Edmond Jayasuriya

Versatile public officer

My first association with Edmond Jayasuriya was in 1990, when I, with a team of CID officers, was attached to the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into certain allegations contained in the publication titled ‘By Way of Deception: The Making and Unmaking of a Mossad Officer’, commonly known as the ‘Mossad Commission’.

Jayasuriya was especially selected and appointed to the Commission as the Secretary by the then Secretary to the President, K.H.J. Wijayadasa, as the allegations contained in the Book, inter alia, were of very serious nature; that the Israeli Intelligence Agency, Mossad, trained members of the Sri Lanka Security Forces in Israel, and that any illegal operations carried out by people who had received such training would fall under Section 31 of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.Then Supreme Court Judge S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya was the Commissioner and Messrs. Nimal Gamini Amarathunga and Senior State Counsel Palitha Fernando, who later retired as a Supreme Court Judge, as well as the then Attorney-General, were assisting the Commission to examine witnesses and leading evidence before the Commission.

We as a team had great respect for Jayasuriya, who was an asset to the Commission with his experience in Public Administration, scholarly interests, and managerial skills. He was a diligent Sri Lanka Administrative Service (SLAS) Administrative Officer during our time with clear vision, irreproachable character, and simple manners. Being public officials, we can certainly boast about men of Edmond Jayasuriya’s calibre, who was an embodiment of incorruptibility, honesty, and commitment.

The demise of Jayasuriya after a brief illness on July 26, at the age of 85, has not only caused sorrow among his friends and colleagues, both in the Public and Private Sector, but has also cast a pall of gloom over the entire public service, of which he was a senior officer who held important posts during his career.

He commenced his career at the Sri Lanka Administrative Service as an Assistant Government Agent at Medawachchiya and was later appointed Additional Government Agent of Anuradhapura. His service in the Anuradhapura District was admired and valued by all government officials, chief incumbents, and the public. Jayasuriya received numerous plaudits and accolades for his honourable service in the district.

It was mainly his high degree of discipline, dedication, devotion and commitment to duty that made him and exemplary role model as a senior public official. His forte was simplicity, proven integrity, honesty, as well as loyalty to whomever he served. These are exceptional traits, and a strange mix in a senior public official.

Jayasuriya professed with great pride that the Administrative Service is among the noble professions in Sri Lanka; it had always been regarded with great respect by the general public. However, he noted with sadness that this one-time revered image of the Administrative Service was tarnished today with inefficiency, lackadaisical attitudes, sycophancy, bribery, and corruption. In fact, he was shocked and saddened by the news of the recent arrest of a senior officer at the Presidential Secretariat, as well as the Chairman of a corporation, by the Bribery Department.

He further stressed that discipline was vital for the Public Service, and always quoted the adage “Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishments”. He also greatly valued the order made by former President Ranasinghe Premadasa for all staffers to wear ties when he found that both the peon and the AGA were in the same attire during one of his visits to an outstation.

Having served in Anuradhapura, Jayasuriya was transferred to the Ministry of Public Administration as its Additional Secretary. There, he handled important subjects regarding matters to improve the Public Service. He always valued working with the Secretaries of the calibre of Messrs. D.B.I.P.S. Siriwardena and K.H.A. Wijedasa as it was a great experience with their vast knowledge and interests.

Jayasuriya was of the opinion that all SLAS Officers and other Senior Government Officers should be proficient in the English language for their professional development; he enabled them to interact with foreign delegates, as well as foreigners involved in Government Development Work and the Private sector. Therefore, he initiated programmes with the concurrence of the Secretary of the Ministry of Administration, to provide foreign training for SLAS Officers on Public Administration in India, Pakistan, Singapore, and the UK.

After retirement, he was appointed the Deputy Director-General of the Cultural Fund, considering his Public Service in the Anuradhapura District. There, too, he immensely valued the wide knowledge and the personal interest taken by Dr. Roland Silva, the Director-General who handled several important projects, in which Jayasuriya worked as well.

During my tenure of office as Director of the National Intelligence Bureau (NIB), I made a recommendation to Secretary of the Ministry of Defence to appoint Jayasuriya as an Advisor to the Ministry, to work directly with me at the NIB, which is presently known as State Intelligence Service (SIS). He was an asset to me with the valuable experience he had gained during his service in the Public Service.

Jayasuriya was then appointed the Senior Assistant Secretary at the Presidential Secretariat to handle important subjects which were directly under the purview of the then President. Later, he was appointed a member of the Administrative Appeal Tribunal, of which the Chairman was S.W.B. Wadugodapitiya, former Supreme Court Judge. His invaluable advice and contribution to arrive at prudent decisions on appeals made by public officials was valued by the Appellants.

The Biography on Chamal Rajapaksa, former Speaker of Parliament, was written by me, while Jayasuriya provided his erudite prowess to handle the editorial judgement. In fact, my concluding paragraph under acknowledgement read thus:

“My greatest debt, however, is to my ever kind and accommodating friend Edmond Jayasuriya, award-wining author and translator, without whose outstanding editorial judgement, I would not have been able to make this valuable volume a Birthday Gift to my beloved friend Chamal on October 30, 2013.”

He received the State Literary Prize in 2004 and the Gratiaen Prize in 2008 for his outstanding work and contributions related to Literature. He also translated the ‘Salalihini Sandeshaya’ and ‘Pera Theri Gatha’ into English, and was also a member of the team which translated the ‘Dhammapada’.

I contacted Jayasuriya over the phone when I learnt that he was sick and bedridden. He made a humble request for me to come with Chamal Rajapaksa to see him before he closes his eyes. I immediately contacted Chamal Rajapaksa and conveyed this message. He requested me to make arrangements to visit Jayasuriya when he came for the next Cabinet meeting on July 8. After the Cabinet Meeting, Chamal and I visited Jayasuriya in his home at Maththegoda. We spent more than one hour with him, and he was elated by our visit.

Jayasuriya’s funeral was held on July 27 at the Maththegoda Cemetery. Neville Guruge from the Bribery Commission and I paid our last respects to this great gentleman that day. In the midst of life’s challengers and upheavals, my close association with Edmond Jayasuriya will ever remain a shining memory.

May he attain the Supreme Bliss of Nirvana!

Punya de Silva,
Former Police/CID DIG


Maureen Gunewardena

She lived an illustrious life

Twenty years ago, on August 16, 2000, Maureen answered the call which comes eventually to us all.

I was in the happy position of living and enjoying my childhood days as her kid brother. Little acts of kindness such as joining in play time at home and being consoled by her when parental admonition was directed at me for my naughty exuberance are etched in my memory, even though seven decades have elapsed since those happy childhood days.

In later life, too, Maureen showed much concern for my well-being, particularly helping in weak subjects I encountered at the school promotion examinations. She even paid for my private tuition—and it would be no exaggeration to state that without her support, both morally and financially in those crucial years—I would not have succeeded in getting over the hurdles in later life. Maureen showed me the way to lead a full adult life.

Even in matters of settling down, she showed concern in a subtle manner sans coercion that I choose correctly. When I recollect on all this benevolence and goodwill I received from her, I have to acknowledge with empathy that I owed her a debt of gratitude, but sadly, death snatched her away before I could fully repay her.

Maureen’s own life was very illustrious and eventful. Having finished a brilliant school career at Holy Family Convent, she went on to the University of Peradeniya and graduated with a Honours Class Degree in the year 1953, at very young age of 21—a rare achievement not equaled by many before, or even after that date.

After graduation, Maureen took an appointment at the Inland Revenue Department as an Assistant Assessor, which was a prestigious appointment at the time when she clocked in as the second lady staff officer in the history of the department. She retired 25 years later, having reached the high office of a Deputy Commissioner.

In 1957, she married Victor Gunawardene, whose acquaintance she had made during her undergraduate days at the university. They had four daughters who did them proud, accomplishing themselves in the fields of civil engineering, paramedicine, economics, and interior architecture.

A matter that must not be forgotten to be stated is that during all these years of official executive commitments and bringing up children with all domestic chores, which was a span of about thirty years, she did not fail to look after her ageing parents, which I must state, would have been a strain to endure in later years; but thanks to the strong family bond with her husband and children, Maureen was able to achieve this pursuit to finality. Hers has been a life of versatility and fulfillment, for which I am certain she won the admiration of all who knew her in her lifetime and now would remember her with love and gratitude.

A matter of some regret, however, is that having had to cope with more than her fair share as the eldest sibling towards parents and extended family, she had little opportunity to enjoy her retirement and leisure time, which most others get to do. As illness afflicted her in the early sixty vintage, her precious life was shortened; and even though family and friends fought hard to save her, the adverse impact of malignancy and surgical misadventure had its fatal consequences.

Her husband, having stoically faced the adversity, has since passed away to join her in eternal bliss, so on this twentieth anniversary of her passing, our comforting thoughts go out to their four daughters, an admirable united family.

Ranjith Goonetilleke