Amazon, British Council, Chanaka Amaratunga, Clive Taylor, Council for Liberal Democracy, Dudley Senanayake, Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, Hugh Fernando, John Keleher, Lalith Athulathmudali, Liberal International, Liberal Party, Maldives, Marcus Gilbert, Margaret de Silva, Neil Kemp, Ravi Karunanayake, Rex Baker, Sarath Fonseka, Sharmila Perera, Urs Schoettli
A mark of what I can only recall as the overwhelming generosity of the officials I worked with at the Council initially was the fact that they also sent me to the Maldives when we took one of the drama tours there. Zem told me later that, in the brief period in which she had looked after culture, she had done all the work, but the Assistant Representative had decided that he would make the trip to the Maldives himself. Rex and John were very different in that regard. So in fact was the Assistant Representative who joined them for the bulk of their period in Sri Lanka, Marcus Gilbert, a bright and energetic young man who later found his career stymied, doubtless because of his commitment to the countries in which he served. He was to take early retirement, as John Keleher did too, and also the idealistic Clive Taylor who had succeeded him, but who fled early from the horrors of Neil Kemp.
One reason the Council was able to send me abroad frequently, with no cost to the British taxpayer, was that we ran a large training initiative, called the Technical Training Cooperation Development (TTCD) programme, on which we sent about a hundred government employees to Britain for long or short periods of training. It was handled, under Marcus’ supervision, by a British lady called Margaret de Silva, a locally engaged member of staff as we were known, an expatriate married to a Sri Lankan. She drove a hard bargain with the airlines on our behalf, mainly KLM, and got a number of free tickets for the Council which were used for training programmes. This was how Rex ensured that we were able to send a lot of our locally engaged staff for training, without using up funds on airfares.
The Council was also generous about leave to travel for the Liberal Party, which Chanaka and the rest of the Council for Liberal Democracy officers decided in the course of 1986 that they wanted to establish. I was I think the only one against it, because I thought we were essentially a think-tank, but I agreed to get involved if the others went ahead, and also to be one of the Vice-Presidents, which was the position I held in the CLD. When I came back from my voyage round the world however, early in 1987, it was to find that I was the President. Hugh Fernando, who had been President of the CLD, had decided to join the SLFP.
That in fact had been his original home, and he had been Speaker in 1964, but had sympathized with the UNP and joined it after Parliament was dissolved, becoming a Cabinet Minister in 1968 in Dudley Senanayake’s Cabinet. He was perhaps the most solid of Dudley loyalists, and had not received nomination from JR in 1977. He was no longer in the UNP in 1982 and had supported us over the Referendum, embracing enthusiastically the use of Dudley Senanayake’s words that distinguished between democracy and majoritarianism in our leaflets. He had therefore gladly accepted the Chairmanship of the CLD, and continued in the position even after he had joined the SLFP, until in fact his death.
He was every inch the country gentleman, and I used to love going up to his house at Nainamadama, near Wennappuwa, when we needed to consult him. His hospitality was lavish, and he involved himself fully in the life of the village, to the extent of taking part annually in the Parish Passion Play. This meant that he had to miss meetings occasionally, because he was playing Pontius Pilate, a characteristic that gave Chanaka enormous amusement.
I went with Chanaka to only one meeting of Liberal International, the one held in Canada in 1987 when I believe we became the second Asian members of that organization. In general I thought going to LI an unnecessary extravagance, though I recognized the importance of networking. But I also realized that I found networking tedious and was not at all good at it as Chanaka was. I was happy however to attend seminars which the German Liberal Foundation, the Friedrich Naumann Stiftung, arranged, many of them at a beautiful Portuguese country villa it had acquired.
The FNS was now working with us, though initially, being in thrall to Lalith Athulathmudali, its local office had tried to characterize Chanaka as a dangerous socialist. Fortunately he had got on very well with the then Executive Vice-President of LI, a bouncy Swiss journalist called Urs Schoettli, who recommended him to the power behind the FNS, and indeed Liberal International to some extent, Count Otto von Lambsdorff. In time the German head of the FNS in Colombo,a man named Bischoff, who had used the position to do business and even stayed on for the purpose afterwards, in cahoots I believe with Lalith, was replaced by a much more sympathetic chap who was actually interested in Liberal principles.
We had a very fruitful collaboration with the FNS in Colombo then, for several years, until recently Ravi Karunanayake was able to revive the old Athulathmudali connection. He was helped in this by Sharmila Perera, who had been Lalith’s great professional confidante in the old days, and is certainly extremely competent. I was vastly entertained to find that, not only is she one of the Directors along with Ravi of the Institute for Democracy and Leadership, which receives much FNS funding, but she was also the General Secretary of the party through which Sarath Fonseka contested the Presidential election. It is sad to see funds provided by the German taxpayer for the purpose of promoting liberalism used for ends that seem to me to have nothing to do with liberalism, but there is clearly precedent for this as far as FNS activities in Sri Lanka go. I was relieved to find though that the German head of the FNS for South Asia – Sri Lanka is looked after now by a local employee, who had been with the FNS since the Lalith/Bischoff days – knew nothing of the IDL link to Sarath Fonseka.