Published on: March 1, 2024

Mr. Ronnie de Mel’s influence has been instrumental in shaping my political journey

  • The open economic policy introduced by J.R Jayawardene and steered by Ronnie De Mel significantly contributed to the development of our nation- Says the President at Mr. Ronnie De Mel’s funeral.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe reflected on his experience with former Finance Minister Ronnie de Mel during a speech, highlighting Mr. de Mel’s prowess as a skilled politician and an excellent economic expert. The president emphasized that this experience has become a cornerstone for his political endeavours today.

Recalling Mr. Ronnie de Mel’s characteristic ability to make prompt and effective decisions, it was emphasized that this was a defining trait of his personality. He further highlighted Late Mr. de Mel’s significant contributions to the country, noting him as a politician who left a lasting impact and whose service to the nation will always be remembered.

President Ranil Wickremesinghe made these remarks while paying his respects at the funeral of Late Mr. Ronnie De Mel, held at the Ruhunu University Stadium this afternoon (01).

The funeral arrangements for Mr. Ronnie De Mel were carried out according to his last will. Following a motorcade procession, his body was laid to rest at the indoor stadium of the University of Ruhuna, where the funeral proceedings commenced.

Senior Professor Sujeeva Amarasena, Vice Chancellor of the University of Ruhuna, delivered the opening address at the funeral gathering.

After the religious rites were performed by the Chief Incumbent of Devinuwara Parama Vichitrarama Viharaya, Ven. Devinuwara Siri Sunanda Thero, the former Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ruhuna & Chief Incumbent of Weligama Agrabodhi Viharaya, Ven. Midigama Sri Soratha Thero, the Chief Incumbent of Kottagoda Sudarshan Bimba Maha Viharaya, Ven. Godellewela Ratanananda Adhikarana (Judiciary) Sangha Nayaka Sanghanayaka Thero, and Chief Incumbent Shasthrapathi Ven. Pandita Karathota Pangngnasila Thero delivered the ordination instruction.

In his address, President Ranil Wickremesinghe further said:

“Mr. Ronnie de Mel once approached me and requested a meeting. During our conversation, he expressed his desire for both former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and me to speak at his funeral after his passing. Today, we honour that request by being present here together.

I got to know Mr. Ronnie de Mel after his affiliation with the United National Party. Prior to that, I had encountered him during my childhood. Subsequently, in 1970, he was elected to Parliament and served in the government under late President J.R. Jayewardene. I also had the opportunity to work alongside him during this time, where I witnessed first-hand the talent of Mr. Ronnie de Mel.

He rendered invaluable service to the United National Party (UNP) in securing victories in these regions, a fact that was widely acknowledged. Despite the prevailing momentum favouring the UNP, late President J.R Jayewardene cautioned against complacency, emphasizing the necessity of winning the election. In response, Mr. Ronnie De Mel pledged to secure votes from the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) for the party.

He made regular visits to the prison and engaged with Mr. Rohana Wijeweera. Ultimately, he proposed that if all those individuals voted for their party, he would advocate for the release of Mr. Wijeweera from prison. Late Hon. J.R Jayewardene consented to this proposal. As a result, both parties fulfilled their responsibilities, leading to the United National Party securing a significant number of seats in parliament.

I had the privilege of closely collaborating with Mr. Ronnie De Mel after entering Parliament. He exhibited remarkable skill in executing Late Hon. J.R.Jayewardena’s initiative to liberalize the country’s economy. Hon. Jayewardene entrusted this task to Mr. Ronnie De Mel in July, and amazingly, he completed all assigned duties by September and October. He had a swift approach to his work, ensuring that tasks were accomplished promptly. I learned from his example and am adopting a similar approach in my current endeavours.

That day marked the opening of the economy. Despite concerns of potential collapse, I arrived here today from Trincomalee. Observing the active cities below during my helicopter journey, it became evident that the country’s economy has flourished.

I believe that without Mr. Ronnie De Mel’s open economy initiative, the progress we see today would not have been possible. Back then, cities were sparsely populated with only a handful of shops. Today, however, we witness a proliferation of shops, establishment of factories, and emergence of new urban centres—all thanks to the open economy policy. Moreover, following this economic liberalization, Late President J.R. Jayawardena secured funding for major development projects. The construction of the Mahaweli scheme, large reservoirs, land development for agriculture, the Sri Jayawardenepura Kotte Parliament Complex, new infrastructure, roads, trade zones and housing programs all became possible due to his adept management of resources. He demonstrated remarkable skill in funding and overseeing these endeavours.

Furthermore, amid the unrestrained period of the LTTE insurgency in 1983, there were concerns that the country’s economy would weaken. However, Mr. Ronnie de Mel’s steadfast stewardship ensured the protection and advancement of the economy against significant odds. Without his leadership during that critical time, such remarkable development in the country would not have been achievable.

His ideas, problem-solving approach and work ethic were widely acknowledged as exemplary within the government. He demonstrated a remarkable ability to address not only economic issues but also various other challenges.

In particular, he played a supportive role in the preparation of the Indo-Lanka agreement. Today, we bid farewell to such a remarkable individual. It’s also worth noting the significant contribution of his wife, Mrs. Mallika de Mel, to his success.

Engaging in free discussions with Mr. Ronnie de Mel in the evenings offered a wealth of knowledge spanning politics, economics, culture, literature and language. His extensive experience made him a valuable asset in politics.

Additionally, he worked with great dedication for the establishment of the University of Ruhuna. It must be said that without Mr. Ronnie De Mel, there would not be a university like this here today. Ultimately, he wished to go on his final journey as the founder of the of University Ruhuna. Despite his significant contributions to the country’s economy and his pivotal role in its development, he desired to be remembered in history as the individual who nurtured the of University Ruhuna.

Also, I collected numerous insights from my interactions with Mr. Ronnie De Mel. That experience proved invaluable to me in later endeavours. The knowledge acquired through our collaboration continues to inspire me to this day.

In his final days, even in retirement, he remained engaged in discussions about the affairs of the country with us. It must be acknowledged that his passing is a loss not only for us but for the entire nation. We must remember the late Mr. Ronnie De Mel’s significant contributions to our country. He was a politician who left a lasting impact. On this occasion, I extend my final respects to Mr. Ronnie de Mel, may he attain the supreme bliss of Nibbana and I offer my deepest condolences to Mr. Ronnie De Mel’s family.

Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena,

Mr. Ronnie De Mel’s contributions to this country and its people during his lifetime are immeasurable. He was renowned as one of the best debaters in the Parliament of Sri Lanka, and his extensive knowledge gained through university education greatly enriched his political career. Additionally, he possessed profound insights into the governance structures of foreign nations.

Moreover, Mr. Ronnie De Mel provided invaluable service to the public sector of this country. His involvement in the enactment of the Paddy Lands Act, which remains unchanged to this day, particularly benefited farmers. Furthermore, he played a pivotal role in safeguarding the cooperative system in rural areas through the implementation of the open economy.

A leader who conscientiously fulfilled all the responsibilities he undertook, not only as a representative of the Matara district but also within the parliament. His profound understanding of the political landscape significantly contributed to social development.

He generously donated his wealth to the Sasana, setting an example not only for politicians but for the entire country. His passing is indeed a significant loss for the nation and for all of us.

Minister Kanchana Wijesekera conveyed the message condolences of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa to the funeral gathering.

Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, Speaker Mahinda Yapa Abeywardena and Member of Parliament Dallas Alahapperuma also spoke at the funeral.

All religious leaders, led by the Maha Sangha were present, along with Southern Province Governor Willy Gamage, Governor of the North Western Province Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena, Senior Advisor to the President on National Security and Chief of Presidential Staff Sagala Ratnayaka, former opposition leader of Devinuwara Pradeshiya Sabha and numerous political representatives, Family members of Late Mr. Ronnie De Mel, professors, students of the University of Ruhunu and local residents also attended.

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