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Desmond Fernando- A friend through all seasons

By Ilica Malkanthi Karunaratne

Death is inevitable, but nevertheless, sad and traumatic; particularly when one loses a good friend. One who has been there through the ups and downs of life. Desmond’s contribution as a lawyer, both nationally and internationally, and to human rights, is considerable, and appreciated throughout the world. I know that many legal luminaries of fame will write of his work in these spheres.

I would prefer to write oft him as a friend, as one has known him for many decades. My mind goes back to when I first met him in London, when we were young, full of the joys of life and free of responsibility. His father, the late P.O. Fernando, a much respected public servant of yore, was the Deputy High Commissioner in London. His parents and mine were friends, and I was a favourite kind of adopted niece to Aunty Daisybelle and Uncle Oliver. Their home was a kind of home from home for me. It amused me no end at that stage, and impressed me too, that Desmond, who lived at London House, had an egg account at Harrods. The grand Harrods van, emblazoned with its emblems, would drive up to London House to deliver a weekly supply of eggs to Desmond and my cousin Pali, who was his closest friend. We were part of a crowd which would frequent coffee bars late in the evening. We would visit the famous London pubs too.

Desmond schooled at St Joseph’s College; a brilliant student, he finished school at just 17. He was considered too young to be sent on his own to University in London, and went to The University of Ceylon for one year, where he did English, History and Economics, before going on to Keble College, Oxford, and later on to London for his Barrister’s exams. Desmond has told me often, that his days in England were the happiest days of his life. He stressed that, this was where he learned to have independent views and to express them freely; to stand up with courage against injustice. Right throughout his life, he maintained the friendships he made in his student days, and through these contacts, was able to help many Sri Lankan students and organisations. He helped so many people, and was a soft touch to anyone who needed his help, or just to talk to about their problems. His juniors and his staff at Colombo House adored him, and are devastated by his loss. He was a rock that I leant on, after my husband’s death. In the long years I have known him, I have never seen him lose his temper; he was always cheerful, smiling, refined- a cultivated man in every sense of the word. In the last few years, he would speak to me almost every day, as we worked together, he, as Chairman and I, as a Director of The Dudley Senanayake Memorial Foundation. A mutual friend, Kshanika and I, would tease him relentlessly and sometimes call him ‘Dizzy Dezzy’, when he was forgetful, but he always took our teasing in good spirits. Since April this year, he has been in and out of hospital, and would always ask his staff to inform me. I never failed to visit him in hospital and chat to him, trying to cheer him up. Unfortunately, in this his fatal illness, I was out of town, when he was taken to hospital, developed flu on my return and couldn’t visit him. Something we had in common was our loyalty to and belief in Ranil Wickremesinghe. Desmond would get very upset whenever Ranil was attacked, and felt there was an orchestrated bash and slander campaign against him. He was visibly agitated that one of his juniors was involved in this campaign. I’m glad that Ranil appreciated his steadfast loyalty and paid his respects to him in death, more than once. Several others too remembered him. It was good to see those he was fond of in the media, such as Singha Ratnatunge and Manik de Silva paying their respects to him.
The curtain has gone down on a man who was a gentleman to his fingertips, a good man, just and kind; who couldn’t bear to see repression of any kind, who was concerned with human rights, freedom of speech, of the media or of association. It is in a way, the end of an era. After his serious illness in 2008, I was glad to see that Desmond became a truly spiritual person, went regularly to Church and read the Bible.
“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven
A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
A time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build,
A time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain,
A time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away,
A time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak,
A time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for Peace”
Ecclesiastes 3.,1 to 8.


Need vs Greed

In October 1990, as the Hon. Secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in Sri Lanka, I attended a meeting of the CEOs of the seven Test playing nations of that time, at Lords in London. The purpose was to initiate discussions on the concepts of a Match Referee, Third Umpire and more importantly a Code of Conduct for Players.

Yes, times were indeed changing. The gentleman’s game which for more than a century had come to be regarded as a credible pathway to life was being transformed by the very nature of its competition, requiring checks and balances to be introduced to ensure that it’s time tested values were protected. The all familiar phrase, “that’s simply not cricket” seemed to be receding in its significance as players set out to “win at all costs.” Looking back on the ensuing two decades in which the commercial aspect of the game has reached unprecedented proportion, those reforms could not have been better timed. Appropriately enough, the sessions, lasting over three days, were chaired by one of the finest gentlemen of the game, the late Sir Colin Cowdrey, who was then the Chairman of the controlling body for world cricket, the International Cricket Council (ICC).

The business world too has been through a similar transition, as the potential and incentives for rich rewards have given rise to a new breed of executives at various levels, ruthlessly bent on securing the pot of gold, with little or no regard for the possible consequences. The staggering collapse of Enron, the shameful role of Arthur Anderson in it, the astonishing policies at Wall Street in particular, that encourage risk taking without responsibilities, the questionable payments of phenomenal rewards, even before the realisation of related returns, the despicable behaviour of Madoff, (and in our country, Golden Key) to name a few, have left many trusting shareholders, investors and the innocent civilised public the world over, shocked, distressed and even destitute.

The dividing line between Need and Greed is a very thin one. To cross it, therefore, is not a difficult task; once into that zone, whether for material gain or power, the word ‘ceases’ to have any meaning. When one is rewarded for greed, greed becomes a corruptible factor. Such individuals live unbalanced and yet affluent and (unfortunately) influential lives. If we encourage our succeeding generations to emulate such lives, we are only courting disaster. No single individual or a group of people can thrive in the long-term by merely exploiting others; this simple philosophy applies to countries as well. Swimming in riches while the rest drown in poverty, pollution and violence, have only given rise to extremism, as seen in many places.

Another issue facing corporate life is the conflict that exists between personal loyalties and that to the Institution. Some executives in management expect personal loyalty as a right, while there are others who may demand it. The worst offenders are the ones who construe dissenting points of view as disloyalty; a possible reflection of their personal insecurity and inflated ego. Such executives will, therefore, often be told by those reporting to them, only what they like to hear and not what they should know. In some instances, subordinates are even reduced to servility (a deplorable humiliation of human dignity). Relationships as these invariably have disastrous consequences. ‘If everyone thinks like the Boss does, no one thinks very much’ has deep rooted meaning. It discourages yes men, encourages independent thinking and initiatives, all of which contribute effectively in crucial decision making. If employees are educated to be loyal to the Institution first, that loyalty will ensure their commitment to their superiors. However, if they put personal loyalties ahead of loyalty to the Institution, they end up creating conflicts, which are best avoided. More often than not such undesirable situations are created by the bosses themselves.

In the more successful enterprises, the focus is on professionalism. To achieve this, superiors recognise the need to guide their subordinates for competence, and to groom them for higher responsibility, and eventual succession. Such a process ensures fair play in the workplace, and inspires confidence, mutual trust and respect. The Institution then becomes the ultimate winner.

The initiatives of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, and since then, the Sri Lanka Institute of Directors, to encourage credible, ethical and accountable conduct in business, and their sustained focus as demonstrated in the many seminars and modules for executives, young and old, therefore deserve rich commendation. The emphasis in all of these modules has been that Directors in particular, whether in Public or Private companies, must act in good faith at all times.

In the final analysis, given the impermanence of life, there can be no greater reward at its end, than the peace of mind reposed in a clear conscience. So, as much as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a Board Room buzz word, let us make Common Sense and Conscience (CSC), our personal one, and help transform the world into a better place for all.

S. Skandakumar
Former Group Chairman
George Steuart and Co Ltd.


Protest against UN’s unwarranted appointment

A monk who has fallen from grace is holding hands with the political Opposition which he once contemptuously derided, to slam the government for its opposition to the UN General Secretary’s unwarranted appointment of a three member team to probe the human rights status in the final stages of the Eelam war with the military forces of the Sovereign State of the Republic of Sri Lanka, which the State won, and is long forgotten, for it is going ahead with its work of developing the much neglected economy which was held up for nearly 30 years due to chiefly religious and Western intervention in a domestic quarrel between a rag tag band of ill advised terrorists naming themselves as the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, hoping to set up a Tamil homeland within the predominantly Sinhala Buddhist country.

The Christian West believed it could use the misguided Tamil movement to spread its tentacles into the Buddhist fortress. The Buddhist clergy since the rule of kings over Lanka has a sound record of protecting the sovereignty of the Sinhala abode. Regrettably, the UN General Secretary, who is obeying his masters in the West in search of support in Asia, has struck on an underling lackey to bolster his fawning belly crawl in a man in yellow robes, who protects his outrageous, dishonourable, deplorable and despicable, contemptible and reprehensive heinous behaviour that makes the Buddhist country blush!

Gen. Sarath Fonseka, an American find, was entrusted with removal of the Rajapaksas from the political scene. However, all that has not registered in the man in robes, who apparently believes that Sri Lanka should move up economically before confronting its enemies in the West. The economic advances hitherto achieved through the Mahinda Chintana obviously mean little to him. That the GDP has moved up, and that the per capita income has doubled since the incumbent President cum Finance Minister took over has not seeped in to his apparently prejudiced mindset. When the temple bell rings will he awaken to the danger that stares in the face of the Homeland by the West and join the NFF and its leader Wimal Weerawansa in recording the country’s protest.

Denzil Perera


Archaic British Law

It is a riddle, that the reserved, retiring Sri Lankan society that is daily informed of horrendous tales of abortion, where the attendant staff and doctors are arrested by law enforcement officers and the mother, unceremoniously, led away to a hospital, to be later charged with misdemeanour and transgression of the law on abortion - an act that she had been saddled with, not by choice, but the fortuity of being a woman. She sought an abortion, under medical care, to subvert the inexorable law of nature that copulation brought. If prudish society denies a mother the attention that she is entitled to, debasing corruption with soon proliferate vitiating society because of a simple human need, which if conceded will be a commendable grace and blessing! The aborted faetus is unaware of its rejection, for it is not human until it breathes, until then it is only the flesh and blood of its mother that has God given right to reject it, as she would any appendage of hers. Is it not a social responsibility for the knowledgeable to rally, to mitigate the relentless path that nature has mapped out, following copulation between fertile partners. If smug society will care to open its eyes and observe the misery, that the animalism in both the male and female human has subjected people to, and that it has to be adequately catered and cared for, anarchy may arise.
Presently prostitution amongst both male and female is prevalent. The archaic British law that prevails, harasses, arrests, fines and even incarcerates those found in what are called ‘Houses of ill-fame’, bordellos, or brothels. Both men and women find their way there for personal reasons that preclude relief of their God given sexual urges in the privacy of their homes. Freedom is what man craves for, but parochialism and parish pump, insular small-mindedness in taking a heavy toll in society. Policemen are set on ‘offenders’ making life miserable to the citizenry that searches for pleasure. If decorously done both by the law and the citizen it will surely contribute to building a genteel, refined, dignified society, which is found in progressive countries. License the brothel that is clean and will take steps to contain HIV and AIDS. Bordellos on wheels that corrupt the citizenry will fade away. Twilight women who accost will wither away and a draught of fresh air will waft through our homeland.

Denzil Perera


Arboreal arcade

Only the other day I was on my way to the SLBC, Colombo 7 proceeding from my office at Colpetty to Thummulla junction and down Baudhaloka Mawatha to Torrington Square. Incidentally, this location i.e. the entrance to this road was in the news quite often being the spot where National Freedom Front (NFF) Leader and Construction, Engineering Services, Housing and Common Amenities Minister Wimal Weerawansa held his “Maaraanthika Upawaasaya” against UN Secretary General Ban Ki -moon. This must be the first time I must have used this road as it was closed for traffic for the past so many years for security reasons and on account of all the Chiefs of the Security Forces being domiciled in and around this road. I found that travelling on this stretch of road was not only cool and comfortable but it was also pleasing to the eye. The reason being trees growing on both sides of the road providing a canopy – it was like arch made out of branches and leaves providing a comfy atmosphere.
The other places one can find a similar environment are down Rajakeeya Mawatha, i.e. right opposite one of my alma maters - Royal College, Independence Avenue leading to the Sri Lanka Foundation Institute (SLFI) and a few other roads. Hope that the RDA and Ministry of Environment will, wherever possible, plant trees in such a way so that an environment of arboreal arcade is created which will be a pleasure to walk or drive through as it is very much comfortable and convenient.

Mohamed Zahran
Colombo 3


Teller machine

People’s electronic teller machine installed within the precincts of Maggona Branch (0282) is not working properly and most of the day it is out of order.
This has caused much inconvenience to the clients and cardholders of this branch. So any person need fast cash has to travel another 10 km distance to the next ATM machine in Aluthgama town.
This matter had been pointed out and made complaints many times to the relevant Bank Manager but he has not paid any effort to repair the electronic teller machine or replace it with a new one instead.

C. M. Kamburawala


Opt for the octopus!

Psychics predict?

Armed with a silent instinct

And making waves on the Net

Of “sportive” Paul

.....all is well said!

Irene de Silva
Colombo 5



Cyprus - We are grateful

For the last 20 years and more, the recently retired Consul of Sri Lanka in Cyprus, Doros Jeropoulos had been offering invaluable services to Sri Lanka and was the main factor for the development of the excellent relations between Sri Lanka and Cyprus in the political, social, cultural and economic fields.
Cyprus has been a great ally and friend to Sri Lanka and both countries showed beyond doubt their solidarity on national and other issues.

The Consul General developed the work market for Sri Lankan workers so that the Sri Lanka workforce is the largest in Cyprus from non-European countries and also helped in the development of trade to a very great extent by promoting incoming tourism to Sri Lanka, investments to Sri Lanka and also exports from Sri Lanka; tea, spices, gems, fish and other commodities. He even managed that Cyprus Airlines established direct routes to Colombo which, however, could not continue because of the unrest in Sri Lanka at that time before peace prevailed.

Many ministers and dignitaries including Speakers visited Cyprus officially, mostly on his invitation and this, of course, was one of the reasons why inter-country relations are now so close and cordial. The five Presidents of Cyprus under his term of office and all ministers were close friends of Sri Lanka and were always open to help in any way when requests are made by the Consul General for the benefit of Sri Lankans. On his request, many hundred thousand dollars were saved as payments to Cyprus hospitals with the approval of the Ministers of Health.

During the tsunami disaster, the aid given by Cyprus, coordinated by the Consul General was the highest compared to what was offered to all other affected counties. Three hundred thousand dollars in cash was sent to the President’s Fund through Rome Embassy, 15 containers of goods of immediate need were shipped and a hundred thousand dollars of medicine was sent by air by the Government of Cyprus. Also volunteers from the Doctors of the World and the Church of Cyprus worked for many months in the affected areas. Further to that, two hospitals were built, the last one been received in Galle by the wife of the President last year on behalf of the Cyprus Red Cross, valued about two million dollars.
The most important achievement of the consulate, in our opinion, was the overall welfare support offered by the Consulate to the Sri Lankan community.

If any worker of any nationality has a problem, he or she must run to find lawyers or social welfare officers and until relief is granted they have no place to stay and nobody takes care of them. And, of course, at heavy costs which the poor workers may not be able to cover.

Our consulate maintains safe house facilities for stranded housemaids providing full board and lodging and also employ qualified people, Sri Lankans and Cypriots to help solving all their problems. They mediate with employers, appoint lawyers for court cases, provide medical assistance by specialist doctors and they help in every humanitarian problem which comes up. The Consulate also represents workers at Labour Courts and all Cyprus authorities. According to official records about 1200 cases are solved every year.
What is important to be noted is that, all these services are offered to the Sri Lankans free of charge and without any contribution from the Government of Sri Lanka. There are even cases of repatriation of workers without insurance and work visas and also the remains of dead workers without visas and insurance and the Consulate pays for these expenses. The expenses of the Consulate are partly covered by registration fees, approved by the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, on registration before arrival to Cyprus paid by employers or agents but not the workers and the annual deficit, because there is a deficit every year, was covered by sponsorship of the Consul General’s business or personal funds.

Of course, it is natural that the procedures established by the Consul General were depriving income of lawyers and other self-appointed welfare officers who had every reason not to support consulate procedures. These people always exploit naïve housemaids collecting lots of money. One housemaid to be recommended one may charge up to 4,000 thousands dollars and of course they do not like the Consulate who monitor these recruitments in cooperation with the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment.
Another important feature of the Consulate was that Consul General or his group of companies were never involved directly or indirectly in any business with Sri Lanka in keeping with the status of the consulate which should not be a business concern.

These great services of the consulate gave, of course, was a great benefit to the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment, to the Ministry of Labour in Sri Lanka and in general to the Government of Sri Lanka and we hope that the Consulate recently appointed may be able in the long run to achieve even a part of all that and not become glorified centre of profit making who instead of serving 15,000 Sri Lankans will be using them as clients.
Of course, there are thousands of Sri Lankan workers, like us, who showed gratitude to the Consulate for the help and support they received, but what about the officials, have they ever said thank you? In any case, we say thank you.

Capt Kapila Kulasekera


Pauline Swan Hensman

Handled issues concerning Christian faith

Accidentally, while reading the Sunday newspapers of the June 13, 2010, I got the shock that Pauline had I died in London on the May 21, 2010. If not for daughter Rohini’s appreciation in the press I would have never known that Pauline had passed on. Looking back I am glad that when in London in 2007 I did make it a point to visit Dick and Pauline at their London residence. As we read this appreciation may know Dick died in 2008.

It was when I began my work with the Church in 1968 in Kandy that I first met the Swans. Subsequently I met Pauline and Dick because of my involvement with the Student Christian Movement.
In a sense, both Dick and Pauline were only acquaintances till I met them in Colombo in 1989.
During the 1989-2003 periods when I worked at the Cathedral in Colombo both Dick and Pauline were members of the Cathedral congregation. Both of them made us think and relate our Christian faith to the realities and brokenness in our midst.

Their presence at worship and certainly at Bible studies made all of us thinks through our faith.
Pauline and Dick were also involved in study groups beyond the Cathedral in Colombo. Both of them were part of the groups that handled Sri Lankan Theology, Women’s ordination, human sexuality and a host of other relevant creative, positive and significant issues concerning the Christian faith.
Both of them were certainly concerned about the Church and the brokenness of Sri Lanka. So in their own way they were heavily involved with the national problem.

I was personally involved with them in trying to get schools for persons they knew. And both of them were part of those who mentored me and also stood with me when I had to face many problems while being at the Cathedral both personal and official.
In 2000, when I had to take leave and go to New Delhi for a break the concern that Dick and Pauline showed was gigantic. So I was glad that Rohini invited me to preside at the service at Kanatte wherewith others I interred the ashes after Dick died in London. I did a similar service at the same graveyard years ago, when another Swan died.

I owe it to the writing of Yasmin Dias Bandaranaike Gooneratne to have had the privilege of reading her book which in Yasmin’s style gives the reader a picture of Dick and Pauline. For it was Pauline who, as a teacher of English at Bishops College there inspired Yasmin to take the first step in her journey to become a leading light as one of the Sri Lankans to adorn and embellish the English Literature.
It is strange but true that on the day I read Rohini’s appreciation of her mother I also read in one of the Sunday Papers Yasmin’s contribution to the current debate on Sri Lankan English refers to Pauline Hensman.
Looking back at these two lives I can truly say that our world, certainly my world, is poorer by the death of these two giants of our time.

I think I am right when I say that both Dick and Pauline in the context of their Christian faith and the thinking on life and death subscribed to the thinking of Euthanasia.
I am sure that when both Dick and Pauline left their earthly abode they would have heard the words, ‘well done my faithful servants.’
Rohini and her family, the son and his family and Savithri and her partner can rest assured that it is not only they, the children and their families, but also we have lost two very good friends.
May their souls rest in peace and rise in glory! Amen.

Sydney Knight




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