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The versatile banker rich in humane values



When I read the article ‘Dismal behaviour of people’s representatives’ on 7th July in this newspaper by veteran banker Rienzie T. Wijetilleke (RTW), former Managing Director and Chairman of Hatton National Bank PLC, I noticed he had mentioned that he was in his 80s. That prompted me to pen this article as his next birthday approaches.

A leader is the one who knows how the way goes, and shows the way. Such a man’s name is ever embedded in many hearts. To the world he may be one human being but for many he is the world.

Quite deservingly many articles about him have been written by erudite veterans such as, Dr Upul Wijayawardhana, W. A.Wijewardane, former Deputy Governor of Central Bank in ‘My View’ and Savithri Rodrigo in her ‘Rienzie Wijetilleke – Revisited’. (to name a few of eulogies).

Some of the following accounts of him are not known to many outsiders and may be confined only to some brothers and sisters of HNB. Although I have worked at HNB for 18 years my interactions with this great leader was unfortunately limited to four instances.

If my memory serves me right, I met him for the first time in Panadura in the late 80s as the then Vice President of the Panadura Sports Club when HNB sponsored a cricket match between the club team and a touring English team. The chat lasted less than three minutes. Then, it was when he came to the HNB City Office in 1991 to give his blessings for the very first shipment of foreign currency notes to Singapore. The third was when he visited the Treasury Department of HNB, which was shifted to a new building opposite the City Office in Colombo Fort in the late 90s. My most important and vital meeting was in late September 2001.

When I was selected to Head the Representative Office of HNB in Karachi, Pakistan, in October 2001, I had to meet him. So, on the day of the appointment when I went to his room, I experienced the noble qualities and true humanity of this great gentleman. After a lengthy discussion about my new posting (mainly fatherly advice) and also about my family, the following kind words of his still echo in my mind and will not be forgotten in years to come.

“Lalith, give my direct telephone number to your wife to contact me for any emergency and she and your children can be assured of my protection and care in any emergency”.

Further, he fulfilled a special request made by me before I left. If love, compassion and care define a mother, then he fits in there.

He created and promoted the ‘Hatna Family’ concept, to go deep into the hearts of all at HNB. He never neglected the children and the close relatives of the ex-employees of HNB. However, in this world there are so many ungrateful people who do not have an iota of gratitude even after receiving ‘impossible’ opportunities. Leaving that sad part aside, I just wonder how many fathers, mothers and children are smiling today because of the stability of their lives, well assisted by our Sir, RTW. Surely most of them must be transmitting their telepathic best wishes and gratitude to him.

Our quarterly in-house journal, ‘Hatnamag’ was his brainchild. When I was in Karachi I used to circulate it among the prominent bankers there and some expressed their eagerness to have their own ones. However, the most prominent and enthusiastic reader was our then High Commissioner to Pakistan, (stationed in Islamabad) the ever smiling and amiable, General Srilal Weerasooriya.

The annual dance of HNB, the ‘Hatna Nite’ which was not held for many years was rejuvenated by Sir, RTW, I was told.

Media, especially the television channels, had a special place reserved for HNB. Decades ago when ‘Rupavahini’ broadcast the programmes, ‘Vanija Lovin’ (from the commercial world) and ‘Business Matters’ the channel authorities selected HNB as the provider of the articles. As requested by SDGMT, Mr. GK, I wrote those Sinhala and English articles for HNB. Before the introduction of the Euro in January 1999, ‘Rupavahini’ gave the opportunity for HNB to educate the wide range of viewers about facts related to the same. Then ART TV had a programme called ‘Business Matters’ every fortnight. Those were recorded at the Treasury Department of our bank. In all occasions I was lucky enough to be the interviewee thanks to my boss, Mr. GK, SDGMT. All those opportunities were not conjured by a magic wand but because of the rapport that HNB amassed throughout the years, thanks to the unparalleled leadership of our Sir, RTW,

It is a well-accepted fact that the sport (corruption free) is a real tool that can bring all people together. RTW had a special concern for the sportsmen and women. HNB became an oasis for them as the bank recruited, plethora of players of national fame in cricket, rugby, basketball, netball, soccer and hockey. The lengthy sports fabric of HNB was neatly decorated by the above players who brought plenty of championship trophies in Interbank, Mercantile and National tournaments. The numbers of achievements / trophies are too vast to name one by one. Thus, in the sports arena too HNB, created an indelible reputation.

He also extended the opportunities at HNB for three star athletes who brought honour to our motherland in Asian Games — Jayamini Illeperuma, Sriyani Kulawansa and Dhammika Menike.

Since I was a playing member of the team, I am proud to mention that in 1996 HNB became the Mercantile Over-40 Cricket Champions.

The number of bank branches swelled to over 180 in 2004 from 33 branches when he took over as the MD, with ATMs scattering right round the country.

As a colossal figure in the banking industry of Sri Lanka, while being the Managing Director he built a colossal mansion for the bank – HNB Towers, inaugurated in January 2003. Despite some pessimism about the building by corporate customers, his unhesitant determination, supported by an enthusiastic team saw the giant baby born.

In 2004, our Sir, RTW was elevated to the prestigious position of Chairman of HNB. By then the number of Exchange houses in the Middle East that had commenced agency arrangements with HNB for the inward remittances for the benefit of the expatriate Sri Lankans was very high. Those arrangements extended to some affluent countries such as Australia, Canada, Switzerland, Singapore and the UK as well during his tenure as the MD, with the Inward remittance business expanding many folds.

The establishment of the departure and arrival outlets of HNB at the BIA was another feather in his cap. Gold business of HNB commenced when he was MD. The high volumes of Gold sales by those two outlets and a large number of foreign currency deposits by duty free shops at BIA, the total collections of the same became unprecedented, resulting in the repatriation (export) of foreign currency notes to Singapore and Switzerland weekly. The profits were enormous.

The ‘Gami Pubuduwa’ programme was initiated during his tenure as Managing Director, which the World Bank hailed as a role model of the world in 1995. Under his guidance HNB became first for many local and international accolades.

The enormous number of scholarships offered to the deserving employees of HNB was unparalleled. Most of the ‘lucky’ ones, including me, are in retirement, reminiscing the ‘bright’ flame that glittered throughout, making plenty of opportunities for his subordinates.

The Training Centre of HNB was expanded to greater heights by recruiting well experienced and erudite personnel. The bank conducted the first ever training programme for the school leavers in 1989. The library was revitalized to modern standards in January 1990, and both relocated at HNB Towers.

After the introduction of the free economy, many foreign banks opened their doors in Sri Lanka. With the passage of time almost all of them wanted to quit Sri Lanka. (If I’m not mistaken only the CitiBank and Deutsche Bank remain to date). However, HNB made three record number of mergers, namely with Sri Lankan branches of Emirates Bank, Banque Indosuez and Habib AG Zurich, guided by Sir, RTW. Under his guidance HNB also established two Representative offices in Chennai, India and Karachi, Pakistan.

‘Cheqleaf’ at HNB Towers is an oasis with manna for the ‘exhausted’ but ‘spirited’ loyalists after 6 pm. The Pool Table there is an ideal substitute for billiards and snooker fanatics like me. It has become a good pastime for many employees.

I purposely refrained from obtaining opinions from retired and present senior staff members (joined before 2004) of HNB about our Sir, RTW for the simple and obvious reason that this article would have become too lengthy.

Sir, RTW, as the Chairman ran the best cricket interim committee of the country in 1999. Political interference brought an abrupt end to his top quality management. That is another sad episode of cricket in our motherland.

Like King Dutugemunu had 10 giant warriors, our Sir, RTW also had such capable men around him. One special lieutenant, an amiable character like a shadow enabling his boss to reach the pinnacles of successes, was Mr. Upali De Silva. He was the best ‘midwife’ at HNB who assisted his boss to deliver at all times. His camaraderie with his boss was exemplary.

Sir, RTW retired in 2010 as the proud Chairman of HNB. Even at 80 you are still young at heart. The birthday of our former Big Boss will be on 10th November.

Your wisdom and exemplary humanity will always be etched in our memories. Along with thousands of well wishers, I wish you good health and longevity to serve the human kind for many more years to come.

‘Scent of flowers does not travel against the wind, but the fragrance of good people travels even against the wind. A good man pervades every quarter’.




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Take Human Rights seriously, not so much the council or office



By Dr Laksiri Fernando

The 46th Session of the UN Human Rights Council started on 22 February morning with obvious hiccups. The Office, to mean the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, finally decided to hold all sessions virtually online, only the President of the Council and the assistants in the high table sitting at the UN Assembly Hall in Geneva. The President, Ms. Nazhat Shammen Khan, Ambassador from Fiji in Geneva, wearing a saree, was graceful in the chair with empty seats surrounding.

In the opening session, the UN General Assembly President, UN General Secretary, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Head of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland (as the host country), addressed remotely the session. In fact, there was no need for Switzerland to have a special place, as the UN is independent from any host country. Switzerland is fairly ok, however, if this tradition is followed, the UN General Assembly may have to give a special place to the US in New York.


Initial Addresses

UN General Secretary, Antonio Guterres’ address could have been quite exemplary if he gave a proper balance to the developed and developing countries. He talked about racism and fight against racism but did not mention where racism is overwhelmingly rampant (US and Europe) and what to do about it. Outlining the human rights implications of Covid-19 pandemic, he made quite a good analysis. It was nice for him to say, ‘human rights are our blood line (equality), our lifeline (for peace) and our frontline (to fight against violations).’ However, in the fight against violations, he apparently forgot about the ‘blood line’ or the ‘lifeline’ quite necessary not to aggravate situations through partiality and bias. He never talked about the importance of human rights education or promoting human rights awareness in all countries.

His final assault was on Myanmar. Although he did not call ‘genocide,’ he denounced the treatment of Rohingyas as ethnic cleansing without mentioning any terrorist group/s within. His call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other civilian leaders undoubtedly should be a common call of all. However, he did not leave any opening for a dialogue with the military leaders or bring back a dialogue between Aung San and Min Aung, the military leader. With a proper mediation, it is not impossible. Calling for a complete overhaul as the young demonstrators idealistically claim might not be realistic.

High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s address was brief and uncontroversial this time without mentioning any country or region. It is clear by now perhaps she is not the real author of the Report against Sri Lanka, but someone probably hired by the so-called core-group led by Britain. Her major points were related to the coronavirus pandemic trying to highlight some of the socio-economic disparities and imbalances of policy making that have emerged as a result. The neglect of women, minorities, and the marginalized sections of society were emphasized. But the poor was not mentioned. As a former medical doctor, she also opted to highlight some of the medical issues underpinning the crisis.

Then came the statements from different countries in the first meeting in the following order: Uzbekistan, Colombia, Lithuania, Afghanistan, Poland, Venezuela, Finland, Fiji, Moldova, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Equatorial Guinea, Vietnam, Belgium, and Morocco. The obvious purposes of these statements were different. Some countries were apparently canvassing for getting into the Human Rights Council at the next turn perhaps for the purpose of prestige. Some others were playing regional politics against their perceived enemies. This was very clear when Lithuania and Poland started attacking Russia.

But there were very sincere human rights presentations as well. One was the statement by the President of Afghanistan, Mohammad Ashraf Ghani. He outlined the devastating effects that Afghanistan had to undergo during the last 40 years, because of foreign interferences. The initial support to Taliban by big powers was hinted. His kind appeal was to the UN was to go ‘beyond discourse to practice’ giving equal chance to the poor and the developing countries to involve without discrimination.


Controversial Presentations

China’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Wang Yi, made his presentation almost at the end of the first day. This is apparently the first time that China had directly addressed the Human Rights Council. Beginning with outlining the devastating repercussions of the coronavirus pandemic he stressed that the world should face the challenges through ‘solidarity and cooperation.’ He broadened the concept to human rights solidarity and cooperation. His expressed views were quite different to the others, particularly to the Western ones.

He frankly said that what he expresses are the views of China on human rights without claiming those are absolute truths or forcing others to believe or implement them. There were four main concepts that he put forward before the member countries. First, he said, “We should embrace a human rights philosophy that centres on the people. The people’s interests are where the human rights cause starts and ends.” Second, he said, “we should uphold both universality and particularity of human rights. Peace, development, equity, justice, democracy, and freedom are common values shared by all humanity and recognized by all countries.” “On the other hand,” he said, “countries must promote and protect human rights in light of their national realities and the needs of their people.”

“Third,” he said, “we should systemically advance all aspects of human rights. Human rights are an all-encompassing concept. They include civil and political rights as well as economic, social, and cultural rights.” He then emphasized, “Among them, the rights to subsistence and development are the basic human rights of paramount importance.” Fourth, “we should continue to promote international dialogue and cooperation on human rights. Global human rights governance should be advanced through consultation among all countries.”

It was on the same first day before China, that the United Kingdom launched its barrage against several countries not sparing Sri Lanka. The Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, delivered the statement from top to bottom attacking alleged violating countries on human rights. But there was no mentioning of Israel for the repression of Palestinians or the systemic racism rampaging in the United States, including the 6 January attacks on the Capitol by extremist/terrorist groups.

His first sermon was on Myanmar without acknowledging the British atrocities or mismanagement of this poor and diverse country during the colonial period. He was quite jubilant over implementing sanctions and other restrictions over the country. Many sanctions, in my opinion, are extortions. Undoubtedly, Aung San Suu Kyi and other leaders should be released, and democracy restored. This is a task of the whole council and when one or two countries try to grab the credit, there can be obvious reservations of others.

His further scathing attacks were against Belarus, Russia, and China. Some appeared factually correct but not necessarily the approach or the motives genuine. The following is the way he came around Sri Lanka. He said,

“Finally, we will continue to lead action in this Council: on Syria, as we do at each session; on South Sudan; and on Sri Lanka, where we will present a new resolution to maintain the focus on reconciliation and on accountability.”

‘Action’ to him basically means repeatedly passing resolutions, of course imposing economic and other sanctions. He said, “as we do at each session”; like bullying poor or weak countries at each session. Can there be a resolution against Russia or China? I doubt it.

What would be the purpose of presenting a resolution against Sri Lanka? As he said, “to maintain the focus on reconciliation and on accountability.” This will satisfy neither the Tamil militants nor the Sinhalese masses. But it might satisfy the crafty Opposition (proxy of the defeated last government). This is not going to be based on any of the actual measures that Sri Lanka has taken or not taken on reconciliation or accountability. But based on the ‘Authoritarian and Hypocritical Report’ that some anti-Sri Lankans have drafted within the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. This what I have discussed in my last article.

In this context, successful or not, the statement made by the Sri Lanka’s Minister of External Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena, in rejecting any resolution based on the foxy Report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in my concerned opinion, is absolutely correct.

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President’s energy directives ignored by the Power Ministry: Another Point of View



Dr Tilak Siyambalapitiya

Dr Janaka Rathnasiri laments (The Island 19 Feb 2021) that the Power Ministry has ignored the President’s directive to draw 70% of energy from renewable sources by 2030. I saw the approved costs of electricity production for 2019, published by the Public Utilities Commission (PUCSL).

PUCSL has also approved the prices to sell electricity to customers. Although various customers pay at various “approved” prices, the average income from such “approved” prices in 2019 was Rs 17.02 per unit. It is not only the Ministry, according to Dr Rathnasiri, ignoring the President; PUCSL is also breaking the law, which says prices and approved costs should be equal.

So there is already an illegal gap of Rs 21.59 minus 17.02 = Rs 4.57 per unit of electricity sold. If electricity prices are not to be increased, as stated by many in the government and PUCSL, let us say the following: Distribution costs should decrease by 0.57 Rs per unit. Generation costs should decrease by Rs 4.00 per unit.

PUCSL also published the approved cost of purchasing or producing electricity from various sources for 2019. The actual energy values were different to what was approved, but let us stick to PUCSL approved figures:

I suggest Dr Rathnasiri fills-up the following table, to show how much electricity will cost in 2030 to produce and deliver, if the President’s 70% target is to be achieved and for PUCSL to abide by the law. Let us assume that electricity requirement in 2030 will be double that of 2019.

Since PUCSL has to save Rs 4 from 13.92, the average selling price for energy should be Rs 13.92 minus 4.00 = Rs 9.92. With a target network loss of 7% (in 2019 it was 8.4%), the average cost of production has to be Rs 9.27 per unit. Eight cages have to be filled-up by Dr Rathnasiri.

In 2012, PUCSL approved the energy cost of electricity produced from coal power to be 6.33 Rs per kWh. In 2019, PUCSL approved 9.89 (56% increase). For renewable energy, it was 13.69 in 2012, and 19.24 in 2019 (a 40% increase, but double the price of electricity from coal fired generation). In 2012, rooftop solar was not paid for: only give and take, but now paid Rs 22, against Rs 9.89 from coal. There seems to be something wrong. The price reductions of renewable energy being promised, being insulated from rupee depreciation, are not happening? Either Sri Lanka must be paying too little for coal, or it may be renewable energy is severely over-priced?

On coal we hear only of some corruption every now and then; so Sri Lanka cannot be paying less than it costs, for coal.


Enough money even to donate

Another reason for the Ministry of Power to ignore the President’s directive may be the Ministry’s previous experience with similar Presidential directives. In 2015, the President at that time cancelled the Sampur coal-fired power plant, and the Ministry faithfully obliged. That President and that Prime Minister then played ball games with more power plants until they were thrown out of power, leaving a two-billion-dollar deficit (still increasing) in the power sector. Not a single power plant of any description was built.

Where is this deficit? You do not have to look far. In the second table, replace 24.43 with 9.89, to reflect what would have happened if Sampur was allowed to be built. The value 12.79 will go down to 8.55, well below the target of Rs 9.27 per unit to produce. Not only would CEB and LECO report profits, but the government too could have asked for an overdraft from CEB to tide over any cash shortfalls in the treasury. All this with no increase in customer prices. Producers of electricity from renewable energy could enjoy the price of 19.24 Rs per unit. And that blooming thing on your rooftop can continue to enjoy Rs 22 per unit. The Minister of Power, whom Dr Rathnasiri wants to replace with an army officer, would have been the happiest.

In the absence of Sampur (PUCSL’s letter signed by Chairman Saliya Mathew confirmed cancellation and asked CEB not to build it), PUCSL approved electricity to be produced at Rs 21.59 and sold at Rs 17.02 per unit. The annual loss would be Rs (21.59 – 17.02) x 15,093 = Rs 69 billion per year of approved financial loss. Sri Lanka has a Telecom regulator, an Insurance regulator, a Banking regulator, who never approve prices below costs. Sometime ago the telecom regulator asked the operators to raise the prices, when operators were proposing to reduce prices amidst a price war. But the electricity industry regulator is different: he approves costs amounting to 27% more than the price, not just once but, but continuously for ten long years !

That is 370 million dollars per year as of 2019, the economy is spending, and for years to come, to burn oil (and say we have saved the environment). Did the Minister of Health say we are short of 160 million dollars to buy 40 million doses of the vaccine? Well, being a former Minister of Power, she now knows which Presidential “order” of 2015 is bleeding the economy of 370 million dollars per year, adequate to buy all vaccines and donate an equal amount to a needy country.

Prices are the production costs approved by PUCSL for 2019. The selling price approved by the same PUCSL was Rs 9.27 per unit.

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Confusion on NGOs and NSOs in Sri Lanka



If you listen to politicians and journalists here, you will hear of that curious creature rajya novana sanvidane, a Non-State Organization (NSO). Where do you get them? In the uninstructed and dead minds of those who use those terms. In the real world, where politicians and journalists have developed minds, there are Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO). The United Nations is an organization set up by state parties, not by governments. It is true that agents of states, governments, make the United Nations work or fail. Governments may change but not the states, except rarely. When Eritrea broke away from Ethiopia, a new state was formed and was so recognised by the United Nations. However, the LTTE that tried to set up another state was crushed by the established state that it tried to break away from, and the UN had nothing to do with them.

This entirely unnecessary confusion, created out of ignorance, is so destructive that organizations completely loyal to the existing state, are made to be traitorous outfits, for they are ‘non-state organizations’ within the state. There are citizens of each state, but no citizens of any government. Government is but an instrument of the state. In most states there are organizations, neither of the state nor of government: religious organizations including churches. But none of them is beyond the pale of the state.

Those that speak of rajya novana sanvidane give that name partly because they have no idea of the origin of non-governmental organizations. NGOs came into the limelight, as donor agencies, noticed that some governments, in East Africa, in particular, did not have the capacity and the integrity to use the resources that they provided. They construed, about 1970, that NGOs would be a solution to the problem. Little did they realize that some NGOs themselves would become dens of thieves and brigands. I have not seen any evaluation of the performance of NGOs in any country. There was an incomplete essay written by Dr. Susantha Gunatilleka. NGOs are alternatives to the government, not to the state.

Our Constitution emphatically draws a distinction between the government and state, and lays down that the President is both Head of Government and Head of State (Read Article 2 and Article 30 of the Constitution.) It is as head of state that, he/she is the Commander of the Armed Forces, appoints and receives ambassadors and addresses Parliament annually, when a prorogued Parliament, reconvenes. He/she presides over the Cabinet as head of government. The distinction is most clear, in practice, in Britain where Queen Elizabeth is the head of state and Boris Johnson is the Prime Minister and head of government. However, in principle, Johnson is the Queen’s First Minister appointed by the sovereign, and resigns by advising her of his decision to do so.

In the US and in India the term ‘state’ has special significance. In India there is a ‘rajya sabha’ (the Council of States) whose members represent constituent States and Union Territories. Pretty much the same is true of the United States. In the US, executive power is vested in the President and heads the administration, government in our parlance. The Head of State does not come into the Constitution but those functions that one associates with a head of state are in the US performed by the President of the Republic. The US President does not speak of my state (mage rajaya) but of my administration, (mage anduva). Annually, he addresses Congress on the State of the Union. Our present President must be entirely familiar with all this, having lived there as a citizen of the US for over a decade. It is baffling when someone speaks of a past state as a traitor to that same state. It is probable that a government was a traitor to the state. ‘Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their (States’) enemies, giving them aid and comfort’. That a state was a traitor to the same state is gobbledygook.

Apart from probable confusion that we spoke of in the previous paragraph, it is probable that a president and other members of a government, including members of the governing party here, find it grandiloquent to speak of his/her/their state (mage/ape rajaya), rather than my government (mage anduva) or Sirisena anduva’ and not Sirisena state; it was common to talk of ‘ape anduva’ in 1956; politicians in 1956 were far more literate then than they are now.

When translating from another language, make sure that you understand a bit of the history of the concept that you translate. A public school in the US is not the same as a public school in the UK.





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