The NM I knew. We need him right now
By Garvin Karunaratne, former G.A.Matara
As a school boy at St Peter’s College I was always dragged by my father to mount and set up a public address system at one of the LSSP meetings. He owned Radio Works Bambalapitiya and held a contract with the LSSP to supply public address systems at election meetings for years. We employed three technicians but they were busy at other meetings. I have many a time observed NM looking hard at me again and again- a schoolboy who could mess up a meeting. But I was up to the mark. Ultimately he found he could rely on me and stopped staring at me.
NM did not know that I was a live member of the LSSP poster pasting campaign centered at the Peradeniya University. It was done at yakku gas nagina welava- one of us kept watch for the police with sharp eyes while the rest worked fast and within hours Kandy was pasted with LSSP notices.
Years later I was Assistant Commissioner of Agrarian Services, implementing the Paddy lands Act in Kegalla District. We never invited politicians for our publicity meetings. I got a nod from him when I met him at katcheri meetings and I always bowed.
Again I was the Additional Govt Agent at Kegalla in1967 and 1968, during the UNP regime of Dudley Senanayake. I ensured that though he was in the opposition all development programs were emphatically implemented in his electorate too. . That was my duty wherever I worked. The people came first and the politicians had to somehow fall in line. At times I forgot the politicians and directed my officers to do it all like at Weligama where Pani could never be found by anyone. .
I was away on a scholarship at Manchester University scored a Distinction in Community Development and came back to serve my Motherland. My wife tried to persuade me to stay in the UK and pursue studies as at times our lives had been ruined by politicians and we had to be on the run. That was Maitripala Senanayake ordering me out of Anuradhapura in minutes- ordered me not to enter my own office and got me transferred. I had interdicted and sacked a number of his men for fraud.
When I returned from the scholarship I was not given a posting. I used to go to the public library every morning on my way to the Ministry find a novel and read it seated somewhere in the Ministry. In the second month, one day all the peons were searching for me and I was rushed to the phone.
I am NM here. I am told that you spend your time at the Ministry reading novels.? Yes sir, I have asked to be posted anywhere and have never been given a job.” I replied.
Did you not know that I am the Minister of Finance. Come and see me at once.” He slammed the phone. My head was reeling as to what would happen to me and I drove as fast as I could to his office and was ushered in.
His eyes were rolling in anger.
Why have you not told me.” He kept scolding me for some five minutes and stopped.
Tell me where you want to work.”
Anywhere.” I replied.
No tell me where.” he ordered.
He took the phone and spoke to someone;
I am sending my man. Give him a posting in Small Industries .”.
Then to me, Go and meet Subasinghe and get down to work.”
I went and met Mr Subasinghe the Minister for Industries.
NM told me to post you to Small Industries. There is no suitable vacant post as Deputy Director. I told the Secretary to create a post for you. Go and meet him.”
A post of Deputy Director was created in three days and I got down to work.
Again I came into direct contact in implementing the Divisional Development Councils Programme in Matara. That was not :Premier Sirimavo’s programme. It was NM at his best. In his 1970 Budget Speech he tells of his aim: to fulfill the aspirations of thousands of young men and women for whom life will lose all meaning unless they can find a useful place in our society”. He head hunted the most prominent economist of the day, Profesor HAdeS Gunasekera and to get the programme off the ground got him to go to the Districts by helicopter. I can remember greeting him, at the helicopter in Matara several times. We ducked our heads as some soldier had been decapitated at Katunayake earlier.
Dr NM came again and again inquiring about the progress of the projects creating employment for the people he loved. He kept listening and would pose a question that was difficult to answer. It was a master teaching a child.
We struggled along, stumbling at times, in creating employment. Once he was due to open the batik and sewing unit at Tittapaddara. We managed to avoid a catastrophe there. I quote from my book: Papers on the Economic Development of Sri lanka(Godages):
Batik training was at that time not done by any state Department and it continued to be in the hands of the private sector with a high margin of profit…. The services of a batik dyeing entrepreneur was obtained from Galle, the adjoining district. He held initial discussions, provided details of tanks to be built and the ingredients to be purchased.. Twenty girls were found and tanks were built to his approval. He inspected the tanks met the girls and everything was in perfect order
With only 48 hours for the opening it became clear that the private entrepreneur was backing out. It was found that he had gone to Colombo and was missing. Hell was let lose and that entire Sunday morning about five key officers were telephoning all over- jeeps were rushing here and there and we were all lost. My wife was coming downstairs and inquired why many of us were there instead of being at Polhena for a bath. Finally she agreed to be the batik instructor and she and a cousin Welangoda were there for the opening session -lesson and continued teaching a for two full years working on Saturdays. That was a narrow shave.
I met Dr NM last when I hosted him for dinner at my Residency. It was a grand occasion with other members of parliament like Sumanapala Dahanayake. I managed it all- firstly to ensure that no one got poisoned. It was well known that a glass of orange juice offered to Prime Minister Bandaranayake was instead drunk by Minister CP de Silva and he was taken ill, even taken to Harley Street and never fully restored. Once my own Field Officer, GKGS Perera was summoned by me for a flying squad activity in Ambalantota by me and he went to the Ambalantota Rest House for his mid day meal. Then I worked in Ambalantota covering the Southern Province in the Marketing Department. GKGS had luckily brought a driver along and the driver hogged the kitchen area while the master GKGS was seated to be served with the meal. The driver over heard a waiter taking a meal to be served muttering. how can I keep this meal to a sir who has a gleaming smile.” That driver was smart to peep and see the meal being placed on the table where his master GKGS was seated. He rushed and stopped him partaking the meal.
It all ended by my spending the entire day with the chefs who were cooking the meal in my Residency. It was a dinner and I had sleuths- trusted administrative officers all around the Residency as guards till Dr NM left.
I did not go to bid good bye when I left the Ad Service. I knew that he would object. He had heard of my idea and had sent me two messages. I knew he was going to dissuade me from resigning and proceeding abroad. Anyhow I think I was right because though we went through hell at times being waiters at the Michigan State Cafeteria, working fifteen hours a day, when we ran out of funds, we succeeded in studies, my acquiring the M.Ed, M.Phil and Ph.D. and my wife bagged the M.Ed,
In later life. as an international consultant I managed to design and implement the Youth Self Employment Programme of Bangladesh and train the staff of the Bangladeshi Civil Service to continue it after my two year consultancy ended and this is today the premier employment creation programme the world has known, having bagged over three million youths becoming commercially viable entrepreneurs within four decades. This is a continuing programme, coveted by the Bangadesh Government.
I am dead certain that the detailed questioning that I was subjected to by Dr NM, when he inspected my projects at Matara that made me successful in that major programme of development.
His Divisional Development Councils Programme provided employment to 33,200 youths. This number could have been far more if the JVP had not tried to wrest Sri lanka for North Korea in April 1971. Our Motherland would have benefitted immensely if the programme had been continued. That did not happen because President Jayawardena decided to abolish that programme.
It would be ideal if a similar programme of employment and production creation is implemented with immediate effect to stop the economic meltdown of today. This is a task that can be easily accomplished.
Dr NM belongs to that group of sincere, patriotic political leaders that adorned Sri Lanka.
former GA Matara