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Powers Devolved to Provinces

Functions of Provincial Councils

Organization of Provincial Councils

Finances of the Provincial Council

Development Planning

External Relations

Personnel Administration

Index of Provincial Councils

Ministry of Home Affairs, Provincial Councils & Local Government

The Constitution



The centralized system of Sri Lanka, which is a Unitary State, failed to satisfy the aspirations of the people and there was growing insistence on decentralization of administrative processes in order to achieve rapid economic and social development of the country.

Many attempts have been made to decentralize administrative decision-making. As early as 1955 there were proposals for decentralization but were shelved for political and other reasons. There were repeated demands for decentralization and these demands resulted in the following attempts.

  • 1973/74 District Political Authority System

  • 1979/80 District Development Councils/District Minister System

  • 1987/88 Provincial Councils System

In the Sri Lankan context, devolution means transferring political and administrative decision-making authority from central government to elected bodies at lower levels.

The instruments of devolution:

(i)    The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution (1987) and

(ii)   The Provincial Councils Act No 42 of 1987

The Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution provides for -

  • The establishment of Provincial Councils

  • The appointment and powers of the Governor of Provinces

  • Membership and tenure of Provincial Councils

  • The appointment and powers of the Board of Ministers

  • The legislative powers of the Provincial Councils

  • Alternative arrangements where there is a failure in the administrative machinery

  • The establishment of the High Court of the Province

  • The establishment of the Finance Commission


The Provincial Councils Act No 42 of 1987 provides for -

  • The Membership of Provincial Councils

  • Meetings and conduct of business in Provincial Councils

  • The financial procedure in the Provincial Councils

  • The establishment of the Provincial, Public Service

There is no legal definition of Provincial Council. 


A Provincial Council is not –

  • A Government Ministry or Department

  • A Local Authority

  • A Statutory Corporation or Authority or

  • A Public Company


A Provincial Council -

  • is an autonomous body and is not under any Ministry.

  • derives its authority and power from the Constitution and Acts of Parliament.

  • undertakes activities which had earlier been undertaken by the Central Government Ministries, Departments, Corporations and Statutory Authorities.

There are nine (9) provinces in Sri Lanka. However, initially only eight (8) Provincial Councils were established because the Northern and Eastern provinces were temporarily merged into one in terms of the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of 1987. These were originally established in 1988 for a period of five years and were dissolved in 1993. The North East Provincial Council however ceased to function in 1989 as its administration was taken over by the Government owing to the failure of the administrative machinery. Fresh elections were held in 1993 for seven Provincial Councils. After the Supreme Court decision on demerger of the temporarily merged Northern and Eastern Provincial Councils, the Eastern Provincial Council elections were held. The elections for the Northern Provincial Council were held in September 2013. All the nine Provincial Councils function now.  

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Powers Devolved to Provinces

The powers devolved to the provinces by the thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution are -  

  • Executive powers to Governor

  • Legislative powers for the Provincial Council

The Provincial Council has power to pass a "'statute" on any subject that is assigned to it under the Constitution subject to the condition that it should not violate the Constitution. However, if any provision of a statute is inconsistent with the provisions of any law passed by Parliament, then the provisions of the law will prevail over the provisions of the statute. An exception is made in the case of laws that were in existence on the day the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution came into force. If any provision of a statute made by a Council is inconsistent with the provisions of a law that was in existence on that date, the operation of the provisions of such law will remain suspended so long as the statute is in force. Parliament can however subsequently make it inoperative by passing a new law or a resolution, as is provided for under the Constitution.


Executive Power

The Executive power extending to matters in respect of which a Provincial Council has power to make statutes is vested in the Governor of the Province. He can exercise this power either directly or through the Ministers of the Board of Ministers or through officers subordinate to him subject to the condition that the Governor shall act in accordance with the advice of the Board of Ministers except where he is required under the Constitution to exercise his functions in his discretion.


Judicial Power

The following Judicial powers are devolved to the High Court of the Province:

i)             The exercise of original criminal jurisdiction of the High Court of Sri Lanka in respect of offences committed within the province.

ii)            The exercise of appellate and revisionary jurisdiction in respect of convictions, sentences and orders entered or imposed by Magistrate’s Courts and Primary Courts within the province.

iii)           The exercise of such other jurisdiction and powers as Parliament by law may from time to time provide.

iv)           The issue of writs of Habeas Corpus in respect of persons illegally detained within the province and writs of certiorari, prohibition, procedendo, mandamus and quo warranto against any person exercising within the Province and any power under any law or any statute made by the Provincial Council.

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Functions of Provincial Councils


The functions of the Government and the Provincial Councils are listed in the Ninth Schedule to the Constitution, which comprises of three lists:


List I          Provincial Councils List

List II         Reserved List

List III        Concurrent List


Provincial Councils List  


The subjects in this list are considered fully devolved to the Provincial Councils subject to the national policy on each such subject. Provincial Councils can pass statutes on these subjects without any further requirements. However if any provision of such a statute is inconsistent with the provision of an Act of Parliament passed after the Thirteenth Amendment, then there will be no validity in such provision.


Reserved List


The Provincial Council cannot exercise any power in respect of any subject in this list nor can it pass any statute in regard to them.


Concurrent List  


The Provincial Council can exercise power in regard to the subjects in this list. However before the Provincial Council could pass a statute on such subject, it should consult Parliament for its opinions on the provisions contained in such statute. The Provincial Council however is not bound to give effect to whatever opinion that is expressed by Parliament.

Where Parliament desires to pass an Act on a subject in this list it can do so provided however that it would consult the Provincial Councils about the provisions of such Act.  Here again, it is not mandatory for Parliament to give effect to the opinions expressed by the Provincial Councils.  

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Organization of Provincial Councils


The Provincial Council is organized into nine institutions: 


i)         The Governor

ii)        The Council (Legislature)

iii)       The Chief Minister

iv)        Four Provincial Ministries

v)         The Provincial Public Service Commission

vi)        The Chief Secretary



The Governor

  • The Governor is the only person in the Council who has direct executive powers deriving from the Constitution.

  • He can exercise his functions,

 (i) directly or

(ii) through the Board of Ministers or

(iii) through officers subordinate to him.

  • Except where it is required by the Constitution, to act differently (eg. according to his discretion or on the advice of the Chief Minister), the Governor is required to exercise his functions on the advice of the Board of Ministers.

  • The Governor is appointed by the President and as such he is his representative. He is not the representative of the people of the Province. All executive action of the Governor is taken in the name of the President.

  • He holds office during the pleasure of the President and his term is 5 years from the date of his appointment.

  • He has the powers, subject to the advice of the Chief Minister, to summon, prorogue or dissolve the Council and to send any messages to the Council. He has also to assent to the statutes passed by the Council before they can become law.

  • The Governor frames the Financial Rules of the Council, which regulate activities relating to the Provincial Fund and the Emergency Fund of the Province. He causes the Annual Financial Statement to be laid before the Council.

  • He determines all matters relating to members of the Provincial Public Service including the formulation of schemes of recruitment and the codes of conduct for such officers. He is also the Director of Establishments for the Provincial Public Service.


The Board of Ministers

  • The function of the Board of Ministers is to aid and advise the Governor in the exercise of his functions.

  • The Governor appoints the Board of Ministers, consisting of the Chief Minister and four other Ministers. He allocates business among the Ministers on the advice of the Chief Minister.

  • The Board of Ministers is collectively responsible and answerable to the Provincial Council.


The Chief Secretary

  • The Chief Secretary is appointed by the President with the concurrence of the Chief Minister.

  • His functions and responsibilities are not specifically laid down in legislation applicable to Provincial Councils.

  • In practice, the Chief Secretary is the Chief Executive Officer of the Provincial Council.

  • Under Financial Rules framed by the Governor, the Chief Secretary is the Chief Accounting Officer for the Provincial Fund.

  • He also exercises power over members of the Provincial Public Service to the extent delegated by the Provincial Public Service Commission.


The Provincial Secretariat

  • The Provincial Secretariat comprises of five Secretaries of Provincial Ministries and four Deputy Chief Secretaries in charge of:

1.      Administration

2.      Personnel

3.      Finance, and

4.      Planning

  • The Secretaries are appointed by the Governor.

  • All the Provincial Secretaries are directly under the Chief Secretary both in regard to the implementation of the subjects assigned to them as well as to their administrative control.

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Finances of the Provincial Council


The Provincial Fund

  • There is a Provincial Fund into which are paid -

           i.    the proceeds of all taxes imposed by the Provincial Council,

           ii.   the proceeds of all grants made to a Provincial Council by the Government,

          iii.  the proceeds of all loans advanced to the Provincial Council by the Government, and

         iv.  all other receipts of the Provincial Council.

  • Item 36 of List 1 enumerates the sources by which a Provincial Council could raise its own revenues. They consist mainly of various types of taxes, fees, and charges.

  • It is stipulated in the Constitution (Article 154 R) that the Government shall on the recommendation of the Finance Commission allocate from the Annual Budget such funds as are adequate for the purpose of meeting the needs of the Province. The Finance Commission will, in making such recommendations, have in view the objective of achieving balanced regional development in the country, and will take into consideration:

(a) The population of each Province.

(b) The per capita income of each Province.

(c) The need to reduce social and economic disparities

(d) The need to reduce the differences between the per capita income to each Province.


The revenue of the Provincial Council is as follows:


Government Grant (Art. 154 R)

  • Recurrent Grant           

  • Block Grant

  • Capital Grant 

  • Criteria Based Grant

  • Medium Term Investment Programme Grant

  • Matching Grant

Revenue (Item 36 in List 1)

  • Turnover Taxes (3 6: 1)

  • Excise Duties (36:3, 36:19)

  • Motor Vehicles (36:4,36:10)

  • Stamp Duty (36:6)

  • Other Revenue (36:8, 36:9, 36:11, 36:13, 36:14, 36:16)


The moneys received in the above manner are defrayed as follows:


Recurrent expenditure

  • Personal emoluments

  • Travelling

  • Supplies

  • Contractual services

  • Current transfers

  • Current grants

  • Other expenditure


Capital expenditure

  • Ordinary capital expenditure

  • Development projects

  • Grants to local authorities

  • MTIP projects

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Development Planning  

Taking into consideration the annual grant by the Government and the expected revenue of the Council for a year an Annual Provincial Investment Plan is prepared. The overall development objectives, as may be applicable to all Provinces, are :

  • The achievement of a high rate of growth through -

(a)  industrialization

(b)  specialization in agriculture

(c) transformation of present production into market oriented production

(d) export orientation

  • Expansion of employment

  • Alleviation of poverty

  • Achievement of a balanced regional development

The institutional arrangements for planning, monitoring and progress review of development projects vary from Province to Province but the arrangements in general are:

  • At Provincial Level -

Provincial Planning Office under DCS (Planning), and

Sector Ministry Planning Cells.

  • At Divisional Level -

Divisional Secretary's Planning Cell.


The tasks undertaken by the Provincial Planning Office are :

  • The formulation of appropriate long and medium term strategies for overall provincial development

  • Identification of projects and preparation or needs-based development plans.

  • Formulation of annual budget proposals taking into consideration development priorities

  • Monitoring the progress of development projects, and

  • The database management.


The tasks undertaken by Divisional Secretariat Cells are:


  • Formulation of divisional investment proposals,

  • Identification of viable projects, and

  • The monitoring of the physical and financial progress in the implementation of the Annual Provincial Investment Plan.

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External Relations

All matters which bring the Government of Sri Lanka into relations with any foreign country, and entering into treaties and agreements with foreign countries and implementing treaties, agreements and conventions with such countries are matters coming under the item of "Foreign Affairs" in List II - Reserved List and hence outside the competence of Provincial Councils. Therefore any foreign aid for a project in a Province relating to a subject in list-I or list-III will have to be negotiated by the Government. Section 22 of the P.C. Act stipulates that "foreign aid negotiated by the Government for a project or scheme in a Province shall be allocated by the Government to such project or scheme."


Personnel Administration  


Posts in a Provincial Council belong to -

(i)          the Public Service of the Province,

(ii)         the Secretarial Staff of the Provincial Council or

(iii)        the statutory bodies set up under statutes of a Provincial Council.


These posts can be filled, as is appropriate, by

(i)           the officers permanently released from the Public Service,

(ii)          the officers temporarily released from the Public Service, or by

(iii)         direct recruitment.


Matters governing the posts in the Provincial Public Service, including schemes of recruitment, codes of conduct and conditions of service are determined by the following authorities:




Provincial Public Service The Governor  
P.C. Secretarial Staff  The Council  
Statutory Bodies  The relevant statute or authority mentioned therein



The Provincial Council Pensions Act No. 17 of 1993 applies to members of the Provincial Public Service and to the members of the P.C. Secretarial Staff.

The Governor can delegate his powers of appointment, transfer, dismissal and disciplinary control of officers of the PPS to the Provincial Public Service Commission. The PPSC can in turn re-delegate its delegated power to the Chief Secretary or to any officer of the PPS. Since 1993 the control of the officers of the All Island Services has been taken back by the Public Service Commission.

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Contact Information: Send mail to gosl@presidentsl.org with questions or comments about this web site. Last modified: March 25, 2014.