Why Amunugama is the most qual­i­fied to pen ‘Dreams of Change’

This ar­ti­cle, prob­a­bly Dr. Wick­rema Weera­soo­ria's last, was sent to the Sun­day Times, days be­fore he passed away on Tues­day

Sunday Times (Sri Lanka) - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Dr. Wick­rema Weera­soo­ria

Re­cently I was hon­oured by a re­quest from my good friend Dr. Sarath Amunugama to re­view his lat­est lit­er­ary con­tri­bu­tion namely “Dreams of Change” which deals with is­sues of land, labour and con­flict in Sri Lanka. This ex­cel­lent pub­li­ca­tion of 450 pages is a col­lec­tion of es­says done by Dr. Amunugama over a pe­riod of sev­eral years when he served as a se­nior pub­lic ser­vant and later held sev­eral Cab­i­net port­fo­lios in suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments. The themes are dealt with in 12 chap­ters. Some of the chap­ters are on spe­cific is­sues such as Chan­drikawewa, Ru­ral De­vel­op­ment, Sra­madana and Bud­dha­puthra and Bhoomiputhra which deals with dilem­mas of modern Sin­hala Bud­dhist monks. There is also a spe­cial chap­ter on Dr. Amunugama’s main teacher and guru at the Per­adeniya Univer­sity, the much re­spected Dr. Ralph Peiris. As a re­viewer, I will deal only with some as­pects of chap­ters 6 and 7 on the JVP upris­ing of 1971 and on the sub­ject of Fam­ily Plan­ning. How­ever, be­fore I do so, I would like to com­mence my re­view by first talk­ing about the very ac­com­plished and schol­arly author of this book, with whom I have had a close friend­ship for over 50 years from my days when we were to­gether as un­der­grad­u­ates at the Univer­sity of Cey­lon in Per­adeniya. We both hailed from sim­i­lar so­cial back­grounds, chil­dren of mid­dle-class fam­i­lies and we had both gone to good schools though dif­fer­ent from each other. I had gone to Royal Col­lege Colombo and Dr. Amunugama to Trinity Col­lege Kandy. How­ever, at the Per­adeniya cam­pus, which we en­tered to­gether in 1959, we were both res­i­dent stu­dents al­though here again in dif­fer­ent Halls of Res­i­dence. In those days be­ing a res­i­dent stu­dent was one of the great­est priv­i­leges of a univer­sity ca­reer and the three years I spent at Per­adeniya had a last­ing and pro­found im­pact on my life there­after and my at­ti­tude to­wards the peo­ple of Sri Lanka. At the univer­sity, in those days, we met and lived with stu­dents from dif­fer­ent parts of the is­land and from all walks of life, while in schools like Royal and Trinity we as­so­ci­ated more with stu­dents of a spe­cial seg­ment of so­ci­ety. In that con­text, I con­sider my univer­sity life at Per­adeniya as the anvil in which my char­ac­ter was moulded to face the chal­lenges in fu­ture years, es­pe­cially my ser­vice to the coun­try as a pub­lic ser­vant. How­ever, while Dr. Amunugama went on to do most of the things I did, he also as­cended the po­lit­i­cal stairs to be­come a na­tional icon of the coun­try. I would cat­e­gorise Dr. Amunugama as be­long­ing to the po­si­tion of a states­man rather than a politi­cian be­cause in per­son­al­ity and abil­ity he tow­ers well above most of the Par­lia­men­tar­i­ans we have to­day. As I stated ear­lier, un­like me Dr. Amunugama, be­cause of his in­volve­ment in pol­i­tics, is a cel­e­brated pub­lic fig­ure cur­rently hold­ing the top port­fo­lio as the Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs. Ear­lier he had been the Min­is­ter of Fi­nance and read out Bud­gets and also suc­cess­fully held sev­eral other port­fo­lios. But this is the first oc­ca­sion on which he is serv­ing as the Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs. He is well known in Sri Lanka for his many con­tri­bu­tions first as a univer­sity lec­turer, then as a pub­lic ser­vant, then as a scholar and me­dia spe­cial­ist and more re­cently from about the 1990s as one of our best known politi­cians. His name is a house­hold name. Hav­ing served in the pub­lic sec­tor for many years, I per­son­ally know that Dr. Sarath Amunugama’s con­tri­bu­tion at Cab­i­net level has been greatly ap­pre­ci­ated and ad­mired. He does not speak un­nec­es­sar­ily at Cab­i­net; nor does he speak on ev­ery sub­ject on which there is a Cab­i­net pa­per (as some Min­is­ters tend to do). How­ever, when Dr. Amunugama speaks at Cab­i­net he is lis­tened to by his col­leagues. I have been told this pri­vately by those who have served as Cab­i­net Sec­re­taries in the re­cent past. I would like to high­light one qual­ity or trait in my friend Dr. Amunugama. Peo­ple won­der how he has ac­cu­mu­lated all the abil­ity and wis­dom which he now dis­plays as a se­nior states­man and also in his writ­ings. He has writ­ten sev­eral books for the gen­eral read­er­ship far more than any other Cab­i­net Min­is­ter. His most re­cent pub­li­ca­tion in 2017 was the bi­og­ra­phy of Sri Lanka’s renowned Bud­dhist leader Ana­garika Dharma­pala un­der the ti­tle “The Lions Roar”. This pub­li­ca­tion re­sulted in Dr. Amunugama be­com­ing the win­ner of the State Lit­er­ary Award in 2017. By way of pub­lic speak­ing, Dr. Amunugama is an ex­cel­lent or­a­tor in both Sin­hala and English but par­tic­u­larly in English. I have lis­tened to him de­liv­er­ing English speeches at Sem­i­nars and Con­fer­ences. He does so without any notes or piece of pa­per to guide him. His rich vo­cab­u­lary and his mas­tery of the facts of the sub­ject on which he is talk­ing mes­mer- ise the au­di­ence. Sri Lankans in the au­di­ence are so proud that they have as a speaker one of their own sons be­cause we must ad­mit that there are very few of our lo­cal politi­cians who can make a speech in English to a for­eign au­di­ence Frankly when I con­sider Dr. Amunugama’s pub­lic speak­ing, I can think of only one other Sri Lankan who could speak in English that well. I am talk­ing of the pe­riod post-1994 when Dr. Amunugama first en­tered Cab­i­net. The only other Sri Lankan I could think of is the late Lak­sh­man Kadirga­mar, a bril­liant Ox­ford ed­u­cated lawyer, who was our Min­is­ter of For­eign Af­fairs dur­ing the gov­ern­ment of Chan­drika Ban­daranaike. The only dif­fer­ence was that while both Dr. Amunugama and Mr. Kadirga­mar had a suave and ami­able per­son­al­ity, Mr. Kadirga­mar had an Ox­ford ac­cent. Dr. Amunugama never de­vel­oped a for­eign ac­cent, but is equally ef­fec­tive in pub­lic speak­ing. These are my per­sonal ob­ser­va­tions. Be­fore I leave my nos­tal­gic mem­o­ries and com­ments about the author Dr. Amunugama, let me also put be­fore the read­ers my own view on how Dr. Amunugama came to ac­quire his skills and his pas­sion for schol­ar­ship and writ­ing. I would like to put this on record for fu­ture gen­er­a­tion of Sri Lankans to show how im­por­tant it is to have an ex­cel­lent univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion. Quite apart from be­ing a re­viewer very few Sri Lankans can talk about Dr. Amunugama, like my­self be­cause I have known him very closely from my undergraduate days. As an anec­dote Dr. Amunugama told a fam­ily gath­er­ing of mine that Dr. Wick­rema Weera­soo­ria’s fa­ther, the late Queens Coun­sel N E Weera­soo­ria, had con­sulted him when he was writ­ing his Four Vol­ume His­tory of our coun­try un­der the ti­tle “Cey­lon and Her Peo­ple”. My fa­ther had con­sulted him more than any other univer­sity friends of mine be­cause Dr Amunugama had ex­pe­ri­ence hav­ing served as a Gov­ern­ment Agent. With that ex­pe­ri­ence my fa­ther felt that Dr. Amunugama could ad­vise him. That was how close Dr. Amunugama was to me and to my fam­ily. Hence I claim more than a re­viewer’s priv­i­lege to talk about him in the way I want. As I said ear­lier it was very im­por­tant to have an ex­cel­lent univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion and Dr. Amunugama had such an ed­u­ca­tion at Per­adeniya and he also had as his teach­ers a galaxy of fa­mous aca­demics such as Ralph Peiris, Stan­ley Tam­biah and Gananath Obey­sekere. Dr. Amunugama was not only a stu­dent of all three, but later on dur­ing his univer­sity ca­reer as a lec­turer af­ter he grad­u­ated, he worked as a Field Re­search As­sis­tant and con­ducted surveys and re­searches for Tam­biah and Obey­sek­era and both these academic gi­ants have men­tioned his con­tri­bu­tion to their own work. Dr. Amunugama’s univer­sity re­sults were so good that when he passed out he was given a lec­turer’s post. Af­ter serv­ing as a lec­turer in So­ci­ol­ogy at Per­adeniya he sat for and gained im­me­di­ate en­trance to the Cey­lon Civil Ser­vice which soon be­came our coun­try’s Ad­min­is­tra­tive Ser­vice. In that re­spect we can re­fer to him as one of the last Mo­hi­cans. When you pass out so well in the Civil Ser­vice you could not only get a bride with a large dowry, but you could soon be a Gov­ern­ment Agent which Dr. Amunugama be­came. He served as a Gov­ern­ment Agent in many parts of the coun­try. Es­pe­cially his con­tri­bu­tion in the field of land is­sues and agri­cul­ture has been com­mended by many se­nior pub­lic ser­vants of that time. Thus, in my view, Dr. Amunugama’s strength to do so what he is now do­ing can be traced to his univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion and his ca­reer as a civil ser­vant in the early years. His suc­cess as a se­nior pub­lic ser­vant is too well known for me to re­cite. He also served for a time as a me­dia ex­pert in Paris at UN­ESCO. This was a se­nior job of­fered to him di­rectly by UN­ESCO and not by the Gov­ern­ment of Sri Lanka. I had the priv­i­lege to stay with him at his apart­ment in Paris when he was work­ing at UN­ESCO. In con­clu­sion, I must con­fess that I have not done jus­tice by re­view­ing the pub­li­ca­tion Dreams of Change and the twelve chap­ters con­tained in it and I have been em­pha­sis­ing the author’s abil­ity and schol­ar­ship. In a way this is jus­ti­fied be­cause many re­view­ers speak about the book be­ing re­viewed rather than about the author that wrote it or com­piled it. There is, how­ever, one area that I must re­mind Dr. Amunugama that he may have for­got­ten. When he wrote the chap­ter on Fam­ily Plan­ning -- chap­ter 8 -- he has de­voted about 35 pages to this chap­ter. But al­most 90% of that con­tent is on So­cial Science Re­search on Fam­ily Plan­ning. Here Dr. Amunugama ap­pears to have for­got­ten the as­sis­tance and guid­ance he gave me as Sec­re­tary to the Min­istry of Plan Im­ple­men­ta­tion dur­ing the years 1977 to 1986 when I spear­headed some new direc­tions in the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Fam­ily Plan­ning Poli­cies. I per­suaded my Min­is­ter, the late J.R. Jayewar­dene who was the Ex­ec­u­tive Pres­i­dent, to per­mit me to in­tro­duce into the gazette the sub­ject of Pop­u­la­tion Pol­icy and Im­ple­men­ta­tion that was not there be­fore. Armed with that au­thor­ity to­gether with Na­tional lead­ers like Lalith Athu­lath­mu­dali and Dr. Ran­jith At­ta­p­attu, I was able to make Fam­ily Plan­ning part of the Pop­u­la­tion Pol­icy. We in­tro­duced vol­un­tary ster­il­i­sa­tion pro­grammes with fi­nan­cial in­cen­tives es­pe­cially in the up­coun­try es­tate ar­eas which were caus­ing con­cern by high birth rates. As ev­ery­one knows the late Lalith Athu­lath­mu­dali helped me to put Fam­ily Plan­ning above party pol­i­tics by get­ting all the lead­ing po­lit­i­cal par­ties to sign such an agree­ment af­ter a na­tional sem­i­nar at the Fam­ily Health Bu­reau in Colombo. I also got the ap­proval of my Min­is­ter Pres­i­dent Jayewar­dene to ap­point Siva Obey­sek­era, a for­mer Health Min­is­ter in the SLFP gov­ern­ment, to head the In­ter­na­tional Re­view Pro­grammes on Fam­ily Plan­ning in Sri Lanka. I was ably as­sisted by all the NGOs work­ing in this field such as the Fam­ily Plan­ning As­so­ci­a­tion at that time led by Daya Abey­wick­rema and Com­mu­nity De­vel­op­ment Ser­vices led by Bri­gadier Den­nis Ha­putalle. How Dr. Sarath Amunugama came into the pic­ture was an area that he may have for­got­ten be­cause I did not find this on his chap­ter on Fam­ily Plan­ning. As Sec­re­tary of the Min­istry of In­for­ma­tion and Me­dia, Dr. Amunugama knew more about cre­at­ing aware­ness on fam­ily plan­ning than I and he read­ily helped me. I can still re­mem­ber the slo­gans which he helped me to print on en­velopes at the Gov­ern­ment Prin­ters which ran as fol­lows: Punchi Pavula Raththa­ran - Api Den­nai - Daru Den­nai, which means in English “A Small Fam­ily is Beau­ti­ful or Golden - Two Par­ents and Two Chil­dren”. Those were the catchy slo­gans. The idea was to take fam­ily plan­ning out of the bed­room into the pub­lic do­main and we suc­ceeded at that time and much of the aware­ness cam­paign was due to the in­put pro­vided to me by Dr. Amunugama. I wish to ac­knowl­edge this con­tri­bu­tion in this re­view.

Dr. Sarath Amunugama: Man of many achieve­ments

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