OPINION

Governor A. S. Jayawardena’s contribution to public good

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(An extract from the opening address by Dr.G.Usvatte-aratchi at the First Meeting (2019) to Celebrate the Life of Governor A. S.Jaywardena.)

We meet today to celebrate the contributions that Governor A.S Jayawardena made to the public good, the most illustrious of which was as the Governor of the Central Bank. Looking back on it now 65 years later, when AS and I went up to Peradeniya, there prevailed in the university an unannounced commitment to the public good, that moved the many young men and women who then set out on the great adventures of their life. AS started his academic career under a great teacher I.D.S. Weerawardena who taught Government, now more fashionably called Political Science.

Through the London School of Economics and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and subsequently, in our government, he pursued those interests. His sojourn at the IMF as an Alternate Executive Director at a time when macroeconomics and monetary economics were subjects of major intellectual and policy interest, determined his later career to shape a great governor of the Central Bank.

But that was not all that AS was interested in. One recalls the Aradhana programme over Radio Ceylon that he sponsored and the Indrakeelaya that Pradeep Ratnayake was commissioned to compose and play. It was difficult to drag him away from Buduruva gala or Mailgavila. We walked over Mahamevna Uyana many days imagining the world that lay hidden from us.

When he was at the Fund in Washington, he occasionally came down to Manhattan on government business and it was our pleasure that he stayed with us. He would usually ask for half a cup of coffee after dinner. Mali had a problem measuring half a cup. Once on a trip to Mexico City, we had good luck. There was a half cup in a market and here is the half cup in which he was served coffee, ever since. We had much fun together. It is to commemorate those and to celebrate his contributions to the public good that a few of us got together to organize this event.

I am delighted, though not surprised, that so many have turned up at our invitation. I shall recognize the immediate family of Governor Jayawardena who have honoured us with their presence. Sonali, Menaka and Lalitha, who every morning laid out a suit with a matching tie, are here as well as Dhanuli and Ransikha, his grandchildren. Many relatives of his, to many of whom AS was Lokuaiya, are here in strength. There are many here related to Governor Jayawardena in many variegated ways, all to make this occasion memorable.

This meeting was organised by a group of five, all friends of Governor Jayawardena. The initiative belongs to Dr. Sarath Rajapathirana. Dr. Nimal Sanderatne and Ms. Joan Moonesinghe did several chores. Dr. Ranee Jayamaha and W.A Wijewradena, who together with Governor Jayawardena formed the powerful constellation that guided the fate of the Central Bank and the economy in those years, were generous with their wisdom.

We could not have made a better beginning to these activities than with Governor Indrajit Coomaraswamy delivering the first lecture. He took little time to agree to accept the invitation extended by Sarath Rajapathirana and we are very grateful to both of them. Among those in public service now, few are more easily recognised than Governor Coomaraswamy, and deservedly.

The Central Bank was in the news for the wrong reasons for many years. Because of either ignorance or ill will, even the highest in the land still speak of ‘a central bank bond scam’, when for more than a half a century, there has not been a scrap of paper that one could even mistake for a bond. We are grateful to Dr. Coomaraswamy for having taken the Bank away from the headlines. Formulating and implementing monetary policy in our economy is fraught with many problems. For one, there is the overwhelming power of fiscal policy in determining aggregate demand in the economy. As imports are a pretty stable fraction of the total output in the economy, the balance of trade depends on fiscal policy.

As the government is an active member in the fixed-income assets market, its behaviour goes a long way to determining rates of interest. In all markets where the Bank is assigned the statutory obligation to ensure stability, government can be a destabilising agency. In those circumstances, the wisdom and the personality of a Governor can be determining influences on the behavior of government. The academic training and the work experience of a governor can be powerful in determining government policy. That was where Governor Jayawardena made an impact. We remember those contributions with much pleasure.

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