G.L. Perera, B.Sc (Engineering); M.Sc (UK); MICE (Lond); MIE (SL); PG Dip. Building Construction (Paris) Former Executive Director / Consultant (Rtd) – Engineering & Technical Services – Board of Investment of Sri Lanka. (1939 – 2017)  Many great minds in our country have quietly made sea-changing contributions to our economic and social prosperity – without asking [...]

The Sunday Times Sri Lanka

GL led team that planned and built Sri Lanka’s first Free Trade Zone in 1978


G.L. Perera

G.L. Perera, B.Sc (Engineering); M.Sc (UK); MICE (Lond); MIE (SL); PG Dip. Building Construction (Paris) Former Executive Director / Consultant (Rtd) – Engineering & Technical Services – Board of Investment of Sri Lanka. (1939 – 2017) 

Many great minds in our country have quietly made sea-changing contributions to our economic and social prosperity – without asking for appreciation, popularity or undue financial gain. The flip side of such virtue is that we are never made aware of the extent of their positive contribution to our lives. Galhenage Lionel Perera, better known as GL to his friends and colleagues who passed away on April 4, 2017 after a brief illness, was indisputably a rare example of this calibre. At a time when Sri Lanka was desperate to emerge from crippling socialist policies that could only be overhauled through free trade, foreign investment and employment – the Greater Colombo Economic Commission (GCEC) was formed with a handful of multidisciplinary experts to make this change a reality. As the Chief Engineer of the GCEC – later renamed the Board of Investment of Sri Lanka – GL led a team of designers, engineers, architects and technicians to plan and build the Katunayake Free Trade Zone in 1978. Expanding across 500 acres and built to international standards at the time, this was the base that attracted global investors to bring in millions of dollars to Sri Lanka and continues to do so now. The success of this resulted in the construction of the Biyagama and Koggala Export Processing Zones (EPZs) in the mid-80s and early 90s. A further nine EPZs were constructed and established under his management of the Engineering, Technical & Environmental Services of the BOI. Once the EPZs were in operation, GL and his team were responsible for the smooth administration of the Zones in collaboration with the resident businesses.

He played a key role in President R. Premadasa’s ’200 Garment Factories Programme’ where, within two years, his team identified land, approved building plans and provided the infrastructure for the garment factories. They also ensured the establishment of safe working conditions, security and welfare facilities for factory employees wherever the GCEC/BOI was involved. GL made many constructive contributions to these areas across 25 years, both here and when representing Sri Lanka at international forums – he was a civil engineer who had a good understanding of governance and macroeconomics; he understood the wider context to which his work contributed. With his language skills, multicultural awareness and eye for quality, Investors and international organisations, including the UN worked in partnership with him and his team seamlessly and with ease.

After his official retirement from the BOI, GL was asked to direct the construction of five EPZs, almost simultaneously, due to his track record of high integrity and technical competence. After the opening of the Wathupitiwela EPZ in May 1999, he and his team were commended by the President for the expeditious manner in which the infrastructure had been built. This was a general characteristic of the work completed by the Engineering and Technical Team throughout GL’s leadership – having no unnecessary delays or unresolved problems.

GL’s soft-spoken gentlemanly style was not to be mistaken for lack of strength or authority. His team members, without exception, fondly and respectfully remember him as a strong, broadminded, progressive and fearless leader who encouraged personal development and played a prominent role in their own career advancement. “He allowed us to make our own decisions, and we did, because we knew Mr. Perera will support us and even take the blame if anything went wrong. This gave many of us a chance to gain knowledge and experience, and to grow into confident leaders ourselves in time to come.”

“He never jumped into conclusions or bulldozed others at meetings…always waited for his opportunity to express the pros and cons of an idea by first summarising everybody’s views. He maintained friendly relationships with everybody and had a good rapport with investors too. It was a great environment for us to work in” – D.G. Munasinghe, Secretary General / Executive Director – Central Region, BOI (Rtd.)

GL was a graduate of the University of Ceylon. In 1962 at age 23, he joined the State Engineering Corporation in its year of inception. As a junior engineer he was sent to Kelaniya for his first assignment as the Resident Site Engineer for the building that was to house the Tyre Corporation. He quickly progressed in his work and returned to Head Office as the Assistant Chief Engineer in charge of Contracts & Estimates, working under Basil Chitty – Chief Engineer for Planning, Production & Development. Mr. Chitty recollects, “He was a hardworking Engineer, trustworthy and dependable, and discharged his duties to the entire satisfaction of his superiors, including the Chairman. I have lost a dear friend. He was my best friend.”

A Royalist at heart and to the core, GL belonged to the Royal College 1950 Group that boasts the membership of a generation of prominent doctors, lawyers, engineers, businessmen and experts in many fields. True to his personality, he was the Secretary and life force behind the Group – he kept the classmates regularly in touch through social events and projects to enhance the wellbeing of their school.

A car enthusiast since the age of 10, two of his best friends, Dr Basil Goonewardene and Dr Gef De Silva remember him driving around in a Hillman Minx in the 1950s, being in the centre of fun and frolics during their teenage and university years.

When GL was living in England during the 1970s, one of his positions was as the Chief Engineer at the site that was to house the University of London – UCL Faculty of Law, where his daughter studied 20 years later.

His most important achievements were probably within his personal life. He fell in love with his wife, Vijitha Jayakody, at the age of 16 – he was struck by her beauty and serene demeanour while dropping his sisters to Visakha! As many men would agree, it’s not easy to win a battle with a mother-in-law for the hand of her daughter in marriage. He never gave up for 15 years and finally married her in 1971.

“As a father and grandfather he was in his element. That was his natural role. Most of our valuable childhood memories were created by him, with my mother’s support – probably because he had the foresight to know what would matter to us in decades to come,” his daughter remembers. “He was there for everything. He knew how to do everything!”

When his wife passed away nearly 11 years ago, he singlehandedly supported his children who were going into the next stage in their adult life, seeing his son through a path that took him from a career in criminal law to the judiciary, marriage and parenthood, and similarly for his daughter.

“ThathaSeeya was the smartest person I know. With his help I did achieve quite a lot of things,” says Michael, his 9-year-old grandson, who shared his grandfather’s love for maths and music.

GL leaves an unfillable space in the lives and hearts of the people he loved and who loved him.

He didn’t believe in meaningless rituals – his wisdom and acute social observations didn’t allow him to be anything other than a pragmatist. As a Buddhist, he probably didn’t know all the words to chant Lord Buddha’s Karaniya Metta Sutra! But he lived his life demonstrating the practice of each tenet of this powerful sutra on a daily basis. Therefore we cannot imagine that he is on any other path in his Sansara than the one leading to supreme Nibbana. May his life inspire the next generation to be simple, happy, respectful and responsible. May this give him further merit towards his journey.

(This appreciation was sent by Melloshini Perera Salman)

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