PHILIP GUNEWARDENA’S GRANDSON
(as Late Philip Gunewardena was known)
by Elmo de Silva
I refer to the news item written by Mr. Saman Indrajith regarding M.P. Yadimini Gonewardena, grandson of late Philip Gunewardena (Island Nov. 21) which takes me back to 1957, when after obtaining my degree from the Peradeniya University, I was appointed as one of the Administrative Officers in the Agriculture Department (Dept). The Minister of Agriculture was the late Hon. Philip Gunewardena. (The Hon. Minister). Unlike at present, when we graduates passed out, there were so many vacancies in what was then called, the Government Service. Vacancies were advertised for Administrative Officers, Dept. of Agriculture, Asst. Assessors Inland Revenue Dept; Asst. Commissioners Dept of Labour; Commercial Assistants; Asst Commissioners Transport etc. I applied for all posts. The first interview that I was called for was Administrative Officer, Dept. of Agriculture. The Chairman of the interview board was Mr. Sam Silva, CCS, who was Deputy Director Administration of the Agriculture Dept. I was selected for this post .
I received my letter of appointment by post from the Public Service Commission (PSC); it was not handed over by a politician with all the political fanfare and press attendance to convey the impression that it was the politician who gave the appointment, so that he could gain some political mileage. The PSC letter outlined my duties and stated that my monthly basic salary would be Rs. 340 plus an allowance of Rs.300, and some other allowances making a total of Rs.740/=, which was a handsome salary at that time when the dollar fetched six rupees and a brand new Volkswagen could be bought for Rs. 8,500.
The Hon. Minister envisaged that the Administrative Officers would be a specialized service given a higher salary with additional responsibilities, and will be given a thorough training in the work they were expected to do. After I was appointed to this post, I went for an interview held by the Central Bank for an intake of officers. On being questioned whether I was employed, I stated that I was functioning as Administrative Officer, Dept. of Agriculture. The interview board informed me that they had instructions from the Hon Minister Philip Gunewardene, not to select anyone who was functioning as an Administrative Officer in the Agriculture Dept. This was because he wanted a cadre of committed, trained and experienced officers to implement his well planned, futuristic and visionary policies.
Hon. Philip Gunewardena introduced a new system of Administration. Before I explain this system I should refer to the advice the Hon. Minister gave to the newly selected officers. All of us were summoned to the Agriculture Dept. head office at Peradeniya for an official briefing. After Mr. Sam Silva, Dy. Director explained our responsibilities in this new job, the Hon. Minister addressed the new officers. Among the thoughts he expressed, there was one outstanding statement which has guided me throughout my official career where I have served in several Departments and Ministries.
He emphasized ‘that we could violate any Financial or Administrative Regulations, if we could prove that this action of ours was done in the Interests of the country and the citizens we serve’
This exhortation has guided me throughout my public life. To give one example, when I was a novice in the public service as Administrative Officer for the Matara District, there was a rubber plant nursery to supply clones to peasants given land under the Land Development Ordinance. They were to be given a subsistence allowance till they could get an income from their rubber plantations. Delay in giving the nursery plants to the peasants, would have resulted in extending the subsistence allowances given by the Govt. to the landowners. There was severe a drought and the plants in the nursery would have withered. The position demanded immediate action to maintain the nursery. Though I was yet a novice in the public service, in terms of the verbal authority given by the Hon Minister, as referred to above, I hired two water bowsers to water the nursery for about two months enabling the plants in the nursery to survive I did not seek the consent of any authority or call for tenders. There were no queries from the audits.
In another instance, much later in my official career when I served in the Customs, I had to take immediate action on very important issue that had large financial consequences. When import cargo commenced to come in containers, the containers, apart from the cargo, were dutiable. The Ports Authority officers and the Ship’s Agents warned me that if containers were subject to duty, where a customs entry has to be passed, that this will result in a considerable delay in the turnaround of the ships and the Colombo port will be avoided as a port of call. Realizing the gravity of the situation, which would have placed the country’s International Trade in jeopardy, I obtained the verbal approval of Mr. Chandi Chamugam, Deputy Secretary to the Treasury, and removed the duty on the containers, pending action to be taken by the Minister of Finance in term of the Revenue Protection act No 19 of 1962. The action I took meant a heavy loss of revenue to the government. But I had to weigh the irreparable damage that would have being caused to the country’s International Trade. It may be that Minister Philip Gunewardena’s advice influenced my decision. There were several such decisions I had to take during in my official career, especially when I served in Customs. (Note: in any case import containers are used for export cargo).
Hon Philip Gunewardena used to make surprise visits to offices, and would fault officers who had not completed their assignments. Officers worked as though the Minister was breathing down their necks.
The new system of Administration introduced by the Hon. Minister was based on the system in operation In New Zealand. The concept underlying this was, that Technical Officers should be relieved of administrative and financial duties, and concentrate on furthering their Specialities including Research. Thus the requirement to recruit Administrative Officers to be in charge of the administrative and financial functions in all the agricultural offices throughout the country. The introduction of this new system of administration was bitterly opposed by the Technical Officers, as the removal administrative and financial duties, was seen by the Technical officers, as a reduction in their official powers and status. But the Hon Minister would not brook any opposition, which meant that all concerned officers had to comply with the Minister’s very progressive move.
Hon Philip Gunewardena realized the plight of the Ande’ Farmers ( tenant cultivator), who were not given their rightful share of the Produce or were wrongfully evicted. Hence the Paddy Lands Act No 1 of 1958.to emancipate the tenant farmers from the clutches of the landlords. In addition to my duties as Administrative Officer, I was gazetted as an Asst. Commissioner of Agrarian Services, to inquire into the grievances of the tenant farmers.
Hon Philip Gunewardene ,who was very sympathetic towards the farmers, introduced a Crop Insurance Scheme which benefited the farmers immensely. I am not sure whether this insurance scheme is still operative.
Since the minister would brook no opposition, be fiery in his speech, even in Parliament , Mr. Tarzie Vittachi, who wrote under the pseudonym Fly-By-Night , humorously said in one of his interesting articles that “there’s a fly in every ointment and a Philip in every Government”
I wish that Hon. Philip Gunewardena’s grandson would serve the nation in the exemplary manner in which his grandfather did: empathy for the underprivileged; upholding the principles he believed in; defending what he thought was right; setting an example to all Government officers of commitment and dedication to duty and moral rectitude.
Govt.’s choice is dialogue over confrontation
By Jehan Perera
Preparing for the forthcoming UN Human Rights Council cannot be easy for a government elected on a nationalist platform that was very critical of international intervention. When the government declared its intention to withdraw from Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of the October 2015 resolution No. 30/1 last February, it may have been hoping that this would be the end of the matter. However, this is not to be. The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report that will be taken up at the forthcoming UNHRC session in March contains a slate of proposals that are severely punitive in nature and will need to be mitigated. These include targeted economic sanctions, travel bans and even the involvement of the International Criminal Court.
Since UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s visit in May 2009 just a few days after the three-decade long war came to its bloody termination, Sri Lanka has been a regular part of the UNHRC’s formal discussion and sometimes even taking the centre stage. Three resolutions were passed on Sri Lanka under acrimonious circumstances, with Sri Lanka winning the very first one, but losing the next two. As the country became internationally known for its opposition to revisiting the past, sanctions and hostile propaganda against it began to mount. It was only after the then Sri Lankan government in 2015 agreed to co-sponsor a fresh resolution did the clouds begin to dispel.
Clearly in preparation for the forthcoming UNHRC session in Geneva in March, the government has finally delivered on a promise it made a year ago at the same venue. In February 2020 Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena sought to prepare the ground for Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from co-sponsorship of UN Human Rights Council resolution No 30/1 of 2015. His speech in Geneva highlighted two important issues. The first, and most important to Sri Lanka’s future, was that the government did not wish to break its relationships with the UN system and its mechanisms. He said, “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”
Second, the Foreign Minister concluding his speech at the UNHRC session in Geneva saying “No one has the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multi-cultural people of Sri Lanka closer to their heart, than the Government of Sri Lanka. It is this motivation that guides our commitment and resolve to move towards comprehensive reconciliation and an era of stable peace and prosperity for our people.” On that occasion the government pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to inquire into the findings of previous commissions of inquiry. The government’s action of appointing a sitting Supreme Court judge as the chairperson of a three-member presidential commission of inquiry into the findings and recommendations of earlier commissions and official bodies can be seen as the start point of its response to the UNHRC.
The government’s setting up of a Commission of Inquiry has yet to find a positive response from the international and national human rights community and may not find it at all. The national legal commentator Kishali Pinto Jayawardene has written that “the tasks encompassed within its mandate have already been performed by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC, 2011) under the term of this President’s brother, himself the country’s Executive President at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa.” Amnesty International has stated that “Sri Lanka has a litany of such failed COIs that Amnesty International has extensively documented.” It goes on to quote from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights that “Domestic processes have consistently failed to deliver accountability in the past and I am not convinced the appointment of yet another Commission of Inquiry will advance this agenda. As a result, victims remain denied justice and Sri Lankans from all communities have no guarantee that past patterns of human rights violations will not recur.”
It appears that the government intends its appointment of the COI to meet the demand for accountability in regard to past human rights violations. Its mandate includes to “Find out whether preceding Commissions of Inquiry and Committees which have been appointed to investigate into human rights violations, have revealed any human rights violations, serious violations of the international humanitarian law and other such serious offences.” In the past the government has not been prepared to accept that such violations took place in a way that is deserving of so much of international scrutiny. Time and again the point has been made in Sri Lanka that there are no clean wars fought anywhere in the world.
International organisations that stands for the principles of international human rights will necessarily be acting according to their mandates. These include seeking the intervention of international judicial mechanisms or seeking to promote hybrid international and national joint mechanisms within countries in which the legal structures have not been successful in ensuring justice. The latter was on the cards in regard to Resolution 30/1 from which the government withdrew its co-sponsorship. The previous government leaders who agreed to this resolution had to publicly deny any such intention in view of overwhelming political and public opposition to such a hybrid mechanism. The present government has made it clear that it will not accept international or hybrid mechanisms.
In the preamble to the establishment of the COI the government has made some very constructive statements that open up the space for dialogue on issues of accountability, human rights and reconciliation. It states that “the policy of the Government of Sri Lanka is to continue to work with the United Nations and its Agencies to achieve accountability and human resource development for achieving sustainable peace and reconciliation, even though Sri Lanka withdrew from the co-sponsorship of the aforesaid resolutions” and further goes on to say that “the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensure that, other issues remain to be resolved through democratic and legal processes and to make institutional reforms where necessary to ensure justice and reconciliation.”
As the representative of a sovereign state, the government cannot be compelled to either accept international mechanisms or to prosecute those it does not wish to prosecute. At the same time its willingness to discuss the issues of accountability, justice and reconciliation as outlined in the preamble can be considered positively. The concept of transitional justice on which Resolution No 30/1 was built consists of the four pillars of truth, accountability, reparations and institutional reform. There is international debate on whether these four pillars should be implemented simultaneously or whether it is acceptable that they be implemented sequentially depending on the country context.
The government has already commenced the reparations process by establishing the Office for Reparations and to allocate a monthly sum of Rs 6000 to all those who have obtained Certificates of Absence (of their relatives) from the Office of Missing Persons. This process of compensation can be speeded up, widened and improved. It is also reported that the government is willing to consider the plight of suspected members of the LTTE who have been in detention without trial, and in some cases without even being indicted, for more than 10 years. The sooner action is taken the better. The government can also seek the assistance of the international community, and India in particular, to develop the war affected parts of the country on the lines of the Marshall Plan that the United States utilized to rebuild war destroyed parts of Europe. Member countries of the UNHRC need to be convinced that the government’s actions will take forward the national reconciliation process to vote to close the chapter on UNHRC resolution 30/1 in March 2021.
Album to celebrate 30 years
Rajiv Sebastian had mega plans to celebrate 30 years, in showbiz, and the plans included concerts, both local and foreign. But, with the pandemic, the singer had to put everything on hold.
However, in order to remember this great occasion, the singer has done an album, made up of 12 songs, featuring several well known artistes, including Sunil of the Gypsies.
All the songs have been composed, very specially for this album.
Among the highlights will be a duet, featuring Rajiv and the Derena DreamStar winner, Andrea Fallen.
Andrea, I’m told, will also be featured, doing a solo spot, on the album.
Rajiv and his band The Clan handle the Friday night scene at The Cinnamon Grand Breeze Bar, from 07.30 pm, onwards.
LET’S DO IT … in the new normal
The local showbiz scene is certainly brightening up – of course, in the ‘new normal’ format (and we hope so!)
Going back to the old format would be disastrous, especially as the country is experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases, and the Western Province is said to be high on the list of new cases.
But…life has to go on, and with the necessary precautions taken, we can certainly enjoy what the ‘new normal’ has to offer us…by way of entertainment.
Bassist Benjy, who leads the band Aquarius, is happy that is hard work is finally bringing the band the desired results – where work is concerned.
Although new to the entertainment scene, Aquarius had lots of good things coming their way, but the pandemic ruined it all – not only for Aquarius but also for everyone connected with showbiz.
However, there are positive signs, on the horizon, and Benjy indicated to us that he is enthusiastically looking forward to making it a happening scene – wherever they perform.
And, this Friday night (January 29th), Aquarius will be doing their thing at The Show By O, Mount Lavinia – a beach front venue.
Benjy says he is planning out something extra special for this particular night.
“This is our very first outing, as a band, at The Show By O, so we want to make it memorable for all those who turn up this Friday.”
The legendary bassist, who lights up the stage, whenever he booms into action, is looking forward to seeing music lovers, and all those who missed out on being entertained for quite a while, at the Mount Lavinia venue, this Friday.
“I assure you, it will be a night to be remembered.”
Benjy and Aquarius will also be doing their thing, every Saturday evening, at the Darley rd. Pub & Restaurant, Colombo 10.
In fact, they were featured at this particular venue, late last year, but the second wave of Covid-19 ended their gigs.
Also new to the scene – very new, I would say – is Ishini and her band, The Branch.
Of course, Ishini is a singer of repute, having performed with Mirage, but as Ishini and The Branch, they are brand new!
Nevertheless, they were featured at certain five-star venues, during the past few weeks…of their existence.
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