Gentleman politicians of yore | Daily News

Gentleman politicians of yore

J R Jayewardene
J R Jayewardene

Fifty years ago in 1968, precisely, on February 24, the House of Representatives met at the old Galle Face front colonial structure to debate the second reading of Inland Revenue [Amendment] Bill which provided for the granting of Tax relief to those engaged in the tourist industry and in agricultural activities on Crown land. J R Jayewardene, Minister of State was on his feet.

JRJ: “America cannot even defeat Viet Cong, so how can the Americans spoil our culture?” with this single question he managed to assuage the opposition fears that with the anticipated influx of American tourists Ceylon may be converted into another Bangkok or Hong Kong.

In his Sinhala speech replete with both wit and facts, he assured the opposition that the government would do nothing to injure the country’s culture. Nor would it allow any foreign elements to do so. “It is foolish to stop tourism and get isolated from the rest of the world,” he asserted. “There had been a movement throughout the world to foster tourism in both big and small countries.” He did not fail to remind the House that those who held Samasamajist views would oppose it and yet added that even Yugoslavia had adopted the same procedure.

Squeezing legs

To an interruption about squeezing legs, the minister asked, “What legs? White or Black legs?” [In Marxist vocabulary, ‘Blackleg’ is a degrading term used by trade unionists to identify a non-striker]

In the absence of a reply from the opposition ranks, he remarked that certain leaders in the opposition front rows knew more about ‘white legs'.

Opposition voice: “What about you?”

JRJ – “I, I like black ones.”

Industries and Fisheries Deputy Minister Shelton Jayasinghe quoted from a document to show that even the then Prime Minister, Sirimavo Bandaranaike, had advocated the promotion of the tourist industry and had agreed to give the same concessions that the government now proposed to give those willing to invest in it.

Top attraction

“Mrs Bandaranaike is the biggest tourist attraction in Sri Lanka, added the chivalrous Deputy Minister.

“Am I?” asked Sirimavo.

Finance Minister U B Wanninayake, wounding up on behalf of the government, replied that the government believed in a mixed economy, hence it sought private sector participation also. [Ukku Banda Wanninayake was the Cabinet minister, who, when the government lost in 1970, returned the official car to Ministry Secretary and walked up to the bus halt opposite Finance Ministry at Lotus Road to take a bus home]

During the same debate, later in the day, there was a Home and Home battle between two members who represented the multi-member Colombo South seat [prior to demarcation into Col. East and West]. JR Jayewardene and Bernard Soysa (BS), the LSSPer—both of them shared it uncontested in 1965.

BS: [Ref. to JR]…Hon Min is going through his agony at the moment. I trust ecstasy awaits him.

JR: To know what ecstasy is you must get married. [BS was a confirmed bachelor]

BS: At least in some paradise.

JR: You have no chance.

BS: I trust that ecstasy awaits the Hon Minister in some paradise or in some El Dorado of his dreams….I refer to the purchase of eighty Renault cars linked up with tourist needs….the car may be the best, I do not know that. But I certainly state that it is inadvisable for a person who has got an interest in that kind of imports.

JR: Who is the person?

BS: .... when he functioned as a member of the board.

JR: Give the name, will you? Make your charge I will reply.

BS: I am making no charge.

JR: Then he is insinuating… Mention the name.

BS: If the minister says, ‘I gave the order’; I made the decision,’ then he has taken the responsibility; why should I mention the names…?

JR: Public might think that he is a relation of mine. Make it clear, mention the name.

T B Ilangaratne: Maybe he is a relation of both!

JR: Sir, he must mention the name.

Speaker: I cannot force him to do that.

JR: The Hon member generally does not skirt around a problem like this; he goes to the heart of it…in this instant…is it the Tourist Board? And who is the officer? I admitted that I made the decision to import Renault cars, but I do not know who is the person the member is referring to.

BS: It is not necessary to state it. I have not made charges.

JR: We have not come here to mouth mere platitudes…

BS: In regard to making platitudes, I think the Hon Min is far more capable than I in that direction.

JR: Will he tell me privately the name of the officer?

BS: Certainly, but I did not make a specific charge.

JR: He did.

BS: No, I began by saying that I am not a person who will state that just because a Minister’s son gets a job—[interruption] - Speaker: He said that.

JR: People might think that my son is in that corporation….May I make it clear? He referred to a Minister and his son. Then he said the corporation ordered Renault cars. People here might be left with the impression that it was my son in this case. He is not in the corporation.

BS: Oh, no; he is not…I refuse to be a party to mentioning names here.

JR: You referred to a minister’s son

BS: Not you, Oh, no. I wish to say that I was not referring to him at all. It is a hypothetical case.

JR: Only now he is saying hypothetical, he did not start by saying so. He said Minister’s son. I have a son and three grandsons.

BS: May I offer you my congratulations?

JR: Congratulate my son!

Speaker: Anyway, his son has proved more capable than he!

JR: It is not his fault, he is ignorant of the facts.

BS: Now, Sir, we must go into the fons et origo in these matters. There is a succession in these things. …I am completely unaware of any kind of employment or otherwise of any offspring of the Hon Minister of State. I just do not know.

Speaker: Why you are doubting the statement that he has only one son when you say “any offspring”!

JR Jayewardene clears all doubts and takes responsibility for ordering the cars. Speaker agrees too that nothing wrong has happened. MP Bernard Soysa says very well. JR concludes that as long as he is there nothing wrong will happen.

Minister Shelton Jayasinghe: May he continue for many long years!

JR: Minister for 13 years, nothing like that has happened yet.

TB Illangaratne: Bad number. High time to be made Prime Minister! Bernard Soysa: Sir, personally I wish the Hon Minister long life. May he live long. Politically, of course, I am unable to wish long life to him as a Minister or to his government.

Gentlemen politicians in the good old days! 

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