By Dr Janaka Ratnasiri
The Island of 29.12.2020 carried a write up by Eng. Parakrama Jayasinghe in which he queried about the “very severe uncertainty of the source and the means of supplying the LNG necessary to operate the 300 MW LNG plant and the necessity for pursuing options for more LNG plants with India and Japan and now with the USA”? Though the term “LNG” appears here, it is something new to people in the country. Hence this write-up is published to apprise the readers what LNG is and highlight the progress made so far in procuring the gas, based on information available in the public domain.
GLOBAL PRODUCTION AND TRANSPORT OF NATURAL GAS
Natural gas (NG), though a new energy source yet to be introduced in Sri Lanka, has been in use world-wide since the middle of the last century. NG has been used in a variety of applications such as power generation, space heating, household cooking, thermal energy generation in industries, running motor vehicles and as a feedstock for a wide range of industries including fertilizers. Today, natural gas has a share of about 27% in the overall global energy supply and 23% in the generation of electricity.
Natural gas is the preferred fuel today for generating heat and power because of its many benefits. It does not produce any ash or particulates or smoke or toxic gases such as Sulphur Dioxide or toxic heavy metals like Mercury, Arsenic, Cobalt, Chromium or radionuclides, on combustion like in the case of coal or oil. Even the Oxides of Nitrogen produced is minimal and Carbon Dioxide produced is no more than 50% of what a similar capacity coal power plant produces. Hence many countries switch from coal to NG with the objective of reducing the emission of Carbon Dioxide which the countries have committed to under the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
Though nearly 100 countries have been producing NG world-wide, amounting to about 4,000 Billion cubic metres in 2019, only about 65 countries have produced more than 1 Billion cm each annually. Among the Indian Ocean rim countries, NG is produced in Qatar, Malaysia, Brunei, Tanzania, Myanmar, Indonesia and Australia. Natural gas is transported across continents in pipelines extending thousands of kilometres. For transporting across oceans, the gas is first converted into liquefied natural gas (LNG) by cooling down to -162 oC when its volume reduces to 1/600 of the original value.
Transportation of LNG across oceans is done in purposely built carriers with capacity between 150,000 and 250,000 cubic metres (cm) of LNG. Loading and unloading of LNG require special terminals having deep jetties which are costly to build. Once imported, LNG is converted into gas and stored under pressure for distribution among consumers in pipelines or as compressed natural gas (CNG) in cylinders. For distant consumers, LNG itself is transported in insulated containers by road trucks to consumer points.
PAST EFFORTS FOR IMPORTING LNG
During the past 20 years, there were several unsolicited proposals received for importing LNG, some through the Board of Investment (BOI) and others through political entities. Most of them were either rejected or withdrawn for various reasons, one being lack of transparency, but a few are still awaiting the green light from the Government. Though the Ministry of Petroleum had the authority to consider these proposals, they appeared to be rather reluctant to venture into a new area unknown hitherto, and took no action.
In the meantime, a representative of an Indian Gas Company visited Sri Lanka in mid-2016 and offered to bring LNG from their terminal in Kochin, Kerala. The terminal was being operated below capacity and the Company wanted to sell their surplus gas to Sri Lanka at the same rate they are paying for the imported gas with a slight mark up. They too did not receive any positive response.
When Sri Lanka PM met Indian PM in New Delhi in April 2017, the two heads of states entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for collaboration in several sectors including the power sector, under which importing of LNG and building a 500 MW gas power plant were included. The same Indian Company who offered to bring LNG was named as the Indian counterpart.
In 2016, Japan also had offered to build a 500 MW coal power plant which the Sri Lanka Government had accepted. However, with the government’s change of policy to shift from coal to gas for power generation, the government requested Japan to change its offer to a gas power plant of same capacity which Japan agreed to. The Cabinet of Ministers (COM) on 11.07.2017 accepted the two proposals to build gas power plants each with capacity 500 MW offered by India and Japan.
This was followed up by a decision taken by the COM on 27.02.2018 to grant approval for Sri Lanka to establish a tripartite joint venture (TJV) comprising 15% equity held by Sri Lanka, 47.5% by nominee of India and 37.5% by nominee of Japan for the purpose of implementing the project.
The COM also decided to vest authority with the newly established Sri Lanka Gas Terminal Company Ltd. (SLGTC), a fully-owned subsidiary of Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA), to enter into Agreements with the Indian and Japanese parties. The SLGTC was also nominated as the Developer for the Project. It is surprising why SLPA was authorized by the Government to import LNG when it has no mandate for it.
A MOU was signed among foreign members of the TJV and the SLGTC on 09.04.2018 probably confirming the responsibilities and commitments of each partner, which are still not made public. It is not known whether India and Japan would share the cost of the project and if so, in what ratio or jointly undertake its operation and maintenance or make in-kind contribution of transferring technology.
PRE-FEASIBILITY AND EIA REPORT ON THE PROJECT
A pre-feasibility study (PFS) was undertaken in 2017 by one of the Japanese partners of the TJV, which had recommended setting up a floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) moored initially in the South Port breakwater of Colombo Port. According to the PFS, the FSRU will have a draught of 12.5 m. The cost is expected to be around USD 225 Million and can be set up in 2.5 years.
A report by ADB on the proposed National Port Master Plan– Volume 2 (Part 5) released in February 2020, includes a section on FSRU to be located within the Port premises and gives details of its design and operation. (https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/project-documents/50184/50184-001-tacr-en_10.pdf). According to this study, the gas pipelines will connect the FSRU to the existing power plants at Kelanitissa and Kerawalapitiya laid part under water and part over land through the city and that the maximum send-out capacity of the of the terminal will be around 3.8 Mt LNG annually, which is on the high side.
Having found the project feasible, the TJV engaged the Environmental Resources Management (ERM) of Japan, to undertake an EIA study for the project which was completed in August 2019. The EIA Report was open for public scrutiny during December 2019. It is the general practice and a legal requirement to conduct a public hearing on the EIA report based on public comments received on it. However, there was neither a public hearing nor any announcement made as to whether the EIA Report was accepted or not, though almost one year has lapsed since closing of public comments.
The Writer responded highlighting shortcomings in many areas including discrepancies in capacity estimates, alternative supplies, exclusion zones, impact on Port operation, lack of mechanism for issuing operator licences and monitoring, issues with the site, safety aspects, lack of fire-fighting facilities, issues on routing the pipeline along city streets and issues on procurement of LNG, but received not even an acknowledgement or an invitation for a hearing.
FEASIBILITY STUDY OF THE PROJECT
In March 2019, the GoSL requested ADB for technical and financial assistance to conduct a detailed feasibility study on establishing the FSRU. The proposal named the CEB as the implementing agency and wanted the Technical Assistance Package (TAP) to include building the capacity of CEB to undertake the assignment. The ADB, in June 2009 approved an allocation of USD 225,000 as a grant to implement the feasibility study, including training of the CEB staff. The ADB study is expected to be completed by May 2020. (https://www.adb.org/sites/default/files/project-documents/53193/53193-001-tam-en.pdf).
The package envisaged hiring on short-term basis experts on LNG Infrastructure Design; Marine Engineering; NG Pipeline Planning & Design and Financial & Commercial aspects to work out the optimal capacity for meeting the demand for using the gas for operating the existing and proposed new gas turbine power plants. The package also included holding training workshops to build the capacity of CEB engineers to handle the operation of the gas supply to the power plants.
Though the consultancy requires initial assessment of capacity of CEB staff to handle LNG import, being electrical engineers, one may safely assume that their capacity to undertake this assignment is almost nil. It is expected that the operation of the FSRU itself will be the responsibility of the supplier. It is surprising why ADB agreed to train a set of electrical engineers who are not qualified to work with LNG when LNG importing is outside the mandate of CEB.
CALLING PROPOSALS AND IMPLEMENTING THE PROJECT
The findings of the feasibility study are not available in the public domain yet, though supposed to have been completed more than six months ago. The ADB report is expected to include draft of request for proposals (RFP) from prospective suppliers for establishing the FSRU. This needs Cabinet approval before announcing, appointment of Technical Evaluation Committee (TEC) and Cabinet appointed Negotiation Committee (CANC). Once bids are received, it is necessary to have them evaluated by the TEC and approval by the CNC and finally by the Cabinet before the award of the contract is made. All these will take a minimum of two years going by the past experience.
Once the contractor is selected, CEB will have to negotiate the financial package with the contractor and considering the country’s poor credit rating internationally, it will be difficult to raise the finances through commercial banks, unless a multi-lateral financial institute like IMF or World Bank comes to Sri Lanka’s rescue or the TJV partners will contribute and this process itself will take more than a year.
These negotiations including signing contracts and the lead time in securing a FSRU and setting it up will take a minimum of another 3 years. This means that the country cannot expect to have the benefit of LNG this side of 6 years.
AUTHORITY FOR IMPORTING LNG AND DISTRIBUTING THE GAS
During the Yahapalana regime, the function of importing LNG and its distribution was vested in the Ministry of Petroleum through a gazette notification announced on 15.09.2015. However, during the subsequent regime, this function was entrusted to CEB by a decision of the COM. In the interim Cabinet appointed under the current regime, the function of “importing, refining, storage, distribution and marketing, coordination and implementation of petroleum-based products and natural gas” was assigned to the Ministry of Power and Energy by the Gazette Notification No. 2153/12 of 10.12.2019. Subsequently, with the appointment of the new Cabinet after the general election in August 2020, the Ministry of Energy was assigned the above functions related to natural gas.
A separate ADB publication on “Sri Lanka Energy Sector Assessment, Strategy, and Road Map” released in December 2019 says with regard to building LNG delivery infrastructure that “Since the LNG terminal may be used by many stakeholders for importation and storage, the terminal need not be under the CEB or power sector utilities and a more suitable arrangement would be a multiuser terminal facilitated by petroleum sector institutions”.
Surprisingly, the recommendation of this ADB report contradicts what is included in the ADB’s TAP referred to earlier where ADB has agreed to build capacity of CEB staff to handle operation of the proposed LNG terminal. As a matter of fact, the establishment of SLGTC has already been authorized by the COM on 27.02.2018 to handle matters related to LNG and NG matters. Further, the CEB Act does not give CEB any mandate to import fuel.
It is therefore surprising that the Government has sought assistance from the ADB to build the capacity of CEB to import LNG for power plant operation, as described in the previous section. Regrettably, the two Government institutions, SLPA and CEB are moving in different paths to achieve the same objective.
While the Government has given clear directive that matters pertaining to natural gas should be handled by the Ministry of Energy, it is not prudent to allow the CEB to handle it on grounds that it is CEB who will be consuming natural gas. If this is allowed, next time CEB will want to import petroleum oil as well for use in power plants.
REGULATORY BODY FOR THE LNG/NG INDUSTRY
With the closure of the Public Utilities Commission, it is now necessary to have a separate body under the purview of the Ministry of Energy to serve as the regulator and monitor for the gas sub-sector in the country. This body should be responsible for granting approval for all LNG/NG projects, monitor their operation and ensure all safety aspects are complied with according to international classified society standards, grant licenses for LNG/NG system operators, maintenance and installation technicians and safety officers.
It should be granted authority to determine prices levied for selling LNG/NG for different purposes; power generation, industrial heating, commercial and domestic application and as industrial feedstock, and should have powers similar to what the PUCSL was granted. In order to make this body effective, it is necessary to recruit staff with good academic background and experience working in the petroleum field and given further training enabling them to undertake the expected assignments efficiently. However, if CEB is permitted to import LNG, it is doubtful whether CEB will want another body to regulate and monitor them, as happening currently.
The Government had received several proposals for importing LNG during the past 20 years, but none were considered seriously. Interventions by foreign governments in 2017 prompted commencement of negotiations with them for importing LNG through a Tripartite Joint Venture set up three years ago. During this period, a pre-feasibility study including environment impact studies was undertaken which has recommended setting up a floating terminal within the Colombo Port premises. Subsequently, a detailed feasibility study was also undertaken findings of which are yet to be published.
There is lack of clarity as to who should import LNG and distribute the gas. Calling for proposals from prospective suppliers, their selection, signing of contracts, raising finances, getting Cabinet approvals and actual construction of the terminal will take at least another six years going by the past experience, unless the President directs the relevant officials to fast tract the process, enabling early realization of the objectives given in the Saubhagye Dekma Policy Framework.
There are however, faster ways of getting LNG into the country at least to operate the first 300 MW gas fired power plant bypassing all these procedures, but their discussion will be kept for a later article to save space here.
Dialectics for a fast evolving scenario
by Kumar David
“The question whether objective truth can be attributed to human thinking is not a question of theory; it is a practical question. Man must prove the truth — i.e. the reality and power, the ‘this-sidedness’ of his thinking in practice. The dispute over the reality or non-reality of thinking that is isolated from practice is a scholastic question”. Second Thesis on Feuerbach
Don’t turn away, this is not going to be a boring treatise in abstract Marxism. I will quickly get to my topic, which is that the political circumstances we are living through are evolving rapidly and we should be alert and adjust to changing situations. First however allow me a few paragraphs about Lenin’s most dynamic years, from February 1917 till he fell seriously ill in late 1921. He died in January 1924 due to complications from bullets lodged in him in Fanny Kaplan’s August 1918 assassination attempt. The February Revolution, (old Julian-style last week of February to early March, new Gregorian-style second week of March) took Lenin and the Bolshevik Party by surprise. When first the women and then the workers of Petrograd fired up leaderless demonstrations which overthrew the monarchy, the Bolsheviks who had prepared the proletariat for revolution for 30 years were stunned! Except Trotsky the general expectation among socialists was a Two Stage Revolution; first Tsarism would be replaced by the rule of the bourgeoisie, then it would be the turn of the subaltern classes – a common at the time static misreading of Marx’s dialectical thinking.
I see developments in Sri Lanka moving fast with unforeseen changes and a regime that most of us last year considered strong and stable, now tottering. Of course it’s going to fall tomorrow but it’s wobbling and the domestic environment is changing unpredictably. Catholics are visibly angry about an alleged “cover up of Easter bombing organisers” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EA2Zl1mVrOo); the in the Buddhist clergy have counter-attacked the Cardinal (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC0WcSiJiJs0). Farmers in several areas are on the warpath according to News First. Furthermore nobody foresaw in 2019 the havoc covid would wreak, and the ferocity of UNHRC denunciations was unexpected. It is true that red lights were flashing about debt servicing and that the economy was in hopeless straights, but the convergence of bad news has been more rapid than foreseen and the regime has quickly gone belly up. All who join a mission with a single simple objective, to protect democracy, perforce, have to adjust to a fast changing scenario. The ability to think and act on one’s feet is what makes Lenin of 1917-1921 interesting. He remains the star disciple of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, a fifth century BC classic on strategy. While shifting and manoeuvring Lenin never lost sight of his final objectives. This is why I call him the dialectic on two feet.
Often in this column I have referred to the dialectic as the scientific method; true but how boring! Yes true enough Darwin, the best example in science was an assiduous and utterly trustworthy accumulator of data but with a mind that was alive to how phenomena change and evolve. Gautama Buddha pointed out that nothing is permanent and that all things are evolving but it took Darwin to work out the precise mechanisms by which this was happening in biology. Still, the dialectics of science and nature are slow moving. It is not exciting, it won’t keep you awake at night. Conversely, jumping from Two-Stage theory to instant proletarian revolution on April 1, 1917, capturing state power in October in defiance of scholastic Marxism, pushing back against attempts to militarise the trade unions and the refusal to give the Germans whole swathes of land so as to commit to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk (on both Trotsky erred), and in 1921 forcing through the New Economic Policy, a key market oriented concession to capitalist farming, these were momentous strategic transitions, quite breathtaking.
Bearded boring Bolshies 100 years ago, what’s it got to do with us you ask? I’ll tell you. The commonality is that quite unexpectedly we find ourselves in a very fast changing scenario. Lenin in 1917-1922, was an embodiment of the dialectic because he was able to think on his feet and keep his side united using his singular ability to deal with a swift change while the other side (sides to be more accurate) were confused and splintered. This is a useful example for those who seek a democratic, plural and united Sri Lanka because to date this side (I call it ‘we’) have managed to keep our message consistent and united while the ‘other’ side is splintering. President Gota bemoans his unpopularity and his inability to address challenges because “there is no unity” or some such words. I don’t have a clue what skulduggery is going on within the Royal Rajapaksa dynasty, though now is just the right time to make visible adjustments. The public is persuaded that Gota failed because he is inexperienced and his inner circle is dumb; Mahinda and Basil deftly keep out of the limelight. Less and less do you hear from those you marvelled 18 months ago that Gota as the incarnation of a strong leader who would lead Lanka to harmony and splendour? Lee Kuan Yew was a frequently quoted prototype. Where have all those people gone? On the other hand the opposition to an authoritarian new constitution, to excessive deployment of retired military brass and those worried that democracy is under threat (harassment of rights workers, fear in the mind of critics, damaging the judiciary) have succeeded in retaining a degree of commonality.
The shot in the arm for ‘our’ side was the UNHRC Commissioner’s Report and the Geneva Resolution which has de facto created a united front of Sri Lankan domestic forces and international opinion. The uprising in Burma and the opposition to authoritarianism in Sri Lanka must not allow themselves to be intimidated by reactionary nationalists who shriek about foreign support and anti-national traitors. International assistance should be accepted on our terms and in any case democracy is a universal clause. Remember that when the Germans offered to transport Lenin from Switzerland to Petrograd in a sealed train (“Like a bacillus” in Churchill’s words) he did not hesitate for a moment to accept the offer. The rest is history. In Burma as in Sri Lanka the defeat of the Junta or the containment of an assault on democracy are transnational tasks. “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” when it is used to conceal the machinations of dictators.
You may recall Marx’s quip about standing Hegel on his head which in today’s language we would say has gone viral. It is about the relationship between real life on one hand and theories and philosophies on the other. Tamil agitation and at an extreme the LTTE was not an ideology of a separate state and Tamil cultural-civilisation finding expression in an uprising. Quite the converse, it was the practical conditions of a community creating such angst that it gave rise to extreme nationalism among a large number. That Sinhala-Buddhist chauvinist extremism which is holding this country hostage is about ancient civilisation, about hela jathika abimane is humbug. There were class, economic, employment in the late colonial capitalist and state economies, and education sectors which turned Sinhala blood blue with national pride. The nationalists who pontificate the opposite need to be stood on their heads. This critique of what is called the idealism (Ideas and philosophy is what determines the principal features of the real, material world) is very well known now and I think modern bourgeois sociology goes a long way towards recognising it.
What is perhaps not quite so well appreciated is that Marx was more a pupil than a critique of Hegel (not the post-Hegel epigenomes of course) in respect of the dialectic. He speaks of Hegel as a “mighty thinker” in the 1873 post-face to capital I. Certainly spurned the “the ill-humoured, arrogant, and mediocre epigones” who treated Hegel like “dead dog”. What Marx took away from Hegel was how to understand change, the dynamics of how change progresses. The conflicts and compromises in real social and human relations which at times mediate and at times determine how the history of societies evolves. The sociological companion to Darwinian evolution.
We are now live in a fruit salad world of international relations where three powers will decide our fate – over which we have little control – India, China and the US. They are each no doubt pondering what to do about our fruitcake regime. Competition among them to one side, it is in the interests of all three to unscramble this tabbouleh and avert this country’s descent into a failed-state abyss, which thankfully we have still not reached. It is not possible that they each do not have calculations up their sleeves about how to sort out this mess but an initiative from the regime itself proposing a via media to the UNHRC and to the aforementioned powers as proof that Lanka will accept its reconciliation-accountability responsibilities and will maintain a foreign policy balance which will not discomfit any great power will ease a compromise.
The Double-Paksa (two Rajapaksa) regime must forget about enacting a divisive new constitution to claw power into the grasp of the Executive; if firing military sorts already hired for top slots is infeasible at least it must give an undertaking that there will be no more sounding brass speaking in garbled tongues; it must put scientists in charge of pandemic control and win, as Biden seems to be doing; dump this squalid and reckless foreign policy team; it must stop manipulating the judiciary and halt asinine Presidential Commission circuses; it must stop pandering to extremists since this impedes a deal with the minorities. All this is doable if the executive is restructured and a plural orientation is adopted. If the government wishes to pull itself up by its bootstraps it must undertake the policy changes outlined in this para, restructure its personnel, pray much harder and offer trays of mangoes to the deities superintending Sri Lanka. The $64K question is whether Gota has the appetite for this healthy and fruitful menu. Those with no confidence that Gota’s Executive, Mahinda’s government or Basil-in-waiting can extricate themselves from their predicaments, must plan and act on their own outside this purview. The sole self-imposed condition is that change must be constitutional; what’s the point of a fight for democracy if one begins by abrogating it?
S. A. Welgama – A man amongst men
On the one hundred and tenth birth anniversary of my father-in -law S.A.Welgama I pen this tribute with much affection and pride.Affection as he was a second father to me and pride as he was a man amongst men;a man who stood tall and erect,a man unbowed ,unconquered and unsullied.Of him I could truthfully echo Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome,”let men see,let them know a real man,a man who lives as he was meant to live”.
He was born in the hamlet of Ovitigala,in the verdant county of Pasdun Korale,the county of five yojana (sixty kms in Vedic measure),created by Parakramabahu the Great,by draining the basin of Kalu Ganga.
His mother was fair and comely and taught in the village school ,and the father a farmer tilled his own land.SAW never forgot his roots and even at the height of his fame and wealth would often say,I’m the son of a poor farmer.This alone would have tagged him for greatness, for according to John Ruskin “the first test of a truly great man is his humility.”
The origins of the Welgama clan are shrouded in the mists of time.One school of thought says that they were the caretakers of the Welgama vehera in Kinniya ,Trincomalee.Grateful kings had donated land to them in distant South.The stupa was built by King Devanampiyatissa in the third century B.C.and remained unscathed till the end of the Polonnaruwa era.Even the Chola marauders,who razed all they saw ,left it alone as it was a place of worship for Hindu devotees as well,the Navatar Kovil.
Another school is of the view that they were soldiers in the service of the Sinhala kings as evidenced by their ge name Welgama Hewage.This is likely too as the Welgamas were tall and had a martial bearing.
They migrated to the villages of Ihala (upper) and Pahala (lower) Welgama villages separated by a fast flowing river.This could only be forded by a ferry ,until SAW persuaded a friendly minister of state to build a bridge.
SAW had his early schooling in the Ovitigala village.His heart was ,however not in books but in machines and motor vehicles.Many a day he played truant with his classmates,one of whom was to later become an eminent Buddhist monk and a mentor to me and my brother.When I was being screened as a prospective son -in-law ,he made enquiries, from his friend the Rev Kevitiyagala Dhammasidhi.The priest had categorically stated ,’Sir do not look any further,he is the best of the best’.My fate was sealed.
While still a teenager he apprenticed himself to a local workshop and then came over to Colombo to gain further experience and skills.He had fifty cents in his pocket.The friend who accompanied him returned to the village after two days.But SAW soldiered on and joined the workshop of an English engineer.He worked long and hard and became a master of his trade and also earned the respect and goodwill of his employer,whose pet name for him was Pattison.
Being thrifty he regularly added his wages to a till which was well hidden.With his savings and some help he bought a car for the then princely sum of two thousand rupees ,and plied it for hire between Gampaha and Kaluthara.
As the war clouds gathered in the horizon in the late 1930s he sensed an opportunity in road haulage and this became his trademark.At one stage he owned and controlled over one hundred and fifty trucks and became a trusted agent of the colonial government;transporting goods to and from the Colombo harbour to the massive godowns built in anticipation of wartime food shortages.SAW and Sons became synonymous with road freight.With foresight he bought land at Panchikawatte,an emerging commercial hub for his headquarters.Later with the help of his son Nimal he extended this to a much larger holding.
A prized possession of his was the luxury tourist bus,which he imported when Mr J.R.Jayawardene inaugurated the push for tourism.This was used for family outings too and Kanthi and I remember vividly the visit to his estate with business associates.We also accompanied a group of visiting American cardiologists and spouses to Kandy.On the way ,the ladies started a singsong
to which we had to respond.My contribution was “My Bonnie lies over the ocean” which I had learnt at school.Our guide was a personable young man who later married a young French traveller and settled down in France.Although his fluency in English was not optimal Father saw in him the makings of a good escort.
Having reached the top of the greasy pole ,he knew the value of skills and hard work.He instilled these into the many young men he trained.They were accepted anywhere.The truck drivers employed by him needed two licences;one from the department of motor transport and one from him.He would personally conduct the driving test.In later years his son Mahinda assumed this role.
He had a fondness for new cars especially Mercedes.An exception to the run of Mercedes was the Holden Statesman which he purchased after the Non-Aligned Leaders conference in Colombo.When it was due for repainting,the original colour Salamanca red was not available in SriLanka.Kanthi and I shipped it from Brisbane where we were then living.
The first occasion we met was when he arrived at our house in his magnificent Mercedes.He was accompanied by his beautiful wife Beatrice and his eldest son Melvin.An imposing man dressed in an immaculate white sarong and shirt he was keen to meet the young lad who had been highly recommended as a prospective son in law.After the usual pleasantries ,I joined Melvin who became a close friend.SAW had been much moved that I too was dressed in sarong and shirt.
An interesting quirk of his was the insistence ,that all his vehicle registration numbers should end with the figure five.It’s likely that his birthday being on the fifth of April,this to him was an auspicious number.The denizens of Panchikawatte named him the ‘‘Agata Pahe Mudalali i.e the tycoon with number five at the end.”
Being a man of the soil ,land was at the core of his soul,and he invested in a rubber estate in Kahawatte and then a two hundred and fifty acre rubber plantation” the Deniston” in Mathugama.For the children he bought land in the most fashionable suburb in Colombo and also in Nuwara Eliya a block adjacent to the venerable Grand Hotel.Kanthi and I once spent a night at Deniston in the hilltop estate bungalow.He had arranged for us to be blessed with a ” thovil”, a devil dance ceremony to dispel any unseen hands harassing us; this went on all night.We were exhausted before the performers ,although their colourful costumes,masks,gyrations and the drumming held us spellbound.
About the same time as his rise, there was a group of Sinhala businessmen who too made their mark.They were all southerners who began their careers at the bottom of the pile.SAW and Nawaloka mudalali (H.D.Dharmadasa) were the unofficial leaders of this closely knit cluster.They too never forgot their roots and were all noted for their conviviality,philanthropy and vivacity.Two of their major projects were the Ranweta the gold fence around the Sri Maha Bodhiya and the first coronary care unit in Ceylon.The Sri Maha Bodhiya is the only living relic of the Buddha who attained enlightenment in the shade of the parent tree in BodhGaya.It is the oldest ,historically documented tree in the world.The coronary care unit was built at the instigation of Dr Ivor Obeysekare ,the first cardiologist of Ceylon and a former chief of mine.
SAW was a mover and shaker and associated with the highest in the land.J.R.Jayawardane the first executive president of SriLanka was a good friend and was an attesting witness at all the weddings of his children.He did have friends across the political spectrum including ,Maithripala Senanayake the benign deputy to Mrs Bandaranaike and Peter Kueneman,the sophisticated Cambridge educated leader of the Communist party.Though he “walked with Kings ,he did not lose the common touch” and was equally at home with the masses in villages and the busy bazaars of Colombo.
At the age of sixty five he handed over the control of the trucking company to his sons,but still supervised the estate.The weekly sojourn in the plantation became his greatest pleasure and relaxation.Meandering around ,he may have got to know every tree and shrub,hillock ,valley and stream and mingling with the Indian Tamil workers and villagers gave him a lot of satisfaction.The elder brother whom he adored,lived in a homestead and sharing the customary village fare with him at lunch gave him much gratification.The Sunday visit to the estate was a ritual he maintained till the last week of his life.The bracing air ,the soft breezes ,the solitude and the rural populace seemed to revitalize him.The work was challenging but less so because of his passion and enthusiasm for the land and the labour.
He epitomised Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s words that “The heights by great men achieved and kept were not attained by sudden flight,but they while their companions slept,were toiling upward in the night.”
Unexpectedly,at the age of thirty three,he met a beautiful Kandyan teenager Beatrice Hidellarachchi.It was akin to Adam meeting Eve and was love at first sight.
Like John Milton,in “Paradise Lost”
“He saw grace in all her steps,
Heaven in her eyes,
In every gesture,dignity and love”
Beatrice being the cynosure of all eyes and adoration,delighted him ,and he encouraged her to dress herself in haut-monde finery.
It was a marriage made in heaven.and their happy partnership lasted till his passing away in 1990.
There were ten children in the family,five boys and five girls.He was a strict but adoring father.They were all brought up according to conventional Sinhala Buddhist values.Having missed out on a formal education,he made certain that they went to the highest ranking schools regardless of the denomination.For boys ,he chose S.Thomas’s College the famed school by the sea.Girls were admitted to the Holy Family Convent as he had the highest respect and admiration for the Catholic nuns and their discipline.But he also ensured that they got a Buddhist grounding through the Sunday school at the Vajiraramaya temple which was well known for its pious and erudite monks.
He would have loved for one or more of them to become doctors;instead he got two sons in law who achieved eminence in their specialties of medicine.However two sons became leading business men and chartered accountants.Another a prominent politician and one more a German trained gemologist.The youngest son Nalin was sent across to London ,while we were there, for further studies.
He did have reservations about girls attending universities ,but sent them to finishing schools where they became versed in social graces and upper class cultural rites.Later on he relented and permitted the youngest daughter Pradeepika to study at the Colombo Law school.
As he grew older he mellowed and relished having a drink with Mahinda and me.The faithful domestic Gamini brought his bottle of whiskey and he poured the pegs to all of of us himself.In our younger days we never imbibed with our elders.When he desired company ,he went to the Automobile Association or the Angler’s club.One night he spied us,the two eldest sons in law enjoying a drink in the confines of a car ,with our wives and sent us a round of drinks and a tray of devilled prawns which was a specialty of the AA.
He was a believer in rebirth and would say with conviction that Kanthi his second daughter was the reincarnation of his beloved mother,perhaps because she looked after him like a mother;and Nalin the youngest son,the reincarnation of his father.While on a trip to India ,he insisted on selecting Kanthi’s wedding saree himself ,while mother selected sarees for the other daughters.Kanthi’s saree was more expensive than all the others.
A special relationship too was with his second granddaughter Sadia.I reproduce what she wrote.
“He loved to put his dark arm against mine and tell me we were the same colour.We were.
He called me Podi Sriyani.( Loku Sriyani was his daughter).
He was a wonderfully patient and loving grandfather.He had a warm hug which made you feel loved and how I loved sitting on his lap.It felt like a very safe place to be.
He had a twinkle in his eye and always wore his hat.He had good taste and style.I had a feeling that he had some great stories to share ,but that I was too young to hear them…
He was magic.I still miss that magic.”
SAW was large hearted and munificent primarily to but not exclusively to his village ,villagers and less affluent relatives. A monk told us how ,even Beatrice was not aware of the monthly emoluments he dispensed to the needy.
The Diyapattugama junior school,now named S.A.Welgama junior school was given a large assembly hall.He built a new Stupa at the Ovitigala temple;Kanthi and I joined in this meritorious deed by gifting the “Chuda Manikya” the large crystal placed at its very top.Electricity was provided to the shrine and its environs.The Bodhi tree in the temple (the prathana ,i.e supplication,Bodhi) was brought by him from Bodhgaya.
After his passing away Beatrice built a maternity home in his memory in the village of Wettawe.This had been a cherished ambition of his.His own mother is said to have succumbed at childbirth,and he wanted the impoverished women of his village to have easy access to modern medical facilities.
SAW of course provided employment to hundreds of villagers at his establishments.
In retirement he indulged in travel which he had long denied himself.He wanted to ” walk where he had never been and wonder at the beauty of this world”Kanthi and I were lucky that we were able to host him in Britain and also in USA.The long morning walks,the coach trips and the sundowners ,while the ladies cooked supper ,brought us closer in a way not conceivable before.He revelled in the sights and history of UK Germany and Switzerland and also Disneyland and Hawaii.One of the highlights was his visit to the Mercedes factory in Stuttgart.The automated production of his favourite cars enthralled him.Caravans enticed him,as did the miniature trains he rode in a fun park in Newcastle upon Tyne.He did not care much for shopping ,although Mother and Kanthi dragged him along,and grumble that he had become a ‘nattambi’,a carrier of goods.I feel however he secretly enjoyed seeing Beatrice buying apparel and wares unavailable in Ceylon at that time of austerity.For him ,all he wanted was a couple of hats.
The beauty of the Lake District,the Black Forest and Switzerland and the ancient cities of London Edinburgh and Freiburg fascinated him.
He was indeed a man for all seasons.
We rejoice in a life lived to the fullest and that we were blessed to be touched by this great man.
Emeritus Consultant Cardiologist
The Townsville University Hospital.
I acknowledge the help of Ven Suriyagoda Siri Dhamma,Nimal and Mahinda Welgama and Sadia Samarasinghe.
Some thoughts on Geneva
I was saddened by the events in Geneva having thought we were a popular country and our people well thought of internationally.To think that only 11 countries supported us in Geneva was indeed a cause for alarm and distress. Maybe the want us to take a step back and think of how to make Sri Lanka a better place.
Reams have been written about this resolution by erudite men and women. There is a common theme running through all of this: the UNHCR is against us; the western countries have ganged up against us. I beg to disagree.
Let us look at this resolution dispassionately. The high commisioner has made note of the very things we ourselves don’t like about recent happenings in our country. Did we want all Muslim Covid dead to be cremated? No. Once the WHO okay was given, we all agreed that religious customs may be followed.
Did we want our civil administration to be invaded by the military? No. Our civil adminitrtion is not the world’s best but we have no great issues over that. A military presence has not resulted in a marked improvement either. The public service meanders lazily as of yore.
As for killing of prisoners, what happened in Mahara is unfortunate. Surely there must be other ways of dealing with rioting prisoners than killing them? There are other pitfalls we could have avoided had we been less arrogant and a little more submissive. After all we are in UNHCR on our own volition
Our political leaders are very visible in the Buddhist scene, frequenting temples, prostrating themselves before Bodhi trees and participating in Buddhist rituals. All that is well and good. At the same time I wish they would embrace the Dasa Raja Dharma edict on governance of King Asoka. We will then have fewer problems with the likes of UNHRC.
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