Elites have no Place Now
Posted on July 2nd, 2017

by Leelananda De Silva.Courtesy The Island

I refer to the article “The Elite We Destroyed” by Ajit Kanagasundaram (AK) which appeared in your issue of June 25. He has described an arcane elitist world of the Ceylon Civil Service (CCS), and has meandered in to a neo-Arcadia run by these civil servants some time back in Gal Oya. What must be remembered is that the CCS, just like its senior partner in India, the ICS, was an institution of the British Empire.

When the British Empire folded up, the ICS and CCS also had to go. Asking for such an elitist world to come back is a dream and not a reality. It is like asking the British Empire to come back. In a democratic country, the kind of CCS we had during the British times has no place. AK also looks up to Oxford as part of this elitist culture. Even if we are to bring Oxford scholars back into some kind of a CCS, one has to remember that more than 50 percent of Oxford undergraduates now are from state schools, and not from Eton, Harrow, and Winchester. Whatever the merits of AK’s arguments, it behooves us to take them seriously and examine what actually the CCS was until it was abolished in 1962. But at this point, let me divert and look at the Indian experience of its ICS.

According to AK, Nehru admired the ICS. He might well have done so. But one of his first tasks as Prime Minister was to abolish the ICS and in its place create an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) in 1948, 15 years before Sri Lanka abolished its own CCS. India did not make the same mistakes as Ceylon did in related matters. India kept English as one of the two official languages and the new IAS officers had a good command of the English language. Nehru attached great importance to high standards in university education in India and consequently the IAS entrants were of a high standard themselves. Nehru also ensured that the IAS and other services were offered guarantees under the constitution to ensure their autonomy and independence and ensure a degree of resistance to political pressures. As a result of these actions, India can boast of a high class administrative service which can administer the country and interact with a globalizing world and which unfortunately is denied to Sri Lanka. India is not bemoaning the departure of the ICS. It is no longer ruled by an imperial elite, although it has an efficient IAS and other public services.

Undoubtedly, 150 years of British rule made several important contributions to Ceylon. The British unified the country and its administration. They gave us a modern economy. English became a working language in Sri Lanka, and that has helped our global connections. They helped to break down the power of the feudal rulers. They gave us roads and railways. Dr Kynsey was the first initiate the beginnings of a national health service in the late 19th century. And before they left, they took one of the most revolutionary steps that has ever been taken, by enfranchising both men and women over the age of 21 years and for the first time creating in Ceylon a democracy where ordinary people mattered, and not a feudal elite and members of the CCS. In all these major achievements, very little can be attributed to the CCS.

The members of the CCS were largely government and assistant government agents in the provinces and districts maintaining law and order and collecting revenue. Most of these British initiatives came from Colombo, either from the Governor, or from the Colonial Secretary. The men who carried out development activities under British rule were the engineers and the surveyors, and other technical people, who worked through departments like agriculture, irrigation, public works, railways, electricity, health, and who were headed by non CCS personnel. From what I can observe, CCS personnel were revenue collectors, and the development work was done by others. Of about 70 CCS personnel at any one time in Ceylon in the early 20th century, about four fifths were in the districts and about one fifth was in Colombo.

Many of us are familiar with the Leonard Woolf diaries of Hambantota, and his Village in the Jungle. The overriding impression gained from these writings is the desperate poverty of the people in that District. Leonard Woolf, although sympathetic could not do much. It is only after 1931, once there was universal franchise, and when the politicians had come around that there was any improvement in the conditions of the poor. It is universal franchise and the politicians, whatever their skullduggery now, which started to make a difference. That was not done by AK’s lost elite. While the CCS of British days has to be appreciated for their integrity and their fairness in the little dealings they had with the people, there was not much development activities they were engaged in. They just did not have the resources and as said before, their role was revenue collection. Ordinary people admired them in contrast to the many who adorned a so-called local elite, which included mudaliyars and rate mahattayas, and who were exploiting the ordinary man and woman.

What happened after 1948 to the lost elite of AK? Unlike the ICS in India, the CCS was not abolished, and it continued to retain its name. It was only the name that it retained. This was not the same pre-1948 CCS. Prior to 1948, the CCS was a ruling class. They were appointed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies in London, and by the Governor in Ceylon. Even during the Donoughmore days (1931 – 1947), the CCS was not under the politicians, and remained under the Governor. After 1948, the CCS which continued was a different institution, and only the name remained. They were appointed now by the local Public Service Commission, and they served their political masters. They were another staff grade in the public service, although the more senior one. The members of the CCS between 1948 and 1962, when it was abolished, was solely, recruited from graduates of the University of Ceylon. There was an average intake of about six per year in these 15 years, and there would have been about 90 members of the CCS recruited through the CCS examination held annually. There were about the same number getting into other staff grades from the same examination, and there was not much of a difference.

One other feature of the Ceylonized CCS between 1948 and 1962 should be noted. One of the most objectionable features was the exclusion of women from the CCS. No woman could sit for that exam although very bright female graduates were passing out from the University of Ceylon. While these women could enter the Central Bank or the Department of Inland Revenue, the CCS was out of bounds. There was an almost hilarious incident, I think in 1957 when the then Prime Minister, Mr. Bandaranike, wanted to appoint a few women to the Foreign Service. Foreign Service recruitment until then was done through the CCS examination, with the few coming immediately after the CCS recruits, being considered as suitable for entry to the Foreign Service. When Mr. Bandaranaike wanted women to be recruited, the CCS was not going to change its rules, and the Prime Minister decided to recruit women into the Foreign Service through an interview. In India, when the IAS was established in 1948, women were allowed entry into the IAS. If Ceylon had adopted the same practice in 1948, and women had been allowed in at this time, half the officers who entered might not have got in to the CCS. Excluding women could not continue for long.

The call for the abolition of the CCS was gaining ground. These recruits to the CCS and staff grades had been educated in the English medium, and consequently, there was a high standard of education ensured to them. The decline in the quality of the Ceylon Administrative Service came subsequently with the local languages being the media of instruction in higher education, and for entry to the CAS, and later the SLAS. It must be clearly emphasized that the decline in the quality of the SLAS was not due to the abolition of the CCS. It is due primarily to poor university education, and of course the rapid expansion of universities and their student numbers. Today, the annual intake to the SLAS is about 150 in contrast to about 30 or 40 in the early 1970s to administrative staff grades.

After 1948, with an increasingly complex economy, it was clear that the CCS alone could not supply the people to hold the top jobs in government. In 1948, when the new office of permanent secretary was created, it was not confined to the CCS, although the CCS took over most of the jobs. The CCS experience was largely provincial, and there is no reason to believe that they could run the new ministries efficiently. However, the then politicians decided in favour of generalists who were the CCS. Prior to 1948, the people who ran the major development departments were technical people, and they were precluded from being appointed as permanent secretaries (other than justice).

It is only in 1970, 20 years after, that this was rectified, and technical people were brought in as permanent secretaries. Technical people of all kinds – engineers, surveyors, scientists, agriculturalists have been denied due recognition for the great development achievements of this country while the credit has been taken by the generalist administrators. In 1965, a Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, largely with economists in charge was created as generalist administrators by themselves could no longer manage the Sri Lankan economy. When AK suggests that we have lost an elite, it was probably appropriate that they were lost at that time. Elites of that kind cannot survive in the modern world within democratic structures.

2 Responses to “Elites have no Place Now”

  1. Ananda-USA Says:

    The “elites of that kind”, the CCS, described here as fair and efficient were not so.

    The were beholden to either the pre-independence Colonialists, or the rulers of independent Sri Lanka who appointed them, and made decisions that were inimical to the interests of the people who were subject to those decisions without any recourse.

    THAT IS THE VERY DEFINITION of an ELITE: a small group of people who benefit and control the masses by virtue of the powers they inherit from an unelected and unrepresentative rulers.

    Indeed, it was universal franchise and free education that broke those fetters freeing the people from that close-knit mafia.

    Only the minorities who held positions of power as the CCS-elite serving the Colonial Overlord and the KALU-Suddas they left behind, and helped to yoke the masses to their rule mourn the departure of the CCS-Elite!

    GOOD RIDDANCE ….. CCS-Elite ….. you are NOT MISSED!

  2. Fran Diaz Says:

    ALL PATRIOTS must now have a high ranking place !

    What is at present lost to Lanka and many other countries is the HUMAN LIFE VALUE SYSTEM.
    This VALUES can now be made to COME ALIVE AGAIN by PATRIOTS of Sri Lanka.
    The same can happen all over the world : Be PATRIOTIC to each country each one belong to.

    Take alongside PATRIOTISM the PQLI (Physical Quality of Life Index) as the measure of the True Wealth of a country, and not the GDP.
    The Gross Development Product, of Goods & Services ONLY, leaves out Human Needs such as Life Expectancy at age one year, Infant Mortality, Education, Basic Needs, Education, Health Care, etc.

    GDP can also be measured, if needed, but this figure does not include the wellbeing of a Nation. GDP does not indicate the distribution of Wealth of a Nation. Wealth can thus get concertrated with a few people and lead to Fascist type govts.

    Therefore, the PQLI must also be used to measure the true Wellbeing of a Nation.
    The true wellbeing of a Nation depends on the TRUE wellbeing of the Human individuals who are in that Nation.

    Comments welcome.

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