30 October, 2020

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Wimalweera Dissanayaka – Man Of The Hour In the Eastern Province

By Sujata Gamage

Dr. Sujata Gamage

While the debate about the 13th amendment is raging in the south, nobody bothered to check with Provincial Councils. Udaya Gammanpila, a minister of the Western Provincial Council is often quoted but he is no true representative of provinces.

Fears of undue provincial powers are whipped up but media has neglected to point to the reality of the situation. In reality, the President can exercise absolute control through his agent, the governor of a Province. The situation in the Easter Province is a case in point. Take the continuing struggle by the Mr. Wimalweera Dissanayake, the Minister for Education, Culture, Land, Land Development and Transport in the Eastern Province, to exercise some control over his ministry and not have the Governor dictate terms. Sadly the media, English media had failed to follow the story. It is a mystery why the English media did not follow up on the story of the governor ordering the closure of Vihara Maha Devi Sinhala School in Lahugala which the Minister had decided to be a crying need. Considering that the minister concerned is the strongest SLFPer in the province and the only Sinhala member among the five-member Board of Ministers, a responsible press would have looked into the stories behind the story.

I came to know Hon. Wimalaweera Dissanayake only a few months ago. Inspired by his vision, integrity and true compassion, I and a few others including Professor Siri Hettige have been travelling back and forth  to Trincomalee or Ampara, some of us on a weekly basis , on our own account, to help the Minister implement his vision for education in Eastern Province. More on that later, but, I would be amiss if I did not introduce this unique politician to the English media.

Wimalaweera Dissanyake

Wimalaweera Dissanyake is a graduate of the University of Colombo, but, he did not complete beyond Grade 6 in school. In his early thirties, he completed GCE A/L on his own and applied for the University of Colombo. He received an acceptance in the mail only to receive a denial the next day citing the lack of 5 years of schooling. He, of course, wrote back a strongly worded letter to the authorities. Professor Stanley Wijesundera , the Vice Chancellor then, pleaded on his behalf to the University Grants Commission and got him admitted. Incidentally, while in university he took classes on Sociology from Prof. Siri Hettige and to date maintains a respectful relationship with the Professor.  During the same period I had just come back from post-graduate studies to take up an appointment in the Department of Chemistry in University of Colombo, but our paths never crossed, but, from what I have heard wore the sarong to the campus and did not stop chewing his betel. He managed to stay put as a progressive student trying to hold the peace in campus. As he remarked nonchalantly, he never went for his graduation but found to his surprise that he was awarded recognition as somebody holding the peace during the tumultuous years beginning in 1987.

How a child who gave up school and labored to make up for the loss of his father at the age of 11 got to a university of his choosing is a story worth telling and repeating.

Dissanayake’s family hails from Kegalle. Born to Thissa Dissanayake and M. R. Podi nona he grew up with five  siblings. He started school at Madeyiya Kanishtaha, but with the father’s untimely death he stopped schooling and started a life of menial work splitting wood, washing dishes to support the family. In 1966 the family moved to Nivuguna in Ampara close to the Hingurana sugar factory.  Dissanayake joined the brigade of laborers at the factory working the harsh sugar fields. His love of reading sustained him. As a neighbor recalls young Dissanayake used to smuggle books into sugar thickets and read hidden by the tall sugar reeds. Starting from Demon Ananda’s ‘Maraka’ booklets bought for 75 cents, he read translations of Maxim Gorky’s Mother and Guy the Mauppassant and the classics Poojavaliya and Mahavanshaya. He did not leave a scrap of printed paper unread. He read the paper in which his food was wrapped. He read the papers from beginning to end including obituaries. The result was a man whose skin was hardened by the coarse sugar reeds but the mind was softened with knowledge. He decided to do the GCE O/L examination on his own. Next came the GCE A/L challenge. He studied Economics, Political Science, Sinhala and Buddhist Civilization for GACE A/L and got through the exam with sufficient marks to choose a university to his liking.

After completing his BA at the University he started work as the General Manager of The Ampara Weeragoda Cooperative Society, but followed his calling as a teacher at Ampara D. S. Senanayake National School for 10 years. He entered politics in 1994 as the leader of the opposition in the Damana Pradesheeya Sabha and went to become a member of parliament in 2000.After a brief setback, he was elected to the Eastern Provincial council in 2004 and became the Minister for Education, Culture, Land and Transport. He was reelected in 2012 with most preferential votes from the UPFA slate of candidates. He still lives with his wife Jayanthi Mendis and two children Anjana and Udara Supun not far from the Hingurana Sugar Factory for which he worked.

Dissanayake is a simple man. He has amassed no wealth. Despite enticements, he has chosen to keep his family in Ampara and send the children to school there. He is happy that the oldest is already into entrepreneurship while studying at the university. Dissanyake uses harsh words to respond to the cruelty, idiocy and other ills of present day society, but, he is a man whose life’s career is imbued with a compassion which comes from a unique life experienced and a habit of reading which further enriched his experiences. His contribution to education in the province and his vision for its future is another story. At this hour, his greatest role would be to act as the true representative of the ruling party and bridge the gap of distrust between the Centre and provinces.

Wimalweera Dissanayake understands better than anybody the suffering of the Sinhalese living in the border villages but he is equally empathic with Tamils and Muslims who suffered during the war. He is the only Sinhalese member in the in the cabinet of ministers in the Eastern Provincial Council, but, he is respected and trusted by his Tamil and Muslim colleagues.

Harmony in the Eastern Province is the beginning of harmony for all. Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa has a great opportunity in the Eastern Province to use this moment and allow the Eastern Province to take the lead. All he has to do is to encourage the culture of tolerance which is nurtured in the Eastern Province by SLFP stalwarts like Mr. Dissanyake. Unfortunately, the President seems to have chosen to follow what Dayan Jayathileke calls the Logics of Authoritarianism, Occupation and Ethno-religious Absolutism.  The President’s continued support for the Governor Mohan Wijewickrama’s autocratic rule over the unified request from the Cabinet of Ministers to allow the Provincial council to exercise its limited powers is a case in point. The course can be changed. There is yet time for greater council to prevail. We can only wait in hope.

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Latest comments

  • 0
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    Solve one problem and that results another tenor hundred problems. this is just one situation.

    This is one provincial councillor. How many are thugs, criminals, rapists etc., etc., You know that.

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      How many problems have solved with your support??.

      Does the present governance have done any praise to this Self made Provincial Counciler.

  • 0
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    Inspiring story. Truly a son of the soil. I’d love to meet and make his acquaintance.

    Senguttuvan

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    I wonder how come he failed to continue the schooling and nevertheless he later got entered to Alevels and then to the University- I dont think that this kind of examples are seen in today^s society. I myself also came to a single German Prof. in Chemistry that had gone a similar story before being selected to the uni. However, he had become a professor without a doctorate. This kind of examples are rarity in Europe.

  • 0
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    To JimSofty: Watch out. Integrity can be infectious!

  • 0
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    It seems that the author is very worried about the fact that the English media have not given publicity to the story of the governor ordering the closure of Vihara Maha Devi Sinhala School in Lahugala which the Minister had decided to be a crying need. There is nothing to worry because both the minister and the governor are both President’s men and closing down of a Sinhala school would not have happened under Rajapaksa who promotes Radical Sinhala Buddhist Extremists such as BBS if there was no hidden agenda.

    It would have been better if the author published this article in the Ceylon Daily News.

    • 0
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      Dear Patriot;
      I am not sure I follow your argument. Sounds like you are saying that there is a Sinhala Buddhist agenda behind the closing of a Sinhala school in the Eastern Province and the president, the governor and the minsiter are all in it together. Please rethink.

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        You mention about the President’s continued support for the Governor Mohan Wijewickrama’s autocratic rule. I do not think the governor can take his own decisions since people working under Rajapaksa whether he or she be even a cabinet minister are puppets and do what the king wants them to do. As such, closing down of this school if it is real must have done by the president for some unknown reason. Further, Rajapaksa does not want to encourage the culture of tolerance which is nurtured in the Eastern Province by SLFP stalwarts like Mr. Dissanyake as you have indicated because Rajapaksas are the ones who support groups like Bodu Balu Sena etc who have ganged against the Muslims and other minorities. Rajapaksa being a cunning man manipulates everything to his advantage. What your Minister should do is to resign from his ministerial post as a protest to protect his dignity.

  • 0
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    Thanks Sujata for that inspiring article. We need such people to make a change to our political environment!

  • 0
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    Dr Gamage(SG) says she was inspired by Hon. Minister Wimalaweera Dissanayake’s vision, integrity and true compassion. I wonder whether any person with integrity would do politics in Sri Lanka. I also wonder what Dr Gamage who claims to be an academic in the chemistry department of the Colombo University thinks about the chanted string(pirith nool) that the Minister is wearing in his right wrist which shows that he follows Mervin and the gang.

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      Alchemie: A person with Integrity WOULD do politics in Sri Lanka.The question is whether they COULD even if they wanted. We shall find out. I am an optimist.

      As for the Pirith Noole, I would wear one if I am offered one. That does not make me a follower of Mr. Mervyn Silva. In my case it simply means that I choose my battles and not get hung up over a cultural/social artifact like a pirith noole. There are more important issues to argue about. In the same vein don’t hold it against Minister Dissanayake that he wears a Noole.

      • 0
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        I strongly believe that only the Weak Minded or Ignorant people wear Pirith Noole. You should read Shyaman Jayasinghe’s columns posted in CT.

    • 0
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      Not everyone wears such a thread can belong to Mervin^s world. Even foreigners newly become buddhists wear those threads these days. What bothers me is many those who are used to behave like buddhists among the politicians are the worst examples for the nation.

      • 0
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        Do not think that foreigners are a special species and try to justify your point. Only weak minded or ignorant people believe that there is some hidden power in these Pirith Nool.

    • 0
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      Alchemie,
      When we hear about SL person is this caliber, we want them to be same as Nelson Mandela or Mahatma Gandhi and criticize them for their shortcomings… People like you and me who only talk big but do nothing should learn to appreciate Wiamlaweera like people.
      I think Qualities and Capabilities of SL leadership are in the same level as Somalian or Sierra Leone leaders, but SL still doing better than those countries because of the effort of Wimalaweera like people (not because you or me who just talk but do nothing)
      Anura

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        I never said that I do not appreciate Wimalaweera’s work. I just commented on the pirith nool which ultimately gets really dirty. Don’t you understand?

    • 0
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      ALACHEMIE.

      PIRITH NOOL are not Mervin and gangs dowery.

      Any body who are willing to wear that can do irespctive of religions or races.

      even looting king and clans also wear those Pirith Chanted Threds.

      Who is Shyaman Jayasinghe???????,

      A guy who is afraid to die???????.

      Or a Philosopher of a religion????????.

      We strongly and strangly believe that you are Weak Minded or Ignorant on the subject.
      and assume writing comments for /on behalf of some fool.

  • 0
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    No wonder the English media does not support Wimalaweera D, as it has
    to provide only for DJ version of practical politics of the day, to
    make its living.

  • 0
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    Wimalaweera has fought against the Governor’s interference right throughout. It is said that once MR called him to Temple Trees, took him to a room and assaulted him. But he did not give up. These are the true heroes.

    • 0
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      Is this fact?

  • 0
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    Thank you for taking the effort to introduce this honest, hardworking humble gentleman who really thinks about the crying needs of the education system in the country.
    He is a hero who combat poverty and set up an example to those who expect everything should be done for me by others or governments. I sincerely hope he will stay with the government and work for the country to build Srilankan nation.
    Let’s continue to support him to fulfil his vision for education on behalf of the future generations.
    Piya Gamage, Poole, Dorset.UK

  • 0
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    While admiring the self driven achievements of Mr. Dissanayake I wish to comment on the interventions of the Governor. The Governor should act only on the advice of the Chief Minister and not on his own initiative or on orders from the central government.
    The Provincial Council system is likely to get into a crisis if the Governor intervenes in the Northern Province P.C.in the same fashion. The Governor should be like a Head of State- a figurehead except where the P.C violates the Constitution. It is time to replace these ex-military persons with civilians as Governors.
    The country is heading for a failed state.
    Countries fail when the institutions collapse. Will we revert to the State of nature referred to by Hobbes?
    R.M.B Senanayake

    • 0
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      Sir
      its already a failed state since 1948. Honest educated must enter politics and save country from ruthless criminals taking over.

    • 0
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      Dear RMB:
      Yes, Section 154F(1) covers what you say, but, does not Section 154F(2) allow the governor to take discretion into his own hands as long as the president allows it? That is what is happening in the Eastern Province.

      13th Amendment 154F.
      (source: http://www.lawnet.lk/sec_process.php?chapterid=1987Y0V0C0A13S&sectionno=4&title=THIRTEENTH%20AMENDMENT%20TO%20THE%20CONSTITUTION&path=6)
      (1) There shall be a Board of Ministers with the Chief Minister at the head and not more than four other Ministers to aid and advice the Governor of a Province in the exercise of his functions. The Governor shall, in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice, except in so far as he is by or under the Constitution required to exercise his function or any of them in his discretion.
      (2) If any question arises whether any matter is or is not a matter as respects which the Governor is by or under this Constitution required to act in his discretion, the decision of the Governor in his discretion shall be final, and the validity of anything done by the Governor shall not be called in question in any Court on the ground that he ought or ‘ought not have acted on his discretion. The exercise of the Governor’s discretion shall be on the President’s directions.
      (3) The question whether any, and if so what, advice was tendered by the Ministers to the Governor shall not be inquired into in any Court.

  • 0
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    New discourse must start by intellectual.Dr Sujatha has Opened the gate.

  • 0
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    If this can happen to a strong SLFP supporter and to a member from the majority community imagine the fate of the minority members in the cabinet. Democracy today in S.L is not for the people ,by the people or for the people but for particular people and their friends

  • 0
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    Dr. Sujatha Gamage has provided an inspiring portrait of an endangered species in the person of Wimalaweera Dissanayake. A man of undaunted courage and integrity. The most striking quality of Mr. Dissanayake, at present, is that he has dared to defy the authority of the Governor who has usurped the powers of the Provincial Council and set himself up as an autocrat running his fiefdom. Dissanayake has proven to be a warrior in the defense of democracy. Dissanayake’s defense of the school at Lahugala is based on his commitment to defend democratic and human rights and serve the poor. It has nothing to do with favoring any particular nationality. Mr. Dissanayake is above chauvinism, which is rampant in the Province- brought to the limit primarily by the politics of the UPFA. The case of the Eastern Provincial Council demonstrates the drive to strip these Councils of any real power, to deprive the people of their sovereignty and to centralize state power.

  • 0
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    Well done Mr.Wimalaweera Dissanayake! You are a rarity in Sri Lanka. Even the highly “educated” Prof. G.L.Peiris, born with several silver spoons stuck in him cower before authority. In an authoritarian regime the first casualty is self respect which leads to servile obedience devoid of independent thinking. Initiative and creativity dies. Courage disappears. The country begets a population of servants who humbly serve the masters. In the Mahinda Rajapaksa dispensation where any one who stands up to him is felled it is a wonder that you exist. I feel that you have the genes to become the President.

    • 0
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      True! The present president also wears PIRITH NOOL.

  • 0
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    Can there be “border villages” in a country, that is an island?

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