By S. Sivathasan –
Mr. Neville D Jayaweera was destined to give of the best to his motherland. To me he appeared to have prepared himself to make such a contribution. Yet that great opportunity was cut midway by inscrutable happenings. Blessed with an enviable intellect and an academic record to match he was carved out for the Ceylon Civil Service. He sailed into it with ease.
Early in life he seemed to have disciplined his mind more for the rigours of that Service than for the pleasures of philosophical excursions. He responded to the demands of dispassionate analysis and of convincing presentation. These attributes were greatly developed in Mr. Jayaweera. He came to Jaffna as Government Agent at age 32, getting a cold reception for no valid reason. The prejudice being, “He is Prime Minister Srimavo’s man, hand-picked for vigorous implementation of ‘Sinhala Only’”. Reality was different since the GA had his own well-defined ideas and a pragmatic time sense to implementation.
When convinced of the correctness of his position he had confidence enough to place it before any forum however high. This was a salient characteristic of him. An excerpt from a review I made of his book in August 11, 2014, in Colombo Telegraph illustrates it. He had identified the inadequacies of political leadership in the country which made the issues intractable. His words were, “The intransigence of the Sinhala leadership, its lack of a vision and its inability to make the compromises required for achieving an integrated Sri Lankan nation”. These explain the causes for the impasse.
In an inimitable coinage he conveys, “What exalts any majority community and endows it with a true greatness and moral authority, is the willingness to accord to all those other communities who lack the advantage of numbers, a status and a dignity equal to its own”. To him Tamils too had their share of faults. “The self-alienation of Tamil parties from the mainstream of national politics”. He added, “They (Tamils) painted themselves into a corner and announced to the world that they did not “belong” within the larger Sri Lankan Family’ “. To this writer this stance has become an unchanging one from nineteen twenties for one full century. It is unfortunate.
It was with a mind so uncompromisingly set, that he took the bold step of arranging for a meeting with the Prime Minister. At Temple Trees, the important yet informal meeting took place among the three – Prime Minister, NQ Dias and GA Jaffna. Jayaweera outlined the three problems: Impracticality of implementation in October 1963. The wisdom and morality of implementation in Jaffna. How to handle people’s protest. GA’s presentation was for 30 minutes at the end of which a converted PM ruled “As a trial and limiting the experiment to Jaffna District and not publicizing it, she will go along with GA’s proposal.” She emphasized there will be no official change in government policy. No written confirmation of the discussion. Turning to NQ Dias PM said “Why don’t we let him handle it his way?”
Herein we see the great statesmanship of Prime Minister Sirimavo. Not only did she make bold to agree to it, but made it navigable by confining the formulation privy to just three participants. I came to know of it 51 years after the event.
The conference with the PM followed the very first meeting of the Jaffna District Coordinating Committee. It was attended by virtually all MPs was planned to be adequately confrontational to warrant a walk out. A negative impression was sought to be created against Mr.Jayaweera in the North, not to mention the rest of the country. Adroit handling by the GA, led to a smooth meeting with MPs. With goodwill secured and cooperation enlisted the rest of his tenure was one of harmony.
Within a short span of time efficiency enforced at the Kachcheri made its inevitable way into the countryside. The devotion of the Head of the District made a difference to the tone and tenor of administration. Jaffna experienced the change in the spectacular and in routine and he left the district respected by all and loved by everybody. The premature transfer to Trincomalee as GA only earned the anger of the people and protest by all Members of Parliament from Jaffna against the transfer.
My first encounter with Mr. Jayaweera was in early July 1965. I was one of three CAS probationers sent to Jaffna for Kachcheri training out of a batch of 47 for the country. Our appointment with GA was at 9 am, but taking no chances we were at the Kachcheri at 8.45. At 8.55 we told the head peon to inform GA of our presence. We were called sharp at 9. After exchanging a few pleasantries and some talk about our Induction Training by the topmost best, he said all fine, but did anybody speak to you on standards. I said Mr. Balasingham, Secretary Health spoke on it. Then GA lectured to us for 50 minutes on ‘Values’. To him very correctly, it was fundamental to good administration. We knew that he was upholding them meticulously. A two-week programme was then given to us and we were alerted to periodic review of our progress. As we departed, I discovered that I had met my ‘alter ego’.
The two weeks in July and three weeks in October were in Jaffna, where the programmes were quite eventful. We had close contact with the GA, whose rare intellect, clear thinking and forceful presentations had their impressions on us imperceptibly. When I related this experience to a CAS officer little senior to me, he responded saying that a strong personality leaves an indelible stamp, but for that the wax should also be in melted form. I joined in agreeing that a mix of attributes is needed of which attitudes and values, in one’s character is primary.
A new Government captured power in May 1965 and it now dawned that ‘senior civil servants’ should man senior positions. Mr. Jayaweera, the junior most GA Jaffna, was discovered to be too junior for Jaffna and was seen fit for a Junior station, to be posted as GA Trincomalee. This was in January 1966. All the new CAS probationers got their first postings and assumed duties on April 15. I found myself posted to Trincomalee. I learnt later that GA got the Home Ministry to post me there. But in two months we had to part company, as he was found to be too good for a junior station.
In June 1966, he was taken to Ministry of State and posted as Director General of Broadcasting. Soon after he became Founding Chairman of Ceylon Broadcasting Corporation and Director General of CBC. Till May 1970 the achievements of the UNP government drew the attention of the country. The success of the Food Production Drive spearheaded by Prime Minister, Dudley Senanayake was too much for the Opposition to shuffle under the carpet and to beguile the voter. As glaring was the Government’s efforts on the Mahaweli Front which had a stirring acceptance.
The intriguing riddle that baffled the Opposition was ‘Who is the Goebbels behind UNP propaganda’? Mahadanamutta style, the axe fell on Mr. Neville Jayaweera on May 23, 1970 – day after electoral victory of the opposition. All what he had done was to have enlightened the nation’s polity on the achievements of the government for four full years, as any loyal public servant would have done. But to the caucus in opposition, five years in oblivion was too long a wait. Harder still will be a repetition of it. When in power he merited to be rewarded. When in power again he deserved punitive treatment and the youngest GA ever of Jaffna was appointed the oldest GA Vavuniya in June 1970. Another senior Civil Servant Mr. Bradman Weerakoon who served the government with equal alacrity as Secretary to the Prime Minister was appointed GA Batticaloa. Several of the Permanent Secretaries had their services terminated for no reason except their performance.
It was not in the character of Mr. Jayaweera to withdraw and sulk. The new government enjoyed its consignment of ‘orange barley receptions’ as Bernard Soysa put it, and waited for the Machinery to move on its own traction. But without a motor — the higher bureaucracy, it wouldn’t budge. The percipient saw the looming storm which burst on April 5, 1971 in the form of JVP insurgency. Sensing in advance and having assessed the inadequacies of the Police in Vavuniya, he drove to Mannar the previous day to get an army contingent to reinforce the Police. The Commander was unable to help because of his own needs. GA left to his resources, took command of the situation and the Police Station personally. The JVP started firing at 2 AM but it was bravely thwarted by the resourcefulness and leadership of the GA. A Tamil poet had said millennia back “To the wise what is impending is known in advance”. In his Vavuniya Diaries, the graphic account is presented for the benefit of everybody.
I have known Mr. Jayaweera from 1965. Always a picture of health and in the best of spirits. Discussions were long and enlivening. Regards were mutual. Mrs. Jayaweera, always personable and pleasant, I have met on a few occasions. I last met them both in London in August 2018. Though a bit frail, they had quite an engagement with my son and me.
Theirs was a love marriage. Both of them were born on the same day. Mrs. Jayaweera passed away on 7th May 2020 and Mr. Jayaweera on the 10th five months short of 90 years. The happy family had only one unhappy event. Their only child and daughter born in 1966, predeceased them a few years earlier. If rebirth is inevitable, I would wish that they will next be in a social order where the state and the citizen are in an even balance.