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Dedicated and distinguished public officer, true patriot, friend of the downtrodden

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Susil Sirivardana

I begin this tribute to a distinguished son of Sri Lanka with reference to the most magnificent accolade paid him by a Head of State. Susil was closely associated with the late President Premadasa in a housing program. Seeing him as an enthusiastic and dedicated officer, he once told Parliament that Susil Sirivardana was the most efficient and dedicated public officer he had ever worked with. I do not think any public officer has been so complimented by a Head of State in any country. I was closely associated with Susil when I was appointed an Asst. Secretary to the Ministry of Land, Irrigation and Power (M/LIP) and endorse President Premadasa’s compliment unequivocally.

Before I proceed to recall my working with Susil in M/LIP there was an incident, which I came to know through colleagues; in the examination for the intake of officers for the SLAS Susil was placed first in the written exam. An interview followed. He went for it in his customary national dress and slippers, carrying his documents in a reed bag (pan malla). Seeing him thus clad, a member of the interview board had asked whether Susil had a Sinhala degree from a Lankan university. Susil replied he had a First Class Honours degree in English from Oxford.

I’ve seen Susil’s desire to promote locally manufactured products at his home where the door curtains were of finely woven Dumbara mats rather than expensive imported material.

My close association with Susil needs explanation. The late Dudley Senanayake, following his father, realized the immense agricultural possibilities in Sri Lanka and its potential for youth employment. He therefore initiated the implementation of an islandwide Agricultural Youth Settlement Scheme both to promote the country’s agriculture and to demonstrate to youth that farming was a noble profession. The aim of this project was to make the country self sufficient in crops, not only rice but also subsidiaries like onions and chillies as well as spices like cardamoms.

The officers of M/LIP who administered this islandwide project were Messrs Cedric Foster and Susil Sirivardana. As District Land officer for the Kalutara District I had implemented three such projects, mainly for the cultivation of tea. Cedric decided to migrate to Australia and knowing my interest in the subject recommended me to the then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry to fill his vacancy. As a result Susil and I were in charge of implementing and administering the Agriculture Youth Settlement Project island wide.

In administering this project, Susil worked with such enthusiasm and energy that I found it difficult to keep pace. When I made visits to assess implementation and solve any problems that arose, I stayed in a government rest house or a reasonably priced hotel. Not so Susil; he stayed with the youth in the schemes not only to advice them but also to increase their commitment to the project. He often used the Sinhala term thrupthimath karanda (perfrom to the satisfaction of all). Susil had an excellent command of the Sinhala Language though his degree was in English from Oxford. Another excellent trait of Susil is that he treated all youth, whether Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim with the same respect and dignity. To him all citizens were sons of this country.

In implementing the AYSSP Project Sri Lanka received aid from a Dutch Organization ,referred in Dutch as N.O.V.I.B,(Novib), with Mr Von Vflyman beign the President and his representative in Sri Lanka being Miss Noyens. Novib gave technical assistance by making available the services of an irrigation engineer and an agriculture expert. Since only medium technology could be used in labour intensive agriculture, NOVIB funded the Import of Yanmar hand tractors from Japan. The Japanese Manufacturer, of these tractors, sent two technical persons to train the youth in the use and maintenance of the tractors. the World Food Progamme assisted the Scheme with the supply of several items of food .

Susil’s generosity was another trait which demonstrated his selflessness and his consideration for others, especially those in need. As I was administering the Project, Novib invited me to participate at a conference in the Hague on the subject of Youth in economic development. All costs involved ,including the air fare and hotel accommodation, were met by NOViB. This was at a time when the rigid close economy prevailed.. Anyone travelling abroad was entitled to British Pounds 3.50 only, and was permitted Pounds 50,for warm clothing, which was totally inadequate. I therefore had to purchase, the only warm clothing available in Sri Lanka, which were used clothing, known as “Bale”, as the import of such new clothing was banned. I did not have the funds even to purchase this “Bale”. Susil very generously financed me.

I was informed that Susil’s generosity led him unwittingly to be associated with the J.V.P. uprising in1971. According to unconfirmed reports, Susil ,being a patriot , desired to make available his talents to the unsophisticated rural folk out of the Colombo Metropolis. He therefore obtained a position in a rural school in the Anuradhapura district. Susil had befriended a person , perhaps another teacher, in the school he taught . This friend was in the process of constructing a house, but could not complete the house as he had run out of funds. It was reported that Susil gave his friend the money to complete the house. By some strange coincidence his friend was involved in the J.V.P. uprising. Susil being very methodical had kept records of monies he had lent to persons, with no intention of demanding repayment. I am aware of Susil keeping records, as Susil’s Father requested the return of the money lent to me as he had to employ lawyers for the legal case against Susil.

From my close association with Susil , I am convinced that Susil, due to his generosity and empathy for others, inadvertently came to be associated with the person, who had connections with J.V.P. sympathizers ,arising from his Anuradhapura connections. In my assessment Susil had no involvement with the insurrection . I was informed that there was some political pressure brought to bear on Susil’s been convicted, leading his incarceration. It was reported that Susil accepted his incarceration with his characteristic attitude of calm and composure. He refurbished the prison library at his expense and increased the stock of books there.

My close association with Susil in the M/LIP led to another incident. I lived at a place named Walana, close to the Panadura town. As at that time public officers were not entitled to official cars to travel from home to office, and were paid, what was called mileage, if their cars were used for official purposes. I had therefore to travel by bus to office. To permit me to do some reading, I used to take a bus to the Panadura town main bus stand, so that I could get a seat on the top deck of a double deck bus. On the day of the insurrection, there was a disruption in the bus services. and I boarded a single deck bus from near my residence at Walana junction, which is close to Panadura. At the Dehiwela bridge the bus was stopped at an army check point, and the passengers were asked to get off the bus. The army personnel, then searched the bus and a bomb was found under the seat where I was seated. It has to be noted that one place the J.V.P. had assembled its arsenal of bombs was at a cemetery in Panadura. All the passengers were detained. I informed the Officer in charge that I was the Deputy Controller of the Import and Export Control Dept. and I had to attend to some urgent office work. The Army Officer then permitted me to leave the place, and I boarded another bus to office.

When I was in my office , about an hour after I arrived, I had an anonymous telephone call asking me whether I could assist them , to transport bombs to several destinations. The fact the bomb in the bus was under my seat should have made the anonymous caller understand that no one will risk his life by carrying a bomb under his seat in the bus. I assumed the possibility that the Police gathered information, that I had worked with Susil. I was somewhat unnerved and I called the late D.I.G. Mr. Edward Gunewardene, my geography batch mate at the Peradeniya Unuversity. At that time Edward ( fondly called Edda at the University) was of the rank of Senior Superintendent of Police. He replied that he was assessing the situation countrywide and asked me to contact him if I had any problem. The need did not arise.

Generosity was a virtue in Susil’s family. I chaired a Committee at E.S.C.P. on the subject of the transposition of the Standard International Trade Classification (S.I.T.C) to the new Customs Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System ( The Harmonized System). The last two sessions on this subject were to be at the United Nations Statistical office in New York. E.S.C.P. nominated me to represent E.S.C.P at these sessions.

I had made arrangements to stay with a friend of mine who lived in the outskirts of New York. When I arrived in New York the entire transport system had come to a halt due to a strike in all the transportation sectors. Due to the strike and the difficulty of commuting to New York all rooms in the reasonably priced hotels were booked .Susil had given me his brother’s address and telephone No. I contacted him and he picked me up at the U.N.. Susil’s brother not only provided me with transport to and from the U.N., but also so kindly invited me to stay with him .

I had lost contact with Susil after my assignment in the World Customs Organization and I was Shocked that Susil had passed away, as Susil was very much younger to me.

The best Tribute we can pay to the memory of Susil is to tread in Susil’s footsteps of Dedication and commitment to duty; Patriotism ; Empathy and Humility.

Susil, though you have left us so suddenly the exemplary memories that you have left with us, will not only be etched in our hearts and minds, but also in the annals of History of your beloved Motherland.

Elmo de Silva

elmodesilva@email.com



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Features

Encouraging signs, indeed!

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Derek and Manilal

Local entertainers can now breathe a sigh of relief…as the showbiz scene is showing signs of improving

Yes, it’s good to see Manilal Perera, the legendary singer, and Derek Wikramanayake, teaming up, as a duo, to oblige music lovers…during this pandemic era.

They will be seen in action, every Friday, at the Irish Pub, and on Sundays at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby.

The Irish Pub scene will be from 7.00 pm onwards, while at the Cinnamon Grand Lobby, action will also be from 7.00 pm onwards.

On November 1st, they are scheduled to do the roof top (25th floor) of the Movenpik hotel, in Colpetty, and, thereafter, at the same venue, every Saturday evening.

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Constructive dialogue beyond international community

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by Jehan Perera

Even as the country appears to be getting embroiled in more and more conflict, internally, where dialogue has broken down or not taken place at all, there has been the appearance of success, internationally. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa will be leading a delegation this week to Scotland to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26). Both the President, at the UN General Assembly in New York, and Foreign Minister Prof G L Peiris, at the UN Human Rights Council, in Geneva seem to have made positive impacts on their audiences and, especially amongst the diplomatic community, with speeches that gave importance to national reconciliation, based on dialogue and international norms.

In a recent interview to the media Prof Peiris affirmed the value of dialogue in rebuilding international relations that have soured. He said, “The core message is that we believe in engagement at all times. There may be areas of disagreement from time to time. That is natural in bilateral relations, but our effort should always be to ascertain the areas of consensus and agreement. There are always areas where we could collaborate to the mutual advantage of both countries. And even if there are reservations with regard to particular methods, there are still abundant opportunities that are available for the enhancement of trade relations for investment opportunities, tourism, all of this. And I think this is succeeding because we are establishing a rapport and there is reciprocity. Countries are reaching out to us.”

Prof Peiris also said that upon his return from London, the President would engage in talks locally with opposition parties, the TNA and NGOs. He spoke positively about this dialogue, saying “The NGOs can certainly make a contribution. We like to benefit from their ideas. We will speak to opposition political parties. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is going to meet the Tamil National Alliance on his return from COP26, which we will attend at the invitation of the British Prime Minister. So be it the NGO community or the foreign diaspora or the parliamentary opposition in Sri Lanka. We want to engage with all of them and that is very much the way forward”

INTERNAL FRAGMENTATION

The concept of a whole-of-government approach is indicative of a more cohesive approach to governance by government ministries, the public administration and state apparatus in general to deal with problems. It suggests that the government should not be acting in one way with the international community and another way with the national community when it seeks to resolve problems. It is consistency that builds trust and the international community will trust the government to the extent that the national community trusts it. Dialogue may slow down decision making at a time when the country is facing major problems and is in a hurry to overcome them. However, the failure to engage in dialogue can cause further delays due to misunderstanding and a refusal to cooperate by those who are being sidelined.

There are signs of fragmentation within the government as a result of failure to dialogue within it. A senior minister, Susil Premajayantha, has been openly critical of the ongoing constitutional reform process. He has compared it to the past process undertaken by the previous government in which there was consultations at multiple levels. There is a need to change the present constitutional framework which is overly centralised and unsuitable to a multi ethnic, multi religious and plural society. More than four decades have passed since the present constitution was enacted. But the two major attempts that were made in the period 1997-2000 and again in 2016-2019 failed.

President Rajapaksa, who has confidence in his ability to stick to his goals despite all obstacles, has announced that a new constitution will be in place next year. The President is well situated to obtain success in his endeavours but he needs to be take the rest of his government along with him. Apart from being determined to achieve his goals, the President has won the trust of most people, and continues to have it, though it is getting eroded by the multiple problems that are facing the country and not seeing a resolution. The teachers’ strike, which is affecting hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, is now in its fourth month, with no sign of resolution. The crisis over the halting of the import of chemical fertiliser is undermining the position of farmers and consumers at the present time.

EARLY WARNING

An immediate cause for the complaints against the government is the lack of dialogue and consultation on all the burning issues that confront the country. This problem is accentuated by the appointment of persons with military experience to decision-making positions. The ethos of the military is to take decisions fast and to issue orders which have to be carried out by subordinates. The President’s early assertion that his spoken words should be taken as written circulars reflects this ethos. However, democratic governance is about getting the views of the people who are not subordinates but equals. When Minister Premajayantha lamented that he did not know about the direction of constitutional change, he was not alone as neither does the general public or academicians which is evidenced by the complete absence of discussion on the subject in the mass media.

The past two attempts at constitutional reform focused on the resolution of the ethnic conflict and assuaging the discontent of the ethnic and religious minorities. The constitutional change of 1997-2000 was for the purpose of providing a political solution that could end the war. The constitutional change of 2016-19 was to ensure that a war should not happen again. Constitutional reform is important to people as they believe that it will impact on how they are governed, their place within society and their equality as citizens. The ethnic and religious minorities will tend to prefer decentralised government as it will give them more power in those parts of the country in which they are predominant. On the other hand, that very fact can cause apprehension in the minds of the ethnic and religious majority that their place in the country will be undermined.

Unless the general public is brought aboard on the issue of constitutional change, it is unlikely they will support it. We all need to know what the main purpose of the proposed constitutional reform is. If the confidence of the different ethnic and religious communities is not obtained, the political support for constitutional change will also not be forthcoming as politicians tend to stand for causes that win them votes. Minister Premajayantha has usefully lit an early warning light when he said that politicians are not like lamp posts to agree to anything that the government puts before them. Even though the government has a 2/3 majority, this cannot be taken for granted. There needs to be buy in for constitutional reform from elected politicians and the general public, both from the majority community and minorities, if President Rajapaksa is to succeed where previous leaders failed.

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Features

JAYASRI twins…in action in Europe

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The world over, the music scene has been pretty quiet, and we all know why. This pandemic has created untold hardships for, practically, everyone, and, the disturbing news is that, this kind of scene has been predicted for a good part of 2022, as well,

 

The band JAYASRI, however, based in Europe, and fronted by the brothers Rohitha and Rohan, say they are fortunate to find work coming their way.

Over the past few months, they have been performing at some of the festivals, held in Europe, during the summer season.

Says Rohitha: “As usual, we did one of the biggest African festivals in Europe, AfrikaTage, and some other summer events, from July up to now. Some were not that big, as they used to be, due to the pandemic, health precautions, etc.”

For the month of October, JAYASRI did some concerts in Italy, with shows in the city of Verona, Napoli, Rome, Padova and Milano.

The twins with the
late Sunil Perera

On November, 12th, the JAYASRI twins, Rohitha and Rohan, will be at EXPO Dubai 2020 and will be performing live in Dubai.

Rohitha also indicated that they have released their new single ‘SARANGANA,’ describing it as a Roots Reggae song, in audio form, to all download platforms, and as a music video to their YouTube channel – www.youtube.com/user/jayasri

According to Rohitha, this song will be featured in an action drama.

The lyrics for ‘SARANGANA,’ were created by Thushani Bulumulle, music by JAYASRI, and video direction by Chamara Janaraj Pieris.

There will be two audio versions, says Rohitha – a Radio Mix and a DUB Mix by Parvez.

The JAYASRI twins Rohitha and Rohan

After their Italian tour, Rohitha and Rohan are planning to come to Sri Lanka, to oblige their many fans, and they are hoping that the showbiz scene would keep on improving so that music lovers could experience a whole lot of entertainment, during the forthcoming festive season.

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