Our First Economists & the Fight for Our Own Electricity
Posted on June 24th, 2024

e-Con e-News

blog: eesrilanka.wordpress.com

Before you study the economics, study the economists!

e-Con e-News 16-22 June 2024

‘He discarded his Western dress, donned his national garb & began

his pioneering effort to teach economics in the Sinhala language,

a feat those at the helm of affairs at that time, thought unattainable.

Supported by like-minded contemporaries he set about his task

gathering Sinhala equivalents for various terms used in the study

of economics. He later wrote books on economics in Sinhala…

ee began learning this week of the work of FR Jayasuriya (www.lankafreelibrary.com), who was involved in setting up the fledgling educational system of the country, particularly its early Economic Departments at the universities, post-1948.

‘The University of Ceylon was established for the benefit of the elite

& not for the common man. As you may know in those days

government helped only the Christian schools & the University

was meant to educate the students from those schools only.

The University was designed on Oxbridge lines. FR Jayasuriya had

a different view & he believed education to be a universal right.

He fought with university authorities tooth & nail to make education

available to the masses. To get him out of the system they tried dangling

carrots… a proposed UN appointment was one. On another occasion

the VC Jennings said he wanted to see all university academics dress

like the Oxbridge dons of the time & it was from that day onwards he stopped

wearing Western clothes. When Lake House papers refused publicity

to his activities, he started a newspaper, The Colombo City News,

published under the name of a 3rd party. In return, he paid dearly,

in terms of opportunities & perks, but he was happy doing it….


‘At the invitation of the Ceylon University authorities &

in the absence of any Ceylonese who was at the time qualified

in Economics (a curious statement on the studied discouragement

of Economics by the Imperialists who have been continuously

at the head of the University) he proceeded to the London School

of Economics where he obtained Honours at the London BSc (Economics).

Returning to Ceylon Mr Jayasuriya interested himself in the Leftist

political movement & at the same time engaged in wider educational

activities becoming Assistant General Manager of Schools

under the Buddhist Theosophical Society.’

– City News, 15 March 1948


So, in 1948 there still were no ‘qualified’ economists in the country. Professor Jayasuriya developed a Sinhala glossary of economics terms, and wrote 3 economics textbooks in the Sinhala Language. He was in the forefront of making Sinhala the national language, and turns out to have been indeed ‘a formidable critic of Vice-Chancellor Ivor Jennings’ educational policy’. Among his first students was later UNCTAD Secretary-General Gamani Corea, as well as his own nephew, the eminent GVS de Silva, architect of the Paddy Lands Act.

     Jayasuriya also worked with SA Wickremasinghe & Pieter Keuneman, who later formed the Communist Party of Sri Lanka. Jayasuriya went on to help set up the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) with H Sri Nissanka & SWRD Bandaranaike. He also advised the Tamil Congress on the economics of federalism. But he then started a fast unto death at Galle Face Green to demand the abrogation of the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayagam Pact in 1958.

     The fate of FR Jayasuriya resembles that of DJ Wimalasurendra and of the exiled Anagarika Dharmapala before him. ee decided to look at the challenges involved in Jayasuriya’s appointment as an Economics professor, his relationship with the other Economics departments & universities. We wonder how it compared to the policies of modernized machine-developed polities elsewhere, and how the English has actively prevented certain types of knowledge (see ee Focus).


Last ee examined some of the early and ongoing studies of economics after 1948, and the uses to which this subject was subject. We earlier looked at the demand for state banks to invest in industrialization, and how that was blocked. The demand for industrialization itself was fueled by the struggle to enable energy security, and the last 100 years offers amazing & vivid ‘ingenious’ testimony to how industrialization has been systematically blocked by a variety of actors from embassies to foreign multinational corporations (MNCs) & banks & their avatars, the aid agencies & the chambers of commerce, etc.

• Delaying Electricity & the Early Demand for Industrialization and Independence – In 1924, DJ Wimalasurendra, who was uniquely both a Chartered Civil Engineer as well as a Chartered Electrical Engineer, was appointed head of the Electrical Engineering Section of the Public Works Department. 1924 is also the year the Aberdeen-Laxapana Scheme, the hydroelectricity generation project linked to power of the falls of the 4th-longest river in the country, the Kelani River, was finally given the go ahead…

     But, guess what? Wimalasurendra, originator of the Aberdeen-Laxapana Hydroelectric Scheme, ‘found to his surprise that he was bypassed & not given any responsibility,’ for the scheme.

     Promising to generate more electricity than entire demand of the city of Colombo, the project began but was again blocked in 1927. In fact, it had been repeatedly blocked since the beginning of the century, despite the ‘expectations, estimates, designs & plans’ being ‘in circulation’ to tap ‘the potential of falling water of the Aberdeen Falls of the Kehelgamu Oya & of the Laxapana Falls of the Maskeli Oya. And it kept being blocked.

     The Aberdeen-Laxapana Hydroelectric Scheme was finally allowed to enter into operation in 1950. ‘It was during this long delay in construction and implementation, that a Ceylonese discourse… emerged and evolved’, imagining ‘an industrially advanced Ceylon… made possible by the less expensive & mass-scale electrical energy generation capacity of the hydroelectric scheme’, writes BD Witharana in his thesis, Negotiating Power & Constructing the Nation: Engineering in Sri Lanka.

     While the media try to blame the delay only on differences between Wimalasurendra and his white overseers in the colonial government, ‘Wimalasurendra took it even further to position the delay in a discourse on the business & economic interests of the English imperialist project.’ At that time, in 1924 electricity was provided to Colombo at the highest prices in the region by England’s Boustead Brothers. Boustead fronted for a whole web of interests linking then-power equipment provider Pearson (now educational publisher, examiner & immigration gatekeeper) to Shell & British Petroleum (BP), and the role of Singapore as regional economic policeman. Those who represented those interests were knighted & rewarded, and their children & grandchildren & great-grandchildren still rule, still pontificate.

• This week saw further steps to sell off control over energy, and the generation of electricity. With India’s foreign secretary S. Jaishankar in town, it may be enlightening (to use an energy-appropriate metaphor) to learn how India’s ‘power policy’ was ‘liberalized’ under the US (read: IMF/ World Bank) dictat. India is showing us where Sri Lankans are being taken, or dragged.


Gautam Adani would have thought Sri Lanka has no energy economists

or power system engineers, or would have wrongly assumed that all

Sri Lankan professionals were as mediocre as the politicians or the

handful of administrators & engineers in the power sector and its

2 regulatory institutions they directly deal with.’

– T Siyambalapitiya, see ee Industry,

Adani Wind Power Project: Making a curvy record

straight needs more than quoting tweets

We are also like Adani. We are also not aware of the various kinds of economists we have and who they serve. Openly promoted economists in Sri Lanka are part of the public-relations mafia – salaried apologists for the old colonial import-export plantation economy that continues to this day. Some are honest:

‘Since much of [power] reform is politically unmarketable…

the implementation game is all about stealth, ambiguity,

& following the path of least resistance.’

– World Bank Consultant (see ee Random Notes)

Indeed, the present IMF ‘communication’ strategy’ is all about stealth & strategic ambiguity, and attacking the weakest in society.

     Analyze ee’s weekly News Compendium. Like the legendary moneylenders who gather often in their inner sanctums  – at least weekly & monthly – to whisper the unofficial interest rates, the media within and across its domain of misinformation & disinformation, has to plan its ‘optics’ & ‘talking points’. Like sky rockets they splutter, zoom and burst and flair and fall uselessly into our nostrils and back to earth. This week, business headlines were about purported wealth taxes on houses, even as the Japan’s car import lobby displayed its muscle. In the outside world, the imperialists are threatening ‘tactical’ nuclear war on West Asia, Europe & East Asia.

     ‘Salaries must increase when overcoming a crisis’, headlines an Ada Derana interview this week apparently quoting US-Embassy-darling & Central Bank Governor Nandalal Weerasinghe. Yet this is decidedly unclear. Does he mean increases only for Central Bank Officials? & does he mean before or during or after the crisis is overcome? & how about increasing other wages too? Take the ongoing choreographed nadagam about hiking plantation wages. There’s little talk about investment in modern technology, which could assure higher wages? Yet Weerasinghe as one of the leading advocates of the ‘neoliberal economic model’, declares, ‘the manufacturing economy is a myth!’

     So with all this, is it so difficult to find out exactly what these unelected bureaucrats are up to? Let’s examine the recent marketing of the 17th IMF ‘reform’ & the mercantile commitment to democracy:


‘When it comes to implementing trade reforms,

it is not merely a matter of economic theory,

but of a communication strategy that needs to be in place’

– England’s Ceylon Tobacco Co (CTC) director Suresh Shah,

Head of State-owned Enterprises Restructuring Unit (SRU) in SL


     Power. Energy. Fuel. Oil. Gas. Solar. Wind. Nuclear‘Electricity is critical for capital accumulation.’ India’s power sector was the first selected for capitalist ‘reform’ in 1991. The media harangued that ‘India’s pre-liberalization power policy’ was ‘characterized by vast subsidies for irrigated agriculture, widespread theft, scarcity & underinvestment’ – a victim of ‘short-termist populism’. However, these problems continue today despite the IMF/WB (read: US) reforms. (see ee Focus)

     This ee briefly recaps India’s 1948 Electricity (Supply) Act, which created state electricity boards (SEBs), which may turn out to have formed the basis of dividing India into pieces.

     The 1991 US-funded reforms first supported Independent Power Producers (IPPs, sound familiar?) which have ended up generating extremely expensive power, if sometimes not producing any power at all.

     The capitalists argued that India’s energy policy (electrical subsidies) were due to a surfeit of politics, ‘short-termist logic of electoral democracy’, etc. Ah! It turns out the grumblings of economists beloved of the IMF & World Bank’s cussing elections & populism are not new or just about Sri Lanka. They said the same in India & we are sure they claim so everywhere else.


‘We are not sure democracy is a good thing.’


‘The principal objective of reform became

‘to depoliticize economic life’.

But the attempt to supposedly depoliticize power policy has enabled its repoliticization forging closer relationship between so-called ‘independent’ officials, politicians & capitalists local & international – concentrating secretive & technocratic decision-making power‘ (see Random Notes).


• Votes Did Not Count – 1924 indeed. The English railroad finally reached Badulla but would not be budged further. But those were still ‘the good old days’ when only a few white people & their off-white friends were allowed to vote. And even fewer allowed to go to school, or to rule. At the 4th election to the Legislative Council of Ceylon, only 205,000 propertied Ceylonese men who could speak & read English and were loyal to the English crown – ie. about 4% of the entire population – were deemed eligible to vote. 34 ‘unofficial members’ were elected out of the 49 members in the Legislative Council. 11 of those elected were from the ‘communal constituencies’, the English were busy sharpening. The other 23 were from the ‘territorial constituencies’. We are not sure if they were unofficial, territorial or communal, but the list includes an elected representative of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as Europeans, Burghers, and appointed Kandyan Sinhala, Muslim & Indian Tamils. Not everyone subscribed to the identities reinforced by the limited franchise. Only 3 ‘Kandyans’ were elected to 7 Kandyan seats, as Kandyan voters were said to have ‘preferred low-country representatives’.


• This ee Focus also has Deshika Mendis pointing to the ‘incredible list of seemingly small & random train accidents & incidents of the past few months, wondering if there are subtle attempts to sabotage the Sri Lanka Railways (SLR), damage passenger confidence and profits, then privatize it also given valuable land holdings?’

     And speaking of national vandalism, ee also reproduces the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA)’s take on recent Elections & Coalitions there. They point to the present sabotage of the electrical system (Eskom) as a prelude to its privatization. NUMSA describes the South African economy as a ‘Minerals-Energy-Finance Complex’, and is very critical of the recent coalition between the ANC & former rulers of the Apartheid regime, who are linked to US-backed Israel. Critics of NUMSA point to its’ spewing fire in its rhetorical revolutionary prose’, even as it is ‘still hamstrung by the 1954 ANC’s racist-Zionist African Freedom Charter (aka ‘Cheater’) proclaiming that Azania/ South Africa belongs to everybody & everyone who lives in it – the oppressed & the oppressor, European slave masters & enslaved African…’ Let us see what their Nobel-Prize-winning ‘reconciliation’ has amounted to (see ee Focus).


If a true detective murder-mystery thriller novel were to be written on Sri Lanka, it would not just be about how Unilever & their League of Multinational Corporations (LMNC) in Sri Lanka massaged and diverted the so-called aragalaya in SL. The tragicomedy (let us laugh, for we have cried too much…) would also recount how they have systematically blocked industrialization, particularly our struggle for energy security. This thriller would also detail the various false scents (exports, foreign investment) and crumbs (MSMEs, assembly, handicraft) thrown to divert us.




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