If JR is considered as the father of Sri Lanka’s open economy, Ronnie De Mel is the mother. Ronnie was known at the time as the bee that collected honey without crushing the flower. This was due to the belief that he would levy taxes without harming people. However, there was a minister in JR’s cabinet at the time who disagreed with Ronnie. He is Prime Minister Ranasinghe Premadasa, not just any minister.
When Premadasa asked money for ‘gam udawa’ to help people and build houses, Ronnie had two words for him. It was either ‘No’ or can’t’. Once Premadasa asked for money for Gam Udawa and Ronnie said he couldn’t give it, Premadas got up to leave the cabinet and pushed his chair back with force to express his displeasure and stood up to leave the cabinet meeting room, he forgot where the exit door was. He left the cabinet meeting and opened the toilet door, mistaking it for the exit door. Premadasa’s anger towards Ronnie was able to make him forget the exit door of the cabinet.
This conflict between Ronnie and Premadasa was headlined in alternative newspapers like ‘Atta’ at the time. Ronnie resigned as Finance Minister in 1988, knowing that JR would nominate Premadasa as presidential candidate, and joined the Bandaranaikes, who were Ronnie’s number one enemy.
Ronnie was feared that if Premadasa won, he would be done because he had refused money when asked by Premadas to build villages and houses. In the 1988 presidential election, Premadasa’s campaign theme was to do justice to the little man who was ignored by the open economy. For this, he launched the ‘Janasaviya’ programme. Ronnie, who was speaking on Mrs Bandaranayake’s platforms, stated that the World Bank will not lend money to Premadasa’s Janasavya. Premadasa stated that he knows how to make money. This is how Ronnie and Premadasa fought each other during the presidential election.
‘Mr. Mel opposed all the proposals brought to provide relief to the people of this country. We called him No Money. He is no longer with us. We can now extinguish the sufferings of the people of peacefully….’
Is Premadasa who dedicates himself to build the country to make people live like this good or those who retreat saying they don’t have money, the World Bank won’t give money are good…?’
– Ranasinha Premadasa
Premadasa wins the presidential election. Ronnie went abroad in fear of Premadasa. Premadasa somehow managed to find money from the World Bank for Janasaviya. The World Bank and the IMF generally do not give money to projects like Janasaviya anywhere in the world. But somehow Premadasa got the World Bank to agree to the Janasavia.
Ronnie came back to U.N.P. after Premadasa was killed. Premadasa’s son Sajith Premadasa went to congratulate Ronnie on his 96th birthday in 2021. That was after Sajith became the leader of the Samagi Jana Balavega and became the leader of the opposition. There, Ronnie gave a great analysis to Sajith about Sri Lanka’s economy. Below is the analysis.
‘The economy of Sri Lanka has fallen to a very difficult level. We can no longer bow to capitalism, need to bring Buddhist philosophy to this economy. also need to introduce an economic system that is fair to all. It is in the Buddhist doctrine. We need to take the side of the poor man in Sri Lanka. Today, Sri Lanka needs a fair development for all. Like in 1977, today the country needs a new economic system. A big change is needed in the economic system like 77…’
Ronnie De Mel
When Ronnie De Mel told this story to Sajith, there was no sign of an economic crisis in Sri Lanka. Nobody thought that Sri Lanka would go bankrupt. But Ronnie says that Sri Lanka’s economy has fallen beyond recovery. That’s what he felt around him. He then whispered a wonderful story in Sajith’s ear.
Sajith, you are Sri Lanka’s only hope. Only you can lift the open economy from the pit it has fell into. It needs a little more help from socialism…’
This is how Rony whispers to Sajith in the video.
Ronnie de Mel, the mother of open economy and capitalism, who presented 11 budgets, did not say that for nothing. He is saying without saying that Sri Lanka needs to recover the economic system of Ranasinghe Premadasa, who lifts the little man in the open economic system.
When Premadasa’s economic system is mentioned, everyone talks about the garment factory project. The Premadasa garment factory project was launched not only to find dollars for Sri Lanka. To bring industries to the village and develop the village like a city. He built a clock tower at every junction where he built garment industries to build a town around the clock tower.
It was not only the garment industry project that Premadasa launched to develop Sri Lanka. Kandalam Hotel, the most popular hotel in Sri Lanka today, is a hotel project that Premadasa intervened. When the company that built the hotel was about to close down due to the opposition that came to Kandalama Hotel, Premadasa provided police security to build the hotel.
Next Premadasa wondered about the reason why the youth of the South took up arms and the JVP slogan ‘Kolambata Kiri Gamta Kekiri’. JR set up all free trade zones in the Western Province. Premadasa decided to create a free trade zone in Koggala in the South. It was decided to build the Southern Expressway to facilitate the transportation of goods from Koggala. The unknown story is that Premadasa prepared the feasibility report to build the Southern Expressway and got a low interest loan and financial assistance from the Asian Development Bank and Japan. Premadasa wanted have high-speed connectivity between Koggala and Katunayake. Next was IT for Sri Lanka. IT technology was first introduced during the time of Premadasa. Celtel cellular phone and computer were brought to Sri Lanka during Premadasa’s time.
Cellular telephone came to Sri Lanka on July 18, 1989 that as the 36th country in the world. Sri Lanka first started using electronic mail or e-mail in late 1989 during Premadasa’s time. Professor Induruwa, who is considered to be the father of the Internet in Sri Lanka, said this while celebrating 20 years of the Internet in Sri Lanka. He said that Sri Lanka was one of the few countries in Asia where the internet started.
In 1989, we were lucky to create the computer system in Sri Lanka. For that, the government received 400 million yen aid from Japan. In 1990, we introduced an internet-based electronic correspondence system for the first time in Sri Lanka….’
It means that Premadasa included this little Sri Lanka among the world’s most powerful countries that started the cellular telephone system and the Internet.
That is how Premadasa tied the big man and the small man, or heaven and earth together in Sri Lanka. Not everyone can tie it like that. For that, a leader must have compassion for this. Ronnie must have thought that Premadasa’s son had the same urge as his father. When he spoke that day, how Sri Lanka is going bankrupt, Sri Lanka is crawling on its knees to IMF how Sri Lanka IMF nods the head to all IMF conditions how citizen would be excessively taxed he must have pictured . Ronnie must have felt the way Premadas sold Janasaviya to World Bank a leader who would be able to sell small man’s suffering to the world bank should be the leader of this county.
‘Sajith, you are Sri Lanka’s only hope…’
That must be why Ronnie whispered those words in Sajith’s ear, realizing that he had such a leader in front of him.
By Upul Joseph Fernando