The Sunday TimesNews/Comment

17th November 1996



J.R Jayewardene: the parliamentarian

By Sam Wijesinha, Former Secretary General of Parliament

Junius Richard Jayewardene entered the former State Council on April 14,1943 winning the by- election caused by the resignation of Sir D.B. Jayatillaka from his Kelaniya seat. He was already a prominent young enthusiast of the Ceylon National Congress. He had the advantage of being born to a distinguished legal family and the capacity to get to the top of his chosen profession. However, he chose a political career and began it in 1940 as a member of the Municipal Council of Colombo.

J.R. was elected to the House of Representatives, created by the Soulbury Constitution, to represent the Kelaniya seat and became the first Finance Minister of independent Ceylon. Within a few weeks of his assuming duties, an aggrieved government employee petitioned the new finance minister for redress. This was referred to the permanent secretary of his ministry for necessary action. To the new ministers surprise a report by a senior civil servant suggested that disciplinary action be taken against this petitioner under the relevant public service rules for initiating direct communication with a minister.

The ministers reply was a classic. He minuted that if any fault had been committed, he was guilty and not this petitioner. He added that it must be remembered that a minister does not cease to be a representative of the

people elected by them to parliament ....It was rather difficult to shut

out junior public servants alone from having access to us when high ranking officers have themselves violated these very rules.

You are at liberty to act as you please, but if action is taken against this particular public servant I wish for an opportunity to mention the names of the many others who, have violated the same rules of procedure. This action on the part of the new minister, put an end to any arrogance senior public servants thought they could indulge in.

There are many examples of his courage, as when he contested, at the by-election in 1943, the Kotte Lion in the form of E.W. Perera - veteran politician of the Ceylon National Congress famous for his message to Whitehall reputedly taken in his shoe. It was J.Rs courage that spearheaded the UNP resurrection after its ignominious defeat in the 1956 General Election at which the UNP got almost 738,800 votes but only 8 seats at a rate of 92,350 per seat, whereas the MEP with 1,046,300 votes got 51 seats at a rate of 20,500 in a House of 95 elected members.

In 1960 July in a House of 151 elected members, the UNP got 30 seats for a total of 1,144,200 votes whereas the SLFP under Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaikes leadership, got 75 seats for a total of 1,022,200 votes, 33,140 per UNP and 13,630 per SLFP seat respectively. The SLFP formed a government with Mrs. Bandaranaike as Prime Minister. The 1961 coup was an unexpected setback and the Minister of Finance Felix Dias Bandaranaikes masterly handling of the situation was a great source of strength to the prime minister who showed remarkable courage in an unprecedented danger. J.Rs name was not even remotely associated with that coup.

One of the main objectives of the new government was to take over the Associated Newspapers of Ceylon, popularly known as Lake House. The Press Bill which embodied the government intentions had a few setbacks in the House and in 1964 it was passed in the Senate - that Upper House no longer in existence, having been abolished by Act No. 36 of 2nd October 1971.

The message from the Senate was read in the House on 6th October 1964 seeking acceptance of the Press Bill already passed in the Senate. The Minister of Labour Michael Siriwardane said: I move the Second Reading tomorrow. The Speaker asked When? The Leader of the House C.P. De Silva said, Tomorrow. Mr. Lakshman Rajapakse, MP. for Tissamaharama then asked, May I know when the Press Bill will be taken up for discussion. I with MP. for Puttalam have already given notice that the Bill be taken up in February 1965.

In the ensuing discussion J.R. obviously the mastermind behind the opposition move pointed out that any time after the reading of a message notifying that a Bill has been brought from the Senate, a member may inform the clerk to the House that he will sponsor the Bill and name a day for the second reading five days after the notification. The Hon. Minister of Labour had adopted the procedure applicable to Bills originating in the House which could be proceeded with at the next meeting; the usual practice of saying Second reading tomorrow could not be applicable to a Bill from the Senate.

Speaker Hugh Fernando upheld that the notice handed over by Messrs Lakshman Rajapakse and Naina Marikkar complied with the relevant Standing Orders of the House.

The Government in its anxiety to get the Press Bill passed in that Parliament but not being able to introduce the same Bill in the same session twice, set out to prorogue Parliament and commence a new session.

After the opening of the new session, in December 1964, to the Vote of Thanks motion for the Throne Speech an amendment was proposed by Dr. W. Dahanayake MP regretting that the people have no confidence in the government as it had failed to solve the problems of the people such as employment, high cost of living and housing. If such an amendment is accepted by the House it amounts to a Vote of No-Confidence on the government. It was accepted by a majority of 74 to 73 - a very close finish.

After the result was announced there were loud cries alleging bribery. Dr. Colvin R. de Silva who voted against the amendment, boomed in his stentorian voice Let those who have been purchased hold their mouths. there were cries of Withdraw but Colvin did not. Many advised Mrs. Bandaranaike not to resign, but call for a Vote of Confidence. But she was firm in her refusal to do so. She resigned. The Press Bill had to lie in storage.

Back to office they came in l970 but first took time to inaugurate the new Republic Constitution in 1972.

Meanwhile the UNP was back in office in 1965 with 66 seats on a poll of 1,590,930 votes whereas the SLFP got 41 seats for 1,221,440 votes. It was a rather close finish with the UNP getting one seat for 24,105 votes and the SLFP one seat for 29,790 votes. Dudley Senanayake formed a coalition government.

J.R. became minister of state under Dudley Senanayakes premiership. He embarked on developing tourism and laid the foundation for this industry to flourish. He was well versed in, but always ready to learn, parliamentary procedure. When a Commission of Inquiry under the relevant Act was probing the CWE. around 1967, Mr. Dhanapala Weerasekera MP raised a critical question in the House about this commission. The minister of state being J.R. himself objected to the commission being referred to in Parliament as the Standing Orders provide, that no member shall refer to any matter which is under adjudication by a court of law or on which a judicial decision is pending.

Then it was pointed out to him that there was no matter under adjudication by a court of law or on which judicial decision was pending. Further it was explained that though Commissioners are deemed public servants their inquiries are judicial proceedings only within the meaning of the Penal Code eg. for purposes of contempt procedure. J.R. bowed gracefully to the Speaker Sir Albert Peries in agreement with his ruling. The actual scope of the sub-judice rule is well illustrated by this precedent. It is often a misused provision in the proceedings of most legislatures in the Commonwealth.

The disproportionate phenomenon of unrealistic representation reappeared glaringly in 1970 when the UNP won 17 seats with 1,892, 525 votes whereas the SLFP won 91 seats with 1,839,980 votes at 20,210 per seat as against the UNPs 111,325 per seat. Landslides could be a disaster. The SLFP had nearly two thirds of the House. Mrs. Bandaranaike who became prime minister for the second time before she could embark on her program of work had to face the JVP insurrection of 1971 which she did with remarkable fortitude ably assisted by Minister of Justice Felix Dias Bandaranaike.

It was the 1970 government majority that allowed it to tinker at will with the Soulbury Constitution and abort Section 29 that gave a semblance of protection to the minorities and thus send a message that they were in some sense second class. The Constitution of the Republic of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) adopted and enacted by the Constituent Assembly of the people of Sri Lanka came into effect on the 22nd day of May 1972.

Early in 1973 when the Minister of Justice moved the Press Bill, J.R. as Leader of the Opposition raised the objection that the decision of the Constitutional Court on that Bill not having been received by the House, the Bill could not be proceeded with.

After hearing submissions from both sides the Speaker Stanley Tillekaratne upheld the objection. Immediately Dr. N.M. Perera, Minister of Finance, asked the Speaker whether his ruling made it impossible to proceed with the Bill adding, I do not accept your ruling. I intend to move that this House has no confidence in you as Speaker.

The Leader of the Opposition with his inimitable composure asked the Prime Minister Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, Is that a decision of the Government or of the Minister of Finance? Mrs. Bandaranaike promptly answered, Not of the government. The Speaker repeating her words adjourned the House.

The Press Bill was further delayed, but after overcoming many hurdles it was finally passed and became Act No. 28 of 1973.

I must digress at this point to a different example of J.Rs courage. A delegation from the Ceylon Branch of the Inter-Parliamentary Union visited the USSR. At the dinner hosted in the Kremlin by the Soviet Branch of the I.P.U., there was all the Czarist affluence of a Kremlin Banquet. In the course of the Politburo Members welcome speech, expanding on the new relations that had developed between our two countries, he remarked that after the Government of 1956, the Soviet Union was able to get Membership of the United Nations for Ceylon once the foreign bases were removed from our soil.

In reply J.R. as the Leader of the Opposition paid a glowing tribute to our hosts for the excellent arrangements made for our delegation and for the increasing aid, particularly to our industrial development. However, he took exception to their taking credit for our admission into the United Nations which they themselves had blocked for several years. To our entry they had agreed only on a package deal whereby, the Soviets got Belo-Russia into the UN, and that too in 1955, during the time of the UNP Government, and not after the bases were removed!

On hearing this the presiding officer at the dinner who was the Madam President of their Upper House stamped the table saying Nyet, Nyet. Fixing his eyes on her with a smile he said, Banging the table is no argument, if that is so, I can do better and boldly banged the table with his fist - the Czarist crockery and cutlery seemed to get dislodged. We had a hearty laugh but the prospect of a possible sojourn in Siberia for the official who wrote the speech saddened us.

The imbalance in representation recurring as a result of the first past the post system convinced J.R. that some sort of proportional representation was ur

Contd. from page 10

gently necessary. The opposite of 1970 happened in 1977 mainly due to J.R.s courage and his organisational ability. In a House of 168 members, the UNP with 3,179,220 votes won 140 seats at an average of 22,700 whereas the SLFP with 1,185,330 votes obtained only 08 seats at an unprecedented high rate of 231,916 votes per seat. The UNP got over 83% of the House.

One of the misfortunes of J.R.s victory in 1977 was too large a majority for his party which in fact undermined his opportunity to solve so many important and pressing problems. Landslides could continue to be a disaster.

It was perhaps another of J.R.s misfortunes that overcome by the temptations of the massive majority he had obtained in 1977 - he did not allow the checks and balances he had originally envisaged that are essential to make an executive presidency workable. Without those checks and balances he would embark on the 1982 referendum which saw the end of the bright promise heralded in 1977.

The unprecedented majority led the UNP into arrogant legislation. The Parliament (Powers and Privileges) Act No. 21 of 1953 was amended four times from 1978 to 1987. It all began with Law No. 5 of 1978 in the first flush of the 83% majority from the landslide of 1977. The Prime Minister J.R. Jayewardene in the course of the debate on the Question of Privilege: Picture and Caption in the Ceylon Observer of 30th January 1978 said in regard to the change of the law, we have not changed the offences, we have only changed the court.... I wanted to act under the new Law (passed the previous day) and give the House a chance to acquit itself honourably not only as a Legislature, but as a Court.

The National State Assembly formed itself into a Committee of the whole House and had the Editor and the Associated Editor of the Ceylon Observer conducted to the Bar of the House. After they read their prepared statements, over a hundred questions were asked by about 15 members when Mr. A. Amirthalingam intervened to say: we are like children trying on their new clothes. We are carrying this too far. Let us bring this to an end.

So new legislation was brought to make the complainants or the injured parties to be the judges in their own cause in the high court of parliament and the first trial ended with the two Editors being found guilty and fined. I cannot recollect any further attempt to exercise this brief authority.

The other totally unprecedented legislation attempted but not enacted was that to amend the Constitution of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka adopted in 1978. About this amendment the Chief Justice N.D.H. Samarakoon adjudicated on a reference of it to the Supreme Court for a determination whether it was inconsistent with the Constitution. He said in the course of his judgment : It is clear that this provision seeks to seat two members for one electorate - one nominated and the other elected. The Attorney General informed us that this Bill was particularly meant for the purpose of seating the person who will be elected to the electorate of Kalawana in the forthcoming by-election, in addition to the member already nominated. In view of the fact that the effect of this Bill is to seat two members for one and the same electorate, we are of opinion that it contravenes the provisions of Article 161(a) of the Constitution, in that it increases the composition of the first Parliament and thereby affects the franchise referred to in Article 4 of the Constitution and also infringes the sovereignty of the people entrenched in Article 3 of the Constitution.

In the result this Bill is inconsistent with the provisions of Article 3 of the Constitution and therefore can only become law if the number of votes cast in its favour amounts to not less than two-thirds of the whole number of Members of Parliament (including those not present) and thereafter approved by the People at Referendum and endorsed by the President in accordance with Article 80".

Fortunately, though it was passed by the steam roller majority of 134 ayes to 7 noes the risk of a referendum was avoided by the already .nominated member P.B.M. Pilapitiya who resigned from the seat which he erroneously claimed. He was appointed chairman of a Corporation and Sarath Muttetuwegama took his oaths as MP. for Kalawana on 20th January 1980.

J.R. was always concerned about the rules and regulations governing public and corporate employees. Particularly since Independence many statutory bodies in the form of associations, boards and corporations have been created whose directors and empowered others are authorised to make rules and regulations that bind their employees.

The practice has developed whereby these rules and regulations are not published in the Gazette in order to have the force of law. The result is that many employees are unaware of the rules that bind them or the regulations that govern them. Often, J.R. reflected on regularising these anomalies, but never got down to it.

He also discussed the names in the certificates from registrars of births. Many people have names they do not like or they do not want and try to change them. But the changes possible under the present laws never enable them to obliterate from the existing certificate the unwanted original - instead the new name is added in a different cage whilst the unwanted name remains as an earlier entry with a thin red line across making it more prominent. This is a social injustice which he was very concerned about, but did not have the time to remedy.

In his time he took steps to make divorces possible outside the two antiquated grounds of malicious desertion and adultery. I mention these little things because others who write about him will trace his illustrious ancestry, his legal upbringing, his eternally blissful marriage, his stealing the thunder at San Francisco and the limelight at Colombo, where the Plan was conceived. Hence I have reflected on a few aspects of his life not very widely known, but which better express his personality. He was a very private person, calm and collected, fair but firm, polite and patient - always unruffled.

On reflection it has to be granted that, despite his great abilities, the last few years of his government were not what they could have been. Again, the manner in which a popularly elected government could turn so quickly into a lameduck gravitating from one crisis to another, instead of implementing carefully thought out policies, is something from which subsequent administrations could learn.

In J.R.s case, without going too deeply into the causes of the disappointments of his last years in office, one reason is perhaps the fact that he came to power so late, when he had no peers with whom he could discuss issues on equal terms. However able a leader, he needs a team or as Dudley Senanayake used to say a loyal and able team to develop and implement new policies. J.R. had several brilliant young men on his side, but their inexperience caused them to acquiesce in his will which in turn drifted into a system of domination that should never have affected such able parliamentarians.

It should not be forgotten that in 1970, as Leader of the Opposition J.R. was quick to pledge support to the Government after the JVP insurrection. It was unfortunate that this was not accepted in the spirit in which it was offered and perhaps because of that, J.R. too was not magnanimous to his defeated opponents after his 1977 victory.

While differences as to his policy are part and parcel of politics, subsequent history showed that some consultation instead of confrontation might have helped to find solutions for the national problems which faced us, solutions which might have enabled us to face the beginning of the next century with greater confidence.

Veteran journalist recalls JR at San Francisco

By Roshan Peiris

Women mobbed J.R. Jayewardene in the streets during the San Francisco Peace Conference seeking his autograph and though he obliged them as far as possible in his own inimitable way, there came a point when the Police and the FBI. had to step in. One policeman even warned JR that if he did not move, he would have to spend the whole night signing autographs.

Veteran foreign correspondent H.B.W. Abeynaike has a host of such memories of those heady days in San Francisco when he covered JRs epoch-making speech at the conference.

At the reception given after the conference by Sri Lankas ambassador Sir Claude Corea, JR shone as a singer, Mr. Abeynaike recalls. He sang Silent Night and another favourite Christmas carol O Come All Ye Faithful.

In San Francisco I was there when he quoted the Buddha, hatred ceases not by hatred but by love. I must also say how he got a standing ovation and he also saved the US and Britain by replying to Andrei Gromyko, the Russian Foreign Minister about the seating of China at the conference table. If JR had not taken this stand it may have caused trouble for John Foster Dulles of the US and Herbert Morrison and Kenneth Younger of Britain, Mr. Abeynaike recalled.

In Washington, John Foster Dulles told me when we attended a reception by our Ambassador Sir Claude Corea, your man was the hero of the conference. As JR proceeded along the San Francisco streets and saw the banner headlines in the newspapers, he said, my father would have been proud of me .

After the peace conference, JR appeared on American television several times and he was happy that it was all good publicity for Ceylon. There were several glowing tributes paid to him. One report read, A darkly handsome diplomat from the seldom considered island of Ceylon spoke resoundingly for international decency and magnanimity to a world that has known little of it of late. He was Mr. Jayewardene, Finance Minister of the rubber rich island. Dispassionately and with logic he tore Russias wrecking crew to pieces in an address at the peace conference.

The New York Times too did not fail to comment, says Mr. Abeynaike. The Voice of Asia, eloquent, melancholy and strong with a lilt of an Oxford accent dominated the Peace Conference today, its report said.

Then again the San Francisco News, wrote of, a dapper, diminutive Ceylonese with a David-like gift for hurling verbal stones stole the show at the plenary session. Mr. Jayewardene, Ceylons delegate won an ovation from all but the Soviet delegates. His words touched off a roar of acclamation that shook the windows of the opera house conference room .

Mr. Abeynaike also recalled that after the signing of the Peace Treaty, every delegate who signed was given a Parker pen with the inscription Japanese Peace Treaty 1951 as a souvenir. JR presented his pen to the Colombo museum.

Herbert Bertram West Abeynaike has over of fifty years in his chosen career of journalism. His face lights up as he speaks of JR. Those were the days, obviously, the times with Junius Richard Jayewardene. Yes, he admits, you can call me a JR, man. I think he was one of Sri Lankas most outstanding politicians. I did respect DS and Dudley Senanayake as well but since you ask, yes, I am a JR man.

JR was a man who suffered privations and defeat, who won and lost and through it all, he had a dedicated interest in the country at large. He was never bitter with defeat only immeasurably sad. He felt it was his mission to extricate this country, he said.

H.B.W. Abeynaikes friendship with JR dates back to April 1943, more than fifty years ago. It was then that he became a member of the State Council for Kelaniya defeating a stalwart E.W. Perera. I cultivated JR as a reliable and dependable news source and this he proved to be. One of the first stories he gave me was the habit prevalent at the time of leftist elements going about in cars and shouting in unseemly and derogatory language about capitalists. There was some dismay among the Executive Committee that this news had leaked out and JR said unflinchingly that it was he who gave the news, Mr. Abeynaike added.

In February 1948 Sri Lanka became a free and independent country within the Commonwealth. Since independence JR played two important roles whereby he was soon looked upon as a world statesman, Mr. Abeynaike says. The first of these was the establishment of the Colombo Plan. It was held in 1950 in Colombo. Ernest Bevin, the British Foreign Secretary, Nehru, the Prime Minister of India, Ghulam Mohamed who later became Governor General of Pakistan, P.C. Spender who came from Australia as its Foreign Minister, Lester Pearson from Canada and Paul Saver from South Africa came. JR was one of our countrys delegates.

Looking back I am very very proud of his speech. He said, In my view the aim should not be only to bridge the dollar gap but also to eradicate poverty throughout the Commonwealth. His second important contribution was of course, the San Francisco speech.

In Sydney I was there when JR said, The people of Asia are on the march. No man has the right to say thus far and no further. I was thrilled and amazed at his courage to say this. This was JR at his best.

I was immeasurably sad when he was defeated in 1956. I went to Ward Place where there was a discussion on forming another party. JR said no, he would reorganise and revamp, which he did. So he was re-elected to the fourth Parliament as Finance Minister.

JR, says Mr. Abeynaike found the periods 1970 to 1977 very difficult when the then leaders spoke of a little bit of totalitarianism in this country. Attempts were made to seize his passport after a trip abroad.

It was a great day for me when he won in 1977 and became Prime Minister. I still cry when I recall his speech in Parliament when he left it in February 1978 where he had been nurtured since 1943. He told fellow MPs, Turn the searchlight inwards. Be a lamp unto yourselves. Hold fast to the truth. No harm can come to you in this life and after it.

He wanted a franchise to be President, so in 1982 he held a referendum. I would in retrospect, say Junius Richards rise in politics was by no means meteoric. He had fears about elections and fears about dictatorships, but I am glad that he overcame all this.

I used to have breakfast with him at least thrice a week. He loved his hoppers and stringhoppers. He was simple in his habits and some thought he was cold in his bearing. His was a voice that was heard in the councils of the world and not only here. If I may say so few have enjoyed his stature as a national figure.

Berti frail with years, perked up as he recalled how JR signed his wedding register in Church and gave him a handsome cash present. So these are the memories of a man now grown old but who in his youth mixed with Prime Ministers and Ministers of this country. After all these many years Herbert Bertram West Abeynaike remains true to the memory of Junius Richard Jayewardene whom he loved and respected.

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