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Dr. Warnasena Rasaputram - An appreciation

The Central Bank announces with deep regret, the passing away of Dr. Warnasena Rasaputram, a former governor, a career Central Bank Officer and finally a distinguished diplomat, states a Central Bank press release.

Warnasena Rasaputram joined the Central Bank of Sri Lanka in 1951, at the age of 24, having graduated with honours from the University of Ceylon with a degree in Economics, specializing in Statistics. He was one of the first direct graduate recruits to the Central Bank and his expertise in Economics and Statistics was to reflect very clearly in his work in the Bank. In the late 1950s, he won a Smith-Mundt Scholarship offered by the Institute of International Education and the United States Educational Foundation, and subsequently a Fullbright grant. This enabled him to undertake post-graduate studies in the USA at the University of Wisconisn, where he obtained a Master's Degree in Statistics and a doctorate in Economics. His doctoral thesis "Influence of Foreign Trade on the Level and Growth of National Income of Ceylon" was published by the Central Bank in 1964. He returned to the Bank on completion of his studies and was appointed Director of Economic Research in 1968. In 1971, he was released for service with an ILO team, led by Professor Dudley Seers, to report on the unemployment problem in Sri Lanka. He also served as a United Nations expert in Iraq and in several countries in Asia and the Caribbean. Dr. Rasaputram was appointed Assistant to the Governor in 1974 and Deputy Governor in 1975.

In 1976, he was appointed by the Government of Sri Lanka as Alternative Executive Director at the International Monetary Fund. In February 1979, he was appointed to the high office of the Governor of the Central Bank. He guided the operations of the Bank during a time of great change as Sri Lanka moved from a closed economy to an open market orientation. Dr. Rasaputram has been a scholar, recognised both nationally and internationally, with many publications to his credit. He was a pioneer in forming the South East Asian Central Banking Forum (currently known as The SEACEN Centre) and strengthening regional central bank cooperation in Asia. He also promoted the decentralization of the Central Bank, setting up regional branches in Matara, Anuradhapura and Matale, and was instrumental in establishing the Regional Development Banks. He served as Governor until November 1988, when he relinquished his post to serve as an Ambassador of the Republic of Sri Lanka. To date, he has been the Governor with the longest tenure in office, having served for over 9 years.

In 1988, Dr. Rasaputram was appointed as Ambassador to France. He subsequently served as High Commissioner to Malaysia and the Permanent Representative to the UN Offices in Geneva and Vienna and was Ambassador to the Vatican. He was President of the Disarmament Conference and the Chairman of the Asian Group of Countries in Geneva in 1991. His final posting was as Ambassador to the United States.


Dr. Warnasena Rasaputra in memoriam

A model public servant who always maintained the highest standards of the public service at all times, a practical economist on whom his erudition and learning shone very lightly without any presence or dogmatism unnecessary pomp or ostentation, a humble man who never forgot the rural background from where he came, Dr. Rasaputra as Governor of the Central Bank for 9 years, later Ambassador to France, Geneva and the USA walked with kings but never lost the common touch.

Born in Yatiyana in the heart of Ruhuna, he grew up in the village in his earlier years and acquired the deepest understanding of village life, the peasantry and the rural economy. Educated at Ananda, the Universities of Ceylon and Wisconsin, he graduated in Economics and also acquired a Doctorate in the same subject but fortunately never became the stereotype, theoretical, text book economist, remaining true to his roots and his traditions.

Recognizing and appreciating these inborn talents and his sympathy with the rural masses, Ronnie De Mel, when he became Minister of Finance and Planning in 1977 lost no time in recommending him for appointment as Governor of the Central Bank, which post he held with great distinction and acceptance for 9 years.

This was the time of great economic upheaval and turmoil in the history of this country when the Sri Lanka economy was being rapidly and systematically transformed from a closed, inward looking, socialist one to an open, outward looking market economy. Some of the finest officials ever produced by Sri Lanka, like Dr. W. M. Tilakaratna B. Mahadeva, Chandi Chanmugam, Gaya Kumaratunge, L. E. N. Fernando, S. T. G. Fernando, Rajalingam, Ronnie Weerakoon, Indrajith Coomarasamy, A. S. Jayawardena and so many others too numerous to mention here were all carefully selected and brought together into the Ministry of Finance & Planning by a Minister who was a task master to accomplish this revolution in the economic life of our land which would soon transform the whole economy and our whole country beyond all recognition. Among this galaxy of talent and at the apex of it all, the Central Bank, was Warnasena Rasaputra.

International economists from Harvard, Cambridge, Sussex, Singapore, India, and even international financial experts from the private sector were brought in to advise and assist the local economists with the World Bank and the IMF also lending their support.

The great debate at that time was whether the transformation from a closed economy to an open one should be done in one fell sweep with the shock therapy method of transformation and change or by the more gradualist step by step approach to liberalization. It was eventually decided that transformation in one fell sweep as it were, although advocated by many including international institutions would also bring unnecessary and untold hardship in the short-term to the ordinary people of this land, the farmer, the worker and the fixed income earner, and may have ended up in a great political and economic upheaval in the country.

Rasaputra in the Central Bank with his deep understanding of the ordinary man, supported the school of thought that advocated the more gradualistic, step by step approach to liberalization. In the end this path to liberalization was finally adopted by the J. R. Jayewardene government despite pressure to the contrary by many national and international forces.

After his sterling performance for 9 years as Governor of the Central Bank Rasaputra became our Ambassador to France, then to Geneva and finally to the USA where his long experience in finance and banking could be used to the greatest advantage$ of our country. He continued as our Ambassador in the USA. till a very serious heart ailment in Washington led to his retirement from the Public Service about 2 years ago.

After his retirement Rasaputra came back to his roots and devoted himself to religious and charitable works, helping various Buddhist causes and the poor in the Matara district, spending his own money and his own resources in the process. Even 6 hours before his passing away, he went to the Colombo residence of Mrs. Mallika De Mel MP for Matara District and discussed with her a plan for re-settling and rehousing some of the flood victims in that area. Such was his enthusiasm for public service to the poor until his very end.

Dr. Warnasena Rasaputra was a model public servant who always maintained the highest standards expected from a public servant at all times, an economist of erudition and learning and above all a person of great integrity and humility who was an inspiration to us all.

May he attain the bliss of Nibbana.
R. Rajaratnam