Dr. Jayantha Kelegama

Dr. Jayantha Kelegama, the eminent economist and scholar, passed away peacefully on the 9th of August 2005. 1 have known him very well since the year 1943 when he joined Trinity College, Kandy. He was a bright student and one of the best products of Maliyadeva College, Kurunegala. Kele, as he was popularly known, soon made a mark in his academic career at Trinity. On admission, he was first resident in the Squealery Dormitory and, thereafter, for the rest of his student career Kele was in Ryde House. He was made a Monitor of the school in 1946, when he was in the SSC Form. Whilst at Trinity, he was the brightest and the most outstanding student in his class and he won practically every possible class prize and most of the special prizes. His position in class was always the first. When he sat for SSC Examination held in 1946 he was the only Trinitan to get five distinctions and he headed the list of those who got distinctions. He was allowed to sit for the University Entrance Examination in one year, that was then conducted by the University of Ceylon in Colombo, the only University at that time. Kele had very few equals as far as studies and academic achievements were concerned.

His hand writing had a character of its own, both in Sinhala and English. He always wrote with a fine pointed pen, the handwriting, to say the least, was very artistic and I have seldom seen such fine handwriting. Kele was very nationally oriented and advocated policies that were not dependent on other countries. He was a great admirer of the socialist countries, particularly Russia and China, and largely advocated policies that did not expose the country to open market forces excessively. In particular, he devoted a considerable part of this research to the analysis of trade and agricultural policies.

At the University of Ceylon, he opted for a Special Degree in Economics, specializing in Money and Banking, and secured a class easily. At that time there were no lower second or upper second classes. He was one of the early graduates who did a Special Degree in Economics and graduated in the year 1951. During the last two years in the University his interest got diverted and Kele decided to contest a post in the University Student Union and was elected. He had the good fortune to be taught by distinguished University teachers and they were Prof. B. B. Das Gupta, Prof. K. P. Mukerjee, Prof. H. A. De S. Gunesekara, Dr. N. K. Sarkar, Tissa Jayakody, Dr. Ian Vandendriesen and L. C. Arulpragasam.

After graduating, he applied and was appointed to the Central Bank of Ceylon. His contemporaries in the Central Bank were S. E. P. Jansz, G. I. O. M. Kurukulasuriya, Michael Seneviratna, Dr. W. Rasaputram, S. Kanesathasan, A. L. B. K. Perera, Dr. S. B. D. De Silva, T. Pathmanathan, Mrs. Elaine Gunewardena, Edmund Eramudugolla, M. P. Perera, D. R. Siriwardena, Arcot Poulier, Mr. M. Swaminathan and B. B. D. M. Perera who were all recruited to the Central Bank during the years 1950 and 1952. The Central Bank during the years 1950 to 1956 was located in the red brick Simes Building in the Fort before we shifted to the Hemas Building that was more or less directly opposite the Simes Building.

Kele got a Central Bank Scholarship to the prestigious Oxford University where his supervisor, Mrs. J. R. Hicks, seeing his academic ability requested him to get onto his thesis straight away. Kele first received his M.A. (Econ) degree from Oxford without an examination as it was customary at that time to receive the MA prior to being awarded the Ph.D. He wrote a brilliant and pathbreaking thesis for his doctorate on the Money and Banking System in Ceylon. This was the first time when anything had been written on our banking system. But he could not publish his monumental research study because some part of the valuable material* in his thesis that he had collected was published in another thesis that was written and published by another academic. Though disappointed he returned to Ceylon and was posted as the Senior Economist in charge of the Money and Banking Division of the Economic Research Department of the Central Bank. But soon Kele’s services were sought by a number of government departments and Ministries and he volunteered to serve them.

In the early sixties, he first worked as Director of Economics Affairs in the Treasury and thereafter was appointed the Director of Commerce. In the period between 1970 and 1977 he was appointed Secretary to the Ministry of Trade and Commerce that was under Hon. T. B. Illangaratna. Kele was the first Professor of Economics at Vidyalankara University, now called the Kelaniya University. Kele functioned as Chairman of the Tea Commission in 1994-95. He was appointed the Chancellor of the Rajarata University during the period 1996 to 2002. He was honoured by the conferment of the highest ranking national honour, Deshamanya. I am not aware of Kele seeking permanent overseas employment at any stage in his career. But he did accept short term assignment as an United Nations Consultant and travelled frequently to distant and neighbouring countries where his balanced approach to economic analysis was required.

He has been writing to the business pages of the Sunday Island regularly for a very long time. He was a quiet and unobtrusive researcher who did not seek publicity. I don’t know whether anyone has kept track of his writings that may be easily in excess of two hundred articles on a wide range of very often not directly linked topics in Economics. His articles were all well documented with a comprehensive range of statistics and written under the pen name ‘Kanes’. He has also written extensively in Sinhala for the benefit of the common man on economic issues and he was honoured with the title "Artha Shastra Shiromini" by the University of Vidyalankara in 2002.

At his request, Kele’s funeral was not given publicity by an obituary notice, and the time of the cremation was not disclosed. However, the presence of a large and distinguished gathering at his funeral at the Kanatte was clear evidence that he had a very large number of admirers who appreciated his honest and lasting services to the nation and the country. He leaves behind his wife, Padmini, who stood beside him during the years and his two sons. May he attain the eternal ultimate bliss of Nibbana.

Dr. H. N. S. Karunatilake
(former Governor, Central Bank of Sri Lanka)


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