I was privileged to be invited to the Seminar “Gamani Corea’s contribution to Domestic and International Economic Policy” sponsored by the Gamani Corea Foundation, held at the Institute of Policy Studies Auditorium, at Independence Square that started at 2pm and when I left having being walked to my car by Dr.Saman Kelegama, the current Executive Director/ CEO it was 9pm.
For one to truly understand the contribution Gamani Corea had to both Domestic Economic and Development Policy planning and execution and International Appreciation of some of the particular concerns of the poor nations one would either have had to attend this seminar, or be a student of this eminent son of Sri Lanka.
I will not go into detail or summarize each of the speakers’ major points as it pertains to the above, as it will be shortly documented and possibly printed for future study and appreciation by students interested in some of the history of Economic and Development policy to better understand why we are at this state of development today.
I will instead provide some personal insights into the event and observations I made there from.
The illustrious line up of participants in the seminar had some indirect or direct contact with Gamani Corea, and accordingly illustrated by way of anecdote, or explained by way of historical context as to characters of the day, his contribution and thinking that had an impact on world and Sri Lankan affairs.
A little known tale of how he was less than two years old when Mahatma Gandhi came to stay at his Grandparents home “Sigiriya” in Chilaw, on his only visit to the island, in 1927 and made an impression on the great man, must have rubbed off on him as Manmohan Singh the present Indian Prime Minister and great friend of Gamani Corea, has also extolled his greatness.
NONE of the speakers, possibly reflecting their elder status, put in context his age at which some of these thought provoking and cutting edge economic theories and ideas were put forward and implemented. It is important for today’s student to put that in context, as well as the knowledge and technology since that have made forecasting, planning, and sensitivity analysis that much easier to perform.
Being born on November 4th 1925, he was at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge in 1945, when England was in shambles, starving, rationing, and he had money! More than most of the English even at Cambridge. It was US money that bailed out England in those days!
When in 1952, he worked as an Economist for Dudley Senanayake, his relative, He was only 27, and already had two BAs, two MAs from both Cambridge and Oxford, and DPhil (PhD) from Oxford!
Though not mentioned at the seminar, Dudley was in and out of his mother’s house, Horton Lodge as he was quite infatuated (also madly in love with) with Gamani’s mother Freda, (Sir John Kotelawala’s sister) and some say, that was why Dudley never married.
He drafted the 6 year plan for Sir John, when he was PM in 1956 at the mere age of 30 and the 10 year plan for SWRD Bandaranayake in 1959 at 33 before his34th Birthday.
No wonder that he had served his country well when he was made the EU Ambassador in 1973 by Mrs B at 48 and UNCTAD Sec Gen before he reached 50.
The long list of participants in discussions and moderation included contemporaries who worked closely with him, such as Godfrey Goonetilleke, Lloyd Fernando, Usvatte Arachchi, Dr Nimal Sanderatne, Mr Lakdasa Hulugalle, Jayantha Dhanapala, and those who interacted with him later, such as Hilarian Codipilly, Indrajit Coomaraswamy, WA Wijewardena, Harsha Aturupana, WD Lakshman, Saman Kelegama, A de VDS Indraratne. I was also pleased to see some familiar faces such as Chandi Chanmugam, Bradman Weerakoon, VK Wickremasinghe as well as many other of Gamani’s contemporaries from the Central Bank and other Ministries that he worked at.
Apart from Tissa Vitharana, a senior Minister of Science and Technology, and one who was part of the left wing thinkers in Gamani’s planning ministry era, who gave the keynote speech as the Chief Guest alluding to his greatness in the context of Sri Lanka, there was NO ONE from Government, reflecting the complete absence of intellectual thought emanating from there, and was please to see my good friend Eran Wickremaratne who will be able to put in context Gamani’s contribution, when understanding some of the political and policymaking challenges he has to grapple with in presenting the Opposition’s Policy to take the Country to the next level.
Conspicuous by their absence was the CENTRAL BANK contingent, WHO WERE INVITED (I was particularly adamant upon my receiving the invitation, to request that the whole Research Team at the Central Bank was invited considering Gamani’s contribution there, just in case they had overlooked that!
Considering Gamani was the Director of Economic Research in 1965 and Deputy Governor in 1970, it was shameful that the CB think tank were not able to learn from all the greats of yesteryear so that they could perform their tasks better.
I will go as far as publicly accuse the Central Bank hierarchy of intellectual vandalism, in not permitting the best and brightest of our public servants from gathering notable facts of history and how it can be better put in context with the problems they must grapple with today. The blame ultimately MUST rest with Nivaard Cabral, who appears to have politicized a largely apolitical position, so that by muzzling the freedom to associate in intellectual thought, is carrying forward the Government policy of misleading firstly their own policy makers, into making bad choices and decisions that bear NO MERIT in reality.
Just to summarize the event briefly, Gamani’s detailed analysis given by Godfrey Goonetilleke a very close associate and I believe the Chairman of his Foundation, should have left the lengthy document to be read by the attendees and reduced his time to just a few personal observation. The session then would have been more fruitful permitting a greater participation of the audience which was NOT possible due to time constraints.
Gamani’s life was in three parts, his contribution to Sri Lanka’s policy making then his UNCTAD years, and the later years in the NIEO and North South Dialog as well as the South Forum, whilst at the same time setting up the Sri Lanka Economic Association, Marga Institute and the Institute of Policy Studies, that are NOW in a position to carry on the intellectual discussion, with a view to influencing the Governments of the day on major aspects of policy so that Sri Lanka can meet its future challenges.
One notable and contemporary issue that Gamani appears to have sown the seeds was the climate change, environment debate, where we in Sri Lanka owe to Gamani Corea to put forward development policies that will realize sustainable development without environmental degradation, and in fact incorporate environmental regeneration to reverse the drastic environmental damage caused since 2004 that at today’s pace will leave a legacy of waste and desolation for our future, IF WE DO NOT ACT IMMEDIATELY TO ARREST IT.
There were NO young faces, except for the staff of IPS who also attended. It is a sign of our times, when today’s youth in their quest for learning, miss the basics! I hope the Gamani Corea Foundation understand that their primary job is to improve Economic understanding of the future policy makers, and make a conscious effort to identify, promote, educate and incentivize the best of our young fertile minds into this sphere of policy and decision making, and intellectualize by way of similar seminars so that new ideas can be developed in arriving at truly Sri Lankan solutions to the myriad of self inflicted wounds that afflict our Country.
We can NO LONGER blame, as was the case in Gamani’s time, the Western Developed Nations for the core of our internal problems.
I respectfully commend the leadership of Dr Saman Kelegama and his staff at IPS for making the effort to make the seminar a resounding success and I sincerely hope that the event is well documented for a future student to learn from.
I also hope that the huge endowment that Gamani Corea, bequeathed to “the future Sri Lankan” is put to the use it was intended for, and not frittered away by those who already have served their nation believing it to be a fora a for a few fun days to live through their retirement reminiscing on their glory days!