Anecdotes of a dedicated administrator
An African Diary with anecdotes
Author : Dharmasena Wijesinghe
Publisher : Dhammika Wijesinghe
Dharmasena Wijesinghe was one of Sri Lanka's top administrative
officers who rose briskly to be the Secretary to the Cabinet. His was an
illustrious career, ever faithful to the Government of the day. He had
no political leanings. It made him indispensable in his chosen career.
His latest documentation of the autobiographical part of his public life
is narrated along with some witty anecdotes. I worked side by side with
Dharmasena Wijesinghe in two ministries for over 10 years. Then
governments changed. While he boxed on, I fell by the wayside. But he
has remained my friend to this date and I was the happiest when he was
elevated as the Secretary to the Cabinet which was the pinnacle of his
Wijesinghe never thought of himself as a writer; nor did my
seven-year-old daughter who I used to pick from school every Friday and
let her run about in the ministry until she was taken for her ballet
class in the afternoon. That gave her access to Wijesinghe's office.
Both got on well until one day he enquired why she was there.
“My mother will take me to the hairdresser once she is done”, she
told him. Wijesinghe was in no mood to tease her and asked whether there
was no barber in her village. She turned livid, but not to be outdone by
the genial ‘uncle’, she retorted, ‘You can't write books the way the
previous ‘uncle’ did”. Of course, she was referring to Dr. P.G.
Today, perhaps about 25 years later, she was the first to grab his
book, read and recall the incident. In fact I had to wait until she
finished it to its last page. She was going to call him the next day and
say how happy she was and how wrong she was over two decades ago.
An African Diary is for light reading. The author takes the reader on
a pleasant journey to give an insight into the busy life of a dedicated
administrative icon. The diary's in-depth analysis refers to how they
function to bring forth the best of what they are expected, and finally
benefit the nation at large through their ministers. If one digests its
contents, it will reveal many observations that came his way and the
various issues he had to take on which Wijesinghe did laboriously. I
never realised the intricate avenues he worked towards the dreams of a
nation, seated at his office, finally before they were placed before a
minister. I never knew the gravity of his responsibility but then that
was about 25 years ago and I was very ‘green'. Watching him as he took
strides towards correct decisions laid a foundation for my future life
I was strengthened by his simple ideology. He had a philosophical
mind enriched by Buddhist values that made him a very clean officer.
After he stepped down as Cabinet Secretary, he was appointed as High
Commissioner for South Africa with a string of countries attached. This
is the most interesting part in the diary. The anecdotes are authentic
and narrated to bring out a little sunshine to the readers.
Wijesinghe who started his public service career in 1983 was a widely
travelled man. He was a very humane person with Buddhist values that
guided him to the top without treading on anyone's toes.
One will also notice going through the pages of the diary that he was
a devoted family man, fond of his grandchildren to whom he has dedicated
the book. He relates one of them as an anecdote;
My second granddaughter, Jithya, told us how her teacher in Garborone
explained what a conflict and asked each student in the class to give
three examples, obviously to see whether they have understood the
lesson. Jithya is supposed to have said, No.1 – Conflict in Libya
between President Gadaffi and those opposed to him there; No.2 –
Conflict between Trade Unions and the Government of Boswana; and No.3 –
the conflict at home between her and her brother Uvindu.
Obviously, she has acquired some of her grandfather's humour. Other
books by Wijesinghe are Milestones, Coconut Industry in Sri Lanka,
Monographs on Administrative Reforms, Financial Devolution, Manchester
Eassay on Development Administration, Interim Council for North and East
and Cabinet Government in Sri Lanka.