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The versatile banker rich in humane values



When I read the article ‘Dismal behaviour of people’s representatives’ on 7th July in this newspaper by veteran banker Rienzie T. Wijetilleke (RTW), former Managing Director and Chairman of Hatton National Bank PLC, I noticed he had mentioned that he was in his 80s. That prompted me to pen this article as his next birthday approaches.

A leader is the one who knows how the way goes, and shows the way. Such a man’s name is ever embedded in many hearts. To the world he may be one human being but for many he is the world.

Quite deservingly many articles about him have been written by erudite veterans such as, Dr Upul Wijayawardhana, W. A.Wijewardane, former Deputy Governor of Central Bank in ‘My View’ and Savithri Rodrigo in her ‘Rienzie Wijetilleke – Revisited’. (to name a few of eulogies).

Some of the following accounts of him are not known to many outsiders and may be confined only to some brothers and sisters of HNB. Although I have worked at HNB for 18 years my interactions with this great leader was unfortunately limited to four instances.

If my memory serves me right, I met him for the first time in Panadura in the late 80s as the then Vice President of the Panadura Sports Club when HNB sponsored a cricket match between the club team and a touring English team. The chat lasted less than three minutes. Then, it was when he came to the HNB City Office in 1991 to give his blessings for the very first shipment of foreign currency notes to Singapore. The third was when he visited the Treasury Department of HNB, which was shifted to a new building opposite the City Office in Colombo Fort in the late 90s. My most important and vital meeting was in late September 2001.

When I was selected to Head the Representative Office of HNB in Karachi, Pakistan, in October 2001, I had to meet him. So, on the day of the appointment when I went to his room, I experienced the noble qualities and true humanity of this great gentleman. After a lengthy discussion about my new posting (mainly fatherly advice) and also about my family, the following kind words of his still echo in my mind and will not be forgotten in years to come.

“Lalith, give my direct telephone number to your wife to contact me for any emergency and she and your children can be assured of my protection and care in any emergency”.

Further, he fulfilled a special request made by me before I left. If love, compassion and care define a mother, then he fits in there.

He created and promoted the ‘Hatna Family’ concept, to go deep into the hearts of all at HNB. He never neglected the children and the close relatives of the ex-employees of HNB. However, in this world there are so many ungrateful people who do not have an iota of gratitude even after receiving ‘impossible’ opportunities. Leaving that sad part aside, I just wonder how many fathers, mothers and children are smiling today because of the stability of their lives, well assisted by our Sir, RTW. Surely most of them must be transmitting their telepathic best wishes and gratitude to him.

Our quarterly in-house journal, ‘Hatnamag’ was his brainchild. When I was in Karachi I used to circulate it among the prominent bankers there and some expressed their eagerness to have their own ones. However, the most prominent and enthusiastic reader was our then High Commissioner to Pakistan, (stationed in Islamabad) the ever smiling and amiable, General Srilal Weerasooriya.

The annual dance of HNB, the ‘Hatna Nite’ which was not held for many years was rejuvenated by Sir, RTW, I was told.

Media, especially the television channels, had a special place reserved for HNB. Decades ago when ‘Rupavahini’ broadcast the programmes, ‘Vanija Lovin’ (from the commercial world) and ‘Business Matters’ the channel authorities selected HNB as the provider of the articles. As requested by SDGMT, Mr. GK, I wrote those Sinhala and English articles for HNB. Before the introduction of the Euro in January 1999, ‘Rupavahini’ gave the opportunity for HNB to educate the wide range of viewers about facts related to the same. Then ART TV had a programme called ‘Business Matters’ every fortnight. Those were recorded at the Treasury Department of our bank. In all occasions I was lucky enough to be the interviewee thanks to my boss, Mr. GK, SDGMT. All those opportunities were not conjured by a magic wand but because of the rapport that HNB amassed throughout the years, thanks to the unparalleled leadership of our Sir, RTW,

It is a well-accepted fact that the sport (corruption free) is a real tool that can bring all people together. RTW had a special concern for the sportsmen and women. HNB became an oasis for them as the bank recruited, plethora of players of national fame in cricket, rugby, basketball, netball, soccer and hockey. The lengthy sports fabric of HNB was neatly decorated by the above players who brought plenty of championship trophies in Interbank, Mercantile and National tournaments. The numbers of achievements / trophies are too vast to name one by one. Thus, in the sports arena too HNB, created an indelible reputation.

He also extended the opportunities at HNB for three star athletes who brought honour to our motherland in Asian Games — Jayamini Illeperuma, Sriyani Kulawansa and Dhammika Menike.

Since I was a playing member of the team, I am proud to mention that in 1996 HNB became the Mercantile Over-40 Cricket Champions.

The number of bank branches swelled to over 180 in 2004 from 33 branches when he took over as the MD, with ATMs scattering right round the country.

As a colossal figure in the banking industry of Sri Lanka, while being the Managing Director he built a colossal mansion for the bank – HNB Towers, inaugurated in January 2003. Despite some pessimism about the building by corporate customers, his unhesitant determination, supported by an enthusiastic team saw the giant baby born.

In 2004, our Sir, RTW was elevated to the prestigious position of Chairman of HNB. By then the number of Exchange houses in the Middle East that had commenced agency arrangements with HNB for the inward remittances for the benefit of the expatriate Sri Lankans was very high. Those arrangements extended to some affluent countries such as Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Singapore and the UK as well during his tenure as the MD, with the Inward remittance business expanding many folds.

The establishment of the departure and arrival outlets of HNB at the BIA was another feather in his cap. Gold business of HNB commenced when he was MD. The high volumes of Gold sales by those two outlets and a large number of foreign currency deposits by duty free shops at BIA, the total collections of the same became unprecedented, resulting in the repatriation (export) of foreign currency notes to Singapore and Switzerland weekly. The profits were enormous.

The ‘Gami Pubuduwa’ programme was initiated during his tenure as Managing Director, which the World Bank hailed as a role model of the world in 1995. Under his guidance HNB became first for many local and international accolades.

The enormous number of scholarships offered to the deserving employees of HNB was unparalleled. Most of the ‘lucky’ ones, including me, are in retirement, reminiscing the ‘bright’ flame that glittered throughout, making plenty of opportunities for his subordinates.

The Training Centre of HNB was expanded to greater heights by recruiting well experienced and erudite personnel. The bank conducted the first ever training programme for the school leavers in 1989. The library was revitalized to modern standards in January 1990, and both relocated at HNB Towers.

After the introduction of the free economy, many foreign banks opened their doors in Sri Lanka. With the passage of time almost all of them wanted to quit Sri Lanka. (If I’m not mistaken only the CitiBank and Deutsche Bank remain to date). However, HNB made three record number of mergers, namely with Sri Lankan branches of Emirates Bank, Banque Indosuez and Habib AG Zurich, guided by Sir, RTW. Under his guidance HNB also established two Representative offices in Chennai, India and Karachi, Pakistan.

‘Cheqleaf’ at HNB Towers is an oasis with manna for the ‘exhausted’ but ‘spirited’ loyalists after 6 pm. The Pool Table there is an ideal substitute for billiards and snooker fanatics like me. It has become a good pastime for many employees.

I purposely refrained from obtaining opinions from retired and present senior staff members (joined before 2004) of HNB about our Sir, RTW for the simple and obvious reason that this article would have become too lengthy.

Sir, RTW, as the Chairman ran the best cricket interim committee of the country in 1999. Political interference brought an abrupt end to his top quality management. That is another sad episode of cricket in our motherland.

Like King Dutugemunu had 10 giant warriors, our Sir, RTW also had such capable men around him. One special lieutenant, an amiable character like a shadow enabling his boss to reach the pinnacles of successes, was Mr. Upali De Silva. He was the best ‘midwife’ at HNB who assisted his boss to deliver at all times. His camaraderie with his boss was exemplary.

Sir, RTW retired in 2010 as the proud Chairman of HNB. Even at 80 you are still young at heart. The birthday of our former Big Boss will be on 10th November.

Your wisdom and exemplary humanity will always be etched in our memories. Along with thousands of well wishers, I wish you good health and longevity to serve the human kind for many more years to come.

‘Scent of flowers does not travel against the wind, but the fragrance of good people travels even against the wind. A good man pervades every quarter’.




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Today’s Parliament burden on people



The post-independence legislature of Sri Lanka consisted of two houses – the House of Representatives (parliament) and the Senate. This bicameral system, established in 1947, which replaced the State Council of Ceylon, provided some checks and balances in the system of governance. Under this system, the House of Representatives had 101 members (95 elected by the people and 6 appointed by the Governor General) and the Senate had 30 members (15 elected by the House of Representatives and 15 appointed by the Governor General). The numbers increased to 157 after the 1960’s.

The Senate was abolished on October 2, 1971 resulting in the establishment of the unicameral National State Assembly. It was a political decision and not a decision made for the betterment of the country or for a better governance structure. The National State Assembly, during the period from 1972 to 1978, had 168 members and from 1978 onwards the membership has been increased to 225. The increase in quantity of course, was at the expense of quality, which can be seen when a comparison is made of the level of education, integrity, honesty, selfishness, corruption, etc., of the members of parliament in the pre- and post- 1970’s. Even a person convicted of murder and sentenced to death by the highest court in the country had been sworn in as a law maker in the parliament. It is an irony that law breakers can also be lawmakers!

The issue here is whether a small country like Sri Lanka needs a top-heavy legislature, with such a large number of MPs. India which has a bicameral legislature has 543 members in Lok Sabha and 245 members in Rajya Sabha for a population of over 1.3 billion; China which has a unicameral system has 2,980 members in the National Peoples’ Congress for a population of over 1.4 billion; Japan, which has a bicameral system, has 465 members in the House of Representatives (Lower House) and 245 members in the House of Councillors (Upper House) for a population of over 126 million. Similar comparisons can be made with countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc., Taiwan, which has almost the same geographical size and population as Sri Lanka, which had 225 members until 2005, now has only 133 legislators equivalent to one legislator for over 179,000 citizens.

It is not only the ratio of the population to the number of legislators that is important. Legislators in Sri Lanka are supported by the wealth created by ordinary citizens. One MP is supported by about 95,000 citizens. The actual number of wealth creating citizens of the country that supports them would be much lower. In comparison, one parliamentarian in India, China, and Japan respectively represent over 1.7 million, 482,000, and 178,000 citizens. One can only guess the actual cost of maintaining a parliamentarian in Sri Lanka, but there is no doubt that it is extremely high, compared to the income levels in the country. MPs hold the best jobs in the country and enjoy a luxurious life. Not only are they supported during their terms of office but also for life, if they secure two terms. This is quite a substantial burden on the citizens, and the only way to reduce the per capita burden of supporting legislators is to reduce their numbers. There is also the saying that ‘too many cooks spoil the soup’. A reasonable number would be about 100 with electoral boundaries based on districts and/or provinces, with the details to be determined by the Commissioner of Elections. The prime objective should be to cut down the numbers.

Another related issue is the absence of checks and balances in the governance structure. Under the bicameral system, which Sri Lanka had prior to 1971, a bill had to be passed by both the House of Representatives and the Senate before it could become law. Under the current unicameral system, it is possible to enact any law if the political party in power so wishes, regardless of whether it is for the benefit of the citizens or not. There is no mechanism for checks and balances. Many countries in the world have bicameral systems to provide checks and balances to the governance structure. It would therefore be prudent to re-introduce the Senate, or an equivalent system, consisting of members selected from diverging sections of the society, who have proven credibility and acceptability in the society, with integrity, honesty, intellectual capacity to judge what is right and what is wrong on any issue. They should be selected rather than be elected by popular choice. These two issues should be addressed with high priority, not only because of the above reasons but also, rather unfortunately, the status of the parliament has been severely degraded.

Both these changes for a better, more efficient and citizen-oriented system of governance require amendments to the present Constitution with a referendum. Either way, it needs to be done with high priority, before the next general election, as any postponement will result in carrying the burden of supporting the 225 incumbents in Diyawanna Palace for at least another five years. All patriots are therefore urged to promote this idea and push for the next stage of system change, which the Aragalaya” campaigned for.


Mt. Lavinia

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Right to travel



A.G. Noorani

VERY few would dispute that travel broadens the mind. But in the developing nations of this world, the state asserts that it can determine whether its citizen has the right to go abroad or not. The supreme court may take its own time to decide whether or not a citizen — even if he or she lives in a country that claims itself to be a democracy — has the right to possess a passport. Even if that is allowed as an essential travel document, the authorities might decide who can use it or who cannot. The government of India, regardless of which party is in power, seems to have assumed the right to decide whether or not to let a chief minister travel abroad.

The victim is the chief minister of Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, who was to speak at the World Cities Summit in Singapore. But the BJP-ruled government, headed by Narendra Modi, felt that he could not go and did not give him clearance. Its approach was nonsensical.

By now, most of the countries of the Third World have ratified the United Nations. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966). This is an international treaty in law while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) is, in law, just a resolution of the United Nations General Assembly. Article 12(2) of the covenant provides that “Everyone shall be free to leave any county including his own” — in other words, there should be no restrictions on travelling abroad.

The covenant sets up a human rights committee of distinguished persons who are not representatives of the government but are individuals of note who have “high moral character” and are elected by the states, who have ratified the covenant.Parties to the covenant have to file reports to the committee on their observance of the stipulations contained within. States send mostly their attorney general to defend their reports. Members of the committee grill representative of the states. They do not publicise much of the report within their own countries or the contents of their reports. Both err on the side of exaggeration.

Unfortunately, civil liberties movements in the Third World are generally not articulate nor well-equipped. The exception that stands out is the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan based in Lahore whose prominent chairperson, the late Mr I.A. Rehman, never failed to stand up for civil rights.

In India, following Indira Gandhi’s defeat in the election in 1977, a liberal government came to power which ratified the UN covenant in March 1979. They ratified it only with certain conditions but these did not concern Article 21 of the constitution of India that says very clearly that “No person shall be deprived of his life and personal liberty except according to the procedure established by law”.

The Indian supreme court has ruled that fundamental rights can be exercised outside the country. In 1978, the apex court had to deal with Maneka Gandhi’s case concerning the impounding of her passport. The supreme court held:

“…[F]reedom to go abroad is one of such rights, for the nature of man as a free agent necessarily involves free movement on his part. There can be no doubt that if the purpose and the sense of state is to protect personality and its development, as indeed it should be of any liberal democratic state, freedom to go abroad must be given its due place amongst the basic rights.

“This right is an important basic human right for it nourishes independent and self-determining creative character of the individual, not only by extending his freedoms of action, but also by extending the scope of his experience. It is a right which gives intellectual and creative workers in particular the opportunity of extending their spiritual and intellectual horizon through study at foreign universities, through contact with foreign colleagues and through participation in discussions and conferences.

“The right also extends to private life; marriage, family and friendship are humanities which can be rarely affected through refusal of freedom to go abroad and clearly show that this freedom is a genuine human right.

“Moreover, this freedom would be a highly valuable right where man finds himself obliged to flee: (a) because he is unable to serve his God as he wished at the previous place of residence, (b) because his personal freedom is threatened for reasons which do not constitute a crime in the usual meaning of the word and many were such cases during the emergency, or (c) because his life is threatened either for religious or political reasons or through the threat to the maintenance of minimum standard of living compatible with human dignity.” This ruling has stood the test of time.

(The Dawn/ANN)
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

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If visitors pay USD at airport, no fuel queues for them



The above statement was made by Manusha Nanayakkara our Labour & Foreign Employment Minister. How the Minister is going to do it is not known.I wish to make a few suggestions to the Minister for his consideration to implement his proposal. Tourists, migrant workers and the dual citizens were the people whom the Minister referred to in his proposal. Many expat Sri Lankans of whom some could be dual citizens visit home once a year to spend their holidays with their families. Since Covid this might have slowed down.

With the Covid jabs even though one could catch Covid people have started to travel. Travelling to Colombo again will slow down due to the pathetic situation that exist with a shortage of everything, particularly fuel, gas and medicines. The Minister’s statement is some encouragement, but he must place his plan for the consideration of the prospective travellers and shoe by action.

The Bank Of Ceylon Branch at the Airport can sell a Dollar debit card to expats, migrant workers and tourists or in other words those who arrive with a return ticket. The minimum value can be USD 500 with provision to put more dollars attending any BOC Branch. When selling the card, a separate certificate in a little booklet format can be given with the Passport details of the traveller entered. The registration details of the vehicle the traveller intends to use can be entered in the booklet by any BOC branch after the traveller finds the vehicle, that is hired or owned by a relation. If the traveller changes the vehicle the new vehicle details can be entered only after 3 days of the first registration. This will help to prevent misusing the debit card.

The traveller must be able to purchase fuel and other rare commodities on production of the certificate to pay by the debit card referred to in the certificate.

Expats and the tourists visit to travel, and fuel must be available at petrol stations, at least one station ear marked in every town with stock always available for this category. Purchase of fuel can be restricted to at least 15 litres per day that will be good to run about 150kms approximately.

I have suggested the above as a base for the Minster to work out a reasonable plan. Once it is made and implemented whether it works smoothly or with hiccups will be known to prospective travellers through the newspapers. If the system works well, the travellers will have confidence in visiting Sri Lanka and there will be many wanting to visit in the near future.

Hemal Perera

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