President’s call for expatriate Sri Lankan intellectuals
Posted on September 8th, 2015

Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri Nawala Courtesy:  The Island ( Opinion )

September 4, 2015

At the opening of the 8th session of the Parliament of Sri Lanka, the President said that Sri Lanka would lay a red carpet to welcome Sri Lankan intellectuals, if those presently working overseas decide to return to Sri Lanka. He further said that a special unit would be set up in the Presidential Secretariat to facilitate their return.

This offer made by the President is certainly laudable, which no other President had done before. It is very encouraging to find that the President has realized the importance of the role that intellectuals could play in the country’s development. I am sure he will receive applauds from every sector of the society for his decision. There are also many lessons he can learn if he could spare some time to study how the countries in the region have developed in recent years giving priority, particularly for science.

In this respect, what comes to my mind is the case of South Korea. Several decades of war in Korea with many foreign interventions resulted in the division of Korea into two countries, North Korea and South Korea, the former coming under a communist regime while the latter coming under a pro-American regime. At the end of the war, economies of both countries were in shambles with high poverty level. Most people used to live in shanties so much so that even in Sri Lanka, shanties were called Koreas. Hence, the Korean authorities sought assistance from USA to better their living conditions with a long term plans.

At a meeting between the President Lyndon B. Johnson of USA and President Chung-Hee Park of S. Korea held in 1965, the USA President had asked his counterpart, what assistance he needed from USA. His reply was that he needed a well-equipped modern institute to undertake research and development in science to uplift Korea’s industry. His request was promptly acceded to with a generous grant and the two countries signed an agreement to establish the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) in 1966. Dr. Choi Hyung-sup, who happened to be the Minister of Science and Technology at that time, was appointed as the first President of KIST. A special law was passed to provide total independence to KIST even from normal government auditing though funding came solely from the government in its formative years.

Dr. Choi’s first task was to find people to run the institute. So, he made a visit to USA where a large number of Koreans were employed in various universities, institutes and industries, contacted them personally and offered them positions in KIST with better remuneration and research facilities than what they were already having. According to a USAID mission report, Dr. Choi’s”effort resulted in the recruitment of nearly 30 expatriate scientists, living and working abroad, all of whom had at least five years of relevant experience beyond the doctoral degree level. Because of its autonomous status, KIST is able to continue to attract outstanding scientists and engineers by offering salaries well above civil service levels, attractive working environments, paid sabbaticals, and generous benefit packages, including housing, transportation, etc”.

During its near 50-year existence, KIST which was later turned into a more advanced institute calling itself KAIST, was instrumental in converting S. Korea from a shanty-dwelling country to a country with a strong economy in Asia thanks to many innovations, particularly in electronics and material science, that KAIST helped to develop and later transferred to industry. They are world leaders not only in electronics products, but also in steel industry and ship building. The key character that enabled Korea’s success is the independence it gave scientists to work in a research-conducive environment with freedom to travel and purchase what they want without having to seek permission from bureaucrats and ministers at every stage as happening in Sri Lanka.

Now, the question is whether the Sri Lankan government could offer such independence and facilities to those scientists who respond to the President’s call and welcome on a red-carpet? After receiving on a red-carpet, where will they be assigned to work? Will the head of the institution or the department or university where they are accommodated give them the total independence to work? In Sri Lanka’s administrative set up, the key bane is the intervention of the minister at every stage. To cite one example, ministers take great pleasure in controlling foreign travel of public officers. Here too, there is no single set of guidelines. Some ministers are very strict in seeing that one officer does not travel more than a few occasions in a year, while others have more relaxed regulations. Cannot the approval process be handled within the organization following a set guidelines?

In Sri Lanka, every activity of a public organization needs the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers, be it holding a conference, signing an agreement with another organization, purchase of equipment, award of contracts for construction of buildings, recruiting senior staff etc., as evident in weekly Cabinet decisions published in newspapers. It appears only little time is spent on policy and national matters. To obtain the Cabinet approval, first a cabinet paper has to be submitted under the signature of the line minister, which could take from several weeks to several months which is at the discretion of the minister or his secretary. Under such an administrative set up, little could be achieved even if the individual officers or scientists have the necessary drive, but stalled by the ‘red’ light at the ministries.

The President will have an enormous task in getting the proposal to engage expatriate Sri Lankan intellectuals, successfully launched. It needs the understanding, cooperation and encouragement of officials in ministries and organizations where they are supposed to commence working.The mindset of everyone concerned needs to change. The President has provided the key ingredient; that is the political will. Let us hope and pray he will succeed in bringing his dream to fruition.

Dr. Janaka Ratnasiri


Courtesy:  The Island ( Opinion ) Sept. 05, 2015

7 Responses to “President’s call for expatriate Sri Lankan intellectuals”

  1. Senevirath Says:

    විදෙස් වල සිටින බුද්ධිමතුන් ගෙන්වා ගෙන ඔවුන්ට යහමින් කහවනු දොලපිදේනි පුදා තමන්ග චාක්ගොලයන් කර ගෙන රට බෙදීමේ ව්‍යාපාරයට සවියක් ගනේමය් උන්ගේ අරමුණ . යන යට වෙන්නේ ආත්මයම පාවාදීමට මිස කෙලින් කටා කිරීමට නොවේ . සිංහ ල බෞධ්ධයින්ගේ රට විනාස කිරීමට අවශ්‍ය අ යට අවස්තාවක් මේක බලාගෙනය්

  2. Sarath W Says:

    The president must be dreaming. Which intellectual will take his bait when we have a stupid president and a bunch of crooks running the country. He should tell this to those in Angoda.

  3. Ananda-USA Says:

    Sarath W,

    Please don’t MISUNDERSTAND our BACKSTABBING President Palwatte Gamaralage Maithripala Yapa Sirisena aka Somarama Sirisena.

    He is NOT CALLING YOU and ME old chap; Somarama Sirisena is actually calling for EELAMIST Tamils to return to Sri Lanka to receive and DEVELOP the EELAM he plans to GIFT to them.

    After all, they were his GREATEST SUPPORTERS in the Presidential ELECTION VOTING OVERWHELMINGLY for him and he is ETERNALLY GRATEFUL to them for securing the Presidency for him!

  4. aloy Says:

    Two years ago I took leave off temporarily went to SL established an office by spending about a million rupees with the hard earned foreign exchange. I then wrote letters to MR and Gota (in their official capacities) explaining what I intended to do. On the date my letter would have reached the secretariat I got two anonymous calls asking me whether this is such and such a place. That is all from MR. Gota’s office asked me to wait and tender when jobs are advertised. I tendered for a job which is exactly what I am doing overseas together with another foreign consultant. What happened?. On the day I and a colleague (who happened to be a long time chairman of a government owned engineering company) went to hand over the tender, the senior military officer who received it conveyed the hopelessness of the situation. That was a world bank funded project. We were not even acknowledged. So much for MR’s development effort using local talent.
    Now there is Maithree promising to promoted local talent. Let us wait and see.
    Moderator, please let this in.

  5. Nimal Says:

    I sympathize with you as I am in the same boat as you,even worse.Sometimes regret being born a Sri Lankan.They don’t really need us.


    Ananda-USA where are your comments about Lorenzo and MUDMCLean? Sarath W. is correct. Bunch of crooks are running the country, as told by TAMILS FOR OBAMA to the white House. markala US ambassador wants to Introduce Sharia Law to SL, as soon as possible?

  7. Ananda-USA Says:


    I am temporarily busy writing a technical paper on solar energy for developing nations for submission to a technical journal.

    This happens from time to time as I have to attend to other commitments in my life as well.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.



Copyright © 2021 All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress