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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2427

20th Death Anniversary of Lalith Athulathmudali : An Immortal Luminary of Our Time

By T.K. Premadasa

Twenty (20) years have lapsed since the startling news that shocked the entire nation on the untimely demise of Lalith Athulathmudali, the great son of Mother Lanka on April 23, 1993 who shared an inestimable contribution to the Motherland.

Late Lalith Athulathmudali was a senior minister who played a significant role distinctively for the expansion of the socio-economic pattern of the nation with commanding success. This is an attempt of appreciation of the dedicated effort taken by him to develop various sectors of the economy particularly the export sector. At the outset it would be more appropriate to highlight in brief the important milestone reached in his life.

Lalith William Samarasekera Athulathmudali was born on the 26th of November, 1936 to a reputed family in Kalutara District whose father was a Member of the State Council of Ceylon representing Matugama distinctively He studied at St John’s College, Panadura and Royal College, Colombo.

He epitomized his instinctive brightness in studies at school and entered Oxford University in UK to pursue higher studies. Reaching a historical milestone he became the first Sri Lankan to be elected to the prestigious post of President of the Oxford Union. He passed his Barrister- at- Law from Harvard University in the United States and he began his career as a lecturer at world’s recognized academies, the University of Singapore, Hebrew University in Israel, University of Edinburg in UK and Ceylon Law College.

He was elected to the Parliament representing Ratmalana electorate at the General Elections held in 1977. During a 15 year short period of his political life he served in his cabinet portfolio as Minister of Trade and Shipping, National Security, Agriculture, Education and Deputy Minister of Defense. It was not an easy task to run 25 Departments, Boards, Corporations and Institutions under his Ministry of Trade and Shipping. Special feature was the creation of new institutions with radical changes to meet the basic needs of the nation as necessitated.

Concept of Mahapola Scholarship Program, a brainchild of this foresighted politician was the most prolific contribution made with avenues of opportunity opened to impoverished students of Sri Lanka. Today 90% of University students reap the fruits of Mahapola award started with 400 students at the first Anniversary inaugurated in 1981 at Galenbindunuwewa, Bandarawela. The staff attached to all departments and corporations under Ministry of Trade & Shipping dedicated their optimum to make the late Minister’s vision a reality. It is also believed that today Mahapola Fund is being utilized for certain other schemes benefitted by the people. The grateful Sri Lankans have not forgotten this remarkable gift introduced by the late Minister Athulathmudali as the qualified students were compelled to be indebted to banks by bank loans obtained prior to the introduction of this scheme. \The initiative of the late Minister to open an International University for Post-Graduate studies enabling poor students graduated from local Universities became a dream that did not came true due to various reasons.

It is risible to display huge pictures of world political leaders in our University Halls who have not contributed a single penny for its development structure. Regrettably, this erudite scholar who dedicated an excellent service and sacrificed his life for the sake of the nation with facilities equipped for Sri Lankan students is not being respected by our Universities at least with a picture hung in the University hall.

The government that swept into power in 1977 changed the entire political economic policy in Sri Lanka introducing Presidential Political system and Open Economy etc. Mr. Athulathmudali played a significant role in introduction of these new changes. Sri Lanka was the first country to introduce Open Economic policy in South Asia region with the objective of removing trade barriers in local market and also introduced export oriented or market oriented economic policy. Relaxation of exchange control, abolition of import control and grant of more incentives for investment etc. were the changes introduced to make the platform for open economy. This was a huge challenge to policy makers because the country produced to a limited local market at the time, but with the new export oriented economic policy the product had to be developed to cater for huge international market.

The late Minister realized the need of a constructive institutional framework for the development of export trade. Consequent to his deep concern, Sri Lanka Export Development Board was established on 1st August 1979 under Sri Lanka Export Development Act No. 40 of 1979. The first significant step taken in terms of this new Act was to empower EDB with wider powers for promotion of export and development in an attempt to embolden excellent performance of its duty at the highest standard in the best interest of the nation. The specialty featuring EDB was the perceptible structure of difference between the government and other institutions. An Export Development Council of Ministers was formed under the Chairmanship of the President comprised of the Minister in charge of related areas of exports. The objective of the Council was to advise EDB with directives for prompt execution of the decisions taken by the Export Development Council of Ministers. His ambition of establishing an institution in 1979 on behalf of the 21st century became a reality with the support of ITC of UNCTAD.

In concluding his address at the presentation of Export Development Board Bill in parliament he declared “Mr. Deputy Speaker, we cannot do what we are trying to do without the co-operation of all, not only in this parliament, but in Business and the workers of this country, by their realizing that the quickest path to prosperity is no other than the path towards export development and progress”.

It is recommended for every individual to read the EDB Act and grasp how the EDB has been empowered with all activities, requisite rules and regulations for development of export. Some Government revenues are still being collected through Export Development Fund which established under this Act. Preparation of National Export Development Plan every five years can be cited as an example.

Another powerful step taken by the late Mr Athaluathmudali on promotion and development of exports was the Sri Lanka Export Credit Insurance Corporation (SLECIC) established in 1978. The objective of this establishment was to provide support services on export credit insurance and guarantees for development of exports from Sri Lanka. This facilitates with insurance and credit guarantees for protection of exporters from commercial and political risks.

The Presidential Export Award, (PEA) the highest prestigious award ever presented by the nation in recognition of the professional competence exhibited by the export community in boosting the national economy is also a concept of Mr. Athualthmudali. Presentation of this award signifies the appreciation of the entire nation in respect of the enormous contribution extended by the exporters for development. EDB takes the pride of having organized 19 award ceremonies till to date. Importance of presenting awards to the export community by other institutions came into light after the introduction of this PEA Awards.

The introduction of Exporters’ Forum with monthly meetings to find solutions to the issues and needs of the exporters through direct dialogue between the government and export community was another bold step initiated by the late Minister in a bid to help develop the export industry. Since this system was a successful procedure launched by the South Korean government, the late Minister Athulathmudali invited South Korean Ambassador in Sri Lanka at that time as the Chief Guest to deliver the key note address at the first forum held in September 1985 as a tribute to the Koreans.

Founding the Export Production Villages, a conceptual move by late Mr Athulathmudali whose radical changes aimed at developing the export products with apposite opportunities opened for the rural producer to supply their products direct to the exporters or to export market without third party involvement is a testament to his unique vision. Induced by the high value addition given to rural products, producers have started their own companies with promotional development, a divine concept of sharing the benefits of exports with the village folks. Most EPVs of a few established in the 80s became ineffective caused by political interference.

Nevertheless, the first EPV established in 1981 in Dambadeniya and a few in Thissamaharamaya and Uva Paranagama operated successfully. Certain African States, inspired by the developmental progress of the EPVs took experimental approach in establishing their own production villages in respective countries.

Inspired by the nature of development progress specially through interaction of Business forums in South Korea by his visit to Seoul, necessary steps were taken convincingly to institute Economic Commissions and Joint Commissions in an attempt to improving relationship with the international market.

He envisioned the vacuum of infrastructure facilities needed for national development and Sri Lanka Port Authority and Sri Lanka National Insurance Corporation were established. In addition, he paid particular focus on reorganizing Sri Lanka State Trading Corporations and the CWE to be par with the advanced modern world. Accordingly the entire nation appreciates him diversification of CWE with the formation of CWE Printer, CWE Food etc and implementation of Consumer Protection Act, Patent Act. as an excellent contribution of his foreseeable thinking.

The Mahapola Concept introduced in 1980 was to provide opportunities to rural consumers to enjoy the benefits of new open economy and Employment Trust Fund (ETF) was established to enrich social development activities among the employees under new economic system. Remarkably, his dedication to the security of the country as the Minister in charge of National Security gained high reputation while his involvement in Foreign Affairs displayed a masterly performance appreciated by the nation.

The voluminous extent of service rendered as a partner to building the nation with untiring effort to uplift the lifestyle of the people would be remembered in high esteem by the citizenry many more years. In appreciation of his serene qualities with exemplary conduct, his name will be writ in letters of gold in the history of Sri Lanka as the immortal legend of our era.

The writer T.K. Premadasa is the former Head of Corporate Affairs and Communications of Sri Lanka Export Development Board.

- Asian Tribune -

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20th Death Anniversary of Lalith Athulathmudali : An Immortal Luminary of Our Time
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