PRESIDENT’S REPORT FOR THE YEAR 2021-2022
It gives me the greatest honor to present this Report of the National Trust for the year 2021. Hard on the heels of the two preceding years of Covid, home-grown disorders then followed to thwart resumption of normal activity. We are again compelled to perform the functions of the AGM by presenting the Reports and other conventional documents by email and regret the delay in performing this statutory function.
We live in extra-normal times. When the founding fathers of the Trust began formulating its genesis in 2005 they were not normal times either. The sad and horrific ethnic conflict had reached an eerie quiet which fooled no one. I would like to elaborate on the theme of recording the early years of the Trust from its inception described by Dr. Kanag-Isvaran in his report last year. A record of events and circumstances at this critical juncture is an important lesson for survival and rejuvenation.
By 2010 a suite of programmes forming the core panoply had been achieved. The first quarterly Heritage Tour was undertaken in February 2006 to Varna Rajamahavihare and other sites in Dedigama. These Tours conducted with the astonishing energy by the late Dr Roland Silva and late Nirmala de Mel were amongst the most look-forward-to- events by all creating a great buzz as the day approached. Dr Roland Siva inaugurated the Monthly Lectures in 2008 at the Barefoot Garden Café when he posed the question was ‘ Is Sigiriya the Oldest True Tourist Site in Asia?’ Three Prestigious Volumes -Birds of Sri Lanka, Heritage Buildings and Sri Lankan Painting in the 20th Century – produced in the early years were launched in 2009 in quick succession. These events repeated in near metronomic regularity became the template of the Trust activities and attracted growing interest and an active following. A project to restore the Dutch Fortification at Malwana had been undertaken with funding from the Prince Claus Foundation of the Netherlands and was in progress; other such projects were being contemplated.
In 2009 Mr Udaya Kadurugamuwa, a founder Trustee and Senior Partner of the law firm FJ&G de Saram, was the virtual backbone of the Trust. He valiantly attempted to coordinate communications (nearly all early correspondence originated from him) finances and determine priorities. He had secured the sponsorships of all publications to that date – the clients of the firm being perhaps artfully persuaded to rally to a worthy cause! He was also the first to realize then that the Trust’s organizational structure was deficient in achieving the ambitious objectives and projects advanced by enthusiastic Trustees as each following his peculiar expertise sought to direct initiative to those pathways.
This problem of the dysfunction of structure became apparent to other Trustees as well in that it was at odds with setting achievable goals and honing actions to these ends. It was in this backdrop that Trustees adopted the Resolution dated 26th May 2010 to set up a Management Committee dealt with in Dr Kanag-Isvaran’ s Report last year.
The first Meeting of the Management Committee took place on 8th July 2010 when the decision was taken to set up an Office of the Trust. Mr Kadurugamuwa in the Minutes of that meeting captures lucidly the state of the Trust:
The Management Committee observed that due to the current diffusion of the functions of the office to various points at which the volunteers do their professional work respectively, the management and administration aspects of the Trust are unsatisfactory particularly in respect of maintenance of accounts, co-ordination of various functions, collating information, serving the needs of the members etc.
(It) decided that these shortcomings could be eliminated and all of the other functions of the office listed above could be performed efficiently, as desired by the Trustees by moving all of the work, books, records and documents to one central point which shall thenceforth be the office of the Trust.
(It) observed that from the information available at present there does not seem to be sufficient funds with the Trust to establish such an office by itself.
In the circumstances (it) decided that the Committee should endeavour to obtain for a short period of about six months an office free of rent from a generous supporter of the Trust where the reorganization of the functions of management and administration of the Trust as described above could be done at minimal cost within such period.
(It) also decided that whilst such reorganization is done the (it) should endeavour to raise adequate funds to meet the operating costs of a fully-fledged office which is placed in charge of an employee of the Trust selected by the Committee for having the necessary skills and experience to efficiently perform all of the above functions under the supervision of the Management Committee
(It) further decided that the Committee should endeavour to have such an office and such an employee by the end of the said six months period.
Even though a time-line of six months was set to accomplish these tasks at the next meeting of 26th July 2010 Mr Kadurugamuwa records:
Pursuant to the decision taken by the Committee at its first meeting to obtain space for office of the Trust, initially free of rent for a period of about six months, Mr. Samarasinghe offered to the Trust a room at premises bearing No. 3 1.1, Deal Place, Colombo 3, free of rent. He said that the room will have its own lock and key, a telephone and toilet facilities. Mr. Wickremeratne offered to provide a computer to the office.
To begin with the Management Committee needs to find a donor such as a bank or a mercantile organization who would sponsor the office over a period of a year or more by meeting the expenditure of the office during that period
The Trust moved to the office provided by Mr Sarath Samarasinghe at 31.1 Deal Place Colombo 3. The first Manager of the Trust Office Ms Marina Perera was engaged and the Office became operational with a telephone, internet connectivity and other basic amenities. The first Notice to Members was sent on 6th August 2010 – all within a month of the first meeting.
The Trust office began coordinating the operational activities of holding Lectures, organizing the Quarterly Tours and coordination of the publications process – these activities being dovetailed into its other duties. The important Research and Academic projects continued under the separate Scientific Committee structures largely untrammeled by these organizational developments.
With the establishment of an office the gathering of records; reestablishing banking facilities which were snarled in procedural difficulties; taking over the secretarial duties of correspondence with members and other institutions; formulating and establishing financial and operational reports and the timely functioning of meetings were key functions established at the outset. These activities were largely overseen by Mr Kadurugamuwa and myself.
The quest for funding was the next goal. With a clearer understanding of the financial condition of the Trust an approach was made to Hatton National Bank PLC to finance the Trust Office. The Trust was running at a loss and could not meet the additional cost of an office. HNB responded quite magnanimously with an offer of Rs 1.5 million per 12-month period beginning from 1st July 2010 with a commitment of 3 years. The Trust is in debt to the Hatton National Bank for this far sighted initiative to ensure the survival of the Trust as it may not have been able to carry on much longer. Those watching the country’s present financial unravelling may better appreciate how important this bail-out was. HNB thus became the Principal Sponsor of the National Trust-Sri Lanka and the Trust Lectures have been held at the HNB Towers since 2012.
More initiatives followed as Dr Roland Silva and Prof Nimal de Silva secured the grant of office space by the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeological Research (PGIAR) at 407, Bauddhaloka Mawatha Colombo 7 in April 2011. This allowed the Trust to vacate as promised the temporary premises at Deal Place. With establishment of the Trust on a firm and permanent footing it began compiling the formal financial statements with the engagement of Ms Devika Anthoniz as Office Manager and these Accounts have been audited by Ernst and Young on a pro bono basis and that practice continues to the present day.
These well thought out and clear initiatives taken by Trustees acting in concert gave consistency, coherence and credibility to the Trust. It was then able to leverage its growing reputation with regular sponsorships for Publications as evidenced by the long line of reputed firms that have come out to support it and continue to do so consolidating its main revenue source.
Now a decade or more has elapsed since the events recounted above. It is the process by which the Trust has achieved in establishing its position of significance in the community. A significance which draws from the standing it has achieved. The Trust now embodies the conscience of the community insofar as concern for heritage which no doubt underpins the social values and norms of society. It has been inclusive of the many strands of the cultural mix of the nation which has been its lode-star rising above divides and extremes. Above all it has been united in purpose. The Trust is committed to abiding by these successful practices and conventions to ensure it stays relevant into the future and will endeavor to engage our youth in imaginative ways.
The Trust, at the end of the year covered by this report which normally would have been in March, had held 141 Lectures with the last being the Dr. Roland Silva Memorial Lecture which was delivered by Professor Romila Thapar from New Delhi in January 2022. Her brilliant address underscores the standing of the Trust. Two Prestigious Volumes on ‘George Keyt’ and the other ‘Sri Lanka Island of Islands’ were published at the end of the previous year. This brings the total Publications to 20 with two books to be launched in the current year. A large number of these books have been reprinted as the sale of books remains the most important revenue source of the Trust.
The year reviewed saw the following Lectures carried out on a webinar format as physical lectures were not possible. April 2021 – Dr. Thusitha Wagalawatta “Management & Functional Use of Mineral Resources in Ancient Sri Lanka: Stone as a Building Material in Ancient Anuradhapura”
May 2021 – Prof. Osmund Bopearachchi -“Ancient Sri Lanka and Study of Trade in the Indian Ocean through Buddhist Iconography”
June 2021 – Dr. Gamini Wijesuriya “The Dutch Hospital in Colombo: pre-2012, A story untold”
July 2021 – Mr. H. M. Chryshane Mendis – “The Lost Forts of the VOC”
August 2021- Prof. Nimal de Silva – “The Art of Gandhara – Buddhist Heritage of Pakistan”
September 2021- Prof. C M Madduma Bandara – “Ancient Irrigation in Sri Lanka: Some Issues Pertaining to Cascade Systems, their Origins and Functional Linkages”
October 2021- Mr. Dharshana Jayawardena -“Underwater War Heritage: World War I & II – Unravelling Deep Mysteries”
November -2021- Eng (Dr.) Chandana Jayawardana- “Landscaped Garden Complex of Ranmasu Uyana, Anuradhapura”
January -2022- “Dr. Roland Silva Memorial Lecture – Prof. Romila Thapar “The History of the Museum in India”
In conclusion I thank the learned Speakers who presented the Lectures on subjects of great relevance, to the PGIAR who provide us with office space, to Advocata Institute for supporting the webinars and Trustees who gave unstintingly of their time to continue to support the functions of the National Trust. I wish you all and our country safe passage in the future.
27th September 2022
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- PRESIDENT’S REPORT FOR THE YEAR 2021-2022
- NATIONAL TRUST – SRI LANKA OFFICE BEARERS – YEAR 2022/2022
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