Devolution conundrum

Devolution conundrum

Wednesday 20th February 2019

February 19, 2019, 10:51 pm 

(1) Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has told the Northern politicians a few home truths. A TNA MP complained, at a recent development review committee meeting, at the Kilinochchi Divisional Secretariat, that Pradeshiya Sabhas had not received funds for housing from either the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) or the government. Responding to him, the PM reportedly said that powers already devolved to the provinces had to be fully utilised before more was asked for. The TNA considers Wickremesinghe a friend and it should, therefore, heed his advice.


One cannot but agree with the PM, on this score. The TNA-controlled NPC hardly did anything constructive or useful to the public. Its sole purpose of being was apparently adopting resolutions against the government, one after the other, and there were instances where it was accused of overstepping its limits.

Response – Your editorial reminds one of the story wolf crying on seeing the goat getting wet in the rain. It is true that under Wigneswaran the NPC did not perform well as expected. He was new to administration and politics having spent 25 years in the judiciary. It was a wrong choice. The ego-centric Chief Minister was not prepared to ask the federal ministers for additional funds beyond what was allocated by the centre. The criticism he was spending time and energy on passing irrelevant resolutions is also valid.

(2) While claiming that the Sinhala–dominated governments had done nothing for the North and the East, the TNA itself did precious little, through the NPC, for the people who had voted for it, in those parts of the country. This alone is proof that the messianic role the TNA claims to play is as fake as those of the two main parties, and its leaders only flaunt an attractive cause, secure votes and savour power.

Response – Again, the choice of an untested ex-chief justice in retirement proved a mistake!


(3) Those who are engaged in identity politics are dependent on the bogey of ‘ethnic other’ to keep their block votes intact and cover up their failure to deliver. The TNA seems to be doing likewise, but its failure to live up to the people’s expectations has created a situation where other parties are eating into its traditional vote bank, as evident from the outcome of the last local government polls.

Response – Yes the TNA suffered a set back in the LAA elections, but still managed to win 44 LAA and 422 members.  The Municipal Councils of  Jaffna, Batticaloa and Trincomalee were captured by the TNA. It should be noted that LAA elections don’t accurately reflect the will of the people. Generally the voters don’t vote on the basis of party politics, instead, they vote for kith and kin and friends.


(4) The NPC remained notoriously intransigent in dealing with the government and even refused to cooperate with the latter on matters that were beneficial to the people. In 2014, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa revealed that the NPC had opposed a government move to divert the Mahaweli water to the Iranamadu tank in the North. Why did the NPC do so? The only plausible explanation is that the TNA, which controlled the NPC may have thought such projects would cause an erosion of its vote bank. Rajapaksa also said that the NPC had not utilised the funds allocated for development work.

Response – This story that in 2014, the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa revealed that the NPC had opposed a government move to divert the Mahaweli water to the Iranamadu tank in the North is news to us. It might have been election stunt on the part of Rajapaksa. However, there was a project – the Moragahakanda Project originally intended to connect the Mahaveli basin to the Kanakarayan Aru via a new canal – the North Central Province Canal. But this was abandoned due to the civil war.

A modified Moragahakanda Project commenced in January 2007 with the construction of Moragahakanda Reservoir and Kalu Ganga Reservoir. The Moragahakanda Reservoir was financed by a $558 million loan from the China Development Bank and the Kalu Ganga Reservoir was financed by loans from Japan International Cooperation Agency ($109 million) Saudi Fund for Development ($46 million) Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development ($37 million) and OPEC Fund for International Development ($16 million).

The North Central Province Canal Project (NCPCP) was launched in 2015. Phase 1 of the NCPCP includes the construction of the Kalu Ganga–Moragahakanda Transfer Canal between Kalu Ganga Reservoir and Moragahakanda Reservoir and construction of the Upper Elahera Canal connecting Moragahakanda Reservoir to existing reservoirs (Eruwewa, Huruluwewa, Mahakanadarawa and Manankattiya).

Phase 1 is expected to cost $675 million of which $453 million will come from an Asian Development Bank loan, $108 million from the Sri Lankan government and the remaining $114 million from other financiers. Phase 1 is expected to be completed by the end of 2024.

Phase 2 of the NCPCP includes the construction of the North Central Province Canal between Manankattiya to Chemamadu Kulam on the Kanakarayan Aru near Omanthai. Phase 2 is expected to cost Rs. 130 billion and be completed by 2029. Thus, it is false that NPC objected to the Mahaveli diversion project which is ongoing. Of course, the people of the North are suspicious that under the guise of bringing water to the Iranaimadu Kulam, the government will also bring in Sinhala colonists just like what happened in Gal-Oya, Allai-Kantalai, Weli Oya, Morawewa and other schemes. Such State sponsored Sinhala colonization has resulted in demographic changes in the Northeast. The Sinhalese in Amparai who now constitute 38% (2012) have been allocated 73% of the land area! Same in Trincomalee district.

(5) Meanwhile, the TNA has made a mockery of its advocacy of devolution by propping up a government, which keeps postponing the PC polls, on some pretext or the other. If it really believes that devolution is a prerequisite for looking after the interests of the people in the North and the East, it ought to pressure the government to conduct the PC elections without further delay. The North and the East have been without elected councillors for a long time as the TNA helped the government secure the passage of the Provincial Council Elections (Amendment Act), which enabled the postponement of the PC polls.

Response – This again is a case of the wolf crying on seeing the goats getting wet in the rain. The PCs election was postponed for good reason. To hold elections to all the PCs on a single day. That legislation was passed on September 20 by a 2/3rd (154/43) majority.  The tenure of the last UVA PC expires on 8th September this year. Anyway, the government is planning to hold the elections in May this year.

 (6) Three conclusions are possible from the foregoing.

Response Your conclusions are fallacious if not ridiculous.

(a) The TNA does not have the interest of the people it claims to represent, at heart, and only seeks political expediency through a captive government.

Response – This is the sing-song of Sinhala extremists that they are more interested in the welfare of the Tamils than their elected leaders (TNA). It is a subterfuge to deceive the people.

(b) That devolution is necessary to guarantee the rights of the people in the North and the East

Response – This conclusion is absurd in the context of your next question.

(c) Or it is not interested in the PCs because it is eyeing a different power-sharing arrangement which goes beyond the 13th Amendment. It is said that he who pursues the stag regards not the hare.

It behoves the TNA to make devolution work before demanding more powers.

Response – The Sinhalese have always claimed that they care more for the Tamils than their elected leaders and parties. If the TNA did not believe in “that devolution is necessary to guarantee the rights of the people in the North and the East” how then you explain why it is seeking more devolved powers through a new constitution? Will then Island editor will support the new draft constitution which gives more powers to all the 9 PCs? Please give an honest answer.

Moreover, where was the Island editor when no elections were held for the NPC for 25 years after the first elections in 1988? At least why no election was held till 2013 and not immediately after the war ended in May 2009? As for the Eastern Province, no elections were held till 2008? That is for 20 years?


About editor 3000 Articles
Writer and Journalist living in Canada since 1987. Tamil activist.

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