Deshamanya Cyril Herath – a peerless leader
The 10th death anniversary of Deshamanya Cyril Herath falls on the 8th of September this year. It is my view that he was a peerless leader who deserves to be remembered, emulated, and revered.
I was the General Manager, Director, and Executive Director of the National Savings Bank, when Mr Herath was Chairman. While I am deeply grateful to Mr Herath for appointing me to these positions, I must say that it was the most rewarding, productive, and life-changing period of my banking career that gave me immense pleasure, satisfaction, and pride to work under a great leader of the calibre of Mr. Herath. Despite the fact that he was my boss and his eminent standing in this country, he was like an elder brother with whom I maintained a very intimate relationship until his death.
Deshamanya Cyril Herath studied at St. John’s College, Nugegoda and Royal College, and graduated from the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. In 1957 he joined the Police service as an ASP and in 1985 he was appointed as Inspector General of Police. He was Chairman of National Savings Bank from, 1994 to 2002 and 2004 to 2005.
He also held the following positions: Director General of Directorate of Internal Intelligence (DII) at the Ministry of Defence, Defence Secretary, and National Security Advisor.
Most of the new generation in the Sri Lanka Police service and the banking sector may not know about this peerless leader who was responsible for the phenomenal transformation of NSB.
=He possessed leadership qualities such as integrity, humility, intellect, pragmatism, communication ability, and empathy. Above all, he walked the talk and was fearless; he was every inch a leader.
=Believe it or not, he queued up with other employees (including the lowest grade of employees) every morning and waited for his turn to enter the lift to proceed to his office which was on the sixth floor. This shows his humility, and it is unthinkable for Chairman, NSB, to do so.
=He was humble, approachable, and any employee could meet him on Wednesdays without an appointment to have their grievances redressed.
=He believed in empowering staff and gave them a great deal of freedom
=He never raised his voice when speaking to subordinates and was always conscious of their self-respect.
=At bank parties, he and his wife went round and spoke to each and every staff member and sang and danced with them.
=Ostentation, which is now the order of the day, was anathema to him. His official vehicle was an unostentatious car (Mitsubishi Lancer and later a Honda Civic). And when travelling abroad, he travelled Economy class (unless of course it was upgraded by the airline at no extra cost.)
=He could effectively communicate both in English and Sinhalese, and he always conducted himself with dignity and decorum.
=His humane qualities motivated the staff to contribute towards taking the bank forward. One good example is that he reinstated several employees who were unfairly dismissed or victimised as well as those who were deprived of their pensions. Like most other heads of organisations, he never washed his hands off saying that they happened before his tenure and therefore he was not responsible.
=He took up the challenge posed by the World Bank in their report to the Sri Lanka government in the mid-nineties stating that there is no justification for continuing the operations of NSB, and therefore its branches should be sold by auction to private and foreign banks. Mr Herath, the top management, and staff were infuriated by these unwarranted, imbecilic, and humiliating remarks. However, he with the support of the CEBU and the top management proved the World Bank wrong and transformed the bank as a stable, profitable, and customer-oriented modern bank. The secret was his singular leadership. (I wrote about this in detail in my tribute published in the newspapers on his 5th death anniversary)
Deshamanya Cyril Herath will therefore go down in history as the epitome of a great ` leader who was responsible for the dramatic and stupendous transformation of NSB. The only way I can describe him is by saying that he was a great, noble human being, and a peerless leader. This is not only my opinion but universal as you would see from a few sentences I quote from the The Retired Senior Police Officers Association in a statement issued following his death, with due acknowledgement.
“He was a role model for his honesty, and integrity. This was a valiant attempt, firing the first shot to maintain the independence of the Police and retired prematurely at the age 54 years and 10 months against undue political interference. He was known for clear thinking and a knack of presenting his ideas forcefully and convincingly and was fearless in expressing his opinion and most of all had a very strong backbone. He never feared to do what he thought was right and he never avoided or neglected his duty. He was also very forthright in his views and never hesitated to push them forward. He was quite open in trying stamp out corruption in any form. An absolute gentleman in all his dealings, he was an excellent brother officer and companion. No one could ask for a better friend, and to all others he was an officer and a Gentleman. He stood for justice and fair play and had the courage to stand by his convictions. He was a source of encouragement and inspiration to the offices and the subordinates. He was always held in high esteem among his superiors, peers, junior, and subordinates.”
I would also like to quote from a letter sent by Mr Tilak Fernando (I don’t know him) to a newspaper which endorses my views on Mr Herath
PROMPT ACTION BY NSB CHAIRMAN
A few days ago, I wrote to the Chairman, National Savings Bank (NSB) Cyril Herath to bring to his notice certain shortcomings at the NSB.
The letter was posted by me during the weekend and to my surprise on Tuesday morning around 9 a.m. I received a telephone call from Chairman Herath.
The Chairman thanked me for bringing the shortcomings to his notice which he said would be taken up with the senior managers. I am happy that there are persons such as Herath at the top of these government institutions. Usually when some shortcoming is pointed out the management either finds excuses or justifies what was done. I wish there are at least a few more officers such as Herath in the state and corporation sector.
Another point I wish to make is that the Chairman is at his desk by 9 a.m* whereas some heads of Corporations are having breakfast in their homes, at this time.
* With due respect to Mr Fernando, I need to correct the time as 8.30 am
I have no doubts that Mr Herath’s children, Arjuna, Sanjaya, Priyanthika, and Dishan will follow the footsteps of their beloved father. Furthermore, on behalf of the people of Sri Lanka, I wish to express our gratitude to former President, Madam Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga for appointing the ideal leader to head the National Savings Bank.
I think it is appropriate to mention about his beloved wife, Mrs Ranee Herath who passed away within one year of his death. She was a gracious and virtuous lady who made it possible for Mr Herath to fully concentrate on coping with challenges of his job. She graced all events and ceremonies of the bank, mixed with the staff who adored her. Her presence created a great deal of goodwill among staff that was a significant factor which made it possible for NSB to move to greater heights.
I am deeply grateful to you dear Sir, for your affection, the lessons I learnt from you, and for changing my life. Beloved Sir, on behalf of all the employees of NSB, past and present, I wish you and Mrs Herath peace and serenity in your sojourn in samsara.
Russian Ambassador clarifies
Comparing special military operation in Ukraine with the presence of the limited contingent of the Soviet Army in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan is not correct. If the author of the article “‘Containment Theory’ returns to West’s ties with East” in The Island of 18 May does some serious research of the pre-military period of the conflict in Afghanistan, he will discover that the Soviet Army was invited to Afghanistan by the legitimate government formed by the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan. It was not an invasion. Our soldiers fulfilled their international duty and did so with dignity.
Instead of disturbing the memories of our fallen soldiers, the author, I guess, should inform his readers why Americans, who occupied Afghanistan for 20 years, didn’t reach any positive results outside Kabul? Why didn’t they create at list one new facility to improve the life of the citizens of one of the poorest countries in Asia? Why after their disgraceful defeat they even didn’t do anything to help those people who trusted them? Why the production of opium increased several times? There are no answers. Only silence on the part of the State Department and Pentagon.
Let the author explain, as well, what were the reasons of American failure in Iraq. By the way, was that invasion endorsed by UN Security Council?
During the Soviet1 military presence in Afghanistan soldiers not only from Russia, but also from Ukraine, Baltic States, Caucasus and other parts of the USSR fulfilled their international duty.
Now we are fighting for our future. The tragedy of the current conflict is that Ukraine and the Ukrainian people have been turned into an instrument of Western policy to destabilise Russia. The great hate, a real hysteria was created from the time of illegal coup-d’etat in 2014. We are two parts of one people, and the West did its best, as usual, in making split.
The special military operation is not aimed against civilians in Ukraine. The goal is to demilitarise and denazify Ukraine, as well as bring to trial those who perpetrated numerous bloody crimes. After the referendums, held in accordance with the International law, Ukraine must recognize that these regions are integral part of Russia. This operation will last till all its aims mentioned by our President Vladimir Putin are reached. Our cause is just, and we will win. No doubt!
Ambassador to Russia in Colombo
‘Unworthy worthies’, ‘dishonourable honourables’
The recent detection of gold and Smart phones in the personal luggage of a Smuggler- MP returnee from Dubai has raised several issues. The elevation of the status of Smugglers, Political interference in legal process, entitlement to VIP Lounge, exemptions from Customs checks, breach of procedures in determining the size of fines by Customs and money laundering.
Two matters are of interest. (a) who are entitled to “Diplomatic Passports and the associated privileges (including the VIP Lounge and exemption from personal Customs and Immigration formalities,) and (b) Penalties imposed by Customs on persons detected while attempting to smuggle dutiable goods.
In a recent instance, Ali Sabry Raheem, MP from Puttalam District, was detected attempting to smuggle in 3.5 Kilograms of gold and a large number of fancy mobile phones, together valued at some Rs 78 million. It is on record that he sought interference by several powerful authorities (including The Speaker of Parliament), to extricate himself. Having failed, the Customs confiscated the booty and imposed a fine of Rs 7.4 million, which was promptly paid. One understands that in such cases, the stipulated fine is three times the estimated value, while here it was even less than even one-tenth of the value of contraband. Why? The feeble tale that the contraband belonged to someone else, a fellow passenger, should alert the sleuths to follow this trail. The alacrity with which with the fine was paid suggests that such handy “ready cash”, points to previous undetected instances, How often has this intrepid traveler been abroad lately? The “Icing on the cake” is that this man left for Dubai, just three days later, to Dubai! VIP departure lounge charges, and perhaps even his airfare may have been met the State? Nothing surprises us anymore.
Clearly our Government has been less than conscientious in the issue of “Diplomatic or Official” Passports. The most scandalous instance was when Karuna Amman (Karuna of the LTTE), defected and was promptly appointed a Minister, and travelled to the UK, presumably on a Diplomatic Passport but had to spend a fortnight in prison, for overstaying his visa. A sad reflection on the discretion of the State’s exercise of a privilege.
Immunity does not imply impunity.
An appreciation: Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala
I was saddened to learn that our friend and Sri Lanka’s prominent diplomat Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala has quietly closed the door of life and departed from us. To me, a sorrow that is deep and personal. I have known Jayantha since we were two of three finalists for the Herald Tribune essay contest for a traveling scholarship to the United States in the late 1950s; he from Trinity, and I from Richmond, and he won out. Since then, he never stopped shining on the international stage, culminating in his narrow loss in the competition for the Secretary General of the United States post.
In the meantime, he had served Sri Lanka as a foreign service member in countless capitals and as Ambassador to India, China, the United States and the United Nations, and Washington. He also served as Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations Department of Disarmament, during which he led the U.N. team to investigate the nuclear sites in Iraq just before the Iraqi war and later headed the U.N. Institute of Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).
I had the privilege of working closely with him on joint U.N. projects and traveling to various cities, including Ulan Bator, Mongolia, during which we nearly escaped an airline disaster over the then-Soviet Union. Whether it was in the course of official work or the relaxed evenings we spent after a full day of work, it was highly congenial to be in his company. At work, he knew the art of negotiation of being firm while being most congenial, no mean talent that took him to the summit of international diplomacy. He also served Sri Lanka as Foreign Secretary, Head of the Peace Secretariat, and finally as Senior Advisor to the President of Sri Lanka. Few Sri Lankans have ever reached those dizzy heights.
The loss of my friend profoundly saddens me, and I join the diplomatic world that will mourn the death of a diplomat par excellence and a Gentleman to the hilt who served Mother Lanka well! Adlai Stevenson, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, once commented about a man and his contribution: “It is not the years in a life that counts; it is the life in the years.” By that measure, Jayantha Dhanapala is a shining star that lived! We will miss him, and may he find peace!
Former Deputy Director-General, United Nations & Director U.N. Office for Outer Space Affairs.
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