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Lalith: A true leader who opened many a window for others

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84th birth anniversary:

by Shyamila Perera

former coordination Secretary

Always remembered by what he has done- LALITH ATHULATHMUDALI

Lalith Athulathmudali was indefatigable in his quest for knowledge and was continuously opening windows for our youth to the modern world of knowledge and technology. With the Mahapola concept, he demonstrated the fact that school was not merely an institution concerned with distributing prescribed learning but rather that it was motivated towards creating an awareness of ever-expanding human horizon in the world of today and tomorrow. Communication and information were central to Lalith’s vision of realizing his goals. His steadfast ambition was that our youth be equipped to take their place in the global village of advancing technology.

Lalith’s enduring mission was to provide facilities for our young men and women with high ideals and higher hopes emerging each year on the threshold of life with no hope of assistance, falling back in frustration because they were being defeated by the system. The creation of the Mahapola Scholarship Trust Fund was a major step towards defeating the cynicism of the system. But even that was insufficient for Lalith. He wanted more for these young men and women particularly because he truly believed that the eventual alleviation of poverty could only be achieved through enhanced education and narrowing the gap in educational facilities. Through the provision of a dynamic educational system complete with English as its cementing language and developing technical and vocational skills to meet the mismatch in employment market.

Lalith did not overlook the business community but created lucrative openings for them. The business community benefitted by his pragmatic vision and innovative ideas. Modernization of commercial laws, Export incentives, introduction of the Export production villages, Exporter’s forum and the Presidential Export awards, lying emphasis on exports, Development of the Port as a modern container port and equipping it for transhipment are some of the few initiatives he took to develop the economy.

In his short span, as the Minister of Agriculture he introduced many novel ideas such as Agricultural Export villages, the soil and climate cropping system and the concept of growing for the market. His stint as the Education portfolio he introduced many reforms with the student being the priority.

His political ideology for the country was of national, secularism, democracy and market economy with a safety net for the less privileged. He insisted that the voice of the people, their needs, their aspirations and their priorities must become the corner stone of the edifice of planning. Scholarships for post-graduate studies, grants and other special awards will be included in to the Foundation’s educational programmes.

It’s appropriate to lookback at his life’s work and vision, pragmatism and the vigour he displayed he displayed during his relatively short span of life.

Always Remembered by what he has done

A short summery of his work and achievements is appropriate to be remembered: As Minister of Trade from 1977 (August)-1983 March) he Implemented the open market economy, introduced the concept of bonded warehousing for essential foods to ensure food security, ensured continuous supply of food and essentials to the people amidst of riots and crisis (1983) through Trade Ministry supply chain, introduced new laws for consumer protection, Consumer Credit , Code of Intellectual Property , New Companies Act, Insurance (Special Provisions) Act, Sri Lanka Export Credit Insurance Act, Export Development Board Law, Young Inventors Commission among others. He restructured the CWE to become a profitable Organization and a self-service retail network, re built the Lanka Milk foods factory with modern facilities (after the Welisara fire). Effected positive changes in the export sector and established a with Export information Centre, Exporter’s Forum, Presidential Export Awards, Export Production Village Concept,etc. As Minister of PORTS and SHIPPING (1978- 1988) he spearheaded the unification of Port activities by creating the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, introduced transhipment, modernized the marine laws, Infrastructure modernization and development of the Port, pioneered the Containerization, the development of the QEQ, Construction of the JAYA Terminal as the first modern fully computerized terminal. Ports became a revenue earning institutions for the first time during his tenure & achieved 26th position among world ports (139th in 1980) He established the Mahapola- SLPA Technical Training Institute and completed construction of the Sambudha Jayanthi Stupa during his term. MAHAPOLA (1980) The Mahapola concept that he introduced was the closest to his heart. he created a fund with a personal contribution. In order to collect funds for this programme he introduced the Mahapola Lottery. Later with his foresight The MTF became a co-partner of the Development Lottery initiated by the Ministry of Plan Implementation by investing 50% of the capital which guaranteed continuity of the scholarships. Mahapola Trade Fairs and Educational Exhibitions were introduced to create a link between education and trade. Mahapola Trust Fund was initially created by a private deed and thereafter enacted as the Mahapola Higher Education Scholarship Trust Fund by an Act of Parliament to provide scholarships to the needy undergraduates. The “Gnana Pradeepa” fund provided infrastructure facilities to rural Schools. The “Gnana Dharshana” Seminar programme Which he personally participated, benefitted of students of economics & commerce. He acquired a 25-acre block of land to the Trust in order to establish the Mahapola University Complex (currently occupied by SLIIT)

With the onset of the Eelam war NATIONAL SECURITY and DEFENCE (1983-1988) was a diverse subject for this intellectual. However, he accepted the challenge. Restructuring of the Armed forces from Ceremonial to a fully-fledged combat forces, recruitment, training, equipping and establishing new units was his priority. He was Instrumental in the establishment of the Special Task Force, Rapid Deployment Force, National Auxiliary Force, expanding Commando Units, equipping the Navy with new, modern fast craft to strengthen the protection of the sea routes. The increasing the number of camps in the war zone, teaching of Tamil language to soldiers, welfare schemes for soldiers, boosting the morale of the soldiers by visiting camps regularly were some others he was involved in. He also gave political leadership to the Wadamarachchi operation.

He was the Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and cooperatives for a short stint (1989-1990) The framework for “farming for the Market”, concept of “YALA- for cash- MAHA for rice” evolving cropping systems for different climatic zones and soil conditions, Introduction of Agricultural Export Production Village Scheme Introducing the export oriented agriculture to the farming community, organizing livestock farmers in to co-operative societies, introducing the concept of co-operative banking and insurance business were some of the concepts he introduced to the agriculture sector.

EDUCATION and HIGHER EDUCATION (1990-1991-August). To Lalith Athulathmudali, education as a whole was sine-qua-non of his existence. He believed that an educated society can only be created by a leadership that values education and educated people. Introduction of the concept of equal opportunity for equal ability was his vision. He broad-based opportunities to teach core subjects; science, maths and English with the use of electronic media for education (particularly to benefit rural students) He Introduced a scheme to increase opportunities for technical and vocational education with a graded system in technical education with formal exit points from main stream of education. The teaching of second and third languages in schools and introduction of competency tests, introducing the Tri-lingual alphabet with free school books, introducing Sports as a vocational subject for O/L and A/L, Introducing the Teacher Service and Principals Service, Year-9 Technical Certificate, National Education Commission are some other ideas he introduced during the 15 months of his tenure.

 

RISE AGAINST AUTOCRACY & THE CRUSADE TO RE ESTABLISH DEMOCRACY (1991 August-1993 April) Lalith Athulathmudali was a democrat in every sense of the word. He spent his formative years in a liberal environment where free thinking, the rule of law, democracy was paramount. However, his liberal thinking did not blind him of the limitations it could have on a developing country like Sri Lanka. He believed that every citizen is equal in dignity and should enjoy the freedom, privileges and basic facilities in equal share. The rule of law should be equal to all from the highest and the lowest in society. Independence of the judiciary has to be protected at any cost. And strived to create a society where “freedom without fear” shall prevail

In pursuance of these goals he sacrificed his precious life on a political platfor April 23 rd, 1993

“Look for WHAT IS RIGHT- not WHO IS RIGHT”

 

EPITAPH

“He was young enough and tough enough to confront and to enjoy the winds of these times, whether the winds of nature or the winds of political circumstance and national danger; He died of exposure. But in a way that he would have settled for, in the line of duty, with his friends and enemies all around supporting him and shooting at him. It can be said of him, as of few men in like position, that he did not fear the weather and did not trim the sails, but instead challenged the wind itself, to improve its direction and cause it to blow more softly and more kindly over the nation and its people.”

Courtesy- JFK memorial

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Opinion

Reminiscences of Colombo University Arts Faculty and Library

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Whilst extending my felicitations to the University of Colombo on the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Arts and the Library of the University, I would like to record my contribution towards these two units as the Registrar of the University.

It was during Prof. Stanley Wijesundera’s tenure as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) in 1980 that the proposals for the buildings in respect of the Chemistry Department, Physics Department, New Administration, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Arts and the Library were mooted and submitted to the Treasury. At that time it was the National Buildings Consortium that assigned the Consultants and the Contractors for the new buildings to be constructed. Within that year the Treasury allocated sufficient funds for the Chemistry, Physics, Faculty of Law and the New Administration buildings. However, no funds were allocated to the Faculty of Arts and only Rs. 7.5 million was allocated for the Library building.

With the funds allocated the Chemistry, Physics, Law Faculty and the new Administration buildings were able to get off the ground. The construction work in respect of the other two buildings could not commence due to non-allocation of sufficient funds, even though the consultants and the contractors and already been selected.

As the Minister of Finance at that time was from Matara, he was more interested in getting the required buildings for the newly established University of Ruhuna completed, which was in his electorate. This meant that the University of Colombo would not get any funds for new buildings other than those buildings where the construction work had already begun.

The university needed a building for the Faculty of Arts very badly as this Faculty had the largest number of students. The Vice-Chancellor requested me to draft a letter to the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, I drafted a letter and submitted to the VC for his signature. He told it was an excellent letter, and he signed without a single amendment and submitted same to the Minister. The Minister approved the releasing of the funds. Now the consultants to the building project studied the area required for the building and found that a small portion of land was necessary from the land of the Planetarium. My efforts to get the land from the person in charge of the Planetarium, the Senior Assistant Secretary and the Secretary himself were not fruitful. I told the VC of the position and that he would have to speak to the Minister in charge of the Planetarium, Mr. Lionel Jayathilaka. He got the Minister on line and addressing him by his first name and informed the Minister of the problem. The Minister immediately got it attended to. However, when the construction work started, they found that the additional land area was not necessary.

At that time, the payments to the consultants of building projects was 15% of the total value of the cost. So, in designing the building they tried to add various unnecessary items to jack up the cost. When the first phase was completed, the building looked monstrous and it was like a maze, as it was difficult to find your way out once you get in. I requested the architect to add some coloured tiles on the floors and the stairway and a few decorations on the walls. The university had a never ending tussle with the contractor as he was like Shylock asking for more, when everything had been paid. He tried various tactics but did not succeed in getting anything more as I was adamant not to give in.

When the second stage of the building project came up, I told the consultant to drop all the unnecessary items and have a straight forward building. This was done by the new contractor at much less cost to the university.

The Library building was the last of the buildings planned in 1980 that was awaiting construction. When Mr. Richard Pathirana became the Minister of Higher Education, I spoke to the two engineers who were assigned the task of supervising the building projects of the universities, and managed to get the funds passed by the Treasury for the construction of the Library building. When the Minister came on a visit to the university, he told me that the building that should have been done for Rs.7.5 million will cost Rs.253 million. I told him that the Treasury never gave any money after approving the initial funding of Rs.7.5 million. Anyway, I had achieved what I wanted to do and the building was successfully completed. Now the furniture for the Library had to be procured. When quotations were called the suucessful tenderer had brought a sample of the study tables. I rejected this as it was inferior to what I wanted and asked the officer concerned to get the design of the furniture from the library in the University of Peradeniya. This was done and the furniture was installed. The official opening of the new Library was arranged. By that time I had retired from the position of Registrar and was the Director of the Institute of Workers’ Education. Even though I was instrumental in getting the building done, I was not invited for the function. That is gratitude!!

 

H M Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Ali Sabry bashing

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Justice Minister Ali Sabry has appealed to his critics to spare him from the criticism that he was behind the calling of applications for the appointment of Quazis for Quazi Courts (The Island/23.01.2021). In my view, the allegations levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry are unfounded and uneducated. If you are an educated and unbiased citizen of this country, you’ll understand it better. The applications for Quazis for Quazi Courts have been called by the Judicial Service Commission, an independent Commission chaired by the Chief Justice of this country. If you aren’t happy with this decision, you have to take it up with the Chief Justice, not the Justice Minister. He has no control at all over the Judicial Service Commission. In a way, criticising that Justice Minister influenced the Judicial Service Commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, tantamounts to contempt of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Quazi Courts have been in existence for well over 70 years, and it hasn’t affected the Sinhalese or the Tamils nor has it been incompatible with the common law of this country. If there is any serious discrepancy, it can be rectified. But I wonder why the calling of applications for Quazis has now become an issue. I also wonder if the removal of Quazi Courts was promised as a part of the subtle 69 mandate. This is not the first time similar allegations have been made. When Rauf Hakeem was Justice Minister, Member of Parliament Pattali Champika Ranawaka  made serious allegations that more Muslim students were admitted to the Law College and led many protests and ultimately a group of monks stormed the Law College in protest. He had charged that Law College entrance exam papers were leaked and criticised the then Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem for it. He  knew very well that Law College came under the Council of Legal Education chaired by the Chief Justice and  Attorney General and two other Supreme Court judges among others were  members of this Council, yet he had made these allegations with a different motive. Amidst international outcry, Muslim Covid victims have been denied burial. To make the situation worse, some vindictive, venomous elements are now trying to create another bad scenario that Muslims can’t marry either according to their faith, and tarnish the image of this country internationally and drive a wedge between communities. Therefore I earnestly ask the law abiding and peace loving citizens of this country to work against these vindictive, venomous elements.  

 

M. A. Kaleel 

Kalmunai. 

 

 

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Opinion

What do Northern political parties seek?

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Political parties, based in the North, are reported to be getting prepared to attend the UNHRC sessions next month. For several decades, the only thing they did for their constituents is to spread feelings of hate among them, against the government and the people living in the South. Today, we have two important issues where India is involved – re. the Colombo Harbour and the death of four fishermen. There is another perennial issue of Indians fishing in our waters. Have these parties uttered a single word on those matters? What do they expect to gain, or achieve for the Northerners, even if they could prove SL war crimes allegations at the UNHRC? Can they honestly say that they were not a party to the LTTE and other terrorist outfits which looted, tortured and killed hundred or thousands of civilians, both in the North and the South?

Other than shouting about the rights of their people, have they done anything for the wellbeing of the people in those areas? Whatever was given to the people were those given by the Government on a national basis. Excellent example is the conduct of C V Wigneswaran, who held the high position of Chief Minister of the Northern Province for five years – had he done any significant service for the people? Those parties never complain about India for the killings, torturing and raping done by the IPKF, or the damage and loss due to the activities of Indian fishermen.

India too overlooks all that, and to keep Tamil Nadu happy, forces the SL government to grant whatever the Northern Parties demand.

 

K SIRIWEERA

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