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Maithripala Senanayake:

Illustrious leader of Lanka

Maithripala Senanayake’s 93rd birth anniversary falls tomorrow:

Maithripala Senanayake.

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 protest.

Quitting UNP

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.

Agricultural prosperity

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.

Improving infrastructure

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 management.

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 results.

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 Supplies.

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.

People’s politician

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 them.

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.


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