In retrospect of a great leadership | Sunday Observer

In retrospect of a great leadership

2 August, 2020

The great US five-star General Douglas MacArthur once said, a true leader has the confidence to stand alone, the courage to make tough decisions, and the compassion to listen to the needs of others and become one by the equality of his actions and the integrity of his intent. The quote ideally harmonizes with the actions and intent of the leadership of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during the nine months of his Presidency.

Although the President would have wanted to proceed with his pledges in the manifesto, over three months of the nine were deprived due to the Covid-19 pandemic where the Government was compelled to impose curfew most of the time throughout the island. The situation worsened as the entire Colombo district, economically the most important in the country was forced to be fully or partially closed from March 18 to June 28, a period over 12 weeks. The impact of the curfew was enormous, in terms of public life and the economy.

State-Owned Enterprises

However, despite the worst imagined scenario experienced by the Head of any country, soon after taking over office on November 18, 2019, President Rajapaksa, in his first month itself, actively engaged in many of the areas outlined in his manifesto.

One of the most important tasks he initiated was to appoint an elite panel consisting of a top civil servant and three corporate leaders to inspect the appointments of chairpersons and directors to State-Owned Enterprises which were making staggering amounts of cumulative losses. As the public is well aware, consecutive governments made senior appointments for SOEs for political gain, squandering large amounts of public funds.

More importantly, the President has given them timelines to prove the performance. In January 2020, he gave clear instructions to the chairpersons and senior executives of state corporations and statutory boards that priority must be given to the rapid growth of the economy. He instructed the new appointees to identify areas which can contribute more to the economy and develop these sectors.

The President, in his first month in office, addressed an important issue of the questionable efficiency of the public service. He wanted to see an end to the prevailing practice of pessimistic approach by public servants when on duty. He said that existing superfluous ordinances, rules, and regulations should be amended to remove unnecessary burden and eliminate the displeasure among the public.

The entire state sector should be driven to restore public trust in their services, he said. In the public opinion, a majority of government institutions are inefficient, ineffective, and, corrupt. The President’s message to state officials bore results immediately and visible changes took place.

In January 2020, in another important move, a multi development task force was established under the leadership of Major General (Retd) Nanda Mallawarachchi to build a poverty-free society as pledged in the Presidential manifesto.

This task force is entrusted to provide state sector employment to the most suitable and eligible unskilled candidates. Recruitments are done subsequent to a government-sponsored vocational training. This ends the traditional practice of filling such vacancies through politicians. The move was commended by the rural community as they feel that they are given a fair opportunity to find employment.

By February, the entire world was stricken by the devastating news of the coronavirus, predominantly in China. At the initial stages, although there were several cases outside China, the threat of spreading the virus to other regions of the world was not seriously taken into consideration by many countries. However, the Sri Lankan leaders were of a different view and decided to take prompt action on preventive measures.

The first case of the pandemic in Sri Lanka was confirmed on January 27. Before the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 as a pandemic on March 11, the President appointed a task force comprising top health officials to monitor the preventive measures taken to arrest the disease entering the country. Sri Lanka is one of the first countries in the region to address the global threat, much faster than many other countries.

Subsequently, on March 17, the President in another timely move, set up the National Operation Centre for Prevention of Covid- 19 Outbreak (NOCPCO) and appointed the Army Commander Shavendra De Silva to spearhead the operation co-chaired by the Director General of Health Services, Dr. Anil Jasinghe, together with a handful of experts and other stakeholders.

The nation not only trusted this manoeuvre but accepted the Centre’s credibility unconditionally. Today, Sri Lanka is recognised the world over, including the WHO, as one of the best countries that successfully controlled the pandemic due to the commitment and dedication by all stakeholders including the military, public service, health authorities and the general public.


Even amid such an unprecedented and dreadful episode, President Rajapaksa did not neglect or abandon the pledges made on development. The Presidential Task Force in charge of Economic Revival and Poverty Eradication was established in April 2020, based on the vision of the ‘Saubhagyaye Dakma’ policy statement.

The task force was assigned to steer the relevant institutions to create a production economy through the formulation of a unique economic structure.

Operating under the chairmanship of Basil Rajapaksa, the committee comprises an elite membership of civil servants, business leaders, industrialists, bankers, and other professionals.

The recent crackdown on drug kingpins and underworld leaders are hailed by the entire citizenry irrespective of party politics. Tough and relentless actions by the Police with the assistance of the Special Task Force have paid rich dividends although there is a long way to go still.

As per a senior police official, in the Western Province alone, there are twenty-five active functional underworld gangs with over 300 gang members. Restrictions and robust control in prisons throughout the country is a pleasing sign.

The usual political pressure on officials on these underworld figures will not be a burden to the relevant law enforcement officials anymore due to the strong and uncorrupt leadership.

Although the mass media give more than the required publicity to heinous criminal activities, the prevention measures are not given the same priority most of the time.

The media mostly publicise these criminal activities after an incident and sometimes with excessive dramatic presentations to capture the readers.

In this writer’s opinion, the media can do much more service by getting engaged in prevention.

The security authorities can influence the television channels to organise a simulcast series targeting the teenage student population, the most vulnerable group for drug dealers to educate drug-related health issues, legal implications, and particularly penal repercussions. Such an arrangement would be immensely beneficial to the country as a whole

The President has already addressed the majority of the assurances he made on the manifesto despite setbacks. One must not forget that his term is relatively new and a period over three months were taken away by the Covid-19 problem. The ongoing actions of the Government are appreciated by every peace-loving citizen of the country.

The present Government seems to be on the correct path so far on every major public issue such as the economy, public welfare, security, and environment.

Taking a cue from President Rajapaksa, his team members are more conscious about public needs, waste of public funds, and also general discipline. The President is victorious on public opinion and is assured of a second term if he balances political and bureaucratic pressure on long term national interests.