Prof. C. Suriyakumaran outstanding internationalist is eighty Sunday Observer, Jan 20, 2002

A noble product in futuristic thinking



Prof. Suriyakumaran with the Asian headquarters of the UN in the background, shortly after his institution of the Co-operative Organisations for ASEAN and the South Pacific in the late 70s.

Prof. C. Suriyakumaran, Internationalist, former United Nations civil servant, specialist in Local Government and Devolution, Economist, Environmentalist and Writer, is 80 years today. He is highly distinguished and, in some areas, holds a unique record.

He is just one or two of a very select band who visibly and directly created, or was associated in the creation of, a number of truly outstanding international programmes and institutions. A citation of some of these makes them a roll-call of honour in the international scene.

They include the setting up of the Asian Development Bank in 1965, followed by a number of others in the succeeding years, in both the economic and environment fields, first as Deputy Executive Secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East, and later as UNEP's Global Director for Education, Training and Technical Assistance, and the Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.

The other creations included institutions such as the Bangkok Trade Agreement, the Asian Clearing Union, the Asian Coconut Community, the UNEP-UNESCO Global Environment Education Programme, and an outstanding set of sub-regional co-operative Environment Programme Organisations for ASEAN, the South Pacific and South Asia.

His services had been so notable that he was knighted at the end of his UN career by the King of Thailand, at the UN's Asian headquarters, for outstanding services to Asia - only the second United Nations civil servant to be so honoured.

Just recently, upon the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations in 1995, he had the unique distinction again, of being awarded what was widely known as 'The Environment's Noble Prize,' the United Nations Sasakawa World Environment Award - according to the citation, "for pioneering our responses and perceptions in the environment field, providing concrete models in support of them, and playing key roles in shaping policies and programmes in the United Nations."

Close on the heels of this award, he was elected Fellow of the Chartered Institution of Water and Environment Management (CIWEM), headquartered in the UK and recognised as one of the world's lead organisations in this field.

Since retirement from the UN he has been Visiting Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science, the first Sri Lankan to do so, and had the distinction of his pioneering book, 'The Wealth of Poor Nations' sponsored and published by the LSE.

He has been a profile writer of original books, papers and articles, and a much praised speaker both here and abroad in all his topic areas, including religion and philosophy.

Said Minister Natwar Singh of India, after Prof. Suriyakumaran's reflective address at the Gamini Dissanayake 50th birth anniversary meeting, that it was the best impromptu speech he had ever heard!

A past President (Section F) of the Ceylon Association for the Advancement of Science, his 1963 Presidential Address titled 'On looking into 1980' is still remembered as one of the notable products in futuristic thinking.

In Sri Lanka, unique among contribution he had promoted and helped design integrated post-graduate level Environment-Development Courses at universities such as Peradeniya, Moratuwa and the Eastern University - still however in various stages of consideration or adoption.

One of the most distinguished old boys of St. Anthony's College, Kandy, and winner, inter alia, of the coveted All Rounders Bede Memorial Prize (not awarded every year as a matter of course), he was feted by his school at a banquet on the occasion of his receiving the World Environment Prize. As ardent supporter of the School at all times, he used the opportunity to set up the award of an annual Triple Environment Prize, beginning 1997.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, a group of admirers and authors Worldwide sponsored a Felicitation Volume in Prof. Suriyakumaran's honour, of select writings on various subjects, as well as appreciation's on him. This effort was led by the late, Mr. T. B. Subasinghe, and a galaxy of others from here and abroad. Some of their observations were as follows;

'There were few parallels of so many achievements,' said T. B. Subasinghe. 'Was venerated by agencies and governments... Carried charisma, gravitas and outstanding diplomatic leadership,' wrote Dr. Goodland now at the World Bank.

'Example for all International Civil Servants,' stated India's K. B. Lall. 'Multi-faceted and priceless,' remarked S. Z. Qasim former Head of India's Oceanographic Centre and Member, Planning Commission and Secretary to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. 'His lectures attracted wide disciplines and the diplomatic community,' said the East West Centre.

'Left his stamp on the map of Asia', wrote Mostafa K. Tolba. 'Primary source of new and innovative initiatives during his career, said Maurice Strong. 'Excellent harmonising of resource management and development,' wrote the late Tinbergen.

'Insights into Environment and Development, a full decade before Brundtland,' wrote George Francis from Canada, Ken Piddington from New Zealand and the late Sunil Roy of India. Stated one of his admirers here, 'In local government, one of the Brains Trusts.'

'In the mould of renaissance man,' concluded another. 'Prof. Suriyakumaran stands elevated as an eco-pilgrim who deserves respect and listening to,' stated Dr. Karunasena Kodituwakku in review.

"Furthering Asian Co-operation and trouble shooting at the center of this web was C. Suriyakumaran at ECAFE. "Proud to be a close associate, fellow Environmentalist, and a fellow Countryman of his" wrote K. H. J. Wijeyadasa.

His vintage service to his country goes back to the intimate association that S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike gave opportunity for him to have, during the pioneering days of the '40's of Bandaranaike's ideas on Local Government and Regional Councils, culminating in the aborted B/C Pact.

As a young officer during the 40's, taking up position as the first Assistant Commissioner for the Northern Province, it was he who brought rural electrification and initiated an integrated development plan process by Peoples Organisations in Jaffna, instituted the expansion of the famed Keerimalai Tanks and a master plan for the area, which had the full backing of Bandaranaike, the first roadway to the famed Thiruketheeswaram Temple in Manner, and, others.

Down the years, he had been known to have been sought after by political parties of various types, and while being grateful to them, he has declined political affiliations or honours although remaining deeply committed to the public weal.

Perhaps the best concluding words on Prof. Suriyakumaran may be those from some of the contributors to the Felicitation Volume on him mentioned above that in each of their areas of work and knowledge, he had, over the years been a 'guru' to them.

With the closure of CRDS primarily due to Prof. Suriyakumaran's recent illness, the center has set up a Rs. 5 million "Vision 2000 Annual Prize Programme" for truly innovative work in any area, on concrete, indigenous, technological adaptations or creations, with a National Board of Directors consisting of Rev. Chandraratne Thera (Ritigala Hamuduruwo), Mr. Shelton Ranaraja, Mrs. Ranaraja, Mr. G. Krishnamurthi, Dr. S. Raveendranath of Eastern University, Prof. Ashley Perera of Moratuwa University and Mr. Jayantha Wickramanayake formerly of The Asia Foundation, with Mr. Godfrey Goonetilleke as Special Member/Advisor.

Just recently, Prof. Suriyakumaran, who was awarded the 1995 United Nations / UNEP - Sasakawa World Environment Prize, has in association with all Winners of this Prize from its inception in 1984, produced a global letter entitled "Environment 2000 to the Peoples of the World" now with the United Nations and UNEP, - as it states a far reaching document "Not on Limits to Growth" but "Guide to Growth" for the future of all countries developed and developing.

Dr. Leslie Herath, Manel Abeysekera, Aelien Perera, Mallika Karunaratne, M. S. Jayasinghe, Fr. Tissa Balasuriya, Shelton Wanasinghe, Nishantha Seneviratne, Lalith Gunaratne, Prof. Ashley Perera, Dr. Frank Jayasinghe and Nalaka Gunawardena.


Specialist, nationalist and internationalist

by Karu Jayasuriya

This is a personal account and tribute to Prof. C. Suriyakumaran on his 80th birthday of which I came to know recently. It is a purely personal recall, unrelated to my own position.

I first came to know Prof. Suriyakumaran under exceptional, probably technical circumstances, a little over ten years ago, when he was delivering a series of Public Lectures at the BMICH, on Regional Economic Co-operation for South Asia. I had not known him personally and I attended these lectures like all others as a keen follower and student as it were.

I knew he had already delivered a similar series in the latter half of the 80s, first on Devolution, and probably the first such lectures here and the second on Environment and Development. I had already heard of his outstanding nature. I was keen to follow his lectures on South Asian Regional Co-operation, since I had got actively associated with the government of the day on behalf of the Private Sector in the latter's role in South Asia's future expansion in this vital field.

It was one of the most striking, innovative and clear analyses, prognostications and recommendations for action. I was impressed enough to introduce myself to him at the end of the lectures and to request time for me to discuss his rich ideas and suggestions for my own purposes. He readily agreed and we had subsequent personal meetings which gave substance to and concretized some of my own ideas.

Some months later I was on the Chamber of Commerce Mission to India for working out private sector to private sector arrangements and I had no doubt that my discussions with Prof. Suriyakumaran assisted me greatly in what became a most successful outcome. On my return, I met him especially to say so and to thank him for myself, for the programme and indeed for the country. We had kept in touch with each other further thereafter, when I served as Sri Lanka's Envoy to Germany, Austria and Switzerland and I believe in mutual regard and respect.

Later when I was Mayor of Colombo, Prof. Suriyakumaran was one of the earliest contributors of ideas on my attempt to improve and change the environmental conditions of the City, which proved a great benefit.

I particularly remember his phrase to me that "Waste is not a refuse to be discarded but a resource to be converted into useful product." He was also all this time Chairman of the Centre for Regional Development (CRDS) and in 1999 he sent me a copy of a Citizen's Programme for the People entitled "Sri Lanka Vision 2000: A National Landmark Programme," which the authors had placed before the President who supported it, and all other parties including the UNP.

On behalf of the latter I promptly extended our fullest support and the programme was later adopted at a National Convention of countrywide representatives, inaugurated by the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike and attended personally by me and my friend Hon. Alavi Mowlana.

Although CRDS is now closed down due to Prof. Suriyakumaran's recent illness, CRDS has set up a Rs. 5 million annual prize programme for innovative development oriented initiators countrywide from any field of any scale and any level.

This is a sincere tribute to a truly worthy citizen of this country who in his earlier career was first a distinguished pioneer in devolution and local government and later perhaps one of the most outstanding innovators and creators of institutions and programmes under the United National auspices. The Asian Development Bank (in 1965) and the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme (SACEP in 1981) the first such in South Asia, are among these.

I wish him personally his continued interest in our public affairs and I place this on record here with sincerity and delight.


Visionary and creative citizen

by Alavi Mowlana

When I came to know of Prof. Suriyakumaran's recent serious illness, I was extremely sad, both for a friend whom I had known for long years and for a model public servant in the best sense of that word who has contributed in so many ways to public understanding and to the public good of this country.

Although I had heard of him, my first meeting with him was several years ago under strange circumstances. One day sometime back, I was at what was then Radio Ceylon, waiting to record an address to mark the occasion of the anniversary of the death of the late S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike. In a little while, I saw a gentleman come in, courteously smile and sit quietly nearby, obviously for some radio programme himself.

Seeming to be of friendly disposition, and having smiled at each other already. I asked what brought him here and he mentioned his purpose. He said it was to record a speech on the anniversary of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike and he was doing so as he was on home leave from the UN and at the personal request of Madam Sirimavo Bandaranaike whom he had known when working for her husband on a 1945 Regional Councils Bill which Mr. Bandaranaike was formulating, and which was unfortunately sabotaged by forces within his own government at the time.

On mutual inquiry I told him that I was here for the same thing. We quickly dissipated any doubts when I clarified that my recording was in Tamil and he said his was in English.

As it turned out, his radio speech was one of the best contributions on the thinkings and ideas of the late S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike, and worthy of reading even today.

We renewed our threads years after, on his retirement from the United Nations in the early 80's and his decision to come back to his own country, where he soon set up with a band of able colleagues. The Centre for Regional Development Studies (CRDS).

This became the foremost source at that time of authoritative thinking, writing and action on devolution. It was an invaluable service, as Provincial Councils were just being set up and his was the first and probably only Centre to go out to the Provinces, with highly qualified teams, and sit with them on forging actions in all their areas.

I kept meeting him from time to time and invited him to help me briefly when I was Minister of Local Government.

In 1999, when his Centre, jointly with a band of leading citizens put up a "Sri Lanka Vision 2000 Programme".

I promptly extended my support to him. This team had already got the blessing of The President and several others outside, and the next year, at a National Convention of countrywide representatives, declared open by the late Sirimavo Bandaranaike which I specially attended.

I fully backed the implementation programmes, their countrywide nature and the truly forward looking aspirations that were contained. His recent illness has now unfortunately resulted in the closing down of the CRDS, but I knew that the work of the Centre through its several publications, and an excellent CRDS Vision 2000 Prize programme that he has set up, are continuing to serve the public cause.

He has been always a truly visionary and creative citizen of this country, of whom I am personally proud and for whose work I remain grateful. I wish him good health and continued interest in his chosen role as a private citizen, not afraid to express his ideas, available to all, and committed to the future welfare of this country.