When the identity of the new Governor of the CBSL was revealed, I saw congratulatory posts flying left and right on social media. An excellent choice, they said in general. Like many people, I saw his acceptance speech and felt inclined to agree. He sounds like the man we need in that chair right now.
Unfortunately, I don’t really know the good Doctor. The Asian Mirror did a post on him, but it’s just a rehash of his Wikipedia page. I decided to look a bit further inwards and found the following information. My thanks to Namini Wijedasa, Anusha David and Dr Sue Onslow for their interviews with him. So, without further ado:
- The man has a HUGE track record.
Dr Coomaraswamy served in the Central Bank of Sri Lanka for 16 years (1973-89) in the Economic Research, Statistics, and Bank Supervision Divisions. After that, he had a stint at the Ministry of Finance and Planning.He joined the Commonwealth Secretariat in 1990 as Chief Officer, Economics, in the International Finance and Markets Section. Apparently, it was a toss-up between the World Bank and the Secretariat. A lot of his work was based around Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPCs: that’s an actual term) and how to stabilize their economies. Highly relevant to Sri Lanka, I’d say.He later became the Director of the Economic Affairs Division and Deputy Director of the Secretary General’s office, and left the Commonwealth Secretariat in 2008 – that’s 18 years of service – and returned to the as the Interim Director of the Social Transformation Programmes Division in 2010. Here’s an excellent interview with him about this period of his work on the CommonWealth Oral Histories website.There’s a slight black mark: he also served as Special Advisor to Galleon Group. The Galleon Group was one of the largest hedge funds in the world, managing over $7 billion until it collapsed in a fantastic 2009 scandal involving insider trading. He’s now a non-executive director of John Keells Holdings and Tokyo cement.
- He knows his stuff, but he’s not one to attract attention to himself.
“I have always felt that a public servant should not be seen or heard, but should work behind the scenes,” he reportedly said in a 2004 interview, before laying down an analysis of everything that was screwing up the economy: declining trade, a civil war, an unproductive and bloated civil service, and party politics that hinder effective growth.There’s an interview with Life Online that speaks volumes about the man: after succinctly explaining the challenges the Sirisena government would face, he discusses his personal life. Proudest moment? “Can’t think of a single event. Mostly things to do with our children.”“Indrajit still a humble soul” declares the Sunday Times’s Sports section. Apparently, his wife complains that he does not have enough hobbies.I like this man.
- The caveat: he’s well-educated, well-connected and was a famous sportsman back in his day
Ah, the key ingredients to winning the heart of the middle class: go to a prestigious school so that one can claim they knew you – and play sports. Dr Coomaraswamy education history does not disappoint: Royal, Harrow School, University of Cambridge (BA) and then Sussex (DPhil). He’s captained the Sri Lanka and CR & FC rugby teams back in his day, and apparently led the Harrow and Emmanuel College cricket teams at some point, and also played for the Tamil Union.He’s also the brother of Radhika Coomaraswamy, once Under-Secretary-General to the United Nations, now on the Constitutional Council of Sri Lanka, and an internationally renowned human rights advocate.If newspaper comments sections are any indicator, Dr Coomaraswamy’s history is probably leading to both a hearty cheer from the old Royal batch/es and fingers pointed at Ranil for building up an Old Boy’s Brigade of privileged Royalists. Regardless of what side you’re on, that’s a thoroughly impressive education and leagues ahead of the man we had before.
- All in all, it’s wise to wait and see what he does before commenting, but here’s to an intelligent appointment in this country.