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Government Gazette

Premadasa: Pioneer of rural progress

REMEMBERED: Today we are commemorating the birth anniversary of President Ranasinghe Premadasa. A giant among leaders, he spent his entire adult life working indefatigably to improve the quality of life of the people of Sri Lanka, especially the poor and the disadvantaged.

President Premadasa was a man with a singleness of purpose. He devoted his whole life to serving of the people and to realise his vision of a better and prosperous Sri Lanka.


Ranasinghe Premadasa

He never faltered from his chosen path in spite of all the obstacles he had to face an all the challenges that he had to overcome.

One of the greatest qualities of the late President was his determination - his unwavering commitment to his mission for the country and her people.

He was always in a hurry because he felt that there was much to be done but only a little time to accomplish them.

In his effort to fulfil the tasks envisioned by him, he became great leader of his time, one who set targets and achieved them, who inspired those around him, who was methodical and disciplined. He kindled hope amongst the people.

The Government which came to power in 1977, on a platform of modernisation and economic liberalisation, launched an unparalleled housing development effort under initiative of the then Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa.

This programme reached all sections of the people and even the remotest areas of the country. This effort earned great credibility especially among the rural and urban poor and eventually received much international acclaim for its commitment, equity and innovation.

Its hallmarks were courageous leadership - the leadership provided by Premadasa - political commitment, innovation and competent implementation.

This commitment of Sri Lanka to the cause of housing, specially for the poor and disadvantaged, was recognised by the international community.

On a proposal made by him, the United Nations declared the year 1987, as the ‘International Year of Shelter for Homeless’.

The unparalleled housing effort launched throughout the country, inevitably led to one of the greatest achievements of President Premadasa, the “Million Houses Programme” (MHP).

The MHP was a radical departure from the conventional shelter programmes of the past. It was one of the first programmes, anywhere in the world, to adopt an “enabling strategy”.

In launching the Million Houses Programme, President Premadasa expressed his confidence in the self-reliance and the initiative of the people themselves.

The abandoning of the direct housing programme, which would have provided enormous opportunities to serve political supporters, was a rare act of courage.

President Premadasa’s enormously successful housing development programme was only the core of his all encompassing effort in rural development, which he termed the “Village Re-awakening Movement”.

He believed that successive Governments had followed urban centered policies and as a result, thousands of villages had been neglected. The villages remained poor while the lion’s share of development benefits went to urban areas.

The slogan he developed, “build the village and thereby build the nation”, was not a mere propaganda line; it symbolised his vision for a better future for the poor and downtrodden people, the vast majority of whom live in rural areas.

His other innovative development efforts like the “Janasaviya” and the garment factories programme carried forward his vision for the improvement of the quality of life in Sri Lanka’s rural poor.

The annual “Gam Udawa” programme was not adequately understood at that time. It consisted of the implementation of a comprehensive development programme embracing a selected District.

The “Gam Udawa” integrated development programme aimed at accelerating the improvement of the quality of the life of the people through the provision of their basic needs, such as basic infrastructure and services.

The participation of the whole Government and mobilising of all available resources within the district towards this objective was his main strategy.

Rural people benefited immensely and participated happily in this effort of their leader to give them dignity and self assurance. Much has been spoken and written on President Premadasa’s successful people oriented programmes like the “Janasaviya”, Garment factories programme and decentralisation of administration to divisional secretariats.

He should also be remembered for the legal and institutional framework he created to take Sri Lanka on the road to development.

The important institutions he established for this purpose include the National Housing Development Authority, the Urban Development Authority, the Central Environmental authority, the “Janasaviya” Trust Fund, the Housing Development Finance Corporation and the Institute for Construction Training and Development, among others.

He was never hesitant to change laws, introduce new laws or set up innovative new institutions in his quest to usher in developmental benefits to the people.

Today, his enormous contribution to the protection and management of our environment seems to be forgotten. When the 1977 Government came to power, serious preoccupation with environment problems was a relatively new phenomenon in Sri Lanka.

While there had been certain expressions of concern for issues relating to the environment, it was only with the massive development effort launched by the new Government that fresh problems arose and others, which existed before, took on an entirely new dimension.

Premadasa provided the leadership and pioneered framing of legislation and establishing the institutional framework for the protection and management of the environment.

It was under his leadership and direction, that the environmental dimension was introduced to the development planning process for the first time in Sri Lanka.

President Premadasa’s determination, courage and resourcefulness to achieve the objective of uplifting the quality of life of his people encompasses all fields - all spheres of life in the country. He was particularly concerned about religion, culture, arts and sports.

He established a large number of sacred cities, notably in Kandy and Kataragama and personally directed Cultural Triangle activities. The old Tower Hall at Maradana, which was in a dilapidated state, was renovated and the Tower Hall Theatre Foundation was established to foster theatrical arts and to assist artistes.

A very significant task carried out under his direction was the raising of the fallen and shattered giant Buddha statue at Maligawila.

In the sphere of sports, the late President was instrumental in the renovation and modernisation of the dilapidated Sugathadasa Stadium, the construction of the Sugathadasa Indoor Stadium and the construction of an international cricket stadium with floodlights at Kettarama, which today bears his name.

With this construction, Sri Lanka became the second country after Australia, to have a cricket stadium with facilities for day-night matches.

President Premadasa was an extraordinary human being whose ambition was to lead this country on an extraordinary path towards prosperity and improved quality of life.

He did much to change not only the life of the people, but also the way they think. He had implicit trust in the willingness and self reliance of the people - especially the ordinary people, unsung and unheard of. He was committed to safeguard our country, our nation and the dignity of our people.

Today he is no more with us and the lasting tribute that we can pay to this exemplary leader is to contribute towards achieving his vision for the people of our country.

The writer is a former Secretary of the Ministry of Urban Development, Housing and Construction. As the then Chairman of the National Housing Development Authority, he directed the implementation of the Million Houses Programme.

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