Appreciation: Dr Anura Gunasekera - A salute from a colleague

Ananda Weerasinghe (Retd SLAS), Wellington, New Zealand

A top professional of international calibre and a rare gem that glittered in the post-CCS professional public administration recently passed away in Brisbane, Australia.

Anura was a colossus in the post civil-service state administration who belied the widely held apprehension at the time of the transformation of the old civil service that the professional standards are doomed. He solidly stood above his colleagues in his professional stature and achievements.

A product of the Department of Sociology at Peradeniya University he spent a short spell as a journalist before he made his entry to the Administrative Service in 1967. Anura's first posting in public service was a mere accident - an accident that happened to so many of us. We were not aware that the father of election administration in Sri Lanka - Felix Dias Abeysinghe, had an uncanny arrangement to cherry-pick a few new recruits from each intake to the administrative service. There were no interviews, no consultations. Anura and a few of us who were still smarting under the joys of success of entering into the coveted service were suddenly summoned from our training to appear before the great man. We were immediately dispatched to Ampara to taste the rigours of conducting elections at the Kalmunai by-election.

Elections Department is credited with producing astute, results-oriented, hard working professional administrators. In recent times, under successive governments, the Defence Ministry seem to turn only to ex-election department personnel to select the Defence Secretary! Anura and his colleagues soon realised the reason why they were handpicked. Being a purely administrative department that flutters into hyper-activity only during election times, no body volunteered to join it. The Commissioner closely guarded the entry as well as the exit of his senior staff. Every request to leave the department for another posting was turned down on account of non-availability of replacements with similar ability and experience. A nearly impossible condition to fulfil!

Anura skilfully managed his exit from Elections Department in a move that defined his destiny in public service. He had the opportunity to work under the legendary Ridgeway Tilekeratne in Hambantota and was able to impress this high profile professional. When Ridgeway became the Director of Information Anura soon joined him as his Assistant Director. This move became the cornerstone of Anura's extra-ordinary career in the Administrative Service. His colleagues in Elections had to languish long years in the Department. But some manoeuvred out, not without incidents. One of his colleagues who was selected to assist in the setting up of a high-powered judicial commission handed his duties to a subordinate and rushed to Colombo to assume duties of the new position, knowing well that he would not be formally released. The Commissioner slapped a charge of vacation of post against him but it could not be proved.

Anura waded into the realm of communications at the Department of Information with relative ease. His previous stint at journalism in the hubbub of a newspaper office stood in good stead. The cacophony of Press Officers running amok trying to meet deadlines, the billowing clouds of cigarette smoke and the ever present 'plain-tea" at the crowded office of the Department of Information on D B Jayatileke Mavata adjoining the Republic Square became a natural surrounding for him. From this point onwards communications became his life-blood. His skills and ability saw him through political changes and eventually he was appointed as the Director of Information. After a successful tenure in this position he proceeded to become the Secretary of the Ministry of State, which was under the stewardship of a yet another giant of communication - Hon Ananda Tissa de Alwis.

Anura, the administrator who was also a consummate academic, balanced both interests exceptionally well. He engaged himself in further studies and research and through his academic brilliance reached the pinnacle by obtaining his Ph D - a very rare and extremely difficult achievement.

As a mild-mannered person with exceptional qualities Anura was endeared both by his peers and subordinates. He always treated his friend and foe alike with his trademark smile and was ever ready to listen. His bonhomie knew no bounds. His convivial moods lit up conversations. With his high sense of humour he revelled in swapping stories. Yet he was able to keep things under the lid when he wanted, while maintaining his usual exuberance. He sprang the greatest surprise on his colleagues when he married Jathi, a colleague from the same batch of SLAS. Jathi became the greatest strength in his life.

Anura cared for people. He demonstrated this fine attribute when I met him last, a long time ago. Returning to the College dormitory at Cambridge after a hard days work as a postgraduate student, I found a message from Anura. I telephoned him promptly and we met for dinner in the evening. Anura had come there for a few days of research work. Knowing the hardships of university life that solely depended on the measly scholarship stipend, he treated me to a sumptuous meal. We swapped stories ranging from our university days. We recounted the hilarious episode we had on our return journey from Kalmunai-by election. We reminisced more than twenty years of life in the public service until we were told that it was the closing time.

Anura was a top-class professional administrator. He was an accomplished academic. Above all he was a superb human being who will be sadly missed by his family and friends.

May he attain Nibbana!


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