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Desamanya Dr. Lalith Kotelawala- a trail blazer

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Lalith Kotelawala

By Dr. Dayanath Jayasuriya President’s Counsel

I first came to know Lalith Kotelawala when in 2002 I became the founder Director-General of the Insurance Board of Sri Lanka. Soon after my appointment he invited me as the Guest of Honour at a Ceylinco Insurance Annual Sales Conference. Though born with the silver spoon in his mouth, he described the trials and tribulations he went through to reach the helm of Ceylinco Insurance which was part of the Ceylinco Consolidated Group.

I recall to this very day what he said happened to him when he returned from London and walked to his father’s office, the then Chairman of Ceylon Insurance. “My dear son, I have already decided the place for you. My assistant will take you there. For the next few months you will work in the generator room and learn everything you need to know. You start your career there on a probationary basis without leave and no pay. You may now go. When the time is ripe I will find a suitable chair and table for you.”

Speechless and heart-broken, he had no option but only the determination to do best in whatever he had to do. The audience- I guess over 500 employees- simply could not believe what they heard. During the coffee break he made it a point to speak to as many he could shaking hands, smiling and giving words of encouragement. During my subsequent tenure as Chairman of the Insurance Board and thereafter we became good friends. Of course, he sought no favours nor were any offered to him. He was very professional in his dealings and a gentleman par excellence endowed with the best of qualities. Humility, sincerity and compassion were some of the hallmarks.

During the tsunami, I remember him visiting me early morning at the World Trade Centre to inform me that if a policy-holder had no flood cover but the vehicle was damaged they would still honour the claim. By that time, a directive was being prepared to be issued calling upon other insurers to follow suit and even though a few foreign underwriters expressed concerns, I am pleased that the directive was never challenged in court.

One of his many outstanding achievements was to provide women in impoverished circumstances assistance to rebuild their live through self employment. One of the best quotes of Mother Teresa was:

“Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. Let your presence light new light in the hearts of people.”

The grass root level women’s movement ushered a new era of empowerment and certain politicians began to worry about Lalith’s political ambitions. He was later requested to develop export oriented zones in a particular district and he set about achieving the task with great energy and enthusiasm. On the death of a local militant Buddhist monk in a hospital in a foreign country, wild allegations were spread that possibly he had a role to play.

Besides expanding the flagship insurance business, Lalith took the initiative to venture into several areas that were mega projects such as Seylan Bank, Ceylinco Seylan Towers, Millennium City, and many other constructions of condominiums; a cancer detection and treatment centre; an eye, nose and ear hospital; and educational institutions such as ANC and ICBT as well as small scale projects such as constructing clean toilets on highways for insurance customers and providing jobs to the unemployed and regular allowances and meals to the needy.

He had a group of loyal and dedicated staff who steadfastly stood by him and this includes people like Mr. Ajith Gunawardene, Mr. R. Renganathan, Dr. Jagath Alwis, Mr. Nihal Peiris, Ms. Mala Sabaratnam and Mrs. Kotelawala- a renowned dancer in her younger days- was an able director in several companies.

On December 5, 2005 Mahinda Rajapakse directed all chairmen and board directors to tender their resignations with immediate effect even if our tenure of office was not due to expire soon. In my case I had to resign as Chairman of the SEC and Insurance Board and as a working director of the Public Utilities Commission and the National Procurement Agency. I had given up a lucrative UN job in Pakistan as the head of a UN agency to return to Sri Lanka to accept the office as Chairman of the SEC hardly 15 months previously at the request of Her Excellency Chandrika Bandaranaike.

Lalith was the first among several friends who personally called me when we had to resign. I was quite touched when he told me that after my ‘cooling off’ period was over he would like to appoint me as a Director of Seylan Bank or as a consultant on Corporate Governance (CG) to the Ceylinco group of companies. A few months later I did a study of CG practices within the group and submitted a series of recommendations that Lalith readily accepted but implementation left much to be desired.

The collapse of Golden Key was not unpredictable. An empire he built with over 200 companies collapsed virtually overnight like a pack of cards. He did consult me and requested me to explore possibilities of a rescue package to protect the depositors with the help of funds provided by some Singaporean investors with whom I had good contacts during a stint of three years in Singapore training the staff of MAS and private bankers on compliance and anti money-laundering. One of his companies had to provide certain documents but these were not forthcoming for a bizarre reason.

I last met him the day before he was taken into custody, by which time the company claimed that it had misplaced the agreement to be signed. Later I came to know that there were internal concerns that commissions were not part of the package deal. Even though I tried to see him at Welikada Prisons, access was limited as permission had to be sought from a relative and I was told that enough and more lawyers were visiting him seeking to appear for him.

The relative promised to revert to me but never did so. My last impression of him was at his de Fonseka Place office wearing a bullet proof jacket and my last words to him were that his arrest is imminent but ‘come what may’ he would have sufficient courage and resilience that he had displayed throughout life to face what then seemed to be a long and uncertain future.

Lalith Kotelawala trusted too many and was oblivious to the fact that some of the trails he blazed were studded with pitfalls and mines. After having helped so many and done so much for the country, he paid a huge price at the end. But this does not detract from the fact that he was a good man with a vision and sincere in purpose.

May his soul rest in peace!



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Opinion

Harin batting for India

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The Minister of Tourism, Harin Fernando, has stated that the Sri Lankan Government will be handing over the operation of Mattala International, Ratmalana International and Colombo International Airports to India. He has added that Sri Lanka is a part of India! Has he lost his senses?

Separately, should it not be the role of the Minister of Ports, Shipping and Aviation Nimal Siripala de Silva to make such a far-reaching decision?

Mattala, Ratmalana and Colombo are the three main airports of entry to Sri Lanka. Giving their management over to Indian organisations is tantamount to putting the proverbial snake inside one’s sarong and complaining that it is stinging.

What then will be the future of Airports and Aviation Sri Lanka (AASL)? They are, in any case, a ‘service provider’.

It is the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka through its regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority Sri Lanka (CAASL), to adhere to International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirements and regulations. Will this be compromised?

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) guidelines for airport governance declare that the State (in this case Sri Lanka) must be accountable irrespective of national, legal or regulatory framework, or airport ownership and operating model. Could that be ensured under this recently announced arrangement?

Such accountability must be guaranteed by enactment of primary legislation in the aviation sector, mindful of the adage that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. I believe that the Legal Draughtsman’s Office will take an inordinate amount of time to deliver this guarantee, amongst other things.

There is also the matter of establishing an effective regulatory framework with CAASL to monitor technical/safety and economic performance of the aviation sector, and compliance with International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) obligations, Standard and Recommended Procedures (SARPs), and policy guidance.

In my opinion CAASL is not yet capable of that. In a combined operation such as this, IATA stipulates “Awareness and mitigation of potential conflicts of interest inherent in the regulatory framework or ownership and operating model through clear separation of powers, for example conflicts between economic oversight and shareholding arrangements, and separation of regulatory and operational functions”.

So, it is not an ‘open-and-shut case’, as Fernando believes. It is complex. His optimism is amazingly unrealistic, to say the least.

Remember, certification of aerodromes by the technical/safety regulator under ICAO requirements will continue to be carried out by CAASL as at present. According to the Organisation of Professional Associations (OPA), report Sri Lankan regulators tend to be more “obstructive” than “facilitative” when it comes to certification. CAASL needs to be revamped for greater efficiency.

Other refinements involve the independence of regulatory authority (CAASL) from government, and striving for separation of economic regulation from technical/safety regulation. CAASL was formed under the ‘Private Companies Ordinance’ but unfortunately it has drifted back to conducting its business as a regular government office, with political interference and all.

Besides, it is vital to establish an Aircraft Accident Investigation Authority, preferably independent of the CAA. Annex 13 to the ICAO convention says: “The State shall establish an accident authority that is independent of the aviation authorities and other entities that could interfere with the conduct or objectivity of an investigation.”

That, I believe, is what ‘checks and balances’ are about.

Meanwhile, the silence of the Aviation Minister is deafening.

The proposed ‘Indian involvement’ is a sad state of affairs when we have aviation experts in this country who have retired from careers in many parts of the world, and are now capable of sharing their knowledge and experience to good effect.

There is already an Indian-managed flying school at Ratmalana catering to Indian students. Maybe the camel has already put its head in the tent, and only money will talk.

GUWAN SEEYA

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Opinion

Pledges to abolish executive presidency

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With the presidential elections around the corner, the abolition of the executive presidency has come up for discussion once again.

This time around, the proposal for abolishing the executive presidency has come from former President Chandrika B. Kumaratunga. She pledged to scrap it first when she ran for Presidency in 1994. But she did not fulfil her promise.

Former Presidents Mahinda Rajapaksa and Maithripala Sirisena are also now for scrapping the executive presidency.

Almost all the former Presidents came to power promising to scrap it but once in power they swept it under the carpet.

The Opposition parties claim they are for the abolition, but after the next presidential election. which, they say, they are confident of winning.

Mahinda has recently said it is preferable to abolish the executive presidency because he has already held it twice. However, he seems to have forgotten that he was greedy for power and he failed in his third attempt. For him and most other past Presidents, executive presidency is sour grapes.

They are now trying to have the executive presidency abolished in the hope that they will be able secure the premiership.

Ironically, Anura K Dissanayake, NPP leader and presidential candidate is against the abolition of the executive presidency as he is confident of winning the next presidential election.

So, all of them are in the same boat and one thing is clear; whoever becomes President will never have it abolished.

The campaign for scrapping the executive presidency will go in circles, forever.

Dr. P.A. Samaraweera 

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Opinion

Dispelling Misconceptions: Visionary Future of an NPP-led Sri Lanka

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NPP Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake taking part in a protest (file photo)

by Shantha Jayarathne, PhD

In recent discussions, concerns have emerged about the National People’s Power (NPP) in Sri Lanka, with some fearing a return to outdated communist traditions if the party ascends to power. These apprehensions, often fueled by political agendas, particularly target those with limited political literacy. This article aims to dispel these misconceptions and shed light on the NPP’s forward-looking vision for a progressive and prosperous Sri Lanka.

Coalition of Visionaries

Contrary to the narrative peddled by certain factions, it’s essential to recognise that the NPP represents a diverse coalition of 22 parties and civil society organisations, with the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) as its main partner. Importantly, both the NPP and JVP members boast of a commendable track record, free from accusations of corruption, nepotism, or cronyism. Nominations are filed for any election from the NPP under the “Compass” symbol, and contestants with high repute and integrity will be drawn from all 22 constituent parties in the broad coalition.

A Clear Development Roadmap

The NPP has consistently articulated a comprehensive roadmap for the development of Sri Lanka. Emphasising the importance of a thriving Agriculture, Industry, and Service sectors, the party is committed to eliminating barriers hindering investments. Corruption, favouritism, and covert dealings of officials and people with vested interests will be totally eliminated under an NPP government. Furthermore, the NPP pledges to introduce efficient systems, ensuring minimal delays and promoting a business-friendly environment that attracts both local and foreign investors.

Government’s Primary Obligations

Addressing fears of property takeover, the NPP asserts that its government will not engage in business activities but will focus on essential public utility services, education, health, social security, and defence to ensure the well-being and security of the nation. NPP will not only encourage local investments but also it will take all possible measures to attract foreign direct investments. State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) facing financial challenges will undergo restructuring with utmost transparency, fostering efficiency and accountability.

Business Friendly Environment

The NPP is dedicated to creating a level playing field for businesses by implementing regulations inspired by the most developed economies. Consistent antitrust laws, investment protection laws, and laws that are inconsistent and complex will be amended or new laws will be enacted to ensure fair competition and safeguard business interests. By fostering an environment that encourages innovation and competition, the NPP aims to boost economic growth and prosperity. NPP plans to streamline the systems and process to facilitate investments within the shortest possible timeframe whereby it aims to take Sri Lanka in the Ease of Doing Business Index from 99th position today to a position within the first 50. The Cooperative system will be strengthened in an NPP government and they will be regulated to deliver an effective and efficient service to the periphery.

Transparent Tax Policy

Simplifying Sri Lanka’s tax policy is a priority for the NPP, aiming to create a transparent and tax-friendly environment. NPP will ensure a stable and consistent progressive tax policy in the country, and all regressive taxes will be eliminated. Citizens will be provided with clear information at the end of the Tax Year on how their tax contributions are utilised for public services, promoting accountability and citizen engagement. This transparency is crucial for building trust between the government and its citizens.

Learning from Developed Countries

Taking lessons from successful models of governance in developed countries, an NPP government will strive to implement best practices in public administration. Emphasising the importance of accountable institutions, streamlined bureaucracy, and effective public service delivery, the party is committed to ensuring transparency and efficiency in governance. There will be a minimum number of cabinet ministries for key areas, and their roles and functions will be clearly defined while making the officials accountable to their respective assigned functions. Zero tolerance for corruption and the law of the land will be applied to everyone alike.

Economic Adjustments and IMF Negotiations

Acknowledging the need for economic stability, the NPP plans to initiate negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF). This strategic move aims to strike a balance between economic adjustments and safeguarding the livelihoods of the people in the country. The NPP is dedicated to ensuring that any economic reforms are implemented with a people-centric approach, minimising adverse effects on the general population and the industry.

Nonaligned Foreign Policy

The NPP upholds a nonaligned foreign policy, reflecting a commitment to Sri Lanka’s sovereignty and independence. While fostering international relations, the party is resolute in not allowing foreign nations to utilise Sri Lanka’s soil for military purposes. This stance ensures that the country remains neutral and independent in its dealings with other nations, safeguarding national interests and security.

Repositioning Sri Lanka in the World Order

A central tenet of the NPP’s vision is the repositioning of Sri Lanka in the global context. The party is dedicated to identifying and leveraging the country’s potentials, addressing weaknesses, seizing opportunities, and managing threats, both internal and external. This strategic approach aims to elevate Sri Lanka’s standing on the world stage, fostering positive engagement with the international community.

Quality of Life Improvement

A key focus of the NPP government is enhancing the quality of life for all citizens. The party recognises the importance of social welfare, healthcare, education, and infrastructure development in elevating living standards. By prioritising these aspects, the NPP aims to create a society where every citizen can enjoy a higher quality of life, emphasising the well-being and prosperity of the people.

Addressing False Propaganda

Amidst the misconceptions surrounding the NPP, it is crucial to address the motivations behind certain groups disseminating false propaganda. The fearmongering tactics employed by those with vested interests seek to perpetuate a status quo that has allowed for ill-gotten wealth and alleged illegal transactions. These groups, resistant to change, attempt to sway public opinion by sowing seeds of doubt about the NPP’s commitment to a fair and just governance model.

However, when one closely examines the NPP’s dedication to transparency, efficient governance, and inclusive development, it becomes evident that these accusations are nothing more than a desperate attempt to cling to the shadows of a fading era. The party’s emphasis on tackling corruption, restructuring inefficient State-Owned Enterprises, and simplifying the tax policy directly challenges the interests of those who have thrived in an environment of opacity and undue influence.

As citizens, it is paramount to discern the true intentions behind such narratives and recognize the NPP as a force poised to break free from the shackles of corruption and vested interests. By supporting the NPP’s vision, Sri Lankans have the opportunity to usher in a new era – one marked by ethical governance, economic prosperity, and a society that prioritises the well-being of its people over the interests of a privileged few.

In conclusion, the NPP stands not only as a political entity but as a beacon of hope, calling on the people to embrace change, reject false narratives, and collectively forge a path towards a brighter and more equitable future.

(The Writer, a UK resident, is a former Senior Consultant at the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration (SLIDA). He is a member of the NPP-Policy Development Team, and he can be reached through email: shantha323@gmail.com)

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