N G P Panditharatne-a personification of honour and integrity
“A man has honour if he holds himself to an ideal of conduct though it is inconvenient, unprofitable, or dangerous to do so.”
During the last fifty years, our public service has been blessed with extraordinarily talented men and women, be in the field of law, medicine, politics, engineering or general administration. Some have shown almost super-human qualities in problem solving; some have displayed superlative ability in man-management, some have produced unbelievably creative programmes for human development, yet fewer men have been seen in public service, who in the words of Walter Lippman, “held themselves to an ideal conduct though it was inconvenient, unprofitable and dangerous to do so.” N. G. P. Panditharatne was one of that rare species.
Whether it was as Director-General of the Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka or Chairman of the United National Party, Pandiths, as he was mostly fondly referred to by many of his friends, showed remarkable stature as a very dignified, principled and honourable human being. Paditharatne assumed office as the first Director-General of the Mahaweli Authority of Sri Lanka when it was established by the then-UNP government in 1979. At that time, Gamini Dissanayake was the Minister of Irrigation, Power and Highways and when President J. R. Jayewardene took the most momentous decision to accelerate the development of the Mahaweli River Basin settlement scheme, President Jayewardene chose Pandiths as its administrative head. What was envisaged to be completed in thirty years was telescoped into six years. The President had the youthful Gamini Dissanayake as the Minister of a portfolio which was once held by D S Senanayake, Dudley Senanayake and J. R. himself. To steer the smooth operation of the new scheme none was more qualified than N. G. P. Panditharatne.
A chartered accountant by profession and as senior partner of the famed Ford Rhodes & Thornton, Panditharatne was an acknowledged leader of the business community in Sri Lanka. My association with Panditharatne began with his assuming of duties in the Authority as DG. As private secretary to the Minister of the Mahaweli, I used to meet Pandiths almost on a daily basis.
Many a time it was on a new scheme that he introduced into the settlement area on public relations and educational enhancement which was geared towards the upliftment of the settler children. In all, fifty three public relations officers were recruited and they were placed in systems H, C, B, G, Uda Walawe and Weli Oya. A manager was appointed to overlook the systematic operation of the various programmes and even a well-known Buddhist monk was assigned to inaugurate “Daham Pasalas” in newly-developed settler systems. The word “colonist” was obliterated from the lingo and replaced by a more dignified term “settler”. And among an overachieving bunch of government servants, Panditharatne stood out as a tall professor lecturing to and directing his brilliant students with patience and finesse.
One learnt many values from Pandiths. His patience to listen to a dissatisfied employee, his loving care for a bereaved settler, his punctuality and sartorial elegance which he showed at all times and functions are but a few of this man’s great qualities that made him a role-model to all under his command. People were awed by this soft-spoken giant.
I was with him at the time of his departure from the office of Director-General of the Mahaweli Authority. It was indeed a very moving scene. After a relationship that lasted for almost four decades with his boss, JRJ, Panditharatne fell in the bad books of the President over the settlement of Sinhalese Buddhists on the right banks of the Mahaweli Ganga in System “B” along the Eastern border at Welikanda. JRJ did not fire him, Panditharatne resigned. He gave instructions to his domestic staff to disconnect the official telephone lines and asked the driver to return the official car forthwith. He never used the official car other than for official purposes. He led by example where others faltered time and time again.
They say Gamini Dissanayake had one of the best ever teams of officials around him. He was blessed with the calibre of officials that any government would long to have in its fold. The creative genius of Dr. Wickrama Weerasuria, the sharp knowledge of Secretary Sivagnanam, a human dynamo in Mahi Wickramaratne, never the-procrastinator Dougie Ladduwahetti, taskmaster A. N. S. Kulasinghe, loyal perfectionist Lalit Godamune, brilliant executives, Dakshitha Thalgodapitiya and Gamini Kannangara and master-drafter of cabinet papers, Nanda Abeywickrama were among those who had the privilege to serve Gamini Dissanayake. But the dignity and honour that Pandiths possessed overshadowed all the brilliance and skills of the others.
It was indeed a privilege to have known Panditharatne and even a greater honour and priviledge to have occupied the same seat that he once sanctified as Director General of the Mahaweli Authority. Of all the qualities that he instilled in me I value honour and integrity the most, for such traits are in short supply in today’s administrators.
Sir, you not only led us, you showed the way too.
May you attain Nibbana!
By Palitha Pelpola