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French Style, Sri Lankan Smile!




Dr. Chandana (Chandi) Jayawardena DPhil
President – Chandi J. Associates Inc. Consulting, Canada
Founder & Administrator – Global Hospitality Forum

Five-Star Hotels in Colombo

In 1986, there were only five five-star internationally branded hotels in Sri Lanka (InterContinental, Oberoi, Taj, Ramada Renaissance and Le Meridien). A Hilton International was nearing completion and planned to open in 1987. These hotels were located close to each other in Colombo and had only a total stock of 2,300 five-star rooms. All of these hotels had multiple food and beverage outlets and the largest banquet facilities in the country. Le Galadari Meridien was distinctively different from its competitors in Colombo.

Air France established Le Meridien Hotels in 1972. The chain’s hotels initially offered accommodation mainly for Air France flight crews and passengers in their major airport hub cities, around the world. Air France promoted the chain and handled reservations for it. The advanced reservation systems in the airline industry strongly influenced booking systems in all of the major international hotel chains. The first Le Meridien property was a 1,000-room hotel in the heart of Paris, the Hotel Meridien Paris, today known as Le Méridien Etoile.

The French style promoted by the European ambience, fashionably appointed rooms and expensive bedroom amenities. This French flair continued with French-designed staff uniforms, a wide collection of beautiful and large paintings done by French artists and a wider choice of wines and cheeses. All of these features truly enhanced the general quality of Le Galadari Meridien. Like all other five-star internationally branded hotels in Colombo, Le Meridien invested heavily on staff training and development. The hotel lived up to its original slogan: “French Style, Sri Lankan Smile!”

Le Galadari Meridien was the only hotel at that time in Sri Lanka to open with 500-rooms. Mr. Steffan Pfeiffer, who opened the hotel in 1984 as the General Manager, recruited me as the Acting Food & Beverage Manager in the mid-1986. He, as well as the outgoing Assistant Food & Beverage Manager and the outgoing Banquet Manager, worked with me for only a few days. I did not have the opportunity to meet my predecessor, a French hotelier, R. Garoute, who had held dual responsibilities as the Food & Beverage Manager and the Executive Assistant Manager. In the absence of a systematic hand over, I had to learn the ropes quickly and take over a large division.

Lifelong Le Meridien Friendships

French Executive Chef Emile Castillo, a key member of my team, commenced on the same day that I joined the hotel. After the initial culture shock, the two of us got along very well and became lifelong friends. In the late 1980s, Emile was an occasional, Sunday lunch visitor at my family home in the suburbs of Colombo.

Later in 1997 when I was the General Manager of Le Meridien Jamaica Pegasus hotel, Emile accepted an invitation from me. I was introducing Le Meridien Brand to the largest five-star business hotel in Jamaica, and the French food festival Emile organized there was a big help. Until his retirement, Emile eventually spent 27 years as the Executive Chef of Le Parker Meridien Hotel in New York, USA, where his regular customers included President Bill Clinton. During some of my visits to New York, I stayed with Emile and his family. He and his Sri Lankan wife visited my family during their last visit to Canada, a few years ago.

Shortly after I had joined Le Galadari Meridien in Colombo, the company sent a veteran French Hotelier, Mr. Jean-Michel Varichon, to be the Acting General Manager. He had been involved with 28 Le Meridien hotel openings around the world. He was a member of the Le Meridien corporate team in Paris. I quickly realized that his task was to re-organize the hotel in keeping with the latest Le Meridien quality standards, and then hand over the management to the next General Manager who was coming from France.

Mr. Varichon was a hard task master and a walking encyclopaedia on international hotel management. The senior executive team at Le Galadari Meridien felt harassed by his frequent challenging questions and lectures with details of highly technical aspects of hotel keeping. He also had a dry sense of humour. One day during a serious meeting, realizing that he had pressured the senior management team to the limit, he warned, “You better complete all the tasks I delegated to each of you quickly. Otherwise, I will extend my stay in Colombo!” When the managers laughed nervously, he said, “I am not joking!”

His nickname among Le Meridien hoteliers was “Monsieur Le Meridien”. He was a perfectionist and a very knowledgeable teacher. During the short time I worked with him, I absorbed all Le Meridien information I could like blotting paper. When I opened Le Meridien in Jamaica, Mr. Varichon arrived there on my invitation to help me with the opening. I could not think of anyone better to advise me.

Thanks to the special training by Mr. Jean-Michel Varichon, I was well-familiar with Le Meridien standards by the time the new General Manager, Jean-Pierre Kaspar, arrived to take over the hotel. Soon after he settled into his new job, Mr. Kaspar became my mentor. In his mid-career, he had been a Food & Beverage Manager and we had similar personalities. Our offices on the mezzanine floor were next to each other. Often, in late afternoons, we had a casual chat over a cup of espresso and cookies in his office. I soon became his trusted wingman.

Our respect for each other was mutual. “Chandi, you are the only person out of 500 full-time employees in this hotel who has been a hotel General Manager. Therefore, you understand my role better than anyone else here,” he once told me. Some years later, Mr. Kaspar left Le Meridien to join another French hotel chain, Sofitel (Accor Group SA). My family and I visited Mr. and Mrs. Kaspar at Singapore Sofitel. After 36 years, we still keep in touch.

Banquet Operation

With ballroom and conference room facilities, adequate to accommodate 1,200 persons for a sit-down meal, Le Galadari Meridien had the largest and the finest five-star banquet space in Sri Lanka at that time. In addition to my duties to administer the Food and Beverage division, in the absence of a Banquet Manager, I also managed the day-to-day banquet operation for a few months.

Soon after I joined the hotel, I personally handled a state banquet hosted by the President of Sri Lanka, Mr. J. R. Jayewardene, in honour of General Hussain Muhammad Ershad, the President of Bangladesh. My experience in 1984, at the Dorchester in London, serving Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip, Prime Minister Margret Thatcher and the Emir of Bahrain was useful in leading that state banquet in Colombo.

Food and Beverage Operations

After a couple of months, I recruited an experienced Banquet Manager, but decided to manage without filling the vacancy of the Assistant Food & Beverage Manager. Partly it was to save some expenses to increase our departmental profits. By directly dealing with six food & beverage outlet managers I aimed to fully understand the day-to-day operational challenges.

These managers who were designated at Le Meridien as ‘Maître d’hôtel’, managed ten operational departments – La Palme D’Or – French Restaurant (with a French Sous Chef), Marco Polo – Oriental Restaurant (with a Chinese Chef de Partie), La Brassiere – 24-hour Coffee Shop, Colombo 2000 – Night Club, Colombo Club – Gentleman’s club, Room Service, Pastry Shop, Rendezvous – Lobby Bar, Dolphin – Poolside Snack Bar and the 15th floor Rooftop Bar.

In addition, four other managers – Executive Chef, Banquet Manager, Chief Kitchen Steward and Food & Beverage Analyst, reported to me directly. Due to the popularity of the ten food and beverage outlets and large banqueting facilities, the Food and Beverage Division of Le Galadari Meridian was generating over half the total revenue of the hotel. I was also overall responsible for 230 full-time staff (including 10 departmental heads) which was nearly half the hotel’s employees. I worked very hard, long hours often till 4:00 am (night club closing time) on Fridays and Saturdays. I never felt tired as I simply loved the challenge of leading such a diverse and a dynamic division.

The Concept of Food and Beverage Management

I clearly understood the concept of food and beverage management. The knowledge I gained in England through in-depth research for my master’s degree dissertation on that topic and the practical experience I gained in food and beverage departments in all 16 five-star hotels in London, was finally becoming very useful.

The concept of food and beverage manager or director was relatively new in the world. During the first half of the twentieth century, most five-star hotels around the world did not make a lot of profit from their food and beverage operations which were often managed as different divisions. There were no divisional heads educated/trained in business administration. From an economic standpoint it was important to attempt to break even in five-star food and beverage operations. Traditionally, more emphasis was given to rooms, because this was where the money was made.

The concept of food and beverage management was developed only in the 1960s by major hotel chains in the USA. The aim was to optimize profits, combining the technical know-how with the business administration skills of a divisional head for the overall food and beverage departments.

Understanding the customer, was the key to optimize revenue and departmental profits. In Colombo, the key reasons for the customers to patronize five-star food and beverage outlets and banqueting facilities were three-fold – status, high quality and superior service. Therefore, compared to four-star, three-star or two-star hotels, the regular customers of five-star hotels were far more demanding. That single factor made it essential to have excellent public relations and highly attentive customer service to ensure high customer satisfaction levels.

Promoting the Chef like a Product

During a brainstorming session with the General Manager, Director of Sales, Public Relations Manager, myself and the advertising agency of the hotel, a question was posed about the focus of a new promotional campaign for the hotel. I suggested that we design a campaign, around the new initiatives the new Executive Chef would be focusing on.

I explained that, “having worked at Trust House Forte’s four-star Pegasus Reef Hotel in the late-1970s, and later at the five-star Hotel Lanka Oberoi as the Executive Chef, Emile Castillo knows Sri Lanka very well and Sri Lankans know him well. We should use him and his name to enhance our image and promote food sales.” All agreed, and we developed a three-stage advertising (ad) campaign focusing on Emile. We kept the artwork and the copy of the initial three teaser ads short and simple.

The first ad appearing on the front page of all major English newspapers, had one short question in large bold letters: “What’s new at Le Galadari Meridien?” There were no visuals, but a large question mark, which attracted attention and created the interest we wanted. The second ad repeated on the same front pages, asked the same question, and with the addition of a large visual of a chef hat. The third ad included a large photograph of Emile in a chef uniform, and a description of his experience since leaving Sri Lanka a few years ago. It also included his new and exciting plans for Le Galadari Meridien. That campaign cost us lot of money, but worked like a charm in reaching our business goal.

Money spent on creative and effective ads is a good investment. Then we followed up with a series of ads and newsletters.Chef Emile Castillo as the Star in a monthly newsletterThe follow up ads focused on what Emile’s new menus for all our restaurants and the new French business lunch at Palme D’Or. That was unique in two aspects – the only authentic French restaurant in Sri Lanka and the restaurant at the highest elevation in Colombo, at that time. We proceeded with that focus and the campaign worked well.

We wanted to get some professional models to appear in a follow up ad campaign for the French business lunch at Palme D’Or. The models were expensive and as a cost cutting exercise, the Public Relations Manager, Aloma Abeysuriya said, “Chandi, you are a well experienced TV model. Why don’t you appear free for one ad? I can get the ‘handsome’ Assistant Security Manager also to appear free posing like a businessman!” Aloma’s creative idea was accepted and we settled for two ‘free’ models for the second campaign.

‘Free’ models for French Business Lunch at Palme D’Or

The Chef’s Table

Encouraged with the popularity of our new campaigns, we then created a weekly public relations activity – ‘Chef’s Table in the Kitchen’. We invited seven guests every Wednesday for a four course French lunch right inside the kitchen in the midst of culinary action and loud noises. The General Manager, Executive Chef and I joined the lunch as hosts. Each invitee was presented with a chef hat and an apron with Le Meridien logo, which they proudly wore during the meal.

Before lunch, Emile conducted a quick tour of the kitchen and explained the duties of his Sous Chefs and Chef de Parties, who led a kitchen brigade of 80 culinary professionals. We then sat at a roundtable with ten chairs to enjoy Emile’s new creations, every week. The lunch with matching French wines ended with a presentation of the menu cards signed by Emile. Aloma ensured that the photographs taken during lunch were sent to each invitee within 24-hours.

The Chef’s Table initiative became very popular and the talk of the town among the corporate leaders of Colombo. I was amused when very senior business leaders called us to find a way to get invited to the Chefs Table. It became like a status symbol and many business leaders proudly displayed their Le Meridien Chef hats, kitchen aprons and framed photographs from the exclusive event they attended, in their offices.

After that, we organized a string of major French food festivals with many sponsors with French connections. These events generated much publicity in the local media. Soon we increased Le Galadari Meridien food sales by 50%. Emile became a household name in Colombo. He also regularly appeared in French TV shows such as ‘Bonsoir’ hosted by well-known Corporate Etiquette Trainer – Kumar de Silva.

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Devolution under 13A



by Neville Ladduwahetty

(This is an updated version of an article which first appeared in The Island on 16 March 2009. It is republished because of its relevance to the intention of the current government to implement the13th Amendment fully.

The defeat of the LTTE is not expected to bring a closure to Sri Lanka’s national question. It would, however, create the space for the evolution of a political solution, free of threat and intimidation. It would also create the space for the government to totally focus on issues, relating to resettlement, rehabilitation and development. Public opinion is that both issues need to be addressed, concurrently, if the military gains are to be consolidated.

The emphasis of the International Community has been on a political solution that addresses the concerns of all communities. While endorsing this view, India has been particular that such a solution should be based on the concept of devolution, as contained in the 13th Amendment, and, if necessary, beyond. These readings have influenced the deliberations of the All Party Repesentative Committee (APRC). Consequently, the approach of the APRC has been to evolve a new and, in their view, an improved version of the Provincial Council system, under the 13th Amendment.

After experiencing the functioning of the Provincial Council system, for two decades, consensus is that its costs outweigh the benefits. Irrespective of the explanations for its below expected performance, it would be worth the cost if it served its intended purpose of addressing the concerns of all the communities. Since Law and Order affects all members of all communities, it would be appropriate to assess whether the current provisions in the 13th Amendment would assure fairness and impartiality in its dealings with the Provincial Police Commissions.

Provincial Police Commission (PPC)

Appendix I of the Provincial Council List (List I of the Ninth Schedule of the 13th Amendment) describes the devolved powers, relating to Law and Order.

According to Clause 4, the PPC is to consist of three members: the D.I.G of the Province, a person nominated by the Public Service Commission, in consultation with the President, and a nominee of the Chief Minister of the Province.

Clause 6 states: “The I.G.P shall appoint the D.I.G. for each Province, with the concurrence of the Chief Minister of the Province. However, where there is no agreement between the Inspector General of Police and the Chief Minister, the matter will be referred to the President, who, after due consultation with the Chief Minister, shall make the appointment.”

Clause 11.1 states: “The D.I.G. shall be responsible to and under the control of the Chief Minister thereof in respect of the maintenance of public order in the Province…”.

Thus, in addition to the D.I.G. being under the control of the Chief Minister, two out of two members of the PPC would in all likelihood have political affiliations which would make them lean towards the “interests” of the Chief Minister. To expect fairness and impartiality under such provisions is to be naïve. In the real world, the tendency for the PPC, as presently constituted, would be to encourage a high degree of partiality in favour of the Chief Minister’s interests, not to mention the interests of his/her loyalists, as well. While attempts are being made to depoliticize Presidential powers, through the 17th Amendment, and Independent Police Commission, provisions in the 13th Amendment would not deter the politicization of issues relating to Law and Order. This is a serious anomaly that needs to be corrected. However, the task is a daunting one because of the inbuilt procedural labyrinth.

Amendments to the 13th Amendment

Any amendment to provisions in the 13th Amendment requires conformance to the procedures set out in Article 154G:

“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 in List 1…”

No Bill for the amendment or repeal of the provisions of this Chapter or the Ninth Schedule shall become law unless such Bill has been referred by the President, after its publication in the Gazette and before it is placed in the Order paper of Parliament, to every Provincial Council for the expression of its views thereon, within such period as may be specified in the reference, and –

where every such Council agrees to the amendment or repeal, such Bill is passed by a majority of the Members of Parliament present and voting; or

(b)where one or more Councils do not agree to the amendment

or repel such Bill is passed by the special majority required by Article 82.

According to the mentioned procedure, it is unlikely that a President would initiate action unless there is a public demand. This would mean that the public would have to organize themselves to give expression to such a demand. Assuming a President is convinced that an amendment is needed, the process involves drafting appropriate legislation, Gazetting it, and then circulating it to the Provincial Councils for comment. If even one out of the nine Councils objects, a 2/3 majority of the Parliament would be needed before it could become law.

Since no Provincial Council would agree to relinquish the advantages it possesses, under current provisions, as regards the composition of the PPC, one can be certain that any amendment in respect of Law and Order would require a “special majority”, meaning 2/3 of those present in Parliament voting for the amendment. The fact that it is near impossible to secure a 2/3 majority, under the proportionate representation scheme, is a fact that has to recognized and accepted. Furthermore, in the course of his determination, Justice Wanasundara stated: “Factually speaking, even the President has said recently that under the proportionate scheme, no political party would be able to secure anything more than a bare majority in the future” (Supreme Court case on The 13th Amendment to the Constitution, 1987, p. 347).

Thus, the reality is that the public may not succeed in securing the needed 2/3 majority to redress a provision that has the potential to seriously undermine its right to equality before the law when it comes to provincial matters. In such an eventuality, would not the sovereignty of the People be compromised? As stated by Justices L.H. de Alwis and H.A.G. de Silva, in their determinations: “Article 154G (2) therefore imposes a fetter on the Parliament in amending or repealing Chapter XVIIA or the Ninth Schedule and thereby abridges the Sovereignty of the People in the exercise of its legislative power by Parliament, in contravention of Article 3 and 4(a) of the Constitution” (Ibid.).

The determination of the Chief Justice and three other Justices, however, were: “…the legislative competence is not exclusive in character and is subordinate to that of Central Parliament which in terms of Article 154G (2) and 154G (3) can, by following the procedure set out therein, override the Provincial Councils. Article 154G conserves the sovereignty of Parliament in the legislative field…In our view 154G (2) and (3) do not limit the sovereign powers of Parliament. They only impose procedural restraints” (Ibid., p. 320).

There is no doubt whatsoever that “procedural constraints” imposed by 13A is a fetter to the unrestrained Legislative powers of Parliament that existed under Article 4 (a) and since Article 4 must be read with Article 3 these procedural constraints violate the sovereignty of the People whenever Parliament is unable to muster the 2/3 majority needed to amend any provision in 13A.


Issues addressed thus far relate to amendments and repeals. 154G (3) relate to Bills in respect of any matter. Here, too, the President has to Gazette the Bill and circulate it to all Provincial Councils. If all Councils agree, the Bill is passed with a simple majority. If some disagree, a 2/3 majority is required for the Bill to become Law. On the other hand, if only some agree and only a simple Parliamentary majority is possible, the Bill would apply only to those Provincial Councils that agreed with the Bill. Would this not foster asymmetrical devolution? If one or more Provincial Councils call upon Parliament to make law on any matter, the passage of such a law, by a simple majority, would apply only to those Councils making the request. This too would foster asymmetrical devolution.


The Government is under pressure to implement the full provisions of the 13th Amendment. If Police powers, as required by the 13th Amendment, are devolved, the Law and Order situation in the country would be politicized far beyond what exists today.

Provisions, relating to Law and Order, as stated in Appendix 1 of List 1 of the 13th Amendment, was introduced in 1987. On the other hand, the need for an Independent Police Commission was introduced decades later in order to depoliticize Law and Order. Since Law and Order is central to Justice and overall security, the contradictions that exist between them need to be amended, along with the repeal of 154 G, because it is the only way the sovereignty of the People and the legislative powers of Parliament would be restored, prior to the full implementation of the 13th Amendment.

Such measures are justified because they are a byproduct of a political intervention by India, following the Indo-Lanka Accord. Real independence and the right of true self-determination require that all Sri Lankans are governed by Laws of their own making and not by what is imposed. Therefore, the Government has a moral obligation to its People to create the necessary conditions to protect the sovereignty of the People and the unfettered legislative powers of Parliament, encouraged by Section 35 of the U.K. Scotland Act.

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Govt. actions must be for people’s benefit



President at the Independence Day ceremony on Saturday

By Jehan Perera

The government celebrated the 75th Anniversary of its independence from colonial rule under tight security.  President Ranil Wickremesinghe did not even deliver a speech on the occasion.  He had an excellent written speech, but chose not to deliver it for reasons not known.  The speech was circulated later. The exclusion of the general public from the parade grounds was another notable feature of the Independence Day event.  Under normal circumstances, Galle Face green where the celebration took place, is packed with people who come to enjoy the sea, the fresh air and the vast expanse of greenery.  The spectacle of a military parade and an air show provided an occasion that people would not have wished to miss if they had been given the chance to attend it.  But the government was clearly insecure and wanted to make sure it controlled the situation, which accounted for large security deployments.

The general public were kept away from the celebrations as the government feared that if they were permitted into the area some of them might protest.  Indeed, the previous night a sit down public protest (satyagraha) organised by a mostly youthful group of protestors was water cannoned and forcibly broken up.  The youth were protesting against the misallocation of resources for celebration at a time when the country’s people have little cause to celebrate.  Although there was a large presence of security forces, they stood by when a group of political thugs attacked the peaceful protestors.  When the satyagrahis resisted the attack they were chased, beaten and arrested by the security forces. The government was less concerned to win the hearts and minds of its people than to conduct its Independence Day event without disturbance.

 Ironically, the manner of the celebration, with the general public not present at the site of celebration, and security forces out in strength on the roads, was reminiscent of the days of war that the country experienced decades past.  In those days too, the Independence Day celebrations took place under tight security, with the people preferring to stay in their homes than to brave possible LTTE bombs. This throwback to the past is relevant as those years of war have contributed in no small measure to the economic collapse that has befallen the country and blighted the life of its people.  More than 70 percent of the population have reduced their food intake and 40 percent of the population have descended below the poverty line.  In recognition of the connection between ethnic conflict and economic underdevelopment, President Wickremesinghe has prioritized a political solution to the ethnic conflict without delay.


The public protests against the celebration of Independence Day was not only in Colombo but also in other parts of the country, most notably in the north of the country.  The main Tamil political party as well as smaller ones also called for a boycott of the Independence Day events and did not participate in them.  University students in Jaffna declared a hartal and flew black flags.  Most of the people, however, showed no interest either way. There was no display of national flags in a spontaneous manner nor did the government make such an appeal.  It seemed as if the government was celebrating Independence Day for itself.  Gleaming new vehicles with police escorts drove in assorted governors, ministers and other dignitaries into the stalls where they would seat themselves with all the national television stations focusing on them. However, to the general public watching the celebrations on their television sets, the sight of the luxury vehicles bearing the dignitaries would have been infuriating.

 Not even a year ago, these same political leaders were hiding in the face of the protest movement that took to the streets in the aftermath of the collapse of the national economy and declaration of national bankruptcy.  The general public, many of whom had never taken part in public protests, came to the streets to protest.  They came from near and far, children with their parents, the elderly and the differently abled, to demand the exit of the government leaders who had stolen the wealth of the country and brought the masses of people, including them all, to near penury.  These same people who watched the Independence Day events on television would have been greatly angered to see those same political leaders now disembarking from luxury vehicles while they scraped the bottom of the barrel in their homes.  What they demand from the government, both in street protests and in their homes, is an end to impunity for corruption, abuse of power and extravagance in  public life, which the government appears to be shying away from.

 The question arises for whose benefit was Independence Day celebrated in this manner?  Independence Day in a situation of economic collapse was celebrated in a most unimaginative manner.  The government tried to heed the public opprobrium regarding the cost of the event, and reduced the size of the military parade.  It also axed the cultural parades that represent the aesthetic side of life.  Independence Day should have been celebrated differently, not for the political leaders and not for the international community, but for the people.  This event did not receive much international publicity.  It would not have changed the way the world sees us.  It did not touch the hearts of the Sri Lankan people either.  They were watching on their television sets and conscious of the expenditures that were being incurred for no good reason, and certainly not for their benefit.


The celebration of Independence Day could have been done differently.  The government could have recognised the poverty that has ravaged the lives of the people.  It could have organised an Independence Day event that demonstrated an ethos of care for the people.  It could have brought a thousand schoolchildren from the poorest families around the country, and from all ethnicities, religions and castes, and made them a symbolic presentation of schoolbooks and school clothes that would have reflected the government’s commitment to invest in the country’s children.  This was an opportunity lost and would work to the detriment of the government which will be reflected in its electoral performance at the forthcoming local government elections. President Wickremesinghe’s pitch that the country needed a plan to become a developed country in 2048 is to miss people’s concerns to get by the day.  In his televised speech to the nation he said “Let us devote ourselves, unite as children of one mother. Let us make our country one of the most developed in the world by 2048, when we will celebrate 100 years of independence.”

 Despite all the criticism of the priorities of President WIckremesinghe and the government there are still many who continue to place their hope that the president will succeed in problem solving that is in the national interest.  One of President Wickremesinghe’s bold pledges has been to resolve the ethnic conflict that gave rise to three decades of war and to reach a situation of national reconciliation in this 75th year of Independence and “unite as children of one mother”.  When he first committed himself to this task three-months ago, there was some anticipation that this ambitious task may even occur prior to Independence Day itself, or “mission accomplished” would be announced on the auspicious day.  This has not been the case and it appears that even the first steps are yet to be made.  Now the focus of attention will be the president’s policy statement on February 8 when he reconvenes parliament following its prorogation by him a fortnight ago.

 National reconciliation in an ethnically divided society is never an easy proposition.  It requires the support of multiple actors in multiple sectors.  An indication of the president’s determination in this regard was the singing of the national anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil languages at the Independence Day event. This was after a lapse of four years and reflects the president’s resolve to overcome the divisions of the past.  It must be noted that it was under his leadership as prime minister in the period 2015-19 that the national anthem was sung again in Tamil on Independence Day after the passage of many decades.  There are elements in the president and his government that require support from civil society.  We need to overcome the legacy of past mistakes and forge ahead to a future in which lessons have been learnt and mistakes not repeated.

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Issues in fully implementing the 13th Amendment – Police Powers



President J. R. Jayewardene and Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi at the signing of the Indo-Lanka Accord, which paved the way for the 13th Amendment..

By C. A. Chandraprema

While most provisions of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution have been implemented, sticking points have persisted with regard to two matters – the devolution of police and land powers. Appendix I of the Provincial Councils List in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution provides for the devolution of police powers. The implementation of these provisions will entail the division of the Sri Lanka Police Force into a National Police Division which includes special units such as the CID; and a Provincial Police Division for each Province, headed by a DIG.

According to Section 6 of Appendix 1, the IGP shall appoint a DIG for each Province with the concurrence of the Chief Minister of the Province. If there is no agreement between the IGP and the Chief Minister, the matter will be referred to the National Police Commission, which after due consultations with the Chief Minister shall make the appointment. Thus, the effective appointing authority of the provincial DIG is the Chief Minister. Section 11 stipulates that all Police Officers, serving in units of the National Division and Provincial Divisions, in any Province, shall function under the direction and control of the provincial DIG who, in turn, will ‘be responsible to’ and ‘under the control of’ the Chief Minister in respect of the maintenance of public order and the exercise of police powers in the Province.

According to section 12.1, it is the Provincial police forces that will maintain law and order and be responsible for the prevention, detection and investigation of all offences in the Province except for the 11 specified offences allocated to the National Police Division which are as follows: international crimes, offences against the State, offences relating to the armed services, offences relating to elections, currency and government stamps, offences against the President, Ministers, MPs public officials, judges, etc., offences relating to state property, offences prejudicial to national security, offences under any law relating to any matter in the national government list and offences in respect of which courts in more than one province have jurisdiction. Most of these offences are not really a part of day to day police functions and occur infrequently. Thus, under the 13A, it is the Provincial Divisions which will handle the bulk of actual day to day police work.

Provincial Police to the forefront

Signifying the extent to which the National Police Division will be expected take a back seat, Section 10.1 of Appendix 1 requires members of the National Police Division to ordinarily be in plain clothes, except when performing duties in respect of the maintenance of public order. For all practical purposes, the only uniformed police force, visible to the public, will be the Provincial Police. Recruitment to the National Police Division is to be done by the National Police Commission and to the Provincial Police Divisions by the respective Provincial Police Commissions. According to Section 4, the Provincial Police Commissions will be made up of a) the Provincial DIG, b) a person nominated by the Public Service Commission, in consultation with the President; and c) a nominee of the Chief Minister of the Province. Thus the Chief Minister has complete control over both the Provincial Police Chief as well as the Provincial Police Commission.

In addition to the above, according to Sections 7 and 8 of Appendix 1, the Provincial Police Commissions, which are completely under the sway of the Chief Minister, will have a say in deciding on the cadre and salaries and even the type and quantity of firearms and ammunition used by the Provincial Police forces. However, the potentially horrendous implications of Sections 7 and 8 are mitigated to some extent by the proviso that ‘uniform standards and principles’ shall be applied across the board with regard to these matters for all Provincial Police Divisions.

When recruitment for the Provincial Police Forces are to be carried out by Provincial Police Commissions which are completely under the sway of the Chief Ministers of the Province, the politics of the Province will become the politics of the Provincial Police force, as well. The most obvious foreseeable result of recruiting, within the Province for the Provincial Police force, is that the Northern Province Police force will be predominantly Tamil, the Eastern Province police force largely Tamil and Muslim, and the police forces of all other Provinces, predominantly Sinhala. The implications of politicians, elected on communalistic political platforms, having armed police forces under their control, to further their political objectives, should be clear to anybody. For a country like Sri Lanka which has experienced protracted conflict between ethnic and religious groups, the police powers provisions in the 13A are a guaranteed recipe for disaster.

An equally important consideration is the fact that crime prevention, detection and investigation is very much an inter-provincial, countrywide activity in this country. The creation of nine separate Provincial Police Divisions, answering to nine different lines of command, will seriously hamper the crime fighting capacity of the police which we now take for granted. Today, the IGP and the police force, under him, acts on the imprimatur of the national government, and its outreach extends to every nook and corner of the country. If the 13th Amendment is fully implemented, and the principle day to day police functions, such as maintaining law and order, and crime fighting, becomes the exclusive preserve of the various Provincial Police forces, whose authority does not extend beyond the borders of their Provinces, even pursuing a criminal across Provincial borders will become a tedious, process heavy with bureaucratic procedures and the entire country is going to suffer as a result. (The Colombo and Kotte city limits will not belong to the Western provincial police division but to a Metropolitan police under the National Division according to Item 1 on the Provincial Councils List.)

Readers may recall the 2005 incident during the ceasefire where some policemen, attached to the National Child Protection Authority went into an LTTE held area in search of a fugitive European pedophile and were arrested by the LTTE police. If the police powers in the 13A are fully implemented, in a context where some Provincial administrations are going to be openly hostile to the national government, as well as to other Provincial administrations, similar incidents will become day to day occurrences. The sheer practical impossibility of effectively carrying out police work in a small, densely populated country divided into nine separate police jurisdictions, manned by police forces under nine different lines of command was one of the main reasons why the police powers in the 13A have remained unimplemented for the past 37 years.

Political control over Provincial Police forces

While the IGP will nominally remain the head of the Sri Lanka Police force, even under the 13A, actual day to day police work will become the preserve of the provincial DIGs, acting under the direction and control of the respective Chief Ministers. Under Section 12.4(b) of Appendix 1, the IGP’s discretion in matters related to crime fighting will largely be centered on assigning investigations to units of the national division, like the CID, if he believes that is required in the public interest. But even to do that, he will need to ‘consult’ the Chief Minister of the Province and to have the approval of the Attorney General. Appendix 1 does not have provisions for any mechanism to enable the Provincial Police forces to work in unison in crime fighting or indeed any mechanism that can respond expeditiously to crime fighting requirements throughout the country.

The 13A was passed into law nearly four decades ago, in a different era. In the new millennium, the dominant trend has been to prevent politicians from influencing the police force but the provisions in the 13A seeks to do exactly the opposite.

Even though the new millennium has seen three Constitutional Amendments, (the 17th, 19th and 21st) promulgated for (among other things) the depoliticisation of the police force, Appendix 1 of the Provincial Councils List in the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution, was left largely untouched. I use the word ‘largely’, because the 17th Amendment did make a few changes in Appendix 1, but that was only to reduce the powers of the President. The Chief Minister’s powers over the Provincial Police remained untouched.

The total and complete politicisation of the police force, envisaged in the 13A, renders it out of step with the times. It was just a few months ago that the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was passed and under its provisions, the President cannot appoint the IGP unless the Constitutional Council approves his recommended candidate and the President cannot appoint the Chairman and Members of the National Police Commission except on the recommendations of the Constitutional Council.

How will the people of this country react if the police powers, envisaged in the 13A, are implemented, and they wake up one morning to find that the Chief Ministers have been given effective control over the appointment of the provincial DIGs and complete control of the Provincial Police Commissions?

How will the people react when they find that the country has been rendered ungovernable overnight because the police force has been fragmented into nine separate police forces, under nine different chains of command? The gestation period for the fallout resulting from a wrong decision with regard to the police powers laid out in the 13A will not be years or months but weeks and days. Hence this is an area where the government will have to proceed with great caution.

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