22 July, 2024


Professor W.D. Lakshman: A Social Democrat To The End

By W A Wijewardena –

Dr. W.A Wijewardena

Conversations with the new Central Bank Governor

[This conversation took place in 2013 and it is still valid. This is the profile, thinking pattern and the value system of the man who has been appointed as the Governor of the Central Bank]

It was 1972 and I was an assistant lecturer at the then Vidyodaya University. The permanent lecturer taking the second-year monetary economics class had fallen ill and was not to come to the university for about one month. I was asked by the Head of Department to fill in.

My problem was that there were no good textbooks in Sinhala in national income analysis which students and I could refer to. The university library also had not stocked books in Sinhala. Then, at a leading book shop in the city, I chanced upon a collection of essays on selected topics in economics, with a chapter on national income, written by a young lecturer called W.D. Lakshman, then attached to the University of Ceylon, Peradeniya.

Prof. W.D. Lakshman

The title of the book was ‘Aarthika Vishleshana’ or ‘Economic Analyses’ and on glancing through the content page, I knew that I had found the perfect book in Sinhala for teaching national income to undergraduates.

That was how I came to know about Lakshman though I had not met him in person.

The writer of books

Lakshman’s first book was soon followed by another, this time an expanded version covering the full range of both microeconomics and macroeconomics under the same title, but co-authored with another university don, H.M. Gunasekara.

At a time when university students doing economics in Sinhala were hungry for advanced textbooks in the subject, Lakshman tried to fill the gap by investing his time in writing textbooks. His was a continuation of the rich tradition set by other university academics, some of them his gurus, in sharing their knowledge with students and general readers.

That was a period during which the country was under strict exchange controls and textbooks in English were scanty. Hence, writing books in Sinhala had a well-protected market. Yet, only a few university academics ventured into this lucrative enterprise.

“I was able to sell a few thousand copies within a few months,” says Lakshman showing the line of humbleness that is drawn across his face. “In fact, it was from the profits of the first book that I was able to part finance my studies at Oxford later.”

We met at his residence in the suburb of Colombo. It was already the evening and Lakshman had a long day that day, taking his wife, Kalyani, to a religious practice class in the morning and meeting some United Nations representatives in the afternoon. Yet, the indefatigable Lakshman did not appear to be tired. His wife, a green tea fan, served us with a steaming pot of the brew which we could sip while talking.

I wanted to probe into that ‘part-financing’ story. Is he telling me a lie? I knew that he went to the Oxford on a university scholarship. Then, how could it be that he had to part-finance his studies out of his own resources?

The harsh arm of exchange controls

“True, that I got a scholarship from the University of Ceylon. But it was not a scholarship in its true sense,” he explains. “What they did was to convert my rupee salary into sterling pounds and remit to me with exchange control approval. That amounted only to 55 sterling pounds but the exchange control allowed the remittance of 60 sterling pounds at that time. So, the balance 5 pounds I had to finance from my own resources. The sale proceeds of the book were a handy source for meeting those five pounds at that time.”

“Was that sufficient – I mean the 60 pounds?” I ask him.

“No…” he says. “At that time, the Commonwealth scholars were paid double or close to double that amount by the British Government. So, our salary and what was allowed by the Exchange Control were totally insufficient. We had to undergo innumerable difficulties. Worse, when we came back, we did not have any savings here because all my salary had been sent to the UK.”

I turned the discussion to some other topic. What about his school days? Where did he study? I ask him.

The bright student at Vidyaloka

“I studied at a school in Galle and it was called Vidyaloka Vidyalaya Its name has recently been changed to Vidyaloka College,” he says. “That was where I received my post primary and secondary education. Vidyaloka was not ranked among the top three in Galle, but it was a good school,” he talks of his alma mater with a visible sense of reverence.

In fact, Lakshman was a bright student at school. At every annual prize giving, he was a recipient of many prizes. The college had a policy of giving only three prizes to one student, a policy that was designed to broad-base the award of prizes. Today, going by the popular terminology, it would be re-termed ‘inclusive distribution of prizes,’ like the popular inclusive growth. Had that policy not been there, Lakshman would have bagged almost all the class prizes.

What did he study for the University of Ceylon Preliminary (as today’s Advanced level equivalent was then called) or the Higher School Certificate or HSC examination? I ask him.

“I did arts subjects,” says Lakshman. “They were Sinhala, Pali, Government and Ceylon History. In fact, my most preferred subject was Pali.”

That may be true because based on his performance in that subject, he was offered a scholarship at Peradeniya, called the University of Ceylon Scholarship, with a glorious value of Rs. 100 attached to it. That was about US dollars 21 at the exchange that prevailed in 1960.

Eight students including Lakshman sat for the University of Ceylon Preliminary Examination in December 1959 from Vidyaloka, and four of them, Lakshman included, got through the exam and entered the university in 1960.

Peradeniya days

“I didn’t have a particular preference in regard to the subject of specialisation in my undergraduate studies when I joined the university. Of the university Preliminary subjects, I had already dropped Pali from my General Arts Qualifying or GAQ course work. By the time I had completed GAQ, I had developed a desire to specialise in Political Science, taught at that time as part of the Special degree course in Economics. That is how I came to select Economics as the subject of specialisation from the second year onwards in the university. The second year in the university life of a Special Degree student was then called the Special Arts Qualifying year. The economics course offered several specialisations, from third year onwards but during my time in Peradeniya, there were no adequately qualified lecturers to admit students for the Political Science stream in Economics. That is how I ended up specialising in Money and Banking in my Special course in Economics. I am indeed happy that I ended up specialising in Money and Banking as it was, and still is, the elite specialisation in Economics,” adds Lakshman.

That decision, though perhaps taken without much thought, sealed Lakshman’s destiny. He specialised in Money and Banking and was able to come under the academic influence of the renowned scholar at that time, Professor H.A. de S Gunasekara.

After sitting for the final exam, for a few months, Lakshman taught at a school in Galle. Then, all of a sudden, he received a telegram from HAdeS to return to Peradeniya as a temporary lecturer. HAdeS asked Lakshman to teach economic history first and then economic theory. In one of these classes, he met his future wife, Kalyani.

“While doing the extensive reference work for teaching economic theory, I realised the difficulties faced by students in Sinhala medium due to a lack of good economics books in Sinhala. I was myself in the first batch of undergraduates to study economics in the Sinhala medium but as we were in the transitional stage, I had no difficulty in referencing English medium literature. The batches following us were not so. This gave me the idea of writing my first book in Sinhala and also later contributing to the translated literature in economics,” says Lakshman.

I did not tell him that I also used his book to teach my students. The rigour of the material touched upon in the book coupled with its easy readability made Lakshman a well-known economics scholar in all the four universities in the country at the time, and also in other universities later on.

After the release of the results of the degree examination, many of Lakshman’s friends chose the Central Bank as their future career station. But, Lakshman remained faithful to Peradeniya and continued as a lecturer. Any particular preference to remain at Peradeniya, I asked him.

“I cannot recall,” says Lakshman. “When I started my career at the university, I started to enjoy teaching. Perhaps, that would have been the reason for me to stick to an academic career at the university. In any case the distance between the university and the Central Bank as career stations then was not that much.”

The Oxford experience

From Peradeniya, Lakshman got a university scholarship to do his postgraduate studies at the prestigious University of Oxford in the UK. He was registered for the Bachelor of Literature or B. Litt degree in economics, a Master’s degree, though it was called Bachelor’s in the Oxford jargon entirely by research. After working for his thesis for two years, he was upgraded by the University directly to the Doctor of Philosophy or D. Phil degree.

He did his research on ‘Terms of Trade, Public Policy and Economic Development of Ceylon, 1948-1958’ under the supervision of Eprime Eshag, an Iran-born professor at Oxford. Eshag, before he joined Oxford, had worked at the UN and has been well known as an ardent follower of Keynes. An appreciation written by London University Professor Heather Joshi to The Independent in 1998 on Eshag’s death has described him as ‘an unrepentant Keynesian socialist’.

It is also reported that while studying in Cambridge for his doctorate in early 1940s, Eshag came to the notice of Keynes and became a disciple of another Cambridge academic, Joan Robinson. For his doctorate, Eshag submitted a thesis on ‘The History of Monetary Theory’ to the University of Cambridge.

At Oxford, Eshag had taught development economics, Keynesian economics and monetary theory. Later in 1983, he published a book titled ‘Fiscal and Monetary Policies and Problems of Developing Countries’. I suspected that Lakshman’s well-known Keynesian leaning would have been due to his association with Eshag.

But he refutes me.

The social democrat

“Eshag was to some extent responsible for influencing my thinking to move toward Keynesianism. Indeed, my teaching throughout has been influenced by Keynesian analysis. I was indeed responsible for commencing a course in Post-Keynesian Economics for fourth year students in economics at Colombo a couple of years prior to my retirement. But I would call myself a social democrat rather than a Keynesian. Social democracy, as a philosophy, is much wider than Keynesianism, although many Keynesians are social democratic in orientation. The aim of social democracy is to bring justice, equity and prosperity to everyone, not for a selected crowd. In today’s parlance, we can call it ‘inclusive justice’, ‘inclusive equity’ and ‘inclusive prosperity’. Keynesianism is known as a philosophy and method of economic analysis opposed to market fundamentalism, promoting government intervention for economic and social progress,” says Lakshman.

The market fundamentalism about which Lakshman was talking is the belief that markets always work properly, the government should only do the minimum and any governmental intervention more than the minimum would harm an economy.

It appears that a political party or a regime which is truly dedicated to pure social democracy has not been present in Sri Lanka throughout its post-independence history. Lakshman in his introduction to ‘Dilemmas of Development’, containing a collection of papers by eminent economists in the country and published on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of independence of Sri Lanka from the British rule, categorises the two main political parties which had held power in the country into the following two groups: United National Party, a libertarian ideology with an element of social democracy and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, social democracy enhanced by elements of socialist ideology.

A libertarian ideology here means a greater proneness to the free market economy system in which the private sector is entrusted with the task of performing the two important economic activities, namely, production and distribution. A socialist ideology which relies on the government sector attempts to attain an equitable distribution in income and economic power. According to him, this demarcation too was further blurred by the fact that UNP had to satisfy its trade union movements by moving more toward social democracy at times and SLFP had in its rank many holding right wing libertarian ideas. Another factor that moved both parties away from the social democratic philosophy was the presence of powerful groups with communalistic tendencies in both parties. This meant that neither political party could satisfy Lakshman’s burning desire to practise social democracy as the guiding principle of managing affairs in Sri Lanka.

How does he marry Keynesianism with social democracy? I begin to wonder. Then I recalled that Keynes was a sympathiser of the Liberal party in the UK in 1920s. The Liberal Party followed a mid-path – not aligned to the pure capitalism practiced in the US or to the pure socialism practiced in the Soviet Union.

In fact, after visiting the Soviet Union in 1926, Keynes published a book titled ‘The End of Laissez Faire,’ suggesting that governments should intervene in their respective economies. Even the main message delivered in Keynes’ ‘The General Theory’ was that when the demand by the people for goods and services become deficient, the government should place a huge ‘purchase order’ financed through borrowing to supplement the demand. So, the government’s intervention is an essential element in a Keynesian type of an economy. But it should be done in a democratic manner respecting the rights of people.

The research on Ceylon’s terms of trade

I asked Lakshman about his D. Phil Thesis. What were his findings?

“My thesis covered the period from 1948 to 1958. During that period, Ceylon was purely a trade dependent economy. Both imports and exports accounted for about three fourth of the Gross Domestic Product. So, the terms of trade – the measure that tells you how many units of export products a country should sacrifice to get one unit of imports – and its behaviour influenced the fluctuation of actual real income in the country very significantly. If the terms of trade turned favourable to a country over a particular period, that is, if export units to be given up to buy an import unit were declining, then, the real income level of the country would be bigger than they actually measured real income level. If the terms of trade are unfavourable to a country, then, the opposite takes place. Between 1948 and 1958, in some years, the terms of trade were favourable to Ceylon, especially in the early part when the country was experiencing a boom in its export prices. But toward the end of the period, the terms of trade began to gradually turn unfavourable. So, it was a mixed performance.”

But, then, how did it affect Ceylon’s economic development? I ask him.

“The problem for Ceylon was that it did not make use of the favourable situation in the terms of trade to make a diversification of the economy. As a result, Ceylon was pretty much vulnerable to external shocks. Even today when imports and exports account for about 45% of the country’s GDP, we are vulnerable to adverse external shocks. You can imagine how we would have been vulnerable in 1950s when that ratio was more than 65%,” he explains.

Does this mean that Sri Lanka is still a developing country today because of the wrong type of economic strategies adopted during the good times the country had immediately after the independence? I begin to wonder and ask him about that.

Lakshman says that his thesis did not explicitly go into that question, but one could draw that lesson from its findings. In the introduction to ‘Dilemmas of Development’ mentioned above, Lakshman says that the government in power during 1948 to 1956 tried to continue with the export economy which the country inherited from the British with an added element of social democracy for political survival. The social democratic measures implemented by that government were the food subsidy scheme, free education and free health services.

Lakshman says that the government that came to power in 1956 had practised, in contrast to the preceding regime, a policy of assigning a central position in the economy to the state. In order to break the shackles of underdevelopment with which the economy had been bound, that government tried to introduce a new production model based on the substitution of goods, particularly manufactured goods that were being imported from other countries by locally produced goods.

Import substitution in agricultural goods was practiced even by the earlier regime. However, the import substitution policy was implemented with all associated trappings, namely, introducing high tariff levels, import and exchange controls, price controls, overarching presence of state enterprises and attempts at introducing central planning systems.

Professor at the University of Colombo

In 1981, Lakshman got a real break in his career. He was appointed Professor and Head of the Department of Economics at the University of Colombo.

How did it change his workload and approach? I ask him.

“Now I had the responsibility of continuing with the development work which my predecessors had started’ says Lakshman. ‘It was a three-pronged approach. I had to develop the faculty. At the same time, I had to see that the students in the department were getting a standard education. Then, I had to see to it that the curricula and courses were updated to reflect the changing underlying conditions. For all these changes, I got the full support of the staff and the university administration.”

“How did you set about doing it?” I ask him.

“Fortunately, around this time, I got a new opportunity,” he says. “The then Minister of Finance, Ronnie de Mel, had sought the Dutch Government’s support to develop a think tank in Sri Lanka that could help the government to evaluate and reform its development policy package, particularly its economic policies. The Dutch government had agreed and the institution, which came up as the result after considerable planning effort, has been the Institute of Policy Studies or today’s IPS. It was the Institute of Social Studies or ISS in the Hague that carried out the planning activities in this think tank initiative on behalf of the Dutch Government. Two senior teachers at the ISS, Dr. Howard Nicholas and Dr. David Dunham, were sent for the purpose to Colombo on a number of occasions. Indeed, after the IPS was set up these two gentlemen were posted at two different times at the IPS as long-term resident representatives of the collaborating institution, the ISS.

“During this time, I got an introduction to Howard and David through some mutual friends. After several meetings, Howard, David and I developed the idea of developing the Economics Department in the University of Colombo through the ISS association, supported by Dutch Government funding, under a Project parallel to the IPS Project. The idea that we developed was for the IPS to become the planned think tank and the Economics Department of the University to become manpower development centre and the source of resource persons for the IPS. This did not materialise in the way we expected but the idea was accepted by the Dutch.”

There would have been other contenders among Departments of Economics in other local universities for this kind of rare opportunity of securing foreign funding for departmental development. How did Lakshman manage to beat other contenders? I ask him.

“One advantage was that Colombo University was centrally located. The other was that our project proposal had various elements like the introduction of post graduate degree programmes in collaboration with ISS, development of the staff and a research programme funded under the scheme,” he says.

The link with the ISS

Thus, Lakshman managed to link the Colombo’s economics department with ISS. Of the two distinguished academics of ISS noted above, Howard was responsible for looking after the Colombo Economics Project and during 1987-2000 and he spent long periods in Colombo planning, facilitating and managing, with Lakshman on Colombo side, being in charge of all link activities between Colombo Economics and ISS.

By the time this University of Colombo – Institute of Social Studies project was established, Lakshman had already begun in Colombo the programme of developing postgraduate education in economics. The first teaching programme commenced in 1984 for this purpose was the postgraduate Diploma in Economic Development. The UC-ISS Project and the teaching inputs received from ISS through this Project, enabled Colombo to commence in the late 1980s its highly-demanded Master’s Course in Economics. Both programmes were very popular and there were a large number of students who applied for admission.

“How did you develop the staff?” I ask him. He smiles as if it has taken him back to the memory of a coup, he had staged to have the staff developed under the Dutch government’s assistance.

“The first phase of the UC-ISS Project offered us mostly Master’s Degree scholarships for studying in the Dutch universities. At the negotiations for the second phase of the Project, I insisted that we do not want MA scholarships. Instead I asked for a large number of PhD scholarships – about eight in all – to be spent in the Netherland, and if conditions demanded, also in universities elsewhere. They were sceptical and asked us ‘How can you release such a large number of staff?’ I told them to leave it to us because I knew that we could have the study programme covered by temporary and visiting staff. Finally, the Dutch government agreed and we fully utilised the eight PhD scholarships offered. The majority of PhDs in the Colombo Economics today are those trained in various Dutch universities. What is satisfying is that the great bulk of the teachers trained during this period had completed their PhDs and returned to the University. So, Colombo has the largest concentration of PhDs in its economics department compared to other universities today,” he says with an enormous sense of contentment.

The researcher par excellence 

Then came the research programme. Lakshman alone published a large number of papers and books between 1981 and 1998. These papers and books covered numerous aspects of the extant Sri Lanka’s economy. Some dealt with political economy aspect of the growth of public enterprises in Sri Lanka. Others looked at issues like Sri Lanka’s relationship with the IMF and the World Bank and implications of complete exchange control liberalisation. His studies included a few on exchange rate movement in Sri Lanka, some alone and some jointly with other eminent economists like Howard Nicholas and Premachandra Athukorala, another renowned Sri Lankan economist attached to the Australian National University.

Was this spirit continued undiminished after he left the Department? I wonder.

“Yes…” he says, “…In fact, both the staff development and the research programmes were continued by my successors with the same spirit and vigour. That was an encouraging sign.”

What about the curriculum development? What changes were made by him in that area? I drew his attention to this aspect of his contribution.

A course on Post Keynesian Economics

“What I had done in the field of curriculum development at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels of economics teaching at universities of Peradeniya and Colombo are too numerous to be fully explained here. Let me just tell about one item in this long list of things I had done. It was noted earlier also. I introduced a new course for Special Degree students on ‘Post Keynesian Economics’ in the Colombo Department of Economics. This is in fact the only course on this subject taught by a Sri Lankan university today. Having adopted the Structuralist-Keynesian approach in my teaching of development economics it was fitting that I could introduce this course, which still continues to be taught, as a parting contribution from me,” he says. “This course is a critic of the prevailing orthodoxy in economics and tries to equip the student with some knowledge of how a group of economists, with a way of thinking that is different to the mainstream orthodoxy of economics would analyse economic issues and approach economic policy.”

What was meant by the prevailing orthodoxy here is the body of economics that was developed since Keynes’ General Theory and came to be the segmented into different schools of the mainstream economics. The mainstream economics is described in many different terms like neoclassical (a marriage of both classical economics and Keynesian economics), monetarist (a body of economics that taught that money supply increases have no impact on influencing real goods and services, but the general price level in the long run), new classical (a body of economics that tried to resurrect the old classical economics largely dismissed by Keynes) and rational expectations economics (again a body of economics that tried to base its policy on the expectations made by people on a rational basis, so that people cannot be fooled continuously and systematically).

Lakshman’s new course apparently takes the students through a bit of history of economic thought and introduces the core of the body of knowledge now known as Post Keynesian and not New Keynesian economics to students. Lakshman thinks that this is necessary knowledge which economics students should acquire if he/she is to claim to be an economist and it is also good for these students to pass out with the awareness that economics is not merely the mainstream neoclassical economics taught in textbooks used around the world.

Since the rational expectations hypothesis, has become the accepted norm of the mainstream economics today, I wondered whether Lakshman believed in rational expectations. If so, how he would incorporate them in his critical analysis of the course.

“Human beings are not always rational,” says Lakshman. “People for most part of their life are emotional and acting on instinct. You may be an emotional man now and finds your folly and swear to yourself that you will not be emotional again. But the very same man becomes emotional shortly with respect to some other matter. So, where do you find those rational men? They are not found even in developed countries where they are taught to become rational decision makers by their education systems.”

Lakshman’s view reminded me of the concept of ‘bounded rationality’ propagated by Herbert Simon, psychologist cum economist, in 1957. According to this concept, a man can be rational up to the point that he can acquire all the necessary information on an issue and he has the ability to understand the same. If these two prerequisites are not present, then, there is no meaning in talking about ‘a rational man’ in the society. Take for example the emotionally driven Americans and Britons who believed in the existence of mass destruction weapons in Iraq as pushed through their throats by their respective governments. Even after finding out that this story was a fabrication, they continued to believe it because they had been emotionally worked out.

Lakshman himself taught the new course in Post-Keynesian Economics for two years before he retired from Colombo and a few years even after retirement. The course may not be popular among students but appears to be respected by both teachers and students.

The Vice Chancellor’s job

In 1995, Lakshman reached the pinnacle of his career. That was when he was elevated from the Dean of the Graduate Studies, a position he had held since 1992, to the Vice Chancellor’s position at the University of Colombo.

Did this administrative position kill the researcher in him? I wondered.

“I was not averse to an academic administrative post,” says Lakshman. “True that it took most of my time, but after sometime when the job throws day to day to medium term challenges at you, you start enjoying the work. Earlier I was in charge of a department. Then, in 1992, I was responsible for the development of a Faculty almost from scratch. Now, as VC, I had to handle several faculties at the university. In addition, I was the chief accounting officer too. I was responsible for guiding the University Senate and the Council in the management respectively of academic and general administrative and financial matters. At the position of the VC, the whole world was looking at you and you cannot allow the academic standards to deteriorate. Then, for financial matters, I was responsible to both UGC and the Parliament. This makes you scared, but once you take up the job, you cannot retreat. So, I engaged myself in planning for the long-term development of the university, while improving its standards and systems. I got the support from everyone for that.”

Within these constraints, Lakshman managed to complete four papers which he had started earlier. Two papers dealing with how internal and external factors would affect economic policy making and the socio-economic factors affecting the structural adjustment policies were authored by him alone. The other two papers that dealt with the Sri Lanka’s export sector and its rural unemployment were completed jointly with his academic colleagues at the university.

Since the completion of these papers, Lakshman had been silent for some time. I asked him why. “The workload as the VC was so heavy that I could not devote my time for any research work during that period. The university’s planning system, its funding issues and numerous meetings within and outside the university took most of my time. Therefore, I considered that period as a holiday for my research interests in economics. But I did a different type of research. That was how a university should be developed and run. Hence, I could safely say that my time was productively used during that period.”

Sabbatical leave in Japan

In April 1999, Lakshman resigned from the post of Vice Chancellor and proceeded to Japan on sabbatical leave, a privilege which a university don enjoys once in seven years of active duty to go on full time leave to advance and update his knowledge. Many academics use this facility to get themselves attached to universities of repute, usually in the West. It is a programme for continuing academic development of university dons. Lakshman chose Japan because he had previously in 1976 spent his sabbatical leave also in that country. In 1999, he joined Ryukoku University in Japan as a professor of economics.

“After my two-year stint at Ryukoku, I came back to Colombo and worked there for three years till October 2004. I had some earned leave, so far not utilised, which I could use before my retirement coming due in 2007. Colombo University offered me another one and a half years of overseas leave, to enable me to accept the position of Professor offered to me by another Japanese university, the University of Saga. This enabled me to return to my full academic life once again. Japanese universities are very much oriented to research and therefore, it was like a rebirth for me. I was able to recover the lost time as a top university administrator back home,” says Lakshman.

Policy Advisor to the Government

After returning to Sri Lanka from Japan in mid-2006, Lakshman re-joined University of Colombo and served it for a short period until retiring in 2007 from university service after 40 long years. But the government did not want to allow his knowledge and expertise to be wasted and therefore appointed him as an advisor to the Ministry of Finance in 2008 and later in 2010 as the Chairman of the Institute of Policy Studies, the economic policy think tank set up in Sri Lanka with the Dutch Government’s support in the 1980s. Though Lakshman had now been divorced from teaching, his passion of life in the past forty-year period, he now could serve the nation in a different capacity.

“This was a good opportunity for me to get involved in economic policy making and understand the intricate issues that one has to handle in terms of the prevailing political economic conditions,” confesses Lakshman.

In 2009, he got another important assignment to examine and review the country’s tax system and recommend measures to improve the same so as to meet the country’s future aspirations. This he had to do as the Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Taxation which had ten other members. The report was completed in 2010 and presented to the President of the Republic.

Lakshman’s services to the nation as a university don, top university administrator and top economist did not go unnoticed. He was honoured by the President by conferring on him the highest honour of the Republic, the Title of Deshamanya in 2005. Then, the University which he served since 1981, namely, the University of Colombo, conferred on him the Degree of Doctor of Letters or D.Litt. (Honoris Causa) in 2008. Despite these honours conferred on him and the reputation he is having as a top economist, Lakshman still moves with people displaying the same innocence which he had as a youngster when he was in his village in the down south.

He has all the reasons to be proud of himself and his family, though his sense of modesty and humility do not allow him to show it openly His wife, Kalyani, was the Principal of a leading girls’ college in Colombo before she retired from the public service. His elder son, Harsha is a physician and younger son, Rajith, is an economist like him. His only daughter Iresha is a sociologist. He has an expanded family now, with the three spouses of his children and five grandchildren added. But one may also have to add to this number the pet dog that keeps watch over his car at the entrance to his house to make the family numbers complete.

*W.A. Wijewardena, a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka, can be reached at waw1949@gmail.com

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Latest comments

  • 6

    Pretty cool resume for a boy who studied at Vidyaloka Vidyalaya on my home Turf..

    Dr Lajshman I am sure would not allow the CB Dudes to get commissions unlike the first Yahapalana Boss of the Central Bank.
    Neither will he have relos working for Investment Houses , let alone running them in Colombo.

    And Dr Lakshman will read the Economic Signals correctly in this High Tech age where Economic Booms and Economic Busts are all arranged at the New York Stock Exchange…

    That Social Democrat bit too sounds very encouraging . because of the fact that the great majority of our inhabitant population are on less than 20,000 Ruppiah a Month, or less than USd 120 – 130 a Month.
    Aalthough , the GDP per Capital Income is supposed to be USD 4000 a year.
    And the current Prez promising it to ratchet it up to USD 6500 by the next Election in 2025.

    That is what it is all about in this day and age , specially in developing nations like ours , which saw Nation’s wealth being pilfered and plundered by the Neo Capitalists and Neo Liberals with the express cooperation of some of the people who even wear the Social Democrat tag on their Lapel..

    • 4

      An excellent and timely decision made by President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa! Almost everyone who knows the importance of the CB will approve this decision.
      Congratulations to Prof. Lakshman.

      • 8

        That Ajith Kabral WOULD have been dreaming to get the post. I am so happy, that the bugger did not. He should be made accoutable for all the high crimes within the CeNTRAl bank between 2008-2015.
        Now the reason RAJAPAKSHE barbarians not to open the ground realities about BANK ROBBERIES, but puting the blame on the Mr Clean is beyond all ethics and morals. They do all high crimes, and but to overshadow it, they also do MEDIA mafia coverages. I have no doubt, Mr WICKRAMASIGNE did not nothing than appointed that MAHEDRAN… and all will come to light sooner than later.
        THe man MAIN behind all these high crimes will be clear THAT is none other than mafia boss MAHINDA ballige putha Rajakashe.
        pEOPLE are made permament fools by SIRASA and other TV channels as KELANIY incumbent priest send the message across as a reptile brought RELICs to the TEMPLE lately.
        Not even punnakku eating cows would get caught but born stupid sinhalaya.
        If anyone would say, SADU SADU, they would do it even for a heap of DOGs shit.
        If anyone woudl go after HAKKGEDIYA, they too would do since they get caught easily. THe vulnerability is very high…. due to lack of proper information. Entire society is like a GARBAGE mountain that would spread all smells around.

  • 5

    I have read the lack of foreign translation to Sinhala readers.
    How about
    Universities get together, get help from public well wishers, embassies and on the basis of non-profit organization, start translating important books, text books etc

    • 1

      Or how about people just learn English instead. Let us get out of this mindset that Sinhala language is somehow going to go extinct tomorrow. Majorities are not going to go extinct.

  • 9

    I knew Prof. Lakshman from my Peradeniya days as a decent, dedicated economics scholar who had a grasp of the fundamentals. All the best wishes for his new role! However, if social democracy means taking from the rich and redistributing to the many, will this work in Sri Lanka? if not, what is the strategy he will adopt to move the economy in a different direction? This will be the key. If free market neoliberalism is not working in Sri Lanka (due to lack of significant foreign investments etc)and the country is being indebted more and more , what other options are available to steer the economy toward a more sustainable one?

    • 0

      This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.

      For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

    • 1

      Leaving all the Accolades and praises of the writer, let us see this person from Galle do the job? Whether it is like W Dahanayake, wada beri wunath gama Galle. K. A Sumanasekara’s home turf, another WBGG man.

    • 6

      What does that Ajit Kabral say about the appointment ?
      Today, there is a big gap of info that have been lagged somehow – those submissive journos have fallen that deep not being able to see it right.
      No powerful SOCIAL media alerts. why is that ?
      Censoredness and biasedness is seen in MEDIA men yet today.
      May be Gotler will release HIRU TV owner brother from the Prison, irrespective of him being a convicted high criminal. In the days of MR regime, Gotler was that close to KUDU duminda the brother of Hiru TV owner.
      If that would happen, people of this country will u turn and reject GOTLER too.
      We only want a man who could give a REAL lead to this nation.
      Very same people to believe, that one time abusive man to be a saviour… will be damaged in the days to come.
      Stupid folks dominated srilanka will get caught by any tricks being played by RAJAPAKSHE racals.
      Wait and see, some journos though got the education at Harvard still believe, that Gotler would do it differnt.
      This is the biasedness of lanken KIND OF journalists.

      • 3

        Word on the street is that Kabraal and his former master were pushing an unsuitable political lackey from within the central bank.

        Fortunately, saner counsel prevailed. This is a good choice.

  • 6

    As I mentioned before, I love your style of writing which flows like stream! At the same time, I wonder whether it is purposely employed ploy to omit probing extremely important questions. Sorry if this characterization makes you feel hurt but I decided to say this b’cos I saw the same pattern in your all biographic columns I read so far in CT. The question that jumped at me right way is: If Lukshman had an illustrious career in development economics in SL (Personal improvement record is impeccable) well recognized by the Gvt as well, why he couldn’t influence the Gvt from adopting destructive monetary & development policies, particularly under MaRa?

    I asked this question b’cos it was MaRa regime from 2005 to 2015 that sets the worst record for poor economic decisions. Does this mean that the CB is now in a wrong hand ready to please political patrons instead of forcing politicians to take urgently needed bitter pills?

    • 1

      ….also, it is important to mention the fact that the purely economic concept of “social democracy” can be manipulated by clever politicians with autocratic tendencies to set limits on democratic & human rights under the guise of rapid economic development. In the post Keynesian micro-economics applied increasingly in the field of development economics, it simply means research oriented field data based guided development activities specially targeted at improving the living conditions low income communities. Gvt role is expected only as facilitator in order to remove existing bureaucratic & social barriers.

      Nobel Prize for economic went to this field twice already, to a trio of economists this year & to Angus Deaton in 2015. However, I doubt whether Lukshman is referring to micro-economics when he uses the term; to me, his works are aligned more with macro-economics than with micro-economics! I think that Harsha de Silva is much more deeply involved in this field.

  • 5

    OMG! This is what SL needs–social democracy. Show me one country that has succeeded with socialism? SL people are wiser than most people think and that is why JVP got stuck with the 3% of the vote base for decades. Sirima’s nationalization of institutions/companies ruined SL’s economy and we are still paying the price for that. Gota is trying to fix those mistakes by making them profitable. He should list them on the CSE like what India has done.

    Saith Premadasa got defeated and will get defeated again because he is not offering anything new. He is practising his father’s politics by building and distributing free houses. It is not sustainable and something that anyone can do. Ranil’s 40 years of politics have bankrupted and destroyed SL Poor old man should realize that his time is up.

    • 0

      President 70+,PM 75,CBG 80,PBJ 70,Ranil 70,Karu 75+ CBk 74,They are all above retiring +five or 10 years more,Moreover their health is questionable.SoWhat do we do Srilanka?

  • 6

    Prof. Lakshman has a pretty hefty pair of boots to fill – those left by the unflappable Dr. I.C . Our best wishes to the new Governor – a man of proven ability and absolute integrity.

  • 3

    prof lakhsman sometime back was the head of a taxation committee
    the reports findings were not implemented
    will he do it now

  • 4

    Without any disrespect to Professor Lakshman, I am wondering instead of a 78 year old person why they couldn’t find a younger person. This is Economics, now the evolution is defensive to aggressive.
    Are we lack of younger, vibrant minds? So sad the way we are not using our younger generation in Politics to Economics to everything. Older people can be consultants.

    • 4

      This appointment has all the marks of MaRa’s choice. MaRa prefers “Yes” men, not aggressive thinkers with up-to-date knowledge. As far as I know, Lukshman fits well with MaRa. My guess is that it will be Cabraal who will be pulling strings of Lakshman.

  • 5

    Isn’t he too old and disconnected from the current regional and global economic challenges? Is he is in good health if not how could the country run if he falls sick. Even before, as an academic too theoretical (Like Shirani Bandaranayake for SC and CJ). Isn’t the CB job to act independently. Why couldn’t the government look for external candidate selected through an independent selection committee as the current trend with most established CBs with stable economies are to appoint younger candidates as their Governors. SL has its own Dr. NW who was promoted by a group but not sure whether he was capable of wearing the shoes. Unless people with authority want to remotely control the CB.

    • 1

      Absolutely, Lion.
      His approaching geriatric status, etc.
      “Coming colours not good”,

      • 3

        Sinhala Man
        Democrat Bernie Sanders 78 , might well be the next President of the USA . It is unbecoming of you to belittle Prof Lakshman on account of his age – more so because you are no spring chicken either . Cheers .

      • 1

        Sinhala_Man: Nice try. Funny comment, coming from a geriatric.

        Fortunately, WDL is as sharp as I knew him 30 years ago and perfectly capable of doing the job. He was a good VC at CMB as well. Too bad his taxation committee’s findings were not implemented.

  • 0

    There is new blood at the top of the Central Bank whose not so well known activities came to light with the “Bond Scam”. Clearly the appointee has a history of spelling out “what it should be” but any experience in dealing with real issues is yet to be seen. While honesty and sincerity at the top is assured for the Central Bank other qualities of leadership too are required to be the boss of an institution. Putting one’s own house into order can be a daunting task. I wish the appointee very well in his new assignment and may everything sacred guide him in his destinies for a brighter future of the Central Bank in particular and Sri Lanka in general.

  • 3

    When the US president Obama became president in speach he addressed when a first men on moon crews went to the moon they did not have previos experience how was he success that means the experiance was behind the scene for guidedance

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