|Wednesday, 17 July 2002|
Birth Anniversary today: Maithripala Senanayake
by L. M. Samarasinghe
The Rajarata Leader Mr. Maithripala Senanayake was quite unique in many ways. He was determined to change the harsh conditions that prevailed in the long neglected Rajarata area to bring about a more hospitable and beneficial environment forte suffering people.He achieved success in many areas and certainly changed the landscape of that region and the life pattern of the people who had suffered for a long time.
As a Minister of the Cabinet of Mr. S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike after 1956 and later on in the several Governments under Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike he was entrusted with some of the most challenging Ministerial assignments. He achieved much success in all of them and the entire country was full of appreciation and praise for these novel and progressive measures. Mr. Senanayake carried out his assignments to every ones satisfaction and admiration but was never fond of blowing the trumpet too much. He attained eminence in many fields and was always in demand at the highest levels but never lost the common touch.
He refrained from giving authoritative directives to government officials to attend to the needs of the people who sought his assistance to solve their problems. He did not make his orders burdensome to the officials. But encouraged them to give of their best attention and maximum co-operation. His was a most successful approach to enlist the active co-operation and enthusiasm of government officials. He never made it difficult for the officer concerned.
The officials had to find their own ways and means to satisfy the people who sought their assistance. In the many Ministries that he was in charge of during his long Parliamentary career senior officers always enjoyed carrying out his directives because they were never burdensome. This superior approach made the people at the receiving and happy and also gave a high degree of self satisfaction to the officers who carried out his directives. In the Public Service there were no known instances of any responsible executive officer having had unpleasant experiences when working in any of the Ministries that Mr. Senanayake was in charge of.
On the contrary there was general satisfaction with the excellent results he achieved in handling some of the most difficult national assignments. It must also be stated to his credit that he was not fond of beating the drum too much after achieving success in handling difficult national programmes. These highlights should in fact serve as valuable and appropriate lessons for others who get elevated to Ministerial positions.
Whenever there were field programmes in his electorate where he was participating he would make sure that officers who were invited didn't have to forego their lunch or tea. He always got suitable arrangements made to provide lunch or tea to the officers and others who travelled from outside that area. Another remarkable attitude of his was that he did not expect Govt. Officials to attend public meetings in his electorate between nomination time and elections. This is quite a contrast to what took place in most other areas.
When he was Minister of Transport and Works in 1957 he got the necessary legislation passed and set up the Ceylon Transport Board and nationalised the bus transport system in the country which was a major change in that line. In 1958 he initiated action to nationalise another major activity which was until then entirely controlled by the private sector. That was the setting up of the Port Cargo Corporation.
In 1963 he was appointed the Minister of Industries and Trade by the then Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. From that position he brought about a major change in the State Industrial Sector by setting up the Sri Lanka Steel Corporation, Sri Lanka Hardware Corporation and the Sri Lanka Tyre Corporation. The Industrial Exhibition that his Ministry organized in 1965 in Colombo was the first and the last so far of an Industrial Exhibition of that magnitude.
The State Industrial Corporations Act No. 49 of 1957 provided the necessary legal base to set up that above Industrial Corporations and several others. His genuine and sincere efforts towards industrialization produced very promising results. Many persons set up various types and grades of industries and series of items needed by the local market were produced locally. What was needed was to continue this process and widen the range of industries that could utilize local raw material and produce items for local needs and also for export. But unfortunately over the years there has not been a consistent policy in our country to expand and improve the industrial sector. Looking back one cannot escape the conclusion that others who were in charge of the subject of industries later on had not taken full advantage of the legal frame work provided by the Industrial Corporations Act to set up other industries and make the country more stable, stronger and richer.
At the General Elections held in 1965 and 1970 Mr. Senanayake spent much of his time in other parts of the country helping Party candidates who needed his assistance and spent only a few days in his own electorate.
But the people of the Medawachchiya Electorate gave him a comfortable victory with a higher majority on each occasion.
He was appointed Minister of Irrigation, Power and Highways by Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike the Prime Minister in 1970. The subject of Irrigation was nearest to his heart and his life's ambition was to see that the ancient irrigation system in the Rajarata be totally re-activated as in the days of the ancient Sinhala Kings. In January, 1976 he got the first stage of the Mahaweli diversion scheme completed and from Polgolla Mahaveli water was taken through a tunnel and then to Bowatenne Reservior and from there to Rajarata. He could not see the commencement of the Moragahakanda reservior scheme which would provide water to a greater part of Rajarata.
Wellassa literally means one lakh of paddy fields and in fact the lower Uva area before 1818 was one vast extent of paddy fields with an excellent irrigation system consisting of thousands of village tanks and canals. This entire system was destroyed by the British Army in 1818 and thereafter great fighters for independence in Wellassa were driven to abject poverty and their descendants also suffered for over 150 years and the first attempt to restore the irrigation system in that Lower Uva area was made by Mr. Senanayake after he became the Minister in charge of the subject of irrigation in 1970.
Mr. Senanayake completed 25 years in Parliament in 1972 and the Silver Jubilee Celebrations were held in Anuradhapura and else where with wide participation of the people. Many persons contributed generously towards the expenses connected with the Silver Jubilee Celebrations and there was a substantial amount of money remaining after meeting all expenses connected with the celebrations. This sum of money was gifted to Mr. Senanayake and he in turn created a Trust to utilise this amount of money for granting of Scholarships to the students of Rajarata who succeeded in getting admitted to the University. Each year number of such scholarships were given to Rajarata students.
For many years he led the Sri Lanka delegations to the Conferences of the Inter Parliamentary Association and also of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. He had made valuable contributions at these Sessions. He held responsible office in these Associations and brought much credit and honour to Sri Lanka. Mr. Senanayake did entertain a personal desire to complete his half a Century in Parliament as a popular elected Member. But after 47 years in Parliament fate decided otherwise and had him elevated as the Governor of the North Central Province to which he belonged and for which he had done so much in his life time. He was deeply religious and kept close association with many Buddhist monks and they too sought his advice and assistance whenever they needed such help. He was made the Patron of the Sri Lanka Ramanna Nikayarakshaka Sabha in 1987.
An account of Mr. Maithripala Senanayake's achievements would not be complete without a due reference to his life's companion Mrs. Ranji Senanayake who has always stood by him and assisted at his work be it with the Rajarata peasant or with others who came to see him or with officials of his Ministry and Departments or with other state or private sector agencies or at International Conferences that he attended. She was in command of the relevant information needed and was always well informed of the progress of the work programs under his particular Ministry. It would be quite fair to state that the able and constant assistance that Mrs. Senanayake provided at all times contributed a great deal towards the remarkable achievements and success of Mr. Maithripala Senanayake.
Produced by Lake House