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Sunday, 3 February 2013





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W. Karunajeewa, a banker with a broad vision:

Minister Basil Rajapaksa revives memories of the late People's Bank Chairman

I came to know W. Karunajeewa in the early 1970s when he was a young progressive activist. He was close to the Rajapaksa family of Giruwapaththuwa and forged strong ties with them. He devoted his life to political struggle and campaigns until his last days.

W. Karunajeewa with President Mahinda Rajapaksa

Born in the South, Karunajeewa grew up in the hill country where he did his studies in Bowala Madhya Maha Vidyalaya and Dharmaraja Vidyalaya, Kandy before entering the Peradeniya University. It is there he got involved with the progressive movement. The University was the starting point of his political activity.

He started his life as a teacher and entered the legal profession in 1987. In 1970, he became Minister Hector Kobbekaduwa's Coordinating officer. Thereafter, he won a seat in the Kandy Municipal Council obtaining the highest percentage of votes. During Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike's premiership, Karunajeewa became the SLFP's Administrative Secretary. From there onwards he continued to be a member of the Party's Central Committee until his death.

In 1997 when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was Fisheries Minister, Karunajeewa became a Working Director of the Fisheries Corporation and later its Chairman. He became Chairman of the Employees Trust Fund in 2005 after Mahinda Rajapaksa became President and Finance Minister. In 2007, Karunajeewa was appointed Chairman, People's Bank. The contribution he made to develop the Bank as the country's largest financial institution cannot be measured in monetary terms.

He achieved his objective by becoming Chairman of the People's Leasing Group of Companies, affiliated to the People's Bank which earned the highest profits during his term, thanks to his vision in managing the financial institutions and human resources of companies affiliated to the Bank.

He was alert to every situation and understood each of them well. At the time of his death, he was one of the topmost experts in banking. However in my estimation his political career was even greater because of the service he rendered for the SLFP during a most difficult period which can never be forgotten.

Karunajeewa led a simple life and lived at Anderson Flats until his death. He never handed over his responsibilities to another and was able to face both victory and defeat with equanimity. He had a boundless love for the land, language and the nation.

He was the loving husband of Kusum and devoted father of Indika and Dilini. From the beginning to the end he lived with the people.

He was a source of strength to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the latter's political career since 1970. Karunajeewa was a visionary leader who could face any challenge. Immense was the contribution he made to the party during all general elections, including those of 1977, 1989 and 1994.

It was the same during the Mulgirigala by-election of 1985 and the Presidential Elections of 2005 and 2010. In addition to planning election campaigns he gave leadership to such activities at provincial level.

Karunajeewa was an honest man with an exemplary character. Many are the lessons that can be learnt from his life. His aim was to help in building a new Sri Lanka. He used only one official vehicle, which was a jeep. He had a clear vision of the goals of any program entrusted to him.

It was a source of happiness for him to see fertile agricultural lands, populated areas and sales outlets filled with agro-products. He felt the heart-beat of the villager and the sentiments of the rural masses.

He identified the mistakes made in political campaigning and warned that it was easier to correct them at the early stages. He expressed his opinion without fear. An example is the honest view he expressed on a proposal made during the SLFP Central Committee meeting last January 22.

Yet he always respected the leadership and accepted the latter's decision on the matter.

In 1993 when the SLFP leadership requested President Mahinda Rajapaksa (then an Opposition MP) to become the Chief Ministerial candidate during the Southern Provincial Election that year, Karunajeewa objected.

He gave an example from the pre-independence era as the grounds for his objection. During that time the highest position was that of Home Affairs Minister and it was held by Sir D. B. Jayatilleke.

But later he was appointed Sri Lanka's envoy in India. Subsequently when selecting the Prime Minister of the interim Government it was not Sir D. B. but D. S. Senanayake who was chosen for the position. Karunajeewa warned that those who proposed the candidacy of Mahinda Rajapaksa for Chief Ministership perhaps wanted him to face the same fate that befell Sir D.B. Hence Karunajeewa advised Mahinda Rajapaksa against it and that was it!

The launch of the People's Bank Employees Social Commitment programme in connection with national reconstruction, commenced in the Madhu area, Mannar on October 16, 2011, where I was the chief guest. A fully-equipped housing complex had been built for 50 families displaced by the war. It was a People's Bank project launched to mark the Bank's golden jubilee.

There was no Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim ethnic discrimination in the allocation of the houses. Karunajeewa was extremely happy to see the great relief it brought to that area.

I also remember the day I went to open the People's Leasing Company's Head Office in Borella on his invitation. He looked after that company as a child and made it the country's No. 1 leasing company. Its annual income was over Rs. 1 billion.

He also launched a People's Leasing Insurance Company. He had a broad vision and was an exemplary leader. He always motivated his employees and solved their problems like a father. He did an immense service in solving the pension issues of retired People's Bank employees.

Even after he fell ill, I was able to exchange views with him. And he offered to help us in another general election.

The last rites of Attorney W. Karunajeewa, a noble son of the soil, were performed at the General Cemetery, Borella on January 31.


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