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Where we went wrong and the possible course correction

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Speech before Rotary Club of Colombo Port City by S. Skandakumar

former High Commissioner to Australia and Chirman of George Steuart and Co. Ltd.

Mr President, let me congratulate you and all members on the inauguration of Rotary Club of Colombo Port City and wish you every success in your noble endeavours !

I was born barely two weeks before Independance and like some of you listening in, lived through it all in my land of birth.

What has transpired over those 73 years is common knowledge so let me share why I love my country as I do.

At a very young age in a geography class I looked at the world map to see where our country was positioned. I marvelled at the sheer beauty of its outline and location, unmatched by any other country or continent on that map. I reflected on its priceless resources as tea,rubber,coconut, and cinnamon, graphite and gems, and our climate, scenery, and arable fertile land with ready access to water, spread over a mere 65,000 kms and said to myself that it had to be a gift from above.

I listened to our national anthem and in particular the line ” eka mawa kuge daru” that we were indeed children of one common mother.

I studied our national flag, and reminded myself that the four bo leaves representing Karuna, Meththa, Muditha and Upekha,  meant love and compassion for our fellow beings.

I took pride in our rich civilization, made possible by the teachings of the Buddha, who ended his profound sermons with the line ” May All beings be well and happy.”

Yes the Buddha pointed out even then, that no one could build his happiness on another’s unhappiness.

His description of human ego fascinated me as he referred to it as man’s biggest enemy.

Our ego is a film over our eyes that blurs our vision, and it is only when it is removed will we see our way forward clearly the Buddha preached. What more did I need to feel blessed to be born in such an awesome country.

Came our Independance and the potential was huge. Regarded then as the granary of the East, we had a beautiful horizon ahead of us and a highway leading to it; all we needed to do was to traverse that highway and follow the rules.

Tragically many in the driving seats had their ego as their companion and turned at wrong exits and completely lost their way with devastating consequences.

The line ” I stoped crying for a new pair of shoes when I met a man who had no feet”  told me that this world we live in was only intended to be divided between the fortunate and the unfortunate.

This biblical line was meant to remind those of us in the fortunate category, to make a meaningful contribution to the lives of our fellow beings on the other side of the divide and help evolve an order of love and compassion to make the world a better place.

However despite these meaningful religious teachings blinded by sheer selfishness and insecurity we began to divide ourselves on ethnic and religious lines with disastrous consequences.

We let it happen here only because we failed to place our loyalty to Country ahead of loyalty to the individual, and have paid a horribly destructive price.

Marginalisation led to radicalization,, while discrimination let to extremism and Sri Lankans throughout the Island, known for their  gentle and caring nature, were in some places being transformed by a feeling of rejection. Sadly there was neither the wisdom  nor the will to recognize and arrest this ominous transformation in its infancy.

Here I would like to quote a line from Lee Kwan Yew ‘s address to the people of Singapore to celebrate their Independance in 1965.

He said ” Today we have the right of self rule.

You are free to speak in Mandarin, Malay, English or Tamil: but never forget that you are first a Singaporean.”

I do not think I need to comment further on the profound nature of that statement or it’s impact on the well being of that Country and all its people.

The real Illiterates of the world are not those who cannot read or write. It’s the educated who are unwilling to learn the lessons of history.

My life has taught me many lessons. The most significant of them has been that when honorable intentions are matched by sincere action, blessings from above are assured.

Let me share my personaL experiences.

My appointment as High Commissioner to Australia In 2015 was totally unexpected. Seven years into retirement, lost in the hills, a foreign minister whom I never had the opportunity to meet thought it fit to place his faith in me.

That appointment gave me enormous pride to represent my country overseas, sincerely committed to national unity and equality. This was appreciated by our fellow citizens domiciled there who came together as one during the tenure of my like minded colleagues and I.

An invitation by the Australian Government to our then Prime Minister for an official visit in Feb 2017, the first in 65 years, was followed by another to our President just three months later. While that visit was the first ever official visit of a President of our country to Australia, the fact that it followed just three months after our Prime Minister’s was unprecedented in Australia’s diplomatic history and demonstrated the esteem in which Australia held us for our commitment to national unity and the friendship built over the decades on mutual respect and trust. 

That year was further blessed by reciprocal visits by the Prime Minister and Foreign Ministers of Australia, to a celebration of our 150th anniversary of the tea industry at Parliament House in Canberra with both Houses in attendance, a blood donation programme by over a 100 Lankans domiciled in Canberra, to commemorate 70 years of diplomatic ties, and finally after two years of lobbying by the High Commission, the return of Sri Lankan Airlines to Melbourne. Yes, a diplomat’s dream year made possible by blessings from above.

Australia, a country hundred times the size of Sri Lanka,  with nearly the same population as ours was indeed a revelation. The rigid application of the rule of law and mutual respect among the many diverse nationalities , ethnicities and religious faiths has made it one of the most sought after countries to live in.

This in a country that was openly racist until 1973, when the White Australia policy was abolished.

That decision demonstrated a nation’s humility to accept its faults and the courage to make the change. The ensuing benefits have been amazing.

Another landmark event in Australian history was the apology tendered to the indigenous people in 2008, for the discrimination, and cruelty inflicted upon them for over a century. One has only to read the text of that apology which is engraved and prominently displayed in the foyer of the foreign office in Canberra to understand the extent of the remorse that was felt.

Yes my friends birth is not a choice but a chance. To put it in the words of Warren Buffet the American Billionaire, “An Ovarian Lottery.” It is therefore unacceptable that any human life should be discriminated against on account of an event over which he or she had no choice.

So if ever we feel inclined to look down on a fellow being, let it be that we did so only to raise him up.

I was privileged in my education both at Royal College and the University of Colombo. An education that took me not only to the top of the private sector but quite unexpectedly also the country’s diplomatic service .

I never forgot what I owed my country for that education and  so after serving the oldest business house in Sri Lanka, George Steuarts, for 35 years, a company that historically valued its integrity above everything else, I walked away from commercial life on retirement at age 60 in 2008 to devote the rest of my life to provide opportunities for the less privileged in whatever modest way I could.

Thankfully, helped by generous like minded friends both here and overseas we have been able to support in a meaningful way, education, nutrition,  food for the destitute elderly, farming, access to water through wells, among other needs for those in that category.

The pandemic posed its own huge challenges particularly to those daily wage earners.

When you realize that the daily wage just about meets their daily needs, you can well imagine the impact of prolonged lockdowns on the lives of their families.

We were happy to alleviate that suffering to an extent.

With Government hospitals converting to treat Covid patients, two groups I am privileged to be associated with came together to respond to appeals from these hospitals to raise funds and to purchase urgently needed equipment for both the Jaffna and Bandarawela Hospitals. The generous response from like minded people was gratifying.

So to the emerging  generations in particular, whose entire life is ahead of them, let me remind them that ours is still a country gifted by God. All we need to do to invoke the blessings is to act honorably with integrity and sincerity . Remember the line from Abraham Lincoln’s letter to his son’s teacher:

“Teach him that it is far more honourable to fail than to cheat.”

Our loyalty to our country must always supersede our loyalty to any individual. Servile individual loyalties are an insult to both your intellect and education.

Also remember that Humility is the true hallmark of greatness. Do not be misled by anything else.

Lord Buddha preached moderation and stressed the impermanence of life.

Each of us will reach a phase when our physical and mental faculties decline as we prepare to exit our time on earth. At that stage our only companion will be our conscience. The more at peace we are with it the more serene will be that departure and 

no amount of material things will ever buy that peace.

Show your own appreciation of life by bringing in an additional language for communication, the language of “COMPASSION”  which in Mark Twain’s words is one that helps the blind to see and the deaf to hear.

Then the blessings will be yours. May God bless our beautiful country, all her people and each and every one of you.

 

 



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Keeping an Even Keel

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Excerpted from the memoirs of Chandra Wickramasinghe, Retired Additional Secretary to the President

Prologue

Having worked in the public service for 44 years, of which, 22 were spent working for four Presidents, retirement came almost imperceptibly in November 2005.

In these reminiscences, I will endeavour to describe anecdotally (to sustain the reader’s interest), some of the more interesting episodes in my career in the public service from 1961 to 2005. I also propose to deal with the distinct and distinguishing personality traits of the Presidents, and Ministers I had the privilege of serving (reflecting on both, their particular strengths as well as their foibles). I shall additionally, attempt to outline the principles, norms and standards that guided me in the work I performed, as a public officer working under these Heads of State , Ministers and Secretaries to Ministries .

My appointment as Assistant Commissioner of National Housing

It is certainly no easy task going back forty odd years trying to recollect one’s feelings,the excitement and the elation one would have experienced, getting into a good staff position in the Public Service. I only recall being happy but not particularly exhilarated on receiving the news of my appointment by PSC letter under the hand of the Secretary of that office.I recall distinctly that I was, at the time house –bound and too miserably ill with chicken pox, to jump for joy on hearing the good news.

After the mandated quarantine period, which I spent productively, reading Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’, I reported for work at the Department of National Housing where I was to function as Assistant Commissioner. My boss, the

Commissioner, was Mr. K.M.D. Jayanetti, a jolly bureaucrat with an impish sense of humour , who on seeing me remarked that my face did not seem too much disfigured by the attack of chicken pox.

He outlined the work of the Department as comprising the construction of Flats and Housing schemes (the State Engineering Corporation was the contractor) for middle income and lower middle income categories and maintaining them once they were given out on rent. He also said that he was assigning me to work initially, in the different sections of the Dept. for a period of one month in order to acquaint myself with the work I will have to handle.

 

Induction training within the Dept.

Accordingly, I worked in the different sections and obtained first hand, an insight into the inner workings of the Department. I was also able to interact with the officers of the different branches who were at the time a smart, intelligent and disciplined lot, thoroughly conversant with and fully involved in, the tasks assigned to them.

I further, spent this interim period gainfully, studying the National Housing Act very closely and reading all the Departmental circulars. Later on when I was transferred to other Govt. Depts.,the first thing I did before assuming duties, was to obtain a copy of the relevant Statute and study it thoroughly and also read up all the available Departmental Circulars. This gave me the confidence I needed to take on and handle whatever assignments given to me.

This was the standard approach I was taught to follow religiously by some senior mentors of mine in the Public Service, who assured me that once this was done, one was reasonably well equipped to handle competently the different situations and the problems one would have to face in the particular Dept./Ministry I was posted to. Leelananda de Silva, my good friend from school days and who was already holding the post of District Land Officer in the Public Service, was indeed a veritable source of guidance and inspiration to me at this time.

 

 

Taking decisions within the policy guidelines laid down

A salutary lesson I learnt from my boss Mr. Jayanetti, was to take decisions boldly within the broad policy framework laid down. When I once submitted a file asking for a direction from him, he called me up and told me that unless it was a matter which was outside accepted policy, I should get used to taking decisions on my own. I still recall gratefully his friendly advice “Do not hesitate to take decisions, where you can justify such decisions, I shall cover you if the need arises.” I have worked on this principle right through my career in the Public Service and I hardly had occasion where I was found fault with by my superiors, for doing anything irregular or for infringing policy guidelines.

The work assigned to me in the Housing Dept.was quite heavy as it involved work relating to Housing schemes and Flats in the Colombo District. There were four other senior colleagues in the Dept. (two of whom ended their careers as Secretaries to Ministries and one as the Public Trustee), who were ever prepared to lend a helping hand to me whenever I sought their assistance – M. Ramalingam, Senerath Dias, C Wijayawickrema and Malcolm Samarakkody.

I remember working very hard to clear the files which used to keep piling up as flat dwellers in particular, seemed to have endless problems, particularly with their immediate neighbors, for which quick solutions were demanded by their importunate persistence that I should personally interview them and hear their complaints. I remember taking bundles of files home and attending to them till late in the night. I recall clearly one particular instance where I had to sign a building contract with the State Engineering Corporation (SEC), I think it was for the construction of the Tower Block near the sea front in Bambalapitiya, running into millions of rupees. Mr. A.N.S. Kulasinghe, who was Chairman SEC at the time, met me and pleaded with me to sign the contract in the absence of the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner, as the former was out of the island and the latter was indisposed.

Having checked with the Legal Branch and the Finance Branch on the correctness of the documentation, I placed my signature to the document on behalf of the Dept. much to the relief of Mr.Kulasinghe who made haste to proceed to the construction site to commence work on an auspicious note! Although I was somewhat apprehensive signing such an important contract document in my capacity as Asst. Commissioner, I was also conscious of the fact that I was on good legal grounds in doing so, as the National Housing Act defines Commissioner to include a Deputy as well as an Assistant. I was guided here by the sound advice given by Mr.K.M.D.Jayanetti who instilled in me the abiding principle that I should not hesitate to take decisions as long as I was acting within the law and accepted policy.

 

Minimum political interference

One redeeming feature at the time was that there was hardly any political interference. The few MPs who met you, were very courteous and very much unlike their pompous and impossibly overbearing counterparts of today, and were prepared to abide by the rules applicable, once these were explained to them. In this sense, I must say that working in the Public Service was relatively much easier and pleasanter in the nineteen sixties than in the seventies and thereafter. As long as one worked within the framework of the rules and regulations laid down, one was safe from being upbraided even by one’s Head of Dept.

 

The Public Service Commission

Authority and control over the Public Service before 1972 was exercised by the Public Service Commission through gazetted delegation. All public servants were acutely conscious of this fact, as much as others including politicians, were painfully aware of it, much to their discomfiture. Working in a Govt. Institution was further, relatively easy at the time, as there was discipline and strict conformity to established norms of conduct and behaviour by all concerned, including Ministers.

Furthermore, financial control was rigorously enforced and cases of malfeasance and corruption were few and far between. I remember the time I worked in the Dept. of Agrarian Services in 1966, where the Deputy Commissioner while inspecting the cash collections of a Shroff in the Dept. and finding a shortage of Rs.5/= , issued on him a letter of immediate interdiction. This certainly did not mean that the Public Service was totally devoid of corruption. What it did mean was that if and when defalcations and frauds were detected, swift disciplinary action followed, with the punishment meted out being very severe. This kind of summary disciplinary action kept both the laggards and the miscreants on their toes.

 

Department of Agrarian Services

From 1966 till 1968, I worked in the Dept. of Agrarian Services. Working in the Dept. of Agrarian Services was particularly rewarding as the range of services offered to the public was so variegated, encompassing manifold functions. The purchase and milling of paddy, minor irrigation works, paddy lands (implementation of the Paddy Lands Act),Crop Insurance and the distribution of fertilizer to paddy farmers, were the primary functions of the Dept.

This was the time of Prime Minister Mr.Dudley Senanayake’s ‘food drive’ and the entire Dept. was geared to meeting targets and deadlines for expanding paddy production and the cultivation of subsidiary food crops. Mr. J.V. Fonseka, a fine administrator cast in the classic mould, who was the Commissioner of Agrarian Services, spared no pains to meet the paddy production targets set by the Prime Minister and inspired the officers in the Dept. to work equally enthusiastically and diligently

The work assigned to us was very challenging and onerous as there were many employees in the Dept., like store keepers, who were defrauding the Dept. and accumulating private fortunes. They had to be kept on their toes by surprise inspections of paddy stores. My good friend and colleague, the late Chula Unamboowe, had a penchant for this and his surprise inspections were dreaded by store keepers. Circuits had also to be made to paddy growing areas to check on claims made for damage /loss to paddy harvests following droughts /floods.

I found the work enjoyable as I was able to visit remote areas in outlying Districts and interact with rural farmers. These official circuits which were done in the company of the Divisional Officer, made my work pleasurable as well as satisfying, particularly where we were able to recommend the release of funds for repairs to anicuts and minor irrigation systems, thereby ensuring uninterrupted Maha and Yala cultivations which were a great boon to paddy cultivators who were dependent on water stored in these small village tanks for their paddy crops.

Officers like V.T Navaratne, Eric de Silva, Chula Unamboowe, D Wijesinghe, Rex Jayasinghe, I.K. Weerawardene, Garvin Karunaratna, Neville Piyadigama, Ernest Gunatilleke, with their pioneering efforts, made a signal contribution towards ensuring the smooth delivery of Departmental services island-wide. Being a key Dept. in the agricultural sector, it was no easy task organizing the multifarious activities it had to engage in, covering the entire island. The success achieved in this endeavour was for the most part due to the dedication combined with the exceptional ability, shown by these officers in discharging the tasks entrusted to them. I found this Dept. one of the better Depts. I had served in, as far as the challenging tasks one had to contend with, were concerned.

 

The Land Settlement Dept.

The Land Settlement Dept.in which I did a two-year stint was one of the oldest Depts.,with deeply entrenched colonial traditions. In fact,I was somewhat bemused when I first went to the Dept. to see fading photographs of imperious looking British Royalty hanging on the walls of the office. No one seemed to bother about them and they remained on the walls up to the time I left the Dept. on transfer.

The Land Settlement Dept. was located on the third floor of the old Treasury building, almost cheek by jowl with the prestigious office of the Public Service Commission, where all the interviews for staff appointments in the Public Service including Ceylon Civil Service (CCS) interviews were held . I recall how, so many University friends used to haunt the place, waiting to be interviewed for staff appointments. It was in that sense, to us at least, quite a hallowed place. I still remember how some people who came in shirt and tie without the required jacket, had to borrow jackets from others waiting to be interviewed or had finished their interviews. Some of these borrowed jackets were at times, ill-fitting and expectedly, sat somewhat awkwardly on the wearers.

About one year following my assumption of duties as Asst. Settlement Officer, I was surprised to receive a telephone call from Mr. L.J. de S Seneviratne who was a Senior Civil Service Officer and who functioned as Secy/ PSC, at the time. He addressed me as Mr. Wickramasinghe and politely enquired whether he could come and meet me in the course of the day. As his office was just next door, I respectlfully said, ” Sir, you can meet me anytime, even now”. He thanked me and said he would come straight away. In a matter of minutes the imposing personality dressed in ‘full kit’, as we used to say, walked in and I stood up respectfully and greeted him asking him to take a seat.

Mr. Seneviratne sat down and addressed me, to my utter consternation, as ‘Sir’ and went on to say that he was responding to the notice issued by me, under Sec 4 of the Land Settlement Ordinance (LSO), on his wife (who was Sir Francis Molamure’s daughter).He said that his wife had inherited hundreds of acres of land on ‘Sannas pathra’, some of which had already been settled under the LSO and she was now staking her claim to the balance lands that had still to be settled. He then submitted several Sannas for my perusal.

I informed him that I will have to check on the authenticity of the Sannas pathra with the records in the Dept. of Archives before I could make a Settlement Order on her claims. What was funny to me was that, when I was respectfully addressing him as ‘Sir’, which to me was the proper form of address of a Junior to a Senior Officer, Mr. Seneviratne was himself calling me ‘Sir’ during the conversation. It made me even wonder whether Mr.S. addressed me in that manner, out of deference to my position as Inquiring Officer before whom he had to give evidence. I further wondered whether he did so as he knew that a Settlement Order made under the Land Settlement Ordinance was final and could not be set aside even by the Supreme Court. Whatever may have been his intentions, after I recorded his evidence, he thanked me and left.

 

Soon afterwards , Mr Seneviratne retired from Service

I met him once in a crowded lift in the Central Bank building. The poor man appeared lost. He looked around to see whether people would recognize him. Sadly, no one did. When I greeted him, he beamed, I thought this was just ‘the way of the world’. When powerful individuals cease to wield power and influence, they are ignored and are cast into the ‘limbo of forgotten things”. That’s just, ‘in rerum natura’(in the nature of things). This inspired me to pen a few lines of verse on the incident:

 

The Bureaucrat Who Was – ‘All that we see or seem, is but a dream within a dream’.

 

He gets into the elevator slowly,

Eyeing the seated elevator boy intently,

Getting no response,

He looks around quietly, Knowing him, I avoid his gaze Deliberately.

His disappointment seems intense!

 

A decade ago,

A short trip in a crowded elevator

Would have swung heads towards him,

Magnetically, respectfully;

Yet, now, jostled by the irreverent young,

And ignored by the few who knew him,

This shattered Colossus,

Pygmied by unrecognition,

Moves out of the elevator,

Unsteadily,

Stops at the threshold ,

Blocking my way,

A last pathetic plea – it seems , For identity!

In the milling throng,

I excuse myself and move on – Catching only a sidelong glimpse

Of a broken man’s gratitude, For the small plank Shoved underneath his feet , On the quickening sand.

 

The Land Settlement Act was a powerful statute which empowered Settlement Officers to inquire into claims made by people who had pedigree title to such lands by virtue of their being in possession of ‘Sannasas’ or on pedigree title or valid title deeds or again by their having cultivated such lands over a reasonable period of time. This meant Settlement Officers having to at times, examine archival material etc. to determine the title of these claimants.

Interestingly, one of the claimants under Sec 4 of the Land Settlement Act was the then Prime minister Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike. Accordingly, as required by law , I had notices served on her and some other members of her family who also had made claims to a Nindagama land called ‘Rassagala Nindagama’ in Ratnapura, summoning them for an Inquiry. Soon afterwards I received a call from Secy/PM MDD Peiris who was a friend, in the course of which he said “Chandra, you don’t summon the Prime Minister of the country to come and give evidence. I will arrange a suitable date in consultation with her, for you to come over to the PM’s office and record her statement”. I remember apologizing to MDD immediately saying there was no offence meant but that it was done by me routinely as stipulated in the Act. I also requested MDD to obtain a date from the PM and let me know.

I recall vividly the interview I had with that gracious Lady PM. She greeted me rising from her chair and shaking my hand while thanking me for calling over at her office. The PM, I recall, looked quite vibrant , turning around energetically in her swiveling chair, all the time being very attentive to whatever work she was engaged in. I proceeded to record her statement and at the end of the interview, she once again rose from her chair and shook my hand, thanking me for coming over. I recall well, her parting words to me “You take whatever decision you have to on the matter Mr. Wickramasinghe and inform me”

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An encounter with JRJ and the start of the privatization of the production of electricity in Sri Lanka

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by Vera Gamini Samarasinghe

In 1987 I was awarded a Rolex Award for Enterprise by the Rolex Watch Company of Geneva Switzerland for doing original work on the river flows of the Belihuloya, which I had meticulously collected daily for four long years, walking four kilometres every morning sun or rain notwithstanding.

The water flows and the subsequent topographical measurements which I made with physical surveys gave rise to the Belihuloya Hydropower Project, the highest project in Sri Lanka and the third highest in the world with a head of nearly 1,400 metres! It could have been built to a 85 MW capacity giving electricity for six hours a day during the peak period. I had built a wooden weir across the highest reaches of the Belihuloya where it exited the Horton Plains with the help of a friendly firm SKANSKA which was building the Kotmale project at that time and measured the water flows every morning around 8.00 A.M having started my walk around 7.00 A.M.

The building of the weir across the Belihuloya was done within 48 hours, the materials being carried on their heads through the thick montane forest on a footpath by over 200 men from the Non Pareil Estate together with four Swedish engineers and surveyors who worked throughout the night with the aid of generator fed lights to finish the work as soon as possible. The footpath to the site of the weir was narrow and through thick montane forest and my daily trudge thereafter to measure the water flows was not uneventful, with the regular growls of leopards and the calls of threatened sambhur on the way!

The Ceylon Electricity Board which was unaware of this project subsequently came to know about it and wanted my readings of the water flows for four years, which I gave them. This project according to the CEB engineers was due to its very high head one of the best projects to be done in Sri Lanka for the production of hydro-electricity but due to unfairness and corruption it has still not been done. I shall refer at the end of this article to recent developments with regard to it.

I cannot remember the exact date but I believe it was towards the end of 1987 that I got a phone call from Mr. Nihal Weeratunga the private secretary to President Jayewardene asking me to meet with the President at his office at the old parliament building in the Fort which is still the President’s office.

I believe it was at 10 A.M. one morning when I walked into the office of President Jayewardene to see him seated at his desk with one tall bodyguard behind his chair. There was one other man too seated at the front of the desk, a short man with a moustache and with his legs dangling from the chair with somewhat high heeled shoes whom I later got to know was the Secretary for Power and Energy at the time, Dr. K.K.Y W. Perera.

When I walked in President Jayewardene showed me a chair and asked me to take a seat and when I did, he turned to Dr. Perera and said to him that he appreciated that I had got an international award but what should be the next step. Dr.Perera, who I believe was averse to anybody from outside the CEB or the Ministry delving in to the electricity sector, however extolled the project but then began with his “but Sir you see Sir” to which I quickly interjected with the following:

“Sir, in spite of the CEB having difficulties, could you not think of allowing this as the first private sector project for electricity in Sri Lanka. As I am the discoverer of the project, I could try to find the money and build it as a private sector operation; and besides Sir many Asian countries including Taiwan and Malaysia have both governmental and private sector production of electricity and why can’t we do the same Sir?”

I looked at the President who was somewhat taken back at the unexpected request, but he suddenly brightened up and turned once again to Dr. Perera and told him that my request seemed logical, and he asked him to form a committee and look into allowing the private sector and especially the Belihuloya project to be done by the private sector.

Dr.Perera seemed somewhat confused by the Presidents words but acquiesced to his request. I was so excited at the President’s positive attitude that I thanked him profusely and without waiting for him to call the meeting closed, stood up and went out of the door. Once out of the door I realized that the President had not called the meeting closed but it was too late to do anything about it but I was relieved to see President Jayewardene, his bodyguard and Dr.Perera standing up too and coming out of the door. That was the short meeting which heralded the start of the privatisation of the electricity sector of Sri Lanka.

The aftermath of this meeting and the formation of a committee etc took a long time and there were untold difficulties and things proceeded very slowly. However this was the start of the private sector involvement in the electrical sector and at present several projects with both hydro electricity and renewable electricity have been done but NOT the Belihuloya project as the CEB then brought in an unwritten law that no private sector project should exceed a 10 MW capacity of plant. This stopped the Belihuloya project and the CEB and its friendly companies later built a small 1 MW plant below the projected site of the Belihuloya dam effectively making it difficult for the proper Belihuloya project to proceed, making a great loss for Sri Lanka.

However, I take this very lightly as new technical developments with sea wave energy to develop very large quantities of electricity will be soon shown to the world, based on a PCT patent of mine which was acquired in 2011 by two large energy firms from the USA and China. This development will make obsolete not only land based hydro power plants but both wind based and solar based electricity plants as immense quantities of electricity at cheaper prices will be made available in the near future. Mind you, water is 1000 times more dense than air.

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LTTE Terrorism immediately prior to 1981

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Excerpted from the memoirs of Senior DIG (Retd) Edward Gunawardena

Reference has already been made to the return of trained LTTE cadres who had fled to India in 1979. With their return after intensive training by PLO experts in Indian jungle camps, arms and explosives also had been smuggled into the country and stored in safe-houses. The Jaffna District Intelligence Bureau reported to the Intelligence Services Division that police patrols were under threat of attack by pistol gangs and that more and more youths were joining the rebels.

The Superintendent of Police Jaffna had reported to the DIG of the Northern Range that the Government Agent Yogendra Doraisamy had received anonymous telephone calls ordering him under threat of death not to (a) Carry out instructions of government when making appointments in government departments without a letter from one ‘Kanthan’ alias ‘Harry’ (b) not to carry out any requests of TULF leaders and (c) not to issue liquor licences unless recommended by ‘Kanthan’.

I met Yogendra Doraisamy for the first time in 1979. He was at the airport to receive Brig. Weeratunga and myself when we went to Jaffna for the Emergency operation. Yogendra Doraisamy, a former diplomat who had retired from the Sri Lanka Overseas Service, was a gentleman of the highest integrity. Hailing from a distinguished Hindu family of the Jaffna aristocracy he was a highly cultured, erudite and able administrator who had been nurtured in an atmosphere of high democratic and moral values. Such threats coming from people of his own ancestral Jaffna would have been truly heartbreaking.

The treatment that this much respected gentleman had to endure demonstrated in no uncertain terms the dramatic change that was taking place in the peninsula. Clearly it was a manifestation of the rejection of the hitherto respected values and the gross disregard for the lawfully established instruments of administration by the ‘Boys’ hellbent on destroying the establishment.

It is not clear whether the DIG Northern Range ‘Brute’ Mahendran reported this dangerous development to the President or the Defence Ministry. Mahendran, himself a Tamil with relatives and interests in Jaffna, naturally would have been apprehensive of repercussions. The tigers had proved that they had no mercy for

 

The Escalation of Violence and Political Intrigue

From the time the Jayewardene government decided to hand over the administration of Jaffna to the people of Jaffna, violence had begun to escalate. Policemen serving as well as retired were the targets. When the People’s Bank cash was robbed at the Neervely junction in March 1981, Constables Muthu Banda and Ariyaratna were shot dead with a Sub-machine gun.

Apart from the violence angle, the political intrigue that developed and the socio-political environment of the time in Jaffna also need to be looked at to properly understand the circumstances that prevailed in Jaffna during the DDC elections when there were several cases of arson including the burning of the library.

Intelligence reports suggested that if a District Development Council was formed with elected representatives the problems of the people could effectively be addressed and the influence of the militant youths would wane. President Jayewardene also believed that by the vigorous development of industries and fisheries more employment could be provided. He was also keen to develop the schools and promote sports.

The Tamil political parties naturally came to the conclusion that if the UNP or any other national political party won, it would be their death knell. The TULF and the Tamil Congress decided to enter the fray using their maximum resources. These parties expected the support of the militants. But the latter though overtly with them entertained fears that a political victory for the TULF would lead to their downfall. They also told the TULF in no uncertain terms that they could form a district administration with the militants for which a committee was to be formed under the chairmanship of a confidant of Prabahakaran.

I as the Director of Intelligence at the time kept the President and the Ministry of Defence informed of the above developments but the TULF was not in a position to offer any assistance or co-operate with the President. The TULF in fact refrained from accepting any office or responsibility for the administration of the District resulting in a UNPer becoming the District Minister.

 

The Role of Indian Intelligence

By the end of the seventies the relations between India and Sri Lanka were far from cordial. JR had even most undiplomatically made an insulting reference to the Congress Party symbol. As mentioned earlier, the RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) had been given a distinct task —the disruption of the election.

A highly disturbing prospect for RAW was the emergence of a democratic Eelam with elected rulers. RAW was of the view that such a development would not only lead to dangerous separatist repercussions in Tamil Nadu but also be an obstacle to India’s avowed ambition to be the sole and undisputed power in the Indian Ocean. India was becoming more and more convinced that a state of Eelam would be a threat to the defence and stability of India.

Even in the seventies Indian defence analysts like K. Subramaniam, the Director of the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies had expressed fears that an Eelam would not be strong enough to resist superpower influence and it would also link with the massive Tamil community of South India which could present India with a problem more serious than the Kashmir — Jammu, Assam or the Naxalites. It goes without saying that the LTTE by this time distrusted the UNP and the Tamil political parties and determined to disrupt the DDC elections to prevent the emergence of a democratic set-up. RAW would certainly have briefed the ‘Boys’ on what India desired.

At this point I cannot help but recall an incident that occurred on the day following the burning of the library. In the late seventies as Sri Lanka’s Director of Intelligence I had been able to make direct contact with RAW. On my visit to Delhi with President Jayewardene in 1979, I was taken by Mr. Gonzales the acting Indian Foreign Secretary to the South Block and introduced to Norshi Suncook, Director of RAW. Thereafter I was able to make a few good RAW contacts.

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