Will a Boralugoda Viraya come to allay the economic meltdown
Posted on November 8th, 2022

Garvin Karunaratne, former GA Matara

It is only a Philip Gunawardena that can do it. I happened to have worked with him. He was the Minister for Food and Agriculture and me an Assistant Commissioner of Marketing at Ratnapura, my first year of service.

Down came an immediate transfer for me to the Tripoli Market in Colombo. It was a punishment transfer. I had punished one of his trade union men, fining him one day’s pay for not carrying out the Marketing Officer, Saparamadu’s instructions to run to the stores and bring some bananas that were short to supply the Kahawatta Hospital. Though a punishment transfer I liked it as I could be at home with my parents and sisters.

But I was scared. The Tripoli Market was where we ran the Vegetable and Fruit Marketing Scheme for the entire island. There were some twenty wagon loads and another twenty or more lorryloads of veg to be unloaded weighed, cleaned and sent off in minutes to some fifty sales units all over Colombo. We sold at rock bottom prices as we kept no profit- we kept a margin of fifteen percent to cover wastage and cost of transport. That was DS’s mastermind of keeping inflation of prices at bay. Sorry the IMF axed the Marketing Department in 1978 and we are now in a mess. There were a hundred men on the move, running everywhere and myself and Tikka- Oswald Tilekeratne a senior Assistant Commissioner on the run- supervising. The mastermind Philip was everywhere- even the smallest pilfering was somehow reported to him in minutes by someone, before Tikka or I knew. It was a mystery how Philip knew – in those days when we hand no handphones. I of all was worried thick because I had punished his henchman at Ratnapura once. However as the days passed Philip had somehow forgotten it.

Once we had a meeting where Philip came. We had a small stage and Tikka directed him to the stage and the meeting commenced. The Trade Union man greeted him. Before long Philip was at the microphone. He rolled his eyes all over- they were fiery eyes that scanned every detail. We were all sacred. Then he started his speech. With the first words uttered with an immense force the stage did really shake- the words were very sharp, uttered with a force that few humans could and the voice reverberated the entire Tripoli Market- an airplane hangar. We were happy when he went off.

Tikka was moved to be in charge of the Canning Factory. Philip ordered that we should go all out to be self sufficient in all fruit produce and the man at the helm BLW Fernando, a chartered accounted, a mastermind, directed the move. Tripoli had to supply fruit to the Canning Factory and we did it. The Marketing Officers at the Fairs phoned me of immense quantities and I ordered lorries to go at once- One day three lorries went off to Hanguranketa Fair. By night they were back unloading tomatoes at the Canning Factory that worked 24 hours a day. That move of moving chunks of produce at frantic speed was normal. We had a fleet of over a hundred lorries always on the move. Glad to say that by 1958, in the three years when Philip was in charge our country became self sufficient in all fruit produce- jam. Red Pumpkins was made into Golden Melon Jam, and ash Pumpkin into Silver Melon jam. Tikka was in his elements all under the gaze of Philip. I got dragged into supervise the canning when Tikka was on leave.

After a year I was moved to Anuradhpura. Once I got a phonecall from Head Office about a petty pilfering in the rice mill under me. It was a message from Philip and I wondered how he got to know of it before me, the man in charge. Philip had a gestapo informing him beforeI knew.

Then came the Paddy Lands Act, the mastermind of GVS Silva, the Assistant warden at Arunachalam Hall, where I was. We were shunted to action to work for the down trodden farmers, the tenants who were suppressed. There were publicity meetings where Philip roared and we too roared exactly in his manner, at our meetings detailing the benefits. I was implementing the Paddy Lands Act in Matara- we were all fiery speakers in the manner of Philip.

Then came the calamity. Philip was thrown out of the cabinet and Ministry by the right group in Parliament and he gracefully left. No he did not go away. He had created the Agrarian Services packed with handpicked Assistant Commissioners who were all leftist minded and we carried on Philip’s ideas and implemented security of tenancy to tenants and cultivation committees were elected all over. . We were moving the farmers to use fertilizer and use high yielding varieties- we were a force embedded with the vehemence we inherited from Philip. He was no longer there but we carried on. Commissioners MS Perea and later JV Fonseka were workcoholics. Philip created an empire of workers who would carry on his idea of produce what we can, make what we can. Tikka had even developed exports-eight percent of pineapple pieces were exported.

Today we have no Canning Factory. That was axed by the IMF and went to a7private entrepreneurs who even imported strawberries to make jam. The IMF took over our country in 1978 and we are now in a real mess.

But Philip the legend is still in our hearts.

The only hope to Sri lanka today is to have Philip’s idea again to get down to production ourselves and make things for our selves.

In the Divisional Development Councils Programme I functioning alone with ,my officers at Matara unearthed the art of making Crayons at Rahula College Matara and got Sumanapala Dahanayake the member of parliament who was in charge of the Morawaka cooperatives to make Coop Crayons, which grew to islandwide sales within five years. That was also Philip’s method of making Sri lanka self sufficient in all fruit products- jam and juice.

May The ideas of Philip prevail and inspire his son Dinesh, our Prime Minister to a process of action- to make everything we imported and thereby ally the poverty in our beloved Motherland.

Garvin Karunaratne, former GA Matara


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