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Current Status of the Provincial Council System in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is grappling with a complex governance crisis, but the Provincial Councils offer a path forward. Discover how these councils, born from the Indo-Lanka Accord, aim to balance power-sharing and address the diverse needs of all communities. Let’s explore solutions and not dismiss a system deeply integrated into Sri Lanka’s governance.

By Madhuri Ranasinghe

Sri Lanka is stuck in a serious governance crisis. Long-standing concerns that have gone untreated for years characterise this multidimensional situation, culminating in a collapse of effective governance. These concerns include constitutional changes, checks and balances, and power-sharing systems. In this article, we will look at the core of Sri Lanka’s governance dilemma and the critical role of Provincial Councils in moulding the country’s future.

The Birth of Provincial Councils

The origins of Sri Lanka’s Provincial Councils can be traced back to the Indo-Lanka Accord of 1987. This historic agreement laid the foundation for the establishment of these councils, marking a significant milestone in the nation’s governance structure. To bring the accord into legal effect, a two-step process was initiated.

Sri Lanka’s legal framework required a local enactment to legally bind the international agreements made through the Indo-Lanka Accord. In response, the 13th Amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution was introduced in 1987. This amendment served as the legal anchor for the subsequent establishment of Provincial Councils.

The next crucial step was the introduction of the Provincial Councils Act No. 42 of 1987 in the Sri Lankan Parliament. This legislation outlined the structures, processes, and procedures that would govern the Provincial Council system, aligning it with the constitutional provisions laid out in the 13th Amendment. This legislative act brought the Provincial Councils into being, making them an integral part of Sri Lanka’s constitution and political landscape.

A primary impetus behind the creation of Provincial Councils was the enduring demand for power-sharing among Sri Lanka’s diverse communities. Since their inception, these councils have been viewed as a crucial mechanism for the devolution of power. This aspiration extends not only to the Northern and Eastern provinces but also to other regions, where Chief Ministers’ conferences have advocated for increased provincial autonomy.

Obstacles to Devolution

Despite these intentions, certain obstacles have hindered the full realization of devolution in Sri Lanka. In contrast to India, where decentralization has been embraced, some sections of the Sinhalese community have shown reluctance to move beyond mere decentralization. Additionally, the hesitation to redraw district boundaries for provincial-level devolution has further complicated matters. The fear of provincial-level power-sharing becoming a stepping stone to secession has loomed large, leading to resistance.

The majority community in Sri Lanka has voiced concerns about a province governed by numerical minority communities. These concerns have historical roots, as various past attempts at power-sharing models have faced challenges in implementation, and powers have often been curtailed.

Despite these setbacks, it is crucial to recognize that scrapping the Provincial Council system is not the solution. The system is deeply integrated into Sri Lanka’s governance framework, making it impractical to start from scratch. Instead, a proactive approach to engagement and a focus on balancing the political aspirations of all communities is necessary. Through these efforts, the Provincial Council system can evolve into a more meaningful power-sharing model that addresses the diverse needs and aspirations of all communities.

Sri Lanka’s governance crisis is a complex issue that touches upon various facets of power-sharing, devolution, and political aspirations. While challenges persist, the Provincial Council system offers a viable path to meaningful change without the need for drastic measures. It is essential to address the concerns and fears of all communities and demonstrate that the existing system can indeed fulfil their needs and aspirations. Dismissing it would only create further complications. Sri Lanka’s future lies in building upon its existing framework and working towards improved governance and more effective power-sharing mechanisms.