Opinion

Dr. Warnasena Rasaputra in memoriam

A model public servant who always maintained the highest standards of the public service at all times, a practical economist on whom his erudition and learning shone very lightly without any presence or dogmatism unnecessary pomp or ostentation, a humble man who never forgot the rural background from where he came, Dr. Rasaputra as Governor of the Central Bank for 9 years, later Ambassador to France, Geneva and the USA walked with kings but never lost the common touch.

Born in Yatiyana in the heart of Ruhuna, he grew up in the village in his earlier years and acquired the deepest understanding of village life, the peasantry and the rural economy. Educated at Ananda, the Universities of Ceylon and Wisconsin, he graduated in Economics and also acquired a Doctorate in the same subject but fortunately never became the stereotype, theoretical, text book economist, remaining true to his roots and his traditions.

Recognizing and appreciating these inborn talents and his sympathy with the rural masses, Ronnie De Mel, when he became Minister of Finance and Planning in 1977 lost no time in recommending him for appointment as Governor of the Central Bank, which post he held with great distinction and acceptance for 9 years.

This was the time of great economic upheaval and turmoil in the history of this country when the Sri Lanka economy was being rapidly and systematically transformed from a closed, inward looking, socialist one to an open, outward looking market economy. Some of the finest officials ever produced by Sri Lanka, like Dr. W. M. Tilakaratna B. Mahadeva, Chandi Chanmugam, Gaya Kumaratunge, L. E. N. Fernando, S. T. G. Fernando, Rajalingam, Ronnie Weerakoon, Indrajith Coomarasamy, A. S. Jayawardena and so many others too numerous to mention here were all carefully selected and brought together into the Ministry of Finance & Planning by a Minister who was a task master to accomplish this revolution in the economic life of our land which would soon transform the whole economy and our whole country beyond all recognition. Among this galaxy of talent and at the apex of it all, the Central Bank, was Warnasena Rasaputra.

International economists from Harvard, Cambridge, Sussex, Singapore, India, and even international financial experts from the private sector were brought in to advise and assist the local economists with the World Bank and the IMF also lending their support.

The great debate at that time was whether the transformation from a closed economy to an open one should be done in one fell sweep with the shock therapy method of transformation and change or by the more gradualist step by step approach to liberalization. It was eventually decided that transformation in one fell sweep as it were, although advocated by many including international institutions would also bring unnecessary and untold hardship in the short-term to the ordinary people of this land, the farmer, the worker and the fixed income earner, and may have ended up in a great political and economic upheaval in the country.

Rasaputra in the Central Bank with his deep understanding of the ordinary man, supported the school of thought that advocated the more gradualistic, step by step approach to liberalization. In the end this path to liberalization was finally adopted by the J. R. Jayewardene government despite pressure to the contrary by many national and international forces.

After his sterling performance for 9 years as Governor of the Central Bank Rasaputra became our Ambassador to France, then to Geneva and finally to the USA where his long experience in finance and banking could be used to the greatest advantage$ of our country. He continued as our Ambassador in the USA. till a very serious heart ailment in Washington led to his retirement from the Public Service about 2 years ago.

After his retirement Rasaputra came back to his roots and devoted himself to religious and charitable works, helping various Buddhist causes and the poor in the Matara district, spending his own money and his own resources in the process. Even 6 hours before his passing away, he went to the Colombo residence of Mrs. Mallika De Mel MP for Matara District and discussed with her a plan for re-settling and rehousing some of the flood victims in that area. Such was his enthusiasm for public service to the poor until his very end.

Dr. Warnasena Rasaputra was a model public servant who always maintained the highest standards expected from a public servant at all times, an economist of erudition and learning and above all a person of great integrity and humility who was an inspiration to us all.

May he attain the bliss of Nibbana.
R. Rajaratnam


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