I first came to know Ivan Samarawickrama when he was Government Agent of Polonnarawa in the mid-1960s. I was then attached to the Land Development Department. I van had already earned a name as a good administrator when he was appointed Assistant Government Agent of the Jaffna District at a time when there were civil disturbances and an army officer (for the first time I believe), was appointed to function as the Government Agent. The government of the day understood the importance of having an officer acquainted with District Administration in order to control and administer a district. Ivan Samarawickrama performed his duties with great acceptance to the people of Jaffna and greatly contributed to the district’s peace and development.
Polonnarawa District had some unique characteristics. Most of the land was crown or state land, where settlement had taken place from the 1930s onwards when the ancient irrigation systems were restored under D.S. Senanayake who later became the first Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. Hence, the task of the Government Agent was to administer the district with great attention to the newly created settlement or colonization schemes and to ensure that the irrigation and igts associated agricultural development were carried out efficiently.
In these tasks Ivan Samarawickrama proved to be an excellent Government Agent. His public relations skills and his ability to coordinate functions earned him the respect and regard of all those who served in the district. Further, the Member of Parliament was the Minister in charge of Lands and Irrigation, Mr. C.P. de Silva. He was a hard task master who had earlier functioned as the AGA in charge of this district, and a pioneer in the settlement work. It was, therefore, difficult to satisfy him. Ivan Samarawickrama was on good terms with him due to the hard work he put in.
I have very pleasant memories of my stay in Polonnarawa. Ivan and his wife were gracious hosts and the Residency was a happy place to meet and discuss the problems of the district. The number of dinners and parties hosted will ever remain green in my memory. The most difficult problem was the proper distribution of water on an equitable basis. This was achieved due to Ivan’s public relation skills as much as his administrative ability.
I recall going on inspections to the most remote parts of the district. The staff officers and their families joined in these inspections. I can yet recall watching elephants at a close distance with Ivan Samarawickrama at Somawathie, the home of the famous marsh elephant. Ivan was a crack shot, and as long as he had his.303 rifle in his hand I had no worries.
Finally, I worked under him in the Ministry of Mahawali (the largest development ministry in the recent history of Sri Lanka) when he was appointed to succeed T. Sivaganam as Secretary. During this period I came to know him very well as an able policy maker who was able to understand the complexities associated with this large development ministry. I must place on record his achievement of the negotiations that preceded the construction of Randenigala scheme, which was the last of the major dams constructed under the accelerated Mahawali program.
To me he was of great assistance. His assistance rendered to my family and I during the July 1983 ethnic riots I will always remember with gratitude.
His memory will live long as a great administrator from the ranks of the Sri Lanka Administrative Service.
Wilfred Jayasuriya: “Ïvan Samarawickama: A Man for All Seasons,” 5 June 2017, https://thuppahis.com/2017/06/05/ivan-samarawickrama-a-man-for-all-seasons/