Anil K. Moonesinghe and the Citroen project
Anil was in the Upper Sixth (Arts) Form of Royal College, Colombo,
when I joined the class in January 1945. He was reading British History,
Government and English Literature - if my memory is correct - whilst I
was reading Latin, Greek and English Literature.
I remember Anil as highly articulate - vociferous, even - and an
ardent follower of the Political philosophy of Leon Trotsky who had been
assassinated in Mexico in 1940 by a Stalinist agent. Anil was intensely
interested in ending the exploitation of man-by-man, liberating the
masses from the bonds of capitalism and improving the economy of this
After leaving school in 1946, we lost touch with each other for some
years, but I used to read about him in the newspapers and in 1970, when
he became Ceylon Transport Board Chairman, which he managed in an
exemplary fashion, I learnt that he was keen on assembling or
manufacturing a basic utility automobile in this country.
About the same time, I too was very keen on trying to interest some
organization in assembling (what a view to future manufactured) the
Citroen 2CV, a basic, but highly ingenious small car immensely popular
with the less affluent in France. Since the car had been designed in
1935, I felt the manufacturing facilities available in Sri Lanka 35
years later would perhaps be adequate for the purpose.
I put the idea to Anil at the CTB shortly after the 1971 JVP
insurrection had been quelled and was delighted to find Anil highly
enthusiastic about the idea.
Accordingly, I got in touch with a merchant banker in London, Grahame
Young, of Arbuthnot, Latham & Co., who arranged for me to visit the
Citroen Company in Paris with him.
The Company then sent out one of their representatives with Grahame
Young and myself to Sri Lanka in November 1971 and we interviewed not
only Anil, but also
Anil K. Moonesinghe
Dr. N. M. Perera and T. B. Illangaratne, who gave us their blessings
for the project.
The Citroen representative, Jacques Eyraud, said that 60 per cent of
the parts for the 2CV could be manufactured locally in year one and 97
per cent by year five. He came to this conclusion after visiting the
CTB’s Werahera workshops and the Lanka Leyland factory premises near
Homagama. He said Citroens would supply any parts that could not be
turned out locally.
Eyraud, having seen some 2 CV chassis already fabricated at Werahera
out of mild steel sheet at Anil’s initiative and being highly impressed
with the workmanship of those as well as the castings produced there of
gear box housings, on Anil’s orders, said that the way to go would be to
order six brand new 2 CV’s from Paris (the FOB price at that time was -
believe it or not - about Rs. 7500 each!) and assign a team of ten
mechanics to each car, to dismantle it to the last bolt and nut and then
reassemble the parts to make up the complete car. This was to be done
ten times by each team, so as to thoroughly familiarize themselves with
Anil (whom, incidentally, Grahame Young described to me as a great
patriot after conversations with him) approved of Eyraud’s suggestion.
Anil, therefore, as Head of a Government Corporation - the CTB - had
to apply to a functionary designated Public Corporations Director for
permission to order the six 2CV cars, which Anil duly did. That
functionary, incidentally, was an ardent Trotskite intellectual himself,
but more an aesthete than a practical man. Months passed and no reply
had been received by Anil to his application.
Eventually, when the Citroen Company inquired the position, I was
told to inform them that a feasibility report was required by the
Director of Public Corporations. Citroens’ response was: “Please inform
the gentleman concerned that our Company is in the business of
manufacturing automobiles, not paper.”
Thus was sabotaged Anil’s dream of manufacturing a utility vehicle in
this country. Such an industry would have given rise to a large number
of small-scale component manufacturers, cottage industries in effect. In
‘developed countries, automobile manufacturers accounted for about 8 per
cent of a country’s GDP at that time.
Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia have thriving automobile industries
which were set up in the 1980’s, but Sri Lanka would have had a
head-start, if not for the lack of understanding on the part of a