Leelananda responds to Jolly Somasunderam


by Leelananda De Silva.

I refer to the article by Mr. Jolly Somasundram (JS) appearing in the Sunday Island on July 9 in response to mine on July 2, regarding the Ceylon Civil Service (CCS). My letter was a response to an article by Mr. Ajit Kanagasundaram (AK) appearing on June 25. Before I respond to JS, let me briefly set out what I said. The CCS upto 1948 was a ruling class, appointed by the British government. They were the rulers, and there were no local politicians above them. Most of the members of the CCS served in the districts and the provinces as administrators. The development activities of the government were undertaken by technical personnel working through many departments. It is my view that the contributions of these technical personnel have been largely ignored.

When it came to the appointment of permanent secretaries in 1948, after independence, the generalists took over most of those jobs and heads of technical departments, who had worked with ministers directly in the 1931 – 1948 period were ignored. After 1948, the CCS was not the same as it was before. Now the members were selected through an examination held by the PSC in Colombo. The ministers now were their political masters. They were not a ruling class. They were the most senior administrative grade among several others. There were many in the other grades who were selected by the same CCS examination by the PSC.

I also made the point that between 1948 and 1962, women were not allowed to sit for the CCS examination. This was unjustified. Until 1972, generalists were given priority over technical personnel in the appointment of permanent secretaries. I also made the point that in India, the Indian Civil Service (ICS) was replaced by the IAS in 1948 to signal the changed role of the administrator. My assertions were on issues that I have briefly listed here and they were not personal. Some can agree and others can disagree.

I will now take up some of the specific points of JS. He says that it was not Nehru, but Vallabhai Patel who replaced the ICS with the IAS. There is no reason to disagree with that. I brought Nehru in as AK had referred to him as an admirer of the ICS, and I was responding to that. Anyway, Patel was a member of Nehru’s government, and it was Nehru’s government that carried out the changes. I referred to constitutional guarantees for the public service in India and JS queries the accuracy of my statement. Articles 310 to 315 of the Indian Constitution (I do not have a copy of it, but I have checked with a friend) deals with those provisions.

JS appears to be very critical of the Planning Ministry. It was set up by Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake in 1965. He removed many functions of the Treasury, with JS so admires, and vested them in the Planning Ministry (foreign aid, foreign exchange budget, capital budget). He would not have done that if he was fully satisfied with the Treasury. JS says that there were no senior economists in that ministry and that it was staffed by several civil servants, and he mentions David Loos, and Godfrey Goonetileke. David Loos was a civil servant, but more importantly, he had a first class honours degree in economics. Godfrey Goonetileke is a better planner and economist than most others. Unlike in the case of several others, Godfrey was an adornment to the civil service, and the civil service did not adorn him. I wish to mention that the Ministry had officers like Nihal Kappagoda (a Rhodes scholar), Uswatte Aratchi, Vadic Siriwardene, and many others specially from the Central Bank. The Ministry also had a major UN technical assistance project on development planning which provided significant technical resources.

JS makes a personal attack on Professor H.A. De. S Gunasekara. He has passed away and he cannot reply. According to JS, the management of the economy by this ministry was a disaster, and Mrs. Bandaranaike, the Prime Minister lost 2/5 of the seats at the next election as a result. JS should consider what happened to Dudley Senanayake in 1970. He too lost as many seats at the election though Gamani Corea had managed a very successful economic program. Regrettably, Ministries of Planning cannot determine the outcome of elections. JS mentions one small part of the ministry called the Regional Development Division which ran a divisional level program, which we all agree was an unsuccessful and irrelevant activity for the ministry. Although we worked in a department or a ministry, we do not necessarily agree with all the policies of the minister or the permanent secretary.

JS refers to his own personal achievements in the first 10 – 15 years of his career. They are indeed impressive. But these achievements came not when he was a CCS officer, which lasted two years of his career, but in his later years as a member of the Ceylon Administrative Service. There must be other CAS officers during that period who had similar experiences. Before 1948, CCS officers did not have such wide ranging experiences, as government tasks were much more restricted. They worked mostly in the provinces as GAs and AGAs. Leonard Woolf was an OA, and AGA in Kandy, Jaffna, and Hambantota in his seven years in Ceylon. That was not much of an experience. After 1948, CCS and non CCS officers and later SLAS officers had the opportunity to obtain a more varied experience. JS says that "the CCS were selected in the most competitive examination in the island". That is not correct. Women were excluded.

At this point, let me note that when the CCS was abolished in 1962, all members of the CCS were offered generous terms of retirement which they could opt to take any time in the next 10 years. Many took that option, but others decided to remain in the CAS/SLAS. Having done so, it is not fair to cavil that their designation has changed from CCS to CAS/SLAS. Those who could find jobs elsewhere left, and others who could not find them remained. One gains the impression that some members of the former CCS, and particularly those who have served only a few years before its abolition, are ashamed of the CAS/SLAS designation.

Let me end on a personal note. I have the greatest respect, regard, and affection for many civil servants pre 1948, and after 1948. I have worked with them, and they have been my mentors. I will name some of them who are now dead- H.C. Goonewardene, Nissanka Wijayaratne (he was one of the first CCS members to join the Ceylon Administrative Service Association), Mahinda Wijenaike, Shirley Amarasinghe, T. Sivagnanam, Chandra De Fonseka, Mahinda Silva, Shelton Wanasinghe and W.T. Jayasinghe. They were outstanding civil servants, and were an adornment to the service they joined. They did not gloat on having joined the CCS. They deserved it. My experience with this kind of administrator has been noted extensively in the memoir of my life and career which I wrote last year.

I wrote my letter in response to AK’s letter. It was about issues and not about personalities. I would have very much welcomed a discussion of those issues. Unfortunately, there are people who prefer to attack the player instead of the ball. That is the common practice among thugs and hooligans.

animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...