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 Post subject: President Ranasinghe Premadasa
 Post Posted: Mon Jun 25, 2007 12:01 am 
President Ranasinghe Premadasa -(June 23, 1924 - May 1, 1993)
One of the most enigmatic and dynamic statesmen and leaders of our time

Source: Nation article by S.J. Anthony Fernando
June 2007


Ranasinghe Premadasa was perhaps the least educated of the country’s leaders, but the most knowledgeable and experienced in varied fields of activity from politics, history, legal and constitutional and parliamentary procedures to technical and planning methods – all obtained through self education and self learning by following public discourses of experts and professionals and by reading and listening. Premadasa may have had his weaknesses. But his work far outweighed them.

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Ranasinghe Premadasa was one of the most enigmatic and dynamic statesmen and leaders of our time, whose services to the nation and the people surpasses that of any leader. For him, time and place was immaterial. Instructions and directives would be given either at conferences in air-conditioned offices or in a field in the blazing sun. He would go to extremes to ensure that everything went according to plan. He did not want to postpone anything for tomorrow. Once a decision was taken, he would see that it was carried out, by hook or by crook.

The weekly heads of department conferences he presided to assess the progress of projects were eventful. There he would give instructions to clear bottlenecks that hampered or delayed projects. Being practical-minded and a realist, he conducted these conferences in English for better communication, well-knowing that most of the officials at that time were English educated and some from the Tamil community. The proceedings were minuted in English and all instructions given were treated as final, on which all officials would have to act and show progress.

Apart from the landmark urban and village development schemes and programmes like the village re-wakening movement and development of cities and neighbourhoods, the biggest contribution he made was in changing the bureaucratic mentality of officials in getting them to go to the grassroots level and look into the problems of the people. He set the trend through example by taking the officials with him to places where development programmes were underway.

Premadasa literally carried out a crusade to change the attitude of the public service to cut down on red tape and bureaucratic delays. He exhorted them to look into the problems of the people not only through files but also through their hearts, from a humanitarian angle, by going to the people to realise the gravity of their problems.

The setting up of over 300 district secretariats initiated by him helped the people to transact a host of administrative functions closer to their hometowns. No other leader of the country devoted his entire life to the service of the people more than President Premadasa did.

Premadasa was perhaps the least educated of the country’s leaders, but the most knowledgeable and experienced in varied fields of activity from politics, history, legal and constitutional and parliamentary procedures to technical and planning methods – all obtained through self education and self learning by following public discourses of experts and professionals and by reading and listening.

He could hold his own among professionals and academics and would often suggest his own home-spun innovations for projects and programmes to suit local requirements. He was a true patriot, having closely followed the independence struggle and the vision of the leaders and the nationalist revival movements.

While working towards the propagation of the majority religion, Premadasa supported the promotion of other religions as well. Having represented the multi-religious and multi-racial constituency of Colombo Central, he was at the same time a strong advocate of racial and communal harmony and worked towards goals of amity throughout his political life.

The Sucharitha Movement he founded provided him the spring board to enter politics. He was inducted to politics under the leadership of the then Labour Party Leader, A.E. Goonesinghe, after whom Goonesinghepura was named. He later joined the United National Party and was elected a Colombo Municipal Councillor and later its deputy mayor.

It was President Premadasa’s motto that to be a leader one must first learn to follow. Thus, while engaging in implementing his pet programmes, he was loyal to his leaders, first A.E. Goonesinghe, then Dudley Senanayake, under whose government he was appointed the junior minister of local government during which he became famous for the construction of small village bridges using discarded steel from abandoned railway carriages and also the initiation of the Maligawatte housing scheme, converting once a marshy land to a sprawling township.

However, it was under the leadership of J.R. Jayewardene that he received the opportunity to widen his scope of service. He was an asset to JR not only in giving leadership in parliament but also in carrying out his pet projects the like development of Sri Jayewardenepura Kotte and also weathering many a political storm and helping to pull political chestnuts out of the fire. His performances as prime minister made him the automatic choice of the UNP as the presidential candidate.

Though Premadasa faced unprecedented obstacles in his political life he was never shaken by them as his projects and programmes stood as ample testimony for the people of the good work done. He was elected as the second executive president when the country when the country was like a candle burning at both ends – the Eelam war launched by the LTTE in the north and east and the terror unleashed by the JVP in the south.
Despite these obstacles, he was able to continue many more projects and programmes in addition to handling other problems. Two noteworthy ventures are the Janasaviya Poverty Alleviation Programme and the 200 Garment Factories Programme.

Foreign investments grew in leaps and bounds when he revamped the Board of Investment to give more impetus to foreign investors, taking BOI projects to outstations. The economy grew too.

Premadasa also lost no time in inviting the LTTE and JVP for talks by stopping their rebellion. The JVP rejected the offer but the LTTE accepted. He held a series of talks with the LTTE leaders like Dr. Anton Balasingham, Dilip Yogi, Mahathaya and others and was able to get them to agree to contest the North East Provincial Council, which was dissolved at the time, and show their popularity with the Tamil people, disproving the general belief that they were controlling the Tamil people at the point of a gun. They agreed to contest and formed a political party.

Premadasa firmly believed that the LTTE was sincere and helped the LTTE lavishly. However, Prabhakaran, who does not believe in democratic elections thought that this was a trap laid by Premadasa and without any prior warning launched Eelam War III. The outcome was that Mahathaya and Yogi who were mostly engaged in talks with Premadasa fell from grace and were eliminated by Prabhakaran.

Though Premadasa launched many projects he never lent his name even to a road when he was alive but consented to have his name on the Premadasa Pavilion he built for his old school, St. Joseph’s College at the request of the college authorities.

He also shunned hollow publicity and never attended foundation stone laying ceremonies and attended only occasions of opening projects once they were accomplished. Once a project was accomplished he would go to town with it, getting maximum publicity.

Premadasa may have had his weaknesses. But his work far outweighed them. He could not be easily deceived or misled. But there had been instances when he had acted on information provided by certain tale carriers. However, if he later found out that he had been misled, he would place the person who was harmed on a higher pedestal and drop the tale carrier like a hot potato.

After the breakdown of talks with LTTE, Premadasa, being a good friend and a bad enemy, launched a full scale offensive with the help of the police and the armed services under the leadership and guidance of General Denzil Kobbekaduwa and was able to liberate Vavuniya and a major part of the Eastern Province and even hold mobile offices in Vavuniya and Batticaloa in a bid to restore civil life.

He was laying the foundation in gradually winning over the hearts and minds of the Tamils when Prabhakaran found that Premadasa was an obstacle to their aims.

Premadasa was assassinated on May 1, 1993 on the field by an LTTE suicide bomber while inspecting and directing the May Day rally of his party.


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 Post subject: Remembering President Ranasinghe Premadasa
 Post Posted: Mon Jun 25, 2007 12:20 am 
Remembering President Ranasinghe Premadasa

Premadasa was a human dynamo. As long as he was President, the Public Services hummed with energy and activity. Not only public servants but Cabinet Ministers as well were constantly on their toes and under pressure to perform. There was no room for bystanders or idlers. Every Cabinet Minister, every Permanent Secretary and every Head of Department was accountable and had to show results. Every minute of every day was precious in his sight and punctuality and discipline were almost articles of religious importance for him.

by Evans Cooray

Around 4.30 in the morning of May Day 1993 my telephone rang. Having worked for Mr. Premadasa for over 25 years, even as I tumbled out of bed I had no doubt in my mind who could be calling me at that time.

The President was brief and crisp. He instructed me to meet him at Sucharitha, his private residence at 7.00 am. I reminded him that he has assigned me with the special task of seeing to the last minute arrangements at the main stage at Galle Face Green the venue of the afternoon mammoth meeting where he wanted special facilities for the media. He said that nevertheless he wished to see me at 7.00 am.

At Sucharitha, his private residence at St Sebastian in Hulftsdorp, there were gathered at that time along with myself, the President's Private Secretary, F. D. Balasuriya, Personal Assistant K. P. Dayaratne and Sucharitha staffers including his valet M. P. M. Mohideen. President Premadasa was an absolute stickler for time. Never one minute late for an appointment, nor a minute early. Sharp at 7.00. he called all of us to his room upstairs adjacent to his bedroom. His instructions to us were short and precise, giving the impression of a military field commander who knew what he was about and as always, though cordial, his voice rang with authority and power, commanding compliance..

He assigned various tasks for each of us and my task was to gather some statistical data, which he needed for his May Day speech later that day. Having gathered the data, around 12.00, from the Presidential Secretariat I rushed off to the Sugathadasa Stadium where I expected to find the President. However, upon hearing that he had already joined the procession which was wending its way towards Armour Street I sped in that direction and found the President already at the Armour Street Junction. Ignoring the insistent advice of his personal security staff he had dismounted from his Range Rover and was directing the flow of the procession.

As I walked up to him he saw me from a distance and called me to him. The time was 12.32 to be precise. Pointing to his wristwatch he said that it was now time to convey to the SLBC the progress of the rally for 12.45 news. I carried out the instructions by using the mobile phone which was in my hand. When I reported back to him that I have phoned the SLBC and given the news to the News Editor he asked me to stand by for further instructions and along with the President's valet Mohideen and many others including his security staff who were helping the President direct the procession ,I stood by. I watched the main body of the procession pass by, led by Ministers Ranil Wickremesinghe, Festus Perera and Gamini Lokuge and many others whom the President greeted and instructed to proceed.

At that moment another stream of the procession emerged from Messenger Street led by the supporters of his own electorate Colombo Central and the President, waded into the crowd and started organising them to march four abreast. Right at that moment my mobile phone rang. It was my daughter wanting to speak to me. Because I could not hear her voice clearly above the din of the slogan shouting procession I had to move some distance from where the President was standing, towards the Sulaiman's Hospital. It was at that precise moment that tragedy struck.

There was an almighty explosion and in a second the scene was transformed into a battlefield. Shattered body parts were hurled into the air. The road around was splattered with blood and parts of flesh, broken limbs and decapitated heads. There was screaming and shouting everywhere and where moments earlier there was an orderly procession, now there was chaos and mayhem. The transformation had taken all of a second.

I ran forward not knowing what to do. I reached the residence of a Colombo Municipal Councillor in the nearby De Mel Housing Scheme where a large crowd had gathered. I telephoned Mr. K. H. J. Wijayadasa Secretary to the President and he too said that the news of a bomb explosion had reached him and asked me to come back to the Secretariat.

K. D. Ranjith a staffer at the Presidential Press secretariat who was all along behind me went back to the scene and called my official car. We went back to the scene and terrified and confused, looked for my President. It was like a battlefield with police cars and ambulances running round. I could not find him, or his bodyguards. Knowing the drill that the body guards had practised so many times, which is to bundle the President away immediately there is a hint of danger to his life, I assumed that he had been hustled away to some place. Our car sped along the opposite direction via Kosgashandhiya to Sucharitha Private Residence of the President, where several thousands of agitated supporters had gathered inquiring after his safety.

Before I could leave for the Presidential Secretariat the President's wife, Mrs. Hema Premadasa rang the Sucharita residence from Kandy and anxiously inquired after the President and not knowing what to say, just to console her I said, ' Madame I think he is all right'

Then I hurried back to the Presidential Secretariat and to my surprise found a large group of media men both foreign and local gathered outside the office. As there was still no official confirmation as to what had happened to the President I accompanied by Anthony Fernando my long time friend and Senior Assistant Secretary (Information) in my office went back to Sucharitha and we found that the May Day procession was still proceeding towards the Galle Face Green.

As there was still no news of what had actually happened we returned to the Presidential secretariat where we learnt the grim truth officially for the first time. President Premadasa and all those who were around him at that moment had perished in the explosion. Had my daughter not telephoned me at that very moment making it necessary for me to leave the spot in order that I may hear her above the din, I would not be writing this article today.

As I walked down from the upper floor where Mr. D. B. Wijetunga was sworn in as the Acting President before the Chief Justice the telephone on my table rang and it was from the News Desk of the BBC who wanted to speak to me. I said that I was not in a mood to talk and asked them to ring me later. After few minutes the telephone rang again and I overheard the announcer in the midst of reading news and saying that they are now switching over to Sri Lanka and asked' Mr. Cooray can you confirm the story about the bomb explosion'?.

Not realising that my answers are being relayed all over the World live I gave a brief description of what really took place and about the death of the President. Thereafter I summoned both the local and foreign media men and held a brief Press Conference. The whole world learnt about the death of the President through the BBC news broadcast at intervals while the SLBC announced his death officially only in the afternoon.

On this occasion I will speak only about that fateful day's dreadful events. However, I am writing separately, as a book, the whole Ranasinghe Premadasa story, warts and all. For nine long years I have watched in silence, but with dismay and great pain, how the President Premadasa's name has been dragged in the mud. He had no peace even after his sad and untimely death and his political enemies continued to pursue him beyond his grave. There is no leader in the known history in Sri Lanka who has been reviled and denigrated as President Premadasa was.

While he was living his 200-garment factories project was the butt end of jokes and was roundly ridiculed as the 'jungi industry'. Today, just 10 years later, the garment industry is a US $ 2 billion enterprise, runs 890 factories, employs a million people and is the mainstay of the country's export economy. Not bad for a 'jungi industry' which is barely 12 years old.

It is nothing but right that President Premadasa should be judged on the basis of his many great talents, his great leadership qualities and his multifarious achievements. The village reawakening programme - Gam Udhava, Sevana Sarana, Foster Parents Scheme, providing free mid day meals to schoolchildren, Mobile Ministry Programme, etc are only a few of those programmes which helped the poor immensely.

Premadasa was a human dynamo. As long as he was President, the Public Services hummed with energy and activity. Not only public servants but Cabinet Ministers as well were constantly on their toes and under pressure to perform. There was no room for bystanders or idlers. Every Cabinet Minister, every Permanent Secretary and every Head of Department was accountable and had to show results. Every minute of every day was precious in his sight and punctuality and discipline were almost articles of religious importance for him.

Above all, what most distinguished President Premadasa from every leader before him or since, was his total and unequivocal commitment to the poor. Everything he did was directed at that one objective the upliftment of the poor. For him alleviating poverty was not just a matter of ideology and bias for the poor was not just a populist slogan as it generally is with politicians, but was for him his life's passion.

President Premadasa had in fact been assassinated long before that fateful day nine years ago. Some of his political enemies had character assassinated him many times over spreading all types of falsehoods against him. He was born to an ordinary family and lived most of his life despised by some who were rich and powerful. However, much as all that pained him grievously, he journeyed on, content that he was loved and venerated by those whom he was born to benefit, the poor and the downtrodden. Getting to the top of the country's political ladder was worse than merely climbing up the greasy pole, for he was always being pushed down from above.

It is noteworthy that history and sanity have slowly but steadily begun the process of clearing his name of various canards that were deliberately and systematically concocted and spread around the world.

My great ambition is that someday I will be able to make my own contribution towards restoring to him the place of honour which he richly deserve.

I have had the very rare privilege of working close to him for well over a quarter century. As his Press Officer in the early years when he was the Minister of Local government in the Dudley Senanayake Government and later as his Press Secretary when he assumed the office as the Prime Minister and President of Sri Lanka. Never in my life have I seen a more brilliant example of a self-made man than Mr. Premadasa. His unbelievably great capacity for and efficiency at work is undoubtedly the result of his inner personality, which developed into gigantic proportions as a result of diligent application and effort. It shall be my own mission and privilege to tell the Premadasa story some day soon, so that the record may be set straight and honour restored where for too long it has been denied.


(The writer was the Press Secretary to the late President Premadasa during the time he was the Minister of Local Government and Prime Minister and President of Sri Lanka. Later he worked as the Press Counsellor at Sri Lanka High Commission in London)


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 Post subject: “Janasetha Sadu Janapathy Sevane “
 Post Posted: Tue Jun 26, 2007 12:01 am 
“Janasetha Sadu Janapathy Sevane “
Premadasa’s Sense of Gratitude

We had to walk alongside drains and huts to reach that place. The Prime Minister was walking as if he was going to his own house. I felt he had been there earlier. There was a drizzle and he held the sarong he was wearing with one hand. It was shanty dwelling. “Where is Paranavitana?” Premadasa asked the sick man’s wife. We were taken inside. The sick man was an elderly person. He was very weak and lying on a camp bed. The Prime Minister stood close to him. “Paranavitana, I am Premadasa. Can you recognize me? I received a telegram from your daughter that you wished to see me. So I came.”

By Evans Cooray
@ Lanka Tribune 23-06-2007 / source: Lankaeverything.com


Premadasa was not only a man of the masses but also a leader with a sense of gratitude. After attaining exalted positions he did not forget even the commonest man who had helped him to rise to such heights. During the election campaign of 1960 there was a poor woman in a thatched hut along the Anuradhapura main road who used to raise a green flag in her humble abode. He remembered her so well that in 1978 after becoming the Prime Minister he visited that woman with his family carrying a load of gifts. On another occasion while traveling in Tissamaharama with his family he stopped by a wayside small house that was neatly kept. He spread a mat that was in the vehicle on the compound and had his meals there. He was talking to a small girl in that house and after finding out details about the family decided to build a new house for them.

After returning to Colombo he got the Housing Development Authority to build a house for that family. Later we were sent there to take pictures and collect information to prepare a booklet in colour about that family. That was the beginning of the ‘Sevana’ Fund that later grew into a massive project with donations from rich benefactors.

He remembered a person even after fifty years. He never ignored such a person even if he happened to be very poor. Even if he spotted someone known to him in the crowd at public meetings he sent word to bring that person onto the stage.

I remember an incident that I experienced personally. It was April 29, 1978. I remember the date well as the first of May that year happened to be the day on which the statue of A. E. Goonasinghe was unveiled at Goonasinghepura. Premadasa had gone to Galle with Mrs. Premadasa to attend a wedding as the attesting witness. I had to be with their son and daughter till they returned. I returned to Temple Trees around 8.00 in the night and he looked very tired. We were on the ground floor. In a few minutes he came down and asked “What news?” “Sir, there was a telegram. I kept it with me as I thought it was a private message to you.” I said. The message was as follows. ‘Father seriously ill. Wishes to see you’ and the sender was Paranavitana, Kuppiyawatte.

He read the message and thought for a moment. He repeated, “Paranavitana, Kuppiyawatte” and turned to me and said, “If you are smart tell me where Kuppiyawatte is.” I rang up the central Post Office and inquired about the place. There were two places with that name. One was in Ragama and the other in Maligawatte. I told that to the Prime Minister. He went upstairs and returned refreshed and dressed in white. He sat at the dinner table and asked me to join him. A waiter placed a plate before me. While having dinner he inquired whether I came in the official vehicle. Then he said “Let us go to Kuppiyawatte without a fuss. We can go in your car.” Finishing his dinner he called Police Superintendent Weerasekera who was his personal bodyguard. He had been his bodyguard from the time he was a minister. I went out and asked the driver of my vehicle to be in readiness to go out with the Prime Minister.

“Weerasekera, you come alone. Don’t bring the others” said the Prime Minister. We left Temple Trees around 10 p.m. The Prime Minister was seated in front and I sat behind with Weerasekera. On our way we inspected the erection of the Goonasinghe statue due to be unveiled in two days time. The Prime Minister was giving directions. We went past Khettarama.

We could not take the vehicle to the house we wanted to go as the pathway was narrow. We had to walk alongside drains and huts to reach that place. The Prime Minister was walking as if he was going to his own house. I felt he had been there earlier. There was a drizzle and he held the sarong he was wearing with one hand. Noticing the house he was going to I went before him and announced his arrival. It was shanty dwelling. We heard a woman crying inside the house. “Where is Paranavitana?” Premadasa asked the sick man’s wife. We were taken inside. The roof was covered with a zinc sheet. There were two kerosene oil lamps burning in the room. They were electric bulbs converted to lamps. The sick man was an elderly person. He was very weak and lying on a camp bed. The Prime Minister stood close to him. “Paranavitana, I am Premadasa. Can you recognize me? I received a telegram from your daughter that you wished to see me. So I came.” The elderly woman was speaking with her palms placed together.

The sick man was gaping silently as if in amazement. A slight smile creased his face and a drop of tear dripped down. His lips were quivering as if he was trying to say something. He spoke with difficulty. Words came out one by one. “I knew you would come sir. How nice to see you. I am only worried about my two children. If you can do something for them that is all I want. I will not live. I am nearing my end.” “Where are the children?” asked Premadasa. A young boy and a young girl came forward with deference. The Prime Minister looked at me. “Take down all the details. Their names, address, education qualifications, everything.” I always carried a note book and a pen when going out with him. I took down their personal details. The girl had passed the GCE O/L. The boy also had passed the GCE O/L and he had no job.

Premadasa turned towards the sick person. “Don’t worry Paranavitana. I will get them jobs soon.” “Why didn’t you enter the hospital when you are so sick?” Before he could speak the woman intervened. “He doesn’t like to go to the hospital sir. If he can get into a paying ward he might agree. He knows how we lived although we are like this now. He prefers to die at home to languishing in a government hospital.” I was wondering why she was harping on a paying ward when the situation was so serious. “Alright. If he wants to go to a paying ward I will arrange that” said the Prime Minister. We took leave of them and left. On our way back the Prime Minister related the story of Paranavitana. “Evans, that man has helped me a lot during my election campaigns. He was an Executive Officer at Brooke Bonds. He supported our party from the days of D. S. Senanayake. I am sorry to see him in that condition. I came at this time of the night to see him because I knew the value of that man.”

If Premadasa makes a promise its fulfillment is as certain as an inscription in stone. It was close to midnight when I left Temple Trees. The telephone started ringing as I was entering my house. It was the Chairman of the Housing Development Authority. Within that short time the Prime Minister had contacted him and the Colombo Municipal Commissioner and had asked them to employ the two children in their departments; the boy as a Flat Warden in the Housing Development Authority and the girl as a Traffic Warden in the Municipal Council. I gave the necessary details about the boy to the Chairman of HDA and replaced the receiver. It started ringing again. This time it was the Municipal Commissioner. He wanted the details about the girl and I gave him that.

The boy and the girl were employed in the Housing Development Authority and the Colombo Municipal Council as instructed by the Prime Minister. Early next morning I spoke to the Director of the Colombo General Hospital Dr. Joe Fernando and conveyed the Prime Minister’s instructions to provide a bed in a paying ward to Paranavitana. He told me that it was not possible to get a bed instantly and he would tell the Prime Minister about it. He suggested admitting the patient to Ward 54 in the afternoon without waiting for a bed and he will be there at that time. I went to Paranavitana’s house in the afternoon in my official vehicle. It was only then that I realized his real condition. He had a festering bed sore as a result of lying in the bed continuously for a long time. It was impossible to transport him in my vehicle. I therefore contacted the Municipal Commissioner and requested an ambulance. The patient was taken in the ambulance accompanied by his daughter and I followed in my vehicle. Dr. Fernando was there and the patient was admitted to Ward 54. I finished my part of the job and reported to the Prime Minister. I knew that he was pleased.

I could not visit Paranavitana in hospital on the next day, as I had to go out of Colombo on official business. A week later I had a call in the night from the Prime Minister. “Evans, did you hear? Paranavitana has died. I was just informed by the hospital.” “See me at Temple Trees on your way to office. The following morning I was at Temple Trees and walked straight into his bedroom. He was going through a file dressed in a sarong and a shirt. He stopped his work and gave me ten thousand rupees to be given to Paranavitana’s wife for funeral expenses. He rang up the Director of Jayaratne Florists and asked him to help the family in any possible manner.

I went straight to Paranavitana’s house and handed over the money in front of my driver telling them that it was from the Prime Minister. I have only related the story in brief. My language lacks the poignancy to bring out its real emotion. Many a tale of this nature forms part of the life of Ranasinghe Premadasa. People of his calibre are a rarity in this small island.


(Excerpted from the book authored by the writer titled “Janasetha Sadu Janapathy Sevane “in the shade of the President who worked for the welfare of the masses)

Evans Cooray - A veteran journalist who served Mr. Premadasa for nearly thirty years in various capacities as his Press Officer, Assistant Secretary (Information) Senior Assistant Secretary and later as Press Secretary to the Prime Minister and President recalls an incident demonstrating the late leader’s sense of gratitude.


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