The means for it rely on the coupling of
the Regulations in its Development Plan with the corresponding Regulations
of the public utilities, at the first-tier of governance.
Provincial Councils and Pradeshiya Sabhas are also potential beneficiaries
in the on-going reform processes at the first-tier with respect
to the Natural Resources, and Mining and Minerals Sectors. These
bodies of governance could further benefit immensely by crafting
links with the planning taking place in the Regional Economic Commissions
of the Board of Investment.
In these circumstances,
the second and third tiers of devolved governance must now respond
by `leapfrogging' in its capacities to benefit from the economic
reforms being initiated at the first-tier of governance. What is,
however, evident now is that the economic reforms are outpacing
the efforts of the SLILG in leaps and bounds. Such a divide is becoming
embarrassingly visible due to the country being small and the performance
of its tiers of governance exposed to contrasts being in close proximity
to each other. The latter is the key lesson of experience in the
already devolved system of governance in Sri Lanka. The time is
therefore opportune to arrest and remedy this situation. A possible
means is to propel upwards the significance of the SLILG by referencing
it with the Regaining Sri Lanka Policy Initiative. Its Action Plan
will then become compulsory indexed with the National Operations
Room (NOR) at the highest level of the first-tier of governance.
The motivation derived from the latter may be the paradigm shift
envisaged in the process of devolved governance. The above may result
in the reinforcement of the perception of a centre-driven model
for devolved-governance, in contrast to the demand from the periphery.
Some analysts have deduced that the already devolved system of governance
is ineffective because it has been constructed by the centre to
specifically deal with the threat of the `separatist conflict'.
At the same time, it can be argued that the backdrop of social and
economic disparities in various parts of the country, (inspite of
its smallness), obligates the centre to prompt action for its mitigation.
The recent creation of the Regional Economic Commissions of the
BOI may be called such a centre-driven response. On the other hand
it, like others created before, does not manifest governance, which
have attributes far different to what can be expected from the BOI.
Consequently, the shortcomings of the already devolved system of
governance may be for reasons to be found elsewhere. It firstly
points to the urgency for establishing public confidence in the
instruments of devolved governance. The latter in return highlights
the importance of capacity building measures in the devolved institutions,
embracing both public management and governance.
of public confidence in any system of devolved governance, whether
in two-tiers or in three-tiers, and whether induced or demand -driven,
can only be assured, if it is efficient, effective, and citizen-responsive.
This implies the enveloping of the dynamics of change in the right
mix to construct the most appropriate system of governance. The
organic nature of the same points to the heavy responsibility cast
on the SLILG in carrying out its mission. The fortune of the wisdom
of Parliament in its establishment in 1999 can well be the centrepiece
of the matrix of institutions to emerge from the process of reforms
in public management and governance being discussed in the Peace
Talks and elsewhere.
The SLILG must
complement the institutions emerging from the reform process of
the Regaining Sri Lanka Policy Initiative which will create the
environment for healthy competitiveness in the devolved units of
governance. Its partnership with them in association with the MDTUs
can be consolidated with the statutory Physical Development Plans
prepared under the guidance of the UDA and the National Physical
This will bond
the Provincial Councils and Local Authorities with the national
initiatives of the government. It will then glue the missing fuse
to activate the dynamism of devolved governance. The outcome here
will be the best test of public confidence on the already devolved
system of governance in the country.