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Overworked underpaid Britons migrating in numbers



by Eir Nolsoe

Feelings of being overworked and underpaid prompted Rachel James, 29, and her partner to leave their jobs as doctors in the NHS to move to Australia. Two years later, the couple have no plans of returning.

“The pay is between double and triple what we would get in the UK,” Rachel (not her real name) says. She lives in Cooktown, a coastal town a four-hour drive north of Cairns. They enjoy free accommodation because the Australian health service offers incentives to people to work in rural areas.

The biggest difference is in the quality of life. Unlike in the British health service, the couple’s work rotas are linked so they can have days off together.

“In the UK, when I was working as a doctor I struggled a lot in my foundation years with anxiety. I did mindfulness. I did exercise. I saw my GP. Nothing has ever done more for my mental health than having money left over in my bank account at the end of the month and being able to spend time with my partner,” she says.

Rachel and her partner are among thousands of UK medical graduates who leave to go abroad every year. While this type of brain drain has typically been limited to specific occupations, life in the UK is about to get tougher for young people across the board.Real incomes are falling, taxes are rising and buying a home or starting a family is getting increasingly unaffordable. Scores of highly skilled workers – many of whom are already working remotely – may soon wonder whether they too would be better off somewhere else.

The political and economic turmoil of the past months has filled newspaper columns with comparisons of the UK and Italy.The Economist magazine controversially ran a front page saying “Welcome to Britaly” with short-lived prime minister Liz Truss pictured as a British-Italian mash-up of the Statue of Liberty. The magazine said that both countries shared “terminable political drama, economic stagnation and nervous bond markets”.

But one feature of countries such as Italy, Spain and Greece, whose economies were badly wounded after the financial crisis, is just how many of their young can be found in Britain and elsewhere. The number of Italians and Spaniards in the UK more than trebled in the decade or so after the financial crisis, while Greeks more than doubled.

The UK is expected to suffer the highest inflation and the deepest recession among the G7 countries, according to the OECD. Real incomes are predicted to fall by a record 7pc over the next two years, according to the Office for Budget Responsibility. Pensioners will however not feel the same hit, as the Government has decided to honour the triple lock and uprate state pensions in line with double-digit inflation.

In many ways, life in Britain will likely get more difficult. Working people will have to pay higher taxes to fund services for a growing elderly population, as the labour force is shrinking. But young people were already dealt a bad hand, with low growth and high house prices putting milestones such as owning a home and starting a family out of reach.But will it get bad enough to send Britain’s best and brightest abroad in search of a better life?

A mass exodus

The answer is not straightforward – and there’s little consensus among experts. In certain industries, the UK is already experiencing a brain drain. Some analysts say that global labour shortages and the rise of remote working mean that this phenomenon could spread more widely among highly skilled workers.

The trend has so far been most pronounced in healthcare, which is known to have a highly mobile workforce. Falling real pay and worse working conditions than in other wealthy countries mean it has been an issue for several years, according to experts.

Figures from the General Medical Council show that nearly 10,000 doctors left the UK medical workforce last year. Previous analysis indicates that around half plan to move overseas, the GMC said.

“Brain drain is a nice term but it’s more than that. It’s an exodus, a mass exodus of not just doctors but healthcare professionals,” says Dr Latifa Patel, representative body chair of the British Medical Association and a junior doctor herself.

“If you put it in the context of what we’re lacking in the NHS at the moment, it’s even more worrying. NHS England alone has 132,000 unfilled vacancies. Between 10 and 15,000 of those are doctors,” she says.

According to Patel, doctors typically emigrate to other English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada. Their pay has fallen by 30pc in real terms since the financial crisis, she says.It’s not just about money though, she says. The workload and quality of life are possibly even more important. This is echoed by Rachel James’ experience who left for Australia.

“If I had thought [the NHS] would change in any reasonable time frame, we wouldn’t have made the decision to be here,” she says.

There is a lot of research on immigrants to the UK but what do we know about the ones who leave? “Not a huge amount to be honest,” says Madeleine Sumption, director of the Migration Observatory.

“We don’t know that much about who they are or what they’re doing when they’re overseas. We have some figures from the US and Australian visa data, for example, showing that a fair number go to other English-speaking countries,” she says.

The image of UK emigration mainly being made up of retirees swapping Manchester for Mallorca is incorrect, according to Sumption. It’s much more likely to be young people with few responsibilities and ties going elsewhere. While there are some visa schemes for unskilled labour, many leaving are likely to be highly skilled to qualify for immigration rights.

Overseas opportunities

UK emigres show up in immigration data in other countries but research on them is sparse and little is known about their overall skill level. Figures from the Office for National Statistics show that some 90,000 Brits left the country in the year ending in June 2022. There is no information about how many of them leave for job opportunities.Separate data going back to the start of the 90s shows that every year more Britons leave than come back. Figures from the last three months of 2019 – meaning the latest available data not potentially distorted by pandemic trends – shows that 138,000 UK nationals left while 78,000 arrived. This is common according to Sumption – most countries see a net outward flow of their own citizens.

The UK experienced a period of almost continuous net emigration between 1964 and 1983. But rising flows of arrivals from other countries mean the UK has since benefitted from brain gain rather than drain. The limited data means that it’s difficult to know how many highly skilled workers leave.Neil Carberry, chief executive of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, says in his experience the flight of young people abroad has not yet become a big trend but warns that working from home has made many more conscious of overseas opportunities.

“The nature of the labour market has become much more global post-pandemic,” he says, “because when everybody was locked down it didn’t matter if you were in Manchester or Malaga – it was still possible to do many jobs from anywhere.

“So I do think it’s really important to remember… that the world is not going to wait for Britain to sort itself out. The UK has great strengths but we need to be aware that skills shortages are a global issue and other countries are looking at our talent as well.”

This has been the case for freelance designer Elise, who decided to pack up her life in London this summer to move to Lisbon. At the age of 32, felt she was done with living in shared flats but couldn’t afford other options. Despite having a successful career, homeownership was still firmly out of reach.

“I have come to terms with the fact that I don’t feel like I’ve ever really be able to buy my own house. I’m also at a point where I don’t really want to do like shared living anymore and rent is going up. So I felt like I might as well move somewhere else,” Elise, who prefers not to use her full name, says.

After testing it out for a few months, she is now back in the UK while waiting for a two-year visa so she can move permanently. She was already working remotely in the UK.

“There’s no time difference so I didn’t have to tell my clients or change anything about the way I worked. I can just transport it over there quite smoothly. Obviously with the visa comes a whole other kind of tax that I need to look into as I’ll be living there. But from what I’ve heard, it’s fairly straightforward,” she says.During her first months in Lisbon, she was staying in co-living spaces where digital nomads like her have access to a workspace and can socialise together.

“It’s really great because you just meet lots of people who are doing the exact same thing. Everyone was pretty much around the same age group. It was a good way to meet people and feel a little bit of a sense of community with it,” she says.

Sluggish growth

Experts disagree on how likely the UK is to suffer a brain drain of highly skilled workers. Many say people tempted to leave face too many obstacles for a large-scale exodus to happen.

“If you want to go let’s say to another English-speaking country, the US or Canada or Australia, you have to get a visa. You can’t just say oh, I’d like to move. You’d have to get a job offer, for example. Those are quite considerable barriers,” says Alan Manning, an economist specialising in migration.

While the UK is expected to experience a deeper recession than its peers, vacancies are still near record levels. Research on emigration is sparse, but a report by the Home Office from 2012 found that there is an “inverse association” between British emigration and unemployment.

“In general, as UK unemployment falls, more British people emigrate and when unemployment in the UK is high, fewer British people emigrate,” it says. The report’s authors suggested that while it might sound counter-intuitive it was because employed people have more resources to move abroad.

This is particularly pertinent for this downturn, which is characterised by a highly unusual combination of labour shortages and recession. Many other wealthy countries are also experiencing worker shortages. This means that people in the UK are in a better position to leave than during previous recessions. This will particularly benefit people with good skills. Brexit has made it more difficult to emigrate without a job offer or a particular skill set.

“I think there are two conflicting things. One is the economic fundamentals of the UK as a place to be a highly skilled worker are very strong. So particularly in London, but also Manchester and Birmingham,” says Adam Hawksbee, director of centre-right think tank Onward. On the other hand, he says, the failure to build more houses and lab space around cities means many workers and entrepreneurs are priced out.

“We need to see more from the Government on what their offer is to young people and young families. Because unless they’re very clear that they want them to stay in the UK to engage in the workforce, they’ll be looking elsewhere for other countries which are much more positive about the contribution they can provide.”

The UK’s weak productivity and sluggish growth mean young people have enjoyed much less prosperity than their parents did at the same age. From the mid-1950s until before the financial crisis, real incomes grew by 2pc a year on average. The recession is expected to cause a 7pc fall over the next two years, effectively wiping out 10 years of growth and bringing incomes back to 2013 levels. If the forecasts are correct, incomes will only have grown by 0.5pc annually in the two decades to 2028.

“Pay progression among cohorts has stalled for those born after 1980. So each five-year birth cohort before 1980 earned more than the cohort that came before them. There’s not been very much pay progression at all for those born after 1980, which are the millennials,” says Molly Broome, an economist at the Resolution Foundation.

The stagnation in incomes and growth has not been reflected in house prices. As successive governments have failed to ensure enough homes were built and central banks have inflated asset prices through quantitative easing, prices have soared.

Close to half of 25- to 34-year-olds owned their own home in the late 1970s to early 1990s. Today this figure has dropped below 30pc. This does not reflect a change in preference: around 80pc of young renters say they want to own a home, a figure which has remained stable over many years. First-time buyers today face property prices 5.9 times their annual salary, Nationwide data shows. This is up from 2.7 in 1983. In London, the ratio is even higher at 9.6, rising from 3.7.

Punishing tax burden

Liz Truss’ fateful mini-Budget also pulled the housing ladder further out of reach for many young people, after mortgage rates soared. As a result, thousands of people have been locked into renting for longer, while demand was already well above last year’s levels in every region and country of Great Britain. Rents for new tenancies are at record highs, increasing 16pc in London in the year to October and 3.2pc in the rest of the country, Rightmove data shows.

“The base of voters [for the Conservative Party] is elderly homeowners who have very few incentives to be compassionate to the young wanting new homes built near them. This is extra central for the Tories. If they don’t create homeowners there isn’t really much of a party left,” says Robert Colvile, the director of right-leaning think tank CPS.

While he believes that the UK still has a lot to offer highly skilled workers, Colvile worries that over time highly skilled young people will be tempted to look elsewhere if things don’t improve.

“Longer term there is obviously a danger that the harder it gets to afford a home, the higher your marginal tax rates get, the more expensive childcare becomes and the more people will vote with their feet. I mean, people respond to incentives,” he says.

Parents in the UK also face the third highest childcare costs relative to their income among rich countries. There’s little hope of respite, as services are expected to face a near double-digit real terms cut over the next few years.

“Every marginal pound that the government spends seems to go towards supporting old people. The base of tax-paying younger workers who are having to pay for this whole thing is getting squeezed and squeezed,” Colvile says.

The measures announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt in the Autumn Statement mean the UK will have the highest tax burden since the Second World War.

Bloomberg analysis has found that the marginal tax rate – meaning how much you get taxed for every extra pound you earn – is 42pc for people earning over £50,270 and 62pc for those earning over £100,000.

Having to pay more to the public coffers makes life in the UK less attractive according to David Smith, 33, who works in financial services. He moved to Hong Kong in 2018 with his company. He planned to stay for two years – it has now been four and a half, although he will soon have to come home because of family ties.Including bonuses, David earns £90,000 a year. In Britain, he would pay 40pc tax. In Hong Kong, the top rate is 17pc.

“To me, it feels like if you work hard in the UK and earn a good salary you are punished with extortionate taxes which makes earning over £50,000 a year pointless. I’d rather work fewer days a week and keep under £50,000 salary in the UK,” David says.

In Hong Kong, he has been able to save £40,000 every year. He is also able to take his pension as a lump sum there. From his stint abroad, David will be coming back to Britain with a £340,000 savings pot to spend on his first home.

“The higher taxes you pay in the UK are extortionate. I grew up around Blackpool stacking shelves on minimum wage and then I have moved up the salary brackets. In Hong Kong, I can literally put away £40,000 a year because of the low taxes.”

Growing unease

All of these things – rising taxes, falling living standards and the unaffordability of buying a home or starting a family – are ammunition for the Labour Party, which is closer than at any point in the past 12 years to getting back in power.

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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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