“It was my childhood dream to one day become a naval officer,” proclaimed Yoshitha Kanishka Rajapaksa, the Chief of Staff to the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka. “I served the Navy for 14 years before I changed my career at the request of the Prime Minister, as I still would be serving the nation and its people even as the CoS.”
“I worked for my father and built up my experience when I was politically victimised and suspended from the Navy for four years. So this position didn’t come to me overnight,” he added.
Yoshitha is a retired naval officer and sportsman, in addition to his role as CoS. He is a centered and aware young leader who believes in inspiring youth, and has the ability to engage individuals effectively and influence them through navigation, demonstration and augmentation to improve the country.
Sharing his memories, Yoshitha remembered how his father reacted to his decision to join the forces and his best recollection of the Navy.
When Yoshitha had divulged his plan to his father, Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was heading the nation in the midst of an all-out terrorist war, he had responded saying, “If I can ask other parents to allow their children to join the forces, then I would not say no to my son.”
Mahinda is the incumbent Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and the Minister of Finance, Minister of Buddhasasana, Religious & Cultural Affairs and Minister of Urban Development & Housing.
Yoshitha went on to say that the day he joined the Navy after completing the mandatory training period was his best memory. It was the happiest day of my life!,” he exclaimed, while adding that he joined the forces in an hour of need in the country due to the terrorist war.
The Lieutenant Commander (retd), narrating his worst memory at the Navy, stated that it was the day he was suspended from service in 2015. “”It was an obvious act of political retribution. It was a Saturday, as I recall, when I received a phone call asking me to report to the Naval Headquarters. When I went there I was questioned until I was arrested. It was over false money laundering charges.
“After 21 days in remand, I read about my suspension from the Navy in a newspaper. However, they had to reinstate me back in 2019 when I challenged the previous government about my suspension, although there were no charges against me. With my seniority and salary, they had to reinstate me.”
Speaking further, Yoshitha stated that serving the Navy has allowed him to gain valuable experience and knowledge on how to protect and serve the people, which in turn would help him in public administration. Some of the characteristics he learned from the Navy are commitment, integrity, simplicity in helping and most importantly, discipline.
“Our seniors give us orders in the Navy and the assignment needs to be completed. The process is the same in public policy, but it is performed in a more diplomatic way. So in my new job, I am applying the knowledge I acquired while serving in the Navy. My role as CoS comes with commitment, integrity, simplicity in listening to individuals, and having tasks completed even under challenging situations.
Yoshitha, as CoS, is directly accountable to the Prime Minister for the management of the Office of the Prime Minister, for the alignment of strategic and political priorities and for all public requests to be answered.
“Even though I am the son of the Prime Minister, that does not matter here. I must deliver according to the aspirations of the Prime Minister,” he asserted.
“When questioned about his experience as the CoS, he said, “It’s only been two months since I took over as the CoS, and this role is therefore quite new to me. Every day brings a new experience to me. So far, the most challenging part of the job has been to balance people – politicians, staff at Temple Trees and the public. Everyone has to be treated fairly, whereas in the forces everyone has a rank. It is, therefore, a new experience for me.’
Strategic planning offers the blueprint for aligning the life of a nation, organization and even an individual. Expressing the significance of strategic planning, the CoS claimed that in order to reach great heights in life, an aim or an objective must be set.
“Nothing comes easy or on a gold platter. The impressive organisational skills and commitment of my father have taught me how to plan my goals. He was determined to put an end to terrorism when he was sworn in as President in 2005, so he prepared it day and night, and in four years, terrorism was entirely removed from our shores.
“Therefore, I always believe that if you want to achieve something in life, clear your pathway and set it right. This is quite important in personal life, official life and even family life. The road may seem tough, of course, but we must be ready for the obstacles that come our way.”
Yoshitha is a ruggerite par excellence and he is very keen to develop the sport in Sri Lanka. There are many talented players in Sri Lanka, he said, and they have to be found and encouraged to play by showing them the prospects for the future.
“In order to take the sport to an international level, Sri Lankan rugby should be revamped. Players should be educated well and encouraged to play, and international exposure should be given to them so that they can develop a career. After retirement, most Sri Lankan rugby players do not have a future. Some who are fortunate enough because of their fame, receive reputed positions in private organisations, while most get into coaching or private training. Therefore, in order to improve the sport, young people must be guided and shown that the sport has a future.”
Yoshitha, as a young leader, hopes to actively participate in transforming the country, empowering young people and making Sri Lanka a powerhouse in the region.
Stressing the importance of the strategic placement of Sri Lanka on the global map, he said that the country could be built into a maritime hub where foreign income could be received, while at the same time providing job opportunities that would in turn improve the quality of life of many.
“I will continue to serve the nation in every way possible, as I have since 2006. As long as my father is there, through him, I will serve the nation. I’m a true Sri Lankan and I will love and cherish my country,” Yoshitha confidently concluded.