Administrator par excellence of the century | Daily News


Administrator par excellence of the century

International Monetary Cooperation Senior Minister and Finance and Planning Deputy Minister Dr Sarath Amunugama celebrates birthday today

The name Sarath Leelananda Bandara Amunugama may be a little unfamiliar to many. But the name Dr. Sarath Amunugama is very popular among all and sundry. A deep insight into his life is very startling as he is a unique and rare intellectual and a man of wisdom who can take decisions which have a deep impact on the lives of the people here and abroad.

His father and mother were educated at Panadura St Johns Vidyalaya and the Colombo Buddhist Theosophical Society's Museaus College, two elitist educational institutions during the colonial era.

They were Walter Muthubanda Amunugama and Somawathie Kumari Nilmalgoda of Kegalle whose marriage took place in 1938. Their eldest son Sarath Leelananda Bandara Amunugama was born in Kandy on July 10, 1939. Little Amunugama, the eldest in a family of three including a brother and sister received his kindergarten education at Kandy Girls High School.

Gaining a double promotion in class, he qualified to enter Trinity College, Kandy true to the adage "Coming events cast their shadows."

After a bright school career, young Amunugama gained admission to the Peradeniya University in 1957 with many other colleagues who later made a great contribution to uplift community life in this country.

University education received by Amunugama did not restrict him to a single professional field. In the 1950 decade, social science had a novel experience for Sri Lanka. Social Science had a high international value and recognition as a window of opportunity to unravel social economic cultural and scientific information about the entire human race.

As such Amunugama opted to study social science at the university through a desire to gain an insight to the world rather than to share its benefits. This made him popular figure at the university. His close association with the Samasamaja Party student group helped him to become the Secretary of Economic Association and later President of the Students Council. Dr Doric De Sousa who was a lecturer in English at the time was a close associate and a Samasamaja advisor to him.

Although university politics helped Amunugama to strike a close friendship with Dr. N.M. Perera, Dr. Colvin R de Silva, Leslie Goonewardena, Bernard Soysa and Anil Moonesinghe, a teacher who was most dear to his heart was Professor Ediriweera Sarachchandra.

It was due to his love for fine arts that endeared Amunugama to Professor Sarachchandra.

Due to his association with Prof. Sarachchandra, Amunugama was able to establish a friendship with renowned artistes. Among them were Martin Wickremasinghe, K. Jayathilleke, Madawala S. Ratnayake, Gunasena Galappaththy, P. Nissanka, W.D. Amaradeva, Dunston de Silva and P. Welikala.

Amunugama also received an opportunity to play the role of Kachjapu in Sarachchandra's drama Kada Walalu and Act in Hemamali Gunasekera's Ratnavalee. Amunugama notched a first class Honours degree in Social Science in 1961 due to the grounding he received from his team of lecturers including Ralph Pieris, Stanley Thambiah, Ganantha Obeysekera and Laksiri Jayasuriya.

After completing undergraduate studies, Amunugama briefly held a lecturer post in Social Science at the same university from 1961 to 1962. During this time, he conducted a series of social research in league with his teachers at Matale and Hiniduma , Medagama in the Galle district. These research work gave him vital experience which was of great assistance to him in his later life.

A turning point in his life came in 1962 when he passed the Civil Service examination with fine colours to enter the Administrative Service. When he bade good bye to the Department of Social Studies at the Peradeniya University to join the Civil Service he never dreamt that he would be playing a great role in charting the future welfare of his motherland.

When Amunugama was serving as GA of Matale, he had to implement Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake's agricultural campaign (Cultivation War) or the green revolution. Thereafter, he was appointed Director of Government Information in 1968. Following the setting up of the coalition government led by Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1970, the country experienced internal strife due to the JVP insurrection of 1971.

Since publicity given by newspapers and other communication media tended to compound the situation , the government was compelled to introduce a press censorship. As such the Prime Minister appointed a Censor Board comprising Minister George Rajapaksa, Leslie Gunawardena, Pieter Keunamen. T.B. Subasinghe and T.B. Illangartne.

Amunugama was appointed Secretary of the Censor Board. Since there was a controversy in the Board which met twice daily, the Prime Minister in consultation with Minister T.B. Illangaratne and Amunugama prepared a handbill which was air dropped throughout the country.

Amunugama later opined that there was a good response towards the appeal (hand bill) from a majority of radical youth. In the meantime, Amunugama who had held various administrative posts with great skill went on a scholarship to Canada to complete his M.A in social Science. Returning to Sri Lanka in 1973, started work as Senior Assistant Secretary to the Public Administration Ministry.

With the change over of government in 1977, Amunugama took up duties as Secretary to the Ministry of State on the invitation of D.B. Wijetunga and functioned in this capacity till 1982. Thereafter, Amunugama had to contribute towards realising President J.R. Jayewardene's dream of setting up a state television service.

Thereafter, he had to serve as the Secretary of Communication and Information Centre of the UN educational, scientific and cultural organization based in Singapore from 1982.

After a brief stint there, Amunugama took up duties as UN International Programme Director of Communication (IPDC) in Paris. Thereafter the UNDP called upon him to cooperate with Chile's former Foreign Affairs Minister Herman Saththa Cruz to organize the UN news network of Development news.

During his stay in Paris , Amunugama made a great contribution towards maintaining international co existence and preventing the Cold War between the US and USSR escalating into a third world war.

He did this by summoning the UN annual summit on Communication exchange in Tashkent in Soviet Uzbekistan. G. Parathasarathy was the Indian representative in the IPDC appointed by Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. At this time Gamini Dissanayake who was a close friend of Amunugama had disclosed this secret to President Jayewardene. He had told the President that Parthasarathy was a very close personal friend of Amunugama. President Jayewardene who thought of making use of Amunugama to solve the Indo-Lanka problem which had cropped up, then invited Amunugama to return to Sri Lanka to start negotiations with India. R Premadasa was the Prime Minister then and A.C.S. Hameed the Foreign Affairs Minister.

Amunugama who returned to Sri Lanka was appointed Additional Secretary of World View International which was a non-governmental organisation.

He was also appointed a Presidential advisor to enable him to devote attention towards the Indo-Lanka problem.

Although the problem could not be fully settled, he was able to create a situation which could safeguard the reputation and self-respect of both parties to the problem. Once again destiny forced Amunugama to go abroad to take up duties as a visiting lecturer in Social Science at the Harvard university, USA at the invitation of his former lecturer Prof. Stanley Thambiah.

The doctorate in social science obtained from the University of Paris and many research papers done by him enabled Amunugama to strike up the Harvard job. By this time Amunugama had published 15 research papers and three books in English and two in Sinhala based on these research papers.

Thereafter Amunugama who returned to Sri Lanka held a series of talks with then Indian High Commissioner J.N. Dixit and obtained several favourable decisions to help President J.R. Jayewardene to defuse the volatile situation which arose due to the Indo-Lanka dispute.

President Jayewardene had identified the diplomatic skills shown by Amunugama during these negotiations.

The political crisis which engulfed the UNP after the retirement of J.R. Jayewardene from politics ended in a catastrophe due to the passing over of the party leadership to individuals without clear ideology or vision. The lives of Lalith Athulathmudali and Gamini Dissanayake were suddenly snatched away. Amunugama who had a farsighted vision in his political and personal life, took the very important and remarkable decision of crossing over to the SLFP and obtaining party membership. There were no barriers for this decision as he was social democrat from his university days.

Elected as a Member of Parliament for Kandy district representing the Galagedara electorate in 1994, he remained as a parliamentarian to date uninterrupted. Appointed a Minister in 1999, he has so far held the portfolios of Rehabilitation, Irrigation and Water Management, Education and Higher Education, Finance and Planning, Industries and Investment Promotion, Public Administration and Home Affairs and Enterprise Development and Investment Promotion at various times.

He has also functioned as Senior Presidential Advisor on Economic Affairs. Currently he is International Monetary Cooperation Senior Minister and Finance and Planning Deputy Minister. All these high positions is a testament for Dr. Sarath Amunugama's exceptional talents as a veteran politician, diplomat, social scientist and an artiste.

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