On 20 March 2014, the South Centre organised a Special Tribute Seminar to commemorate the life and intellectual legacy of Dr. Gamani Corea of Sri Lanka, former UNCTAD Secretary-General (1974-1984), member of the South Commission (1987-1990) and Chair of the Board of the South Centre (2002-2003). This South Centre event was organised with the support of the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka and was held at the UNCTAD building in the Palais des Nations, UN Office in Geneva.
By Adriano Timossi
Dr. Gamani Corea passed away in Sri Lanka on 3 November 2013. Dr. Corea started his career at the Central Bank in Sri Lanka where he later became director of economic research. He was also the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs, playing a key role on Sri Lankan economic policy. In 1963 he was invited by Raul Prebisch to join the team involved in the preparation of the first UNCTAD Conference in 1964, an organisation which he served later as Secretary-General from 1974 to 1984.
Dr. Gamani Corea was also instrumental in the establishment of the Group of 77 and later in the 90s, the South Centre, having previously served as a member of the South Commission (1987-1990) and a decade later as a member and chair of the Board of the Centre (2002 to 2003). Dr. Corea promoted domestic and international economic policies aimed at the benefit of the poor and of the developing countries. He contributed to reinforce unity among nations of the South and their position in multilateral negotiations.
Dr. Corea introduced the Integrated Programme for Commodities – commonly known as the Corea Plan – one of his finest achievements that had led to the establishment of the Common Fund for Commodities. The influence of Dr. Corea on the decision to establish the Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative is also another of his accomplishment, having previously chaired the Expert Group of the Non-Aligned Movement on Third World Debt which served as the basis for the HIPC initiative. He was a strong proponent of a New International Economic Order (NIEO), and under his tenure, UNCTAD experienced one of the most active periods of its history.
The Special Tribute Seminar of the South Centre
The Special Tribute seminar of the South Centre not only paid tribute to this eminent South thinker but also focused on the intellectual thinking represented and furthered by Dr. Gamani Corea’s legacy as many of his ideas and thoughts continue to be relevant to current debates in search of alternatives to the developmental challenges the Global South is facing today.
In his role as moderator of the opening session, Mr. Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Centre, said that Dr. Corea, apart from his well-known role at UNCTAD, G77 and in Sri Lanka, was also very instrumental in the establishment and the operations of the South Commission and the South Centre.
H.E. Mr. Benjamin Mkapa, Chair of the Board of the South Centre, called Dr. Corea, a statesman and one of the most eminent economists of the developing and developed world. A great contributor to the cause of the South and to South-South cooperation, Dr. Corea was one of the twenty-eight members of the South Commission which functioned from 1987 to 1990 under leadership of the former President of Tanzania, Julius Nyerere, who was the Chair of the South Commission and of the former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was the Commission’s Secretary General.
Dr. Gamani Corea provided immense intellectual and personal support to His Excellency Julius Nyerere. The Commission led to the report entitled “The Challenge to the South”, a must-read report launched in 1990, which led to the establishment of the South Centre, and which described developing countries as existing on the periphery of the North, and as mostly weak and powerless in the world arena. The report emphasised the need for greater cooperation among countries of the South. Dr. Gamani Corea remained closely associated with the South Centre from its inception in 1991 and for being one of the “founding fathers” of the Centre by providing it with policy and substantive guidance to its work, thus assisting Mwalimu Julius Nyerere to gradually build the Centre into an institution with a global name and standing and making possible its transformation into an intergovernmental organisation of developing countries for promoting and safeguarding their interests.
In his message delivered to the seminar, Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, called Dr. Corea an “embodiment of the confident South.” During his tenure in UNCTAD from 1974 to 1984, he advanced key issues such as debt relief; the Common Fund; launching of the GSTP; negotiations on a code of conduct for the transfer of technology began; and the discussion on a new international economic order. A man of brilliant diplomatic skills, Dr. Corea had successfully managed North-South dialogue in a constructive direction. He also recalled one of his “lasting consequence(s)”, the UNCTAD`s Trade and Development Report, launched by Dr. Corea in 1981 and led by Mr. Gerassimos Arsenis.
H.E. Mr. Ravinatha Pandukabhaya Aryasinha, Ambassador of the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka in Geneva, highlighted key points of Dr. Corea’s career from Sri Lanka to the UN. Dr. Corea played an “active role in reinforcing unity among nations of the Global South and their position in multilateral negotiations”. Dr. Corea’s “vision and active role in the promotion of South-South and North-South Cooperation remains an inspiration for all”.
Gamani Corea: life and work
Noting the overwhelming participation of former colleagues of Dr. Gamani in the South Centre Special Tribute Seminar, Ambassador Rubens Ricupero, former Secretary-General of UNCTAD (1995-2004), said that “this is not something that happens every day and it is in itself a tribute without words”. Dr. Corea played a key role in the consolidation of UNCTAD “because he had the wisdom of understanding what was behind the apparently arid legal problem of the role of UNCTAD within the United Nations organisation”. Ambassador Ricupero referred to the period when there was a temptation to turn UNCTAD into a specialised agency of the UN with its “own budgetary process and for all practical purposes, almost completely independent from New York in administrative matters” instead of it remaining a subsidiary body of the General Assembly which would keep UNCTAD “protected against the pressure of the powerful”.
Mr. Chakravarthi Raghavan, Editor Emeritus of the South-North Development Monitor (SUNS), provided a detailed and insightful description of his extensive discussions with Dr. Corea, the events and ideas shared over many decades of good friendship since the earlier times when he met him as a diplomat for Sri Lanka in New York. Mr. Raghavan said that “he had an inner conviction and strength, and an outlook that was visionary, developmental and egalitarian”.
The intellectual legacy of Dr. Gamani Corea
The session on “The intellectual legacy of Gamani Corea” was moderated by Professor Deepak Nayyar, Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University. He said that Gamani’s contributions to the profession of economics, to the international community, to Sri Lanka, to development, to the cause of the South, have made him a man of many parts.
Dr. Saman Kelegama, Executive Director of the Institute of Policy Studies of Sri Lanka (IPS), gave a comprehensive overview of the approach of Dr. Gamani Corea to the Commodity Price Stabilization highlighting some of its successes and failures from the Integrated Commodity Programme to the Common Fund, two of the most important instruments of the commodity price stabilization strategy advocated at that time and considered by many the finest of his achievements.
Mr. Michael Sakbani, former Director of UNCTAD’s Divisions of Economic Cooperation, Poverty Alleviation, and Special Programs, spoke on the Monetary and Financial Issues in UNCTAD under Gamani Corea’s tenure.
Mr. Gerassimos Arsenis, former Director of the Money, Finance and Development Division of UNCTAD, the first to lead the UNCTAD’s Trade and Development Report, launched by Gamani in 1981, spoke on Gamani’s role on global management, interdependence of money, finance and trade, and the debt burden of developing countries.
Mr. Jan Pronk, former Deputy Secretary-General of UNCTAD, spoke on one of the most memorable concepts coined by Gamani Corea: The Development Consensus. “The motivating factors now are not only the political need to respond to the problems of newly-emerging nations or the humanitarian compulsion to alleviate poverty and reduce the widening gap between rich and poor countries. There is now also the need for a framework of international economic relations which provides for the maximum utilization of mutually reinforcing and interacting forces for growth and prosperity throughout the world economy”. A reflection that well defines today’s challenges.
Mr. Michael Zammit Cutajar, former UNCTAD staff and former Executive Secretary, UNFCCC, brought another perspective of Gamani’s work, the environment pillar, a less well known work but which had equally great impact. Gamani was a pioneer on the interface of “development and environment”, later known as “sustainable development”. In fact, Gamani was one of the very few development economists from the “South” mobilised as a Special Adviser to Maurice Strong during the preparations for the 1972 Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment.
Adriano Timossi is Programme Officer of the Global Governance for Development Programme (GGDP) of the South Centre.