Illustrious leader of Lanka
Maithripala Senanayake’s 93rd birth anniversary falls
Maithripala Senanayake was born on July 17, 1916 and had his
education at St. Joseph’s College Anuradhapura, St. Johns College Jaffna,
and Nalanda College Colombo, and joined the Public Service in the
Agricultural sector. In 1947, he resigned from the public service
appointment and contested for the Medawachchiya Seat. He was duly
elected as a member of the United National Party. In 1952, he was
re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Medawachchiya, and was
appointed as Parliamentary Secretary to the Home Affairs Minister.
This was the position of a Deputy Minister, and the next step was to
be appointed a Minister. That year the UNP Government increased the
price of rice and sugar, and Senanayake immediately felt the pinch and
he knew that the poor peasants of Rajarata would have to face the
hardship a great deal. The position of Parliamentary Secretary was not
so important to him. The plight of the Rajarata peasants deserved better
attention. Senanayake therefore resigned from the position of
Parliamentary Secretary and also the United National Party by way of a
In 1955, Senanayake joined the SLFP led by S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike, and
after the General Election in 1956, Bandaranaike became the Prime
Minister. He appointed Maithripala Senanayake as Minister of Transport
and Works in his Government.
In 1957, Senanayake introduced the Motor Transport Bill to
nationalize the bus services. The bus owners were extremely powerful at
that time. Yet, the establishment of the Ceylon Transport Board was a
great success. In 1957, Senanayake introduced the Port Cargo Corporation
Bill, which nationalized the cargo handling operations of the Colombo
Port. The entire operations of the Port of Colombo passed into the
Public Sector. This Corporation employed the largest labour force in the
country. The transition was extremely smooth.
In July 1960, Senanayake was appointed Minister of Industries, Home
Affairs and Cultural Affairs by Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike. He
devoted attention on the expansion of the Public Sector Industries and
the Ceylonization of several other industries.
In 1962, he abolished the Headman System and introduced the Grama
Sevaka System in its place.
In 1964, he completed the nationalization of the Petroleum Industry
by completely taking over the internal distribution of petroleum
products. This exercise was commenced by T.B. Illangaratne.
Maithripala Senanayake was appointed Commerce and Industries Minister
by the Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1963. From that position,
he established the Ceylon Steel Corporation, Tyre Corporation, the
Hardware Corporation, the State Engineering Corporation and several
others. He also started the Pugoda Textile Mill, which was later shifted
to Thulhiriya by a subsequent government.
In 1964, he was appointed Industries and Rural Development Minister
and in 1965, he organized the most attractive and educational Industrial
Exhibition in Colombo. People from all parts of the country came to view
this exhibition, and it was the first of its kind ever held in Sri
Lanka, and so far the last too. Those who would recall the locally
produced items displayed at that exhibition would feel sad when they see
the many useless items spread on the pavements of Colombo, and imported
from all parts of the world.
In 1970, he was appointed the Irrigation, Power and Highways
Minister. He also became the Leader of the House.
After he was appointed the Irrigation, Power and Highways Minister
much attention was focused on the development of the Mahaweli Scheme,
and diversion of the Mahaweli water to the Anuradhapura district. The
Polgolla dam was completed, and the Mahaweli water was taken to Ukuwela,
and from there to Bowatenna and to the Kalawewa complex, which
represented the Stage One of the Mahaweli Scheme.
Senior Administrative Officers and Engineers were quite happy to work
with Senanayake. The officers extended their maximum cooperation to make
his work program a success. Senanayake had developed a technique of
winning the confidence and devotion of the officers. He never allowed
the work programs to be a burden to them.
When problems cropped up he discussed the difficulties with the
officers and harnessed their commitment and confidence. Some of the
Ministerial assignments could have been extremely difficult and
challenging. But he achieved success and admiration of every one due to
his superior management skill. Heads of Departments, and officers
extended their maximum cooperation to carry out their responsibilities,
and execute the tasks assigned to them.
During the 47 years he functioned as a Parliament Member and the four
years he functioned as the North Central Province Governor he had made
tremendous improvements to the essential services to the Medawachchiya
electorate area in particular, and the entire Rajarata area.
The improvements to hospitals, setting up of senior and junior
schools, rural development centres, timber workshops, tile factories,
and improvements to rest houses and circuit bungalows, textile weaving
centres, improvements to roads, electricity supply systems, improvements
to railway stations, improvements to irrigation systems, canals and
village tanks, special attention to the upkeep and maintenance of major
tanks such as Padaviya, Wahalkada, Maha Vilachchiya, Nachchaduwa and
many others. He lent his support to the restoration of the
Mahakanadarawa major tank. He was behind the building up of the new town
of Anuradhapura, and the establishment of the Preservation Board for its
During the General Elections in 1947, 1952, 1956, 1960 March, 1960
July, 1965, 1970, and 1977 he was elected a Member of Parliament with a
clear majority at each subsequent election. In 1989, he was appointed
Member of Parliament from the National List.
He completed 47 years as a Member of Parliament, and if he was
appointed Member of Parliament again in 1994 he would have created a
world record of being Member of Parliament for over half a century. But
the Head of State at that time felt that he must be made the Governor of
the North Central Province. During his 47 years in Parliament, he was
Minister-in-charge of extremely important and vital fields, and
performed his tasks extremely well and achieving remarkable good
In 1964, and again in 1970 he was appointed Leader of the House.
Between 1970-1977, this writer functioned as Secretary to the Leader of
the House, and the Cabinet of Ministers decided that Members of
Parliament, Secretaries to Ministers, and Judges could purchase cars
from the Department of Government Supplies on a permit issued by the
Secretary to the Leader of the House.
This was because there were no cars available for sale in the
showrooms of the car dealers. Sometimes there was a competition between
the Government MPs and Opposition MPs to purchase the same car. This
writer took the problem to Senanayake, the Leader of the House, and he
had a consultation with the Parliamentary Affairs Minister K. B.
Ratnayake and advised this writer that whenever there is a row between a
Government MP and Opposition MP to purchase the same car priority be
given to the Opposition MP. Some of the opposition MPs when discussing
the votes of Parliamentary Affairs Ministry praised the decision of the
Leader of the House and Parliamentary Affairs Minister to give priority
to opposition MPs when purchasing cars from the Department of Government
Wellassa, which literally means the one lakh of paddy fields in the
Uva region was a prosperous part of the Kandyan Kingdom, and the paddy
lands and the irrigation systems were well organised and the people were
doing extremely well. The rebellion against the harshness of the British
Administration that commenced in 1817 brought in very tough measures
against the people. Their villages were destroyed. A vast extent of
paddy land, fruit trees, irrigation systems were destroyed. The
descendants of these people have been suffering for over 150 years, and
the very first attempt to restore the irrigation systems in that area
was taken by Senanayake as Minister of Irrigation after 1970.
Senanayake was the leader of the delegation to the
Inter-Parliamentary Conferences held in various countries periodically,
and also Commonwealth Parliamentary Conference held in various
Commonwealth countries regularly. He had made very valuable
contributions at these conferences and was also appointed to responsible
positions in these organisations.
The silver jubilee celebrations of his parliamentary career was held
in 1972, and the organizers of this celebration had quite a large sum of
money for the celebrations and remained unutilized, and they gifted that
sum of money to Senanayake.
Senanayake created a Trust and provided scholarships to students of
Rajarata who got admission to universities. After some time, the money
left with the Trust was handed over to the University Grants Commission
to facilitate the granting of scholarships to Rajarata students.
During the weekend when Senanayake came to his residence in
Anuradhapura, a large number of people from the rural areas visited him
to relate their problems and seek solutions. Senanayake was extremely
patient to every one of them. He was never interested in finding out
their political loyalties. Any person from any part of Rajarata was
welcome at his residence, and he did the best possible to assist such
persons in solving their problems.
When officers were invited to participate in some field program in
his electorate, he always made suitable arrangements for such officers
to have their lunch and tea at a rest house, circuit bungalow or other
suitable place. The officers in turn were extremely grateful to
Senanayake and they did their best to achieve success in the work
programs initiated by him.
While being a Cabinet Minister of Sirimavo Bandaranaike, and when the
Prime Minister had to be out of the country it was Maitripala Senanayake
who was called upon to act as the Prime Minister.
He had acted as Prime Minister on 19 occasions during that period.
He has been a devoted Buddhist during his life, and in his adult life
he was in touch with many of the leading temples, and Nayaka Theras of
such temples. He held the position of Chairman of the Sri Lanka Ramanna
Nikayarakshaka Sabha for 14 years and in 1988, the Ramanna Nikaya
conferred the honorific title of “Sri Lanka Sasanabhimani Dharmapriya”
on him at a well attended function at the Navarangahala on February 27,
1988. As Cultural Affairs Minister, he organized the bringing in of the
Sacred Tooth Relic in China to Sri Lanka in 1961 and provided the
opportunity for the Sri Lankan Buddhists to pay homage to the relics.
The narration of the success story of Senanayake would never be
completed until due reference is made to the able assistance extended by
his life’s companion Ranji Senanayake. When people came from Rajarata or
other areas to see Senanayake, and if he was not available Ranji would
speak to them and suggest interim measures that would not discourage
When Heads of Departments or other Senior Officers contacted the
Ministry Office she as the Private Secretary provided the information
they were seeking and suggested suitable follow up action.
When official conferences were held, she carried the relevant papers
and information relating to matters that would crop up at such
occasions. When they attended International Conferences she carried the
relevant data and information that would strengthen the confidence of
Senanayake in making his contributions on such occasions.
Senanayake passed away in Colombo on May 12, 1998 at the age of 82.
May he attain Nibbana.