Prof. C. Suriyakumaran outstanding internationalist is eighty – Sunday Observer, Jan 20, 2002
noble product in futuristic thinking
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
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.
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
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
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
'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.
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
'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.
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.
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
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.
nationalist and internationalist
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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
In 1999, when his
Centre, jointly with a band of leading citizens put up a "Sri Lanka Vision
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
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.