The Formation of The Ceylon National Chamber of Industries and its History

The Ceylon National Chamber of Industries (CNCI) was formed in 1960 and established by a special ACT of Parliament and it is the pioneering Chamber for Industries in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) established after the independence. The CNCI initiated its function as the foremost service facilitator and well as the voice of the Industry.

The Ceylon National Chamber of Industries commenced in the year 1960 at a time the industrialists were small timers compared with some of the giants who operate today. They had to pit their wits against big trading organizations, as industry in Sri Lanka during that era was viewed with a condescending attitude. The large traders were all members of the Ceylon Chamber of Commerce and the small industrialists, especially the Sri Lankan Nationals felt they needed a forum of their own in order to develop their ventures.

It was during this time of uncertainty that Mr. Cyril E. S. Perera an eminent lawyer came together with small industrialists to establish the Ceylon National Chamber of Industries. The first few Chairmen of that era were men of influence in the political field.

Eminent politicians such as Sir Claude Corea and Mr. Arthur Ratnayake succeeded Mr. Cyril E. S. Perera as Chairman. It can be understood now that the small industrialists knew the importance of political affiliation, as well as the value of administrative ability. Mr. K. Somasunderam next served for 5 years as Chairman during a period of change from 1965 to 1970.

It was during his time that the Ceylon National Chamber of Industries was incorporated by an Act of Parliament No. 10 in 1969.

A retired Civil Servant Mr. Edmund J. Cooray took over the reins of office in 1970. He had a very respected Chief Executive Officer in Mr. P. Sangarapillai who himself was a retired Civil Servant, who ended up as Commissioner of Motor Traffic. Until the time of Mr. Edmund J. Cooray the Executive Council Meetings were held at the residences of the respective Chairmen. However, with the advent of Mr. Cooray all meetings were held in the Board Room of Brown & Co. Ltd. Mr. Cooray was one time a Minister of Justice who retired from politics to serve the cause of Industry and Commerce.

In the 1970s Mr. T. B. Subasinghe was the Minister of Industries and it is known that he together with Mr. Maithripala Senanayake and Dr. N. M. Perera of the then Government did much to foster industry in an era of a closed economy. Much was done during this time to strengthen the position of industry and it is known that during this period Mr. Sangarapillai published many articles in the press on Sri Lanka’s need to foster industry.

He is said to have provided great leadership in convincing the government of the day, the importance of Industrial growth in Sri Lanka. Sadly, however that was an era of a shortage of foreign currency and industry had to survive on quotas for all items. However, industry was protected with very high tariffs and it is thought that the seed that was planted in the 1960s flowered due to the protection granted in the 1970s.

Mr. H. E. P. De Mel was the next Chairman and during his tenure of office the chamber moved to a premises in Bristol Building, Colombo Fort. Mr. Sangarapillai still remained the Chief Executive Officer and in February 1983 he was elevated to a consultative capacity.

Mr. Gilbert Jayasuriya, a barrister who was a leader in the Tourist Industry succeeded Mr. H. E. P. de Mel in 1978, the year, which saw the dawn of the open economy. During his time he had a very good rapport with the government of the day and the Chamber developed further by moving into its present more spacious office at Galle Face Court, Colombo 03.

In 1980 June, Sri Lanka experienced its first extended power cuts that affected industry in many ways. The power cuts were of two-hour duration in the morning and three hours in the evening. It was resolved by the Ceylon National Chamber of Industries to have a four day working week with Friday to be declared a non working day, rather than to continue with daily power cuts. This was also during the era when Mr. Gilbert Jayasuriya was Chairman.

Mr. Gilbert Jayasuriya was followed by Mr. A. R. P. Wijesekera, an Engineer with an industry of his own, and was followed by Mr. D. S. Madanayake, a Barrister in 1982. The next momentous event was witnessed in July 1983 from the point of view of the Chamber, when ethnic riots ripped the country and many industrialists of the Tamil community bore the agony of seeing their life’s work destroyed. This was also during the time of Mr. D. S. Madanayake.

A galaxy of distinguished Chairmen such as Mr R. B. Pahathkumbura, Mr Chandra Karunanayake, Mr K. C. Vignarajah, Mr Lal de Mel, Mr Nihal Abeyesekera, Mr Patrick Amarasinghe, Mr Nimal Samarakkody, Dr.Bandula Perera, Mr Asoka de Z. Gunasekera, Mr Ranjith Hettiarachchy, Mr Asoka de Z. Gunasekera, Mr Nimal Perera, Mr A. K. Ratnarajah and Mr Newton Wickramasuriya, Mr Sunil Liyanage, Mr. Preethi Jayawardena followed and so the saga continues.

Mr. Preethi Jayawardena was succeeded by another experienced and reputed industrialist Mr Gamini Gunasekera, the Managing Director of Union Chemicals Lanka PLC.

Mr. Gamini Gunasekera is an engineer by profession and an attorney-at-Law. Mr. Gamini Gunasekera took over the Chairmanship of the Chamber in October 2013. Mr. Gunasekera is a visiting lecturer of law at the Open University of Sri Lanka and also the Representative Member for the Science Profession of the Organization of Professional Associations (OPA).