Connect with us

Opinion

Rohan Abeywickrema – A pioneer in transport professionalism

Published

on

Rohan Abeywickrema

Rohan Abeywickrema was my friend and professional colleague for over three decades. He passed away on the 9th of November. His contribution to my own life will live on to the end of my days, as it would in and through the life of countless people who allowed Rohan into their lives and was influenced by him.

Rohan (or Rohaan as he would spell) joined the then Ceylon Shipping Corporation (CSC) in 1973 as a Management Trainee fresh from – Ananda College, Colombo. His father passed away when he was 17 years and he decided to take responsibility of the family. He received a UN Fellowship for his higher studies and obtained a B.Sc. in International Transport from the University of Wales, Cardiff in the UK (being probably one of the first-degree holders in Transport for a Sri Lankan). On his return in 1978, he was appointed to the R&D Department of the CSC.

He provided leadership in planning and implementation for a 560 TEU container service replacing break bulk, the first of its kind in South Asia. He was instrumental in negotiating Neptune Orient Lines, Singapore, one of the best in South Asia at that time to partner with CSC. His proposal for a service to USA via Hong Kong also materialised when Maersk Lines entered in 1983. His contributions to the shipping sector in that critical time of reform and advent to containerisation were significant, particularly his pioneering work in promoting coastal / feeder shipping which began in 1980. He was also one of the early promoters of digitalisation in shipping. In 1986 he resigned as Manager, Research and Development CSC, and as Manager of Coastal Shipping of the vessel owning, Ceylon Shipping Lines, to which he had been seconded. Thereafter, in an effort to promote container traffic to Colombo, he co-founded Green Lanka Shipping (agents for Evergeen), thereafter Sea Consortium Lanka Ltd, where he was its Managing Director before setting up, Sathsindu- a Non-Vessel Operating Common Carrier (NVOCC) company in 1990.

My association with Rohan began during my early days with the Chartered Institute of Transport (CIT), as it was known before it merged with the Chartered Institute of Logistics in 2001 as the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT). In 1978, Rohaan was one of first Sri Lankans to become a member of CIT. He was most likely the first from the shipping sector to join with the likes of Derek Wijesinghe, Eng. L.S. de Silva, John Diandas, Mandri Sahabandu, Prof D.S. Wijeyesekera, MC Premaratne, and HA Premaratne to pioneer setting up CIT (Sri Lanka Section) in 1984.

Rohan sought me immediately after I had returned from my higher studies to bring me into the Exco. In those fledgling days of CIT, he actively sought young people with promise in the transport sector and badgered them to help CIT position transport as a profession in Sri Lanka. Rohan was the backstage manager who kept the institute operating allowing the bigger names to perform publicly. For well over a decade, the CIT/CILT office operated from his own office at Sathsindu. He and Anoma were eager hosts to all the informal functions of CIT/CILT and even the hosting of foreign visitors. More than one former Treasurer has confided how he made good all operational shortfalls personally.

Rohan took it upon himself to lay the foundation of CIT/CILT into what it became. His passing allows me to capture in writing this pioneering effort, which may easily get buried in the very trappings of its success. Vernon de Rosairo recounts how in 2000, Rohaan took him to meet Ministers and MPs to get CIT Incorporated under an Act of Parliament. He was always thinking ahead of leadership succession in CIT/CILT and was responsible for pressing many members to take up positions, me being one of many examples. He served on the CIT/CILT Council for over 30 years, was elected a Fellow member and served as its Chairman (Sri Lanka section) in 1993 and 1994. He was an International Vice President for CILT from 1997 to 2001 (the first from Sri Lanka) and appointed as an Honorary Fellow in 2005, being only the second Sri Lankan after John Diandas to be so recognised with CILT’s highest award of honour, which hardly anyone knows since he bore it so humbly.

He was a key figure to initiate memorial lectures in recognition of the contributions of early pioneers such as John Diandas, L.S. de Silva, and P.B. Karandawela. He served on the John Diandas Memorial Trust alongside me from its inception. In addition to CILT, he was an active member of the Jaycees, becoming the JCI National President in 1991. He was also a key figure in the British Scholars Association of Sri Lanka serving as its President in 2009/2010. He was also an active member of the Ceylon Association of Shipping Agents (CASA). It was natural for him to seek every opportunity to be involved significantly. I recall when talking about raising funds for a road safety publication, he promptly said he would find the funds. He did this, though I suspected most of it came from him.

It was Rohan who made road safety a personal passion for me with his insistence that professionals were not doing enough. He dragged me to meetings with every Minister and Secretary of Transport most of whom he knew personally, but sadly, they did little to support the enthusiasm and leadership he took. He did similar rounds with the insurance and media houses, challenging them, to their indifference to the rampant increase in road accidents. In 2001/2, we served in the advisory committee that proposed setting up of the National Road Safety Secretariat. In 2004, it was my turn to get him involved in the Ministry of Transport when professionals were invited to help reform the land transport sector. From day one, we faced opposition from within the government itself.

He sat with me on the boards of the National Transport Commission and the Sri Lanka Transport Board during those difficult times. He stood firm even when one of our consultants had to take a bullet. In 2019 we were invited back to serve on the Advisory Council of the Ministry of Transport, but it was too deep in multiple political strangleholds for us to salvage. He worked for the ADB in the Maldives. He served on scores of boards, expert panels, task forces, committees. In 2002, the Chartered Institute of Shipbrokers honoured him with a lifetime award for his services to the sector. Rohaan’s interest in land transport had not distracted him from his commitment to the shipping sector. He was a director of the Ceylon Freight Bureau. He championed getting cruise ships to Sri Lanka.

He was firm in his values which made up his professional judgment and opinions and unlike others who spoke in private circles, Rohan expressed his concerns publicly. His criticism of the decision to construct the Hambantota Port, political meddling with the terminals in the Colombo South Port, and the handling of the Xpress Pearl disaster last year, did not go well with those in power or even other professionals who did not want to displease those in power. He was one who took risks to fight for what was true and what was good for Sri Lanka and the shipping sector, even though it put his own business at risk. Such was his passion and commitment to transport in Sri Lanka. He was often a lone voice. Sri Lanka is in trouble today, just for the want of a handful of people like Rohan Abeywickrema who could have stood up with him, to say the right things at the right time.

Many were the attempts he took to reduce agricultural post-harvest losses. With Anoma being in air travel, he had keen insight into aviation matters as well. He was truly a multimodal transport professional, a fact that very few others could claim. He even contributed to academia, by actively supporting the formation of the Department of Transport & Logistics Management at the University of Moratuwa which he followed up by being a member of its Department-Industry Coordination Board. He was instrumental in getting the Sri Lanka Society of Logistics and Transport (SLSTL) get started in 2014. He never missed an invitation to any of its conferences or seminars and was a regular sponsor of the annual research awards. I was awed to realise that he had presented over 50 technical papers and presentations at conferences and seminar in Sri Lanka and overseas, sadly the last of which was a paper on road safety at the SLSTL conference two years ago.

He never allowed himself to be constrained by the schedule of a busy professional to listen to an opinion, respond to a need, or challenge someone to action. As a result, Rohan was rarely punctual for any meeting. He would roll in unceremoniously and be never in a hurry to leave even after the meeting. He would hold down those willing to hear him emphasise what CIT/CILT should be doing, which usually made him late for his next appointment!

He was genuinely concerned about people. He invested in creating good values and professional ethics in those who were willing to listen to him and was always hurt whenever someone he deeply cared for chose a different path. He would stick to the narrow and winding road when many colleagues chose the paths to glory and easy profit, especially during the last decade or two. He was pained to see the dismantling of institutional norms and attraction to the superficial and glamorous at the expense of the significant and what was beneficial to society. But Rohan was not one to throw in the towel or his hands in despair. He would challenge people at meetings, he would challenge them at elections. He did not abandon anything he had built up without trying his utmost to restore it to its founding objectives. He was always a servant of whatever he chose to be passionate about. I recall an instance when he contested an election on a matter of principle, notwithstanding a blatant threat of business retribution. He was moved to tears but would not be moved in his position. He lost. But so has the country that has gradually replaced hard work and commitment with shortcuts to positions and personal profit.

He was unafraid even of his own limitations. A slight stutter did not stop him from appearing on radio and TV interviews. Some saw him as a perfectionist, others as a strict disciplinarian. Yet to many, he was a mentor, a ready source of help and counsel. To many he was tough and stubborn, but only those who took the trouble to understand him, saw his kind heart and the concerns for which he stood his grounds. I have heard stories of how he went out of the way to help others in their time of need, including during the horrific riots of 1983. Rohan chose his paths clearly. He could have risen much in the eyes of the world if he did not purposefully get distracted by the needs of others, the profession, and the country. He earned his fair share of opponents and enemies from those quite comfortable climbing the ladders of corporate and professional success. He profited by giving. He cared little about what he got.

Rohan was proud of Seneka, the elder daughter taking up Logistics and Supply Chain and doing a MBA in Supply Chain, while he was thrilled that the younger daughter Aneka completed her higher studies in Economics and proceeding to higher studies in Corporate Finance based in Cardiff, where he completed his studies. Rohan was many things to many people. In many of his undertakings, he chose to elevate those in whom he saw the potential to higher platforms while staying in the background. Goodbye, my friend, it has indeed been more than a privilege, but a blessing to have known you. Thank you for leading by example. As Matshona Dhilwayo, the African-born philosopher and author has noted Rest assured that those that have valued and profited from your work, will continue to build on them, with love for Lanka and for all humankind.

Amal S. Kumarage, Senior Professor, University of Moratuwa



Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Opinion

Alan Henricus- A Stalwart Sportsman Of Yesteryear Passes Away

Published

on

Alan Henricus (10-Feb 1933 – 26 Nov 2022)

by Hugh Karunanayake

Alan Henricus the youngest of five outstanding sporting brothers who represented their school Royal College, and their country then known as Ceylon, passed away a few days ago. He would have been 90 years of age if he survived up to his birthday in February next year.

The Henricus brothers grew up in Kohuwela where their father a former Feather Weight Boxing Champion of Ceylon lived. He served as an administrator of the sport first as Hony Secretary of the Amateur Boxing Association of Ceylon and later as its President. He helped build the Baptist Church in Nugegoda and was its Treasurer for 25 years. The road leading to their property was named Henricus Mawatha in honour of this outstanding family.

Alan represented Royal in Boxing, Athletics and Rugby, and won school colours in all three sports. He was also a school prefect, highly respected and regarded by both his schoolmates and staff. The family consisting of five brothers and two sisters were all nurtured in the best sporting traditions of colonial Ceylon. Eldest brother Barney represented Ceylon in boxing at the Empire Games and won a gold medal winning the feather weight title. The next, Basil, held the national record for 100 yards sprint and I believe his record still stands. He also represented the Havelocks Sports Club and All Ceylon at Rugby. The next brother George, for many years the Master Attendant in the Colombo Port was also a champion boxer, as was Derrick the fourth in line.

Remarkable sportsmen such as Alan reached their great heights from a base of raw innate talent fostered by regular training and a disciplined approach to life. When I was a 10-year old schoolboy I used to watch with awe and admiration Alan doing his training run at 6 a.m in the morning, jogging all the way from his home in Kohuwela to the Havelock Park and back on most weekends. Alan was senior to me in school by about three years and in those days that was an age gap filled with respect and admiration for a senior student. To us younger kids the high achieving Alan was a hero.

I recall in one Public Schools Athletics meet for the Tarbat Cup, either in 1950 or 1951,Royal College was able to obtain a total of 15 points only, and were never serious contenders for the trophy. However the 15 points that Royal earned was almost single handedly collected through Alan’s efforts. He won the pole vault event, was first in the 120 metres hurdles, and was a member of the 4 X 400 metre relay team which won the event. Although the Tarbat Cup was won by another school, the assembled gathering of Royalists carried Alan shoulder high around the grounds!

From school he was selected for training as a Naval officer cadet in Dartmouth in Devonshire in England. Fellow Royalists the late Norman Gunawardena, and Humphrey Wijesinghe were among the cadets who were selected for Dartmouth together with Alan. On returning to Ceylon after his naval training at Dartmouth, he served the Royal Ceylon Navy and its successor Sri Lanka Navy for several years until retirement. On retirement from the Navy he served for a short period as an Executive in a Mercantile firm in Colombo, before migrating with his family to Australia.

The stint at Dartmouth would carry many precious memories for him, as that was where he met Maureen the love of his life. On migrating to Australia in the 1970s Alan joined the Royal Australian Navy which he served with distinction as Lieut Commander. On my migrating to Australia in 1984 I met Alan and Maureen at a Sunday luncheon hosted by the late Brendon Goonratne. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and Alan and Maureen remained very close friends of ours.

Over the years we used to meet every three months at lunch at the Rosehill Bowling Club organized for old Royalist Seniors through the initiative of Chandra Senaratne. Other social engagements over the years have strengthened our friendship, and it is with deep distress that I heard of his terminal illness about two months ago. I rang him immediately and he was stoic as ever, the brave naval officer that he was. He said in no uncertain terms that he was not seeking to extend his life on this earth, and that he would wait in his home until the final call.

Alan’s departure marks another severance with the old Ceylon we knew, and its traditions and honorable ways. The Last Post will be played at his funeral at the Baptist Church, Epping on Friday December 2 at 3pm. He is survived by his dear wife Maureen, sons Andrew and Richard,, daughter in law Caroline, and grandson Ryan.

“The song is ended but the melody lingers on “

Farewell dear Alan.

Continue Reading

Opinion

Controversy Over Female Teachers’ Dress To School

Published

on

Our country and its people always get involved with unnecessary things which is of no interest to the majority of people. The latest debate in this never -a -dull -moment country (as always for the wrong reason) is the dress the female teachers are expected to wear to school. This is something that should be decided by the Ministry of Education in respect of the teachers of government schools.

I recollect when we were students the majority of female teachers wore saree to school. Then there were several teachers who wore frocks. These were the Burgher ladies. And there was no problem at all. I am not indicating this to show support that the teachers should be left to decide on their dress.

Now the strange thing about this controversy is that Buddhist monks have got involved in the debate and they are trying to determine the dress that teachers should wear. They do not seem to realize that the teachers must pay for the sarees. And they need to possess several sarees as they cannot wear the same saree over and over again. Given the monks get their robes free from the dayakayas, they should never get involved in matters of this nature, even though the female nurses may be happy to have one as the president of their union!

This controversy, if settled in favour of the teachers being given the option to decide on the dress and if they wear various types of dresses, the students too might get a bright idea to wear anything they want rather than the uniform that they have to wear at present.

It might be a good thing if the Ministry of Education could decide on a uniform for female teachers in Government schools. Some private hospitals, private firms and Sri Lankan Airlines have uniforms of their own and one could identify them easily. If there is such a uniform in saree and blouse for teachers in government schools, everybody outside too would be able to identify them as teachers and give the respect due to them.

However, this is not the time to worry about dress for teachers when there are children who do not get a proper education and suffer from malnutrition. It seems our rulers always get their priorities wrong, and this always affects the country and the people adversely. First, the teachers must do their job properly so that the schoolchildren do not have to attend tuition classes. We hear that sometimes only one teacher is available, and as a result the children keep away from attending school.

HM NISSANKA WARAKAULLE

Continue Reading

Opinion

Dr Shafi’s daughter

Published

on

Just read on WhatsApp about the daughter of  famous Dr. Shihabdeen Mohamed Shafi. I do not like to even mention why he became famous or infamous. His daughter after several years of rejection and trauma has passed GCE (OL) examination with Eight As.

The persons who generated disaster to an innocent family used it to gain positions as President, Ministers and MPs. Teachers and student friends of Dr Shafi’s children too insulted and rejected them as dirt. Has anyone of  these people apologized to this family for their suffering?

B Perera

Continue Reading

Trending