‘Politics and Development in Sri Lanka’ -Lecture by Mangala Samaraweera at Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore

It is a pleasure for me to join you here today, to speak on ‘Politics and Development in Sri Lanka’, soon after the official visit just last month to Singapore, by Prime Minister Hon. Ranil Wickremesinghe.

As I stand here before you, I am reminded of the famous words of Singapore’s first Prime Minister and much admired leader the world over, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew,

“There was no secret, we had no choice but to take chance and sail into rough waters”.

In the case of Sri Lanka, I am sure you all know very well, our history, and where we stood as a country at the time of Independence in February 1948, in comparison to most other countries that gained Independence in that era.

Sri Lanka, then Ceylon, was placed in a unique position among the countries in the developing world at the time. We started practicing universal adult franchise as early as 1931. We were considered a model Commonwealth country, carefully prepared for Independence, with a relatively good standard of education, two universities of high quality, a civil service largely consisting of trained locals, and with experience in representative government.

The different communities in the country showed promise of being able to live and work towards common national goals in peace, harmony and unity. They had worked together to gain independence from the British despite the fact that they followed different faiths, spokes different languages and followed different customs.

However, what followed is something that the world knows only too well. Our nation faltered. We made mistakes which saw our country plunge into torment and conflict for well over three decades.

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his memoires,

“it is sad that the country whose ancient name Serendip has given the English language the word ‘serendipity’ is now the epitome of conflict, pain, sorrow and hopelessness.”

Then came the 19th of May 2009 which saw the end of violence unleashed by terrorism in my country. Sri Lanka was once again free of bombs and gun-fire. By the time the conflict ended, it had taken a toll on everyone in the country. No one was left unscathed. It was not only the conflict in the North and East that the people had endured since Independence. There was the tsunami of December 2004 and two youth insurrections in the South of the country in the 1970s and in the 80s and 90s which left families and individuals scarred emotionally, and their lives sadly altered permanently.

When the violence ceased on the 19th of May 2009, therefore, it was our fervent hope that Sri Lanka could at last resume her long suspended dream for a better, peaceful, united future. However, that was not to be. We failed to seize the opportunity to achieve meaningful reconciliation and consolidate peace.

The past 6 years or so since May 2009 saw Sri Lanka take an unfortunate journey on an autocratic path. Civil liberties were curtailed, independence of institutions including the judiciary was compromised, democracy was weakened, the rule of law was undermined, and good governance practices and human rights were violated with impunity.

We failed to address the causes of conflict in a manner that would guarantee durable peace, meaningful reconciliation and non-recurrence. Divisions in society were becoming deeper along religious and ethnic lines, freedom of speech and expression were curtailed, and fear and intimidation pervaded society.

Our nation which had been a prominent and respected member of the international community since Independence, including in the United Nations, for long years, abandoned her natural foreign policy of engagement, and chose instead, to follow a policy of antagonising traditional friends and partners, and isolated itself from the world community.

It was in this backdrop of a sense of total despair, that several parties in Opposition, which I like to call the ‘Rainbow Coalition’ joined forces. We came together to field a common opposition candidate, Mr. Maithripala Sirisena, at the Presidential election in January 2015, in response to the call by a large section of people in Sri Lanka who were yearning for change.

Despite an election campaign which was deeply flawed and one-sided, the rainbow coalition of the opposition scored a decisive victory on the 8th of January, on a platform promising far reaching democratic and constitutional reforms.

The people of Sri Lanka reasserted their commitment to democracy by dislodging an emerging dictatorship through non-violence. Instead of the stones, pellets and bullets of the Arab Spring, Sri Lanka’s ‘Rainbow Revolution’ succeeded through the power of the ballot.

Over 81% of registered voters from all parts of the country exercised their franchise on the 8th of January, silently, peacefully and decisively, resulting in a swift transfer of power the very next day.  The people in the North of the country who previously boycotted Presidential elections, came out in large numbers to participate in this election. They did so, even as a few urged them not to vote. By this act, they indicated their commitment to the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. They staked their claim in choosing the President of the country; a united country, with one President.

It could therefore be said that this is the first time in our country’s history that we have a truly Sri Lankan leader, who has been elected through the votes of all Sri Lankans, irrespective of race, religion and language. A President who stands for a united New Sri Lanka in which ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity is respected, celebrated and valued; a leader who would fulfil the aspirations of the people for strong and independent democratic institutions, freedom of expression, rule of law, good governance and the promotion and protection of human rights.

From the very first day since assuming office, President Sirisena’s Government, with Mr. Ranil Wickremesinghe as Prime Minister, has been pursuing an agenda of reform which I am sure you must be familiar with.

Several important steps were taken immediately to,

-ensure freedom of expression and media freedom;

-uphold the rule of law;

-strengthen institutions through legislation – the most important being the 19th amendment to the Constitution which curtailed some of the powers of the Executive Presidency;

-initiate good governance practices;

-strengthen civilian administration in the Northern and Eastern Provinces including replacement of the military Governors in these provinces with senior ex-civil servants; and

-review High-Security Zones and release land to their original owners;
The Right to Information was recognized as a fundamental right through the 19th amendment to the Constitution. The importance of civil society in the process of governance, nation-building and peace-building was recognized through several steps including Sri Lanka’s decision just last month in Mexico, to join the Open Government Partnership, becoming the first country in South Asia to do so.

We have also initiated dialogues with diaspora groups and individuals with a view to working with them and obtaining their ideas, views, and assistance for the reconciliation process that is currently underway in the country including projects that directly relate to the welfare of the people.

On the international stage, Sri Lanka is once again working closely with the United Nations Organisation and its systems and procedures. We liaise closely with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and his office and we remain open to working with the OHCHR to obtain technical assistance to address several important issues including justice and accountability related issues.

I am sure that all of you are aware of Sri Lanka’s decision to co-sponsor the Resolution titled ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’ in the UN Human Rights Council which was adopted on the 1st of October. This decision, without a doubt, would have taken many in the international community by surprise. However, it was a carefully considered decision manifesting the Government’s open, sincere and proactive approach to dealing with Human Rights issues. It was also an affirmation of the Government’s commitment to guarantee to Sri Lanka’s citizens, its resolve to work towards achieving the norms of a functional democracy, where the universal values of equality, justice and freedom are upheld, by fostering reconciliation between communities and securing a political settlement that would ensure that the country does not plunge into conflict ever again.

In keeping with the Government’s approach of working closely with the international community, we have forged stronger relations with the United Nations and its agencies to obtain financial and technical assistance including through the UN’s Peace building Fund for formulating resettlement plans, meet the immediate requirements of those being resettled, training and capacity building, and reconciliation projects. Overall, we pursue a policy of engagement, dialogue and cooperation with all countries and international organizations, and will remain open to the ideas of others, their views and opinions while sharing our own experiences and views pertaining to matters that concern not only Sri Lanka, but the global community at large.

The election manifesto of President Sirisena’s rainbow coalition included a 100 Day Work Programme which committed to undertake wide-ranging reforms including deliberation on changes to the electoral system. There was also a pledge to hold early Parliamentary elections.

In keeping with that pledge, Parliamentary Elections were held on the 17th of August at which the people of Sri Lanka once again conveyed a very clear message for change. They voted for the rule of law, they voted against impunity, and in support of reconciliation and rebuilding the nation for everyone. They were clearly against the politics of ethnic and religious division and extremism.

The victory of the United National Front for Good Governance (UNFGG) at the Parliamentary Election enabled President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to form a National Unity Government. Traditional rivals in Sri Lankan politics – the United National Party (UNP) and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) thus came together, heralding a new culture of consensual politics in the country and creating much needed political and policy stability.

An important feature in the August 17th election was the return of centrists to power in the legislature and the resounding defeat of extremists on both sides of the divide. As a result, the moderates in Parliament have once again secured power which augers well for progressive reform.

Inaugurating the 8th Parliament on the 1st of September, President Sirisena drew from the example of South Africa where the main political parties came together at a historic moment in that country. He affirmed that similarly, in the post-conflict context in Sri Lanka, the formation of a National Unity Government is essential to obtain the bipartisan consensus that is necessary to face the important challenges before our nation, which include reconciliation and peacebuilding.

So for the first time in our country’s history, under President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, one of the main ills that plagued us since independence has been set aside – that is the temptation of political parties to follow a path of confrontation in order to achieve short-term political gains over the long-term interests of the people and the nation.

The two main parties and some of the smaller parties have stepped away from the adversarial arena of politics. Instead of pure short-term political interests of winning power, holding on to power and retaining power, the political parties have finally decided that they need to reflect in their work, the long-term interests of the people.

Foremost among these is to ensure that our nation would never again be plunged back into the nature of violence and conflict which engulfed us since Independence. And to commit to work at all times with the realization that all communities in our country, although they follow different faiths, speak different languages and follow different customs, share a common geographic space – one nation that we must all live in; and within that space, strive to work in unison for the common purpose of developing our nation which will ensure long-term prosperity for all.

Despite all the violence of the last several decades, there is a large reservoir of goodwill in my country, among the people of all communities. They are, after all, guided by the four major religions of the world which pursue peace, compassion and brotherhood – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism and Islam.

There is realization that politicians and leaders of communities on all sides have made mistakes in the past; that the reservoir of goodwill among communities and among people on all sides was diverted by politicians and leaders in the past, for temporary gain, which led to devastating consequences for all.

This realization is the grounds on which we now gradually build the pillars of a new nation which guarantees the protection of the rights of all, enables the creation of an inclusive society and affirms non-recurrence.

Among the steps envisaged is a new Constitution which will include a Bill of Rights that takes into account not only civil and political rights but economic, social and cultural rights as well. A Constitution that addresses the needs of all citizens and communities; one which would allow greater participation for the public in decision making processes relating to matters in their respective areas. This would enable more accountable and more responsible government in the country. Such a Constitution, with electoral reform and restoration of stronger Parliamentary government would be essential to ensure reconciliation and lasting peace with justice and rule of law. There is full realization that in order not to slip back into unfortunate conflicts such as the insurrections in the South and the problems in the North which ultimately led to terrorism, it is important that all citizens  must feel that they have equal opportunities and have the ability to contribute to nation building. All citizens, irrespective of ethnicity and language must feel that they are equal partners, sharing equal rights.

In order to do this as a nation, we must rise above our fears. We must change mindsets that have got used to thinking of who did what to whom at what time. We have to rise above hatred and feelings of vengeance.

I believe strongly that our nation, Ladies and Gentlemen, has the strength to turn inward to reflect. It is true that forgetting is difficult and most often, not possible. Human memory, no matter however much one yearns, does not let go. Yet, human beings possess the capacity to rise above mistakes, rise above fears, and rise above anger and vengeance and act with compassion, humanism and wisdom. These are the qualities required to commit to work together to build a common future of peace and prosperity, where the rights of all are protected and upheld, where good governance and rule of law reigns, and all citizens will have a sense of ownership in assuring the progress and prosperity of our nation for the benefit of generations to come. And I believe that our nation, torn asunder and tormented by conflict for over 30 years, is now ready for this.

With the twin mandates received in January and in August this year, and the formation of the National Unity Government, we are now well placed to translating the ideas and vision of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe, which are in line with the expectations of the people of the country, into reality – that is the creation of a new, united Sri Lanka that celebrates and draws strength from its multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-religious and multi-lingual character; a nation that is reconciled and at peace with herself and with the world, upholding the dignity and human rights of all her citizens, the rule of law, and good governance including transparency; and enabling investor-friendly and sound economic policies required for stability and equitable growth that is essential for the development and prosperity of the nation.

The Tamil National Alliance which is now the third largest party in Parliament holds the leadership of the Opposition while the JVP or the People’s Liberation Front holds the Office of Chief Opposition Whip. The main Political Parties in Sri Lanka, therefore, hold Office in either the Government or in Parliament, resulting in our Parliament becoming a national forum.

The priority objective of the Government is of course the achievement of “reconciliation and development” which is essential for the nation’s long-term stability, development and prosperity.

Just last week, on the 5th of November, the Prime Minister outlined the Government’s Economic Policy in Parliament, centered on a knowledge based social market economy built on social justice principles. He explained the steps that will be taken to put in place mechanisms that will seek not only to strengthen the economic sphere but also many other sectors such as social, education and health. Important areas to focus on include generating one million job opportunities; enhancing income levels; development of the rural economies; ensuring land ownership to rural and estate sectors, the middle class and government employees; and creating a wide and strong middle class; as well as ensuring  sustainable development.

The Government’s intention is to make Sri Lanka a highly competitive economy on par with Southeast Asia. The newly created Ministry of Development Strategy and International Trade will coordinate investments and economic relations. The barriers to Direct Foreign Investments including bottlenecks and delays to doing business will be removed. There will be reforms in the Financial and Monetary sectors and more stringent control of the Budgets. In order to strengthen social sector programmes especially universal access to education and health, the Government will increase the budgetary allocations to both sectors. And a new set of laws will be put in place to combat corruption and financial crimes.

The first budget of the Government will be presented on the 20th of November and will reflect the third generation economic reforms that the Government intends to initiate, in specific detail.

Since time immemorial, Sri Lanka has been at the heart of Indian Ocean trade especially in the Bay of Bengal. The Government intends to continue in this tradition by entering into an Indo-Lanka Economic and Technology Collaboration Partnership. This will be reinforced by Free Trade Agreements with Pakistan and Bangladesh as well as the ASEAN nations bordering the Bay of Bengal – Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Sri Lanka will also negotiate with the European Union for GSP+ concessions and with China for a Free Trade Agreement.

As we progress on political reform and embark on economic reform, we will be preparing ourselves for an Asia Pacific based on the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Addressing the Japanese Diet last month, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe observed that today South Asia has a population of 1.6 million and a GDP of US$ 2.6 trillion. By 2050 the region’s population is projected to increase to about 2 billion, which will make it larger than East Asia. Therefore countries in Southeast Asia and South Asia must work closely and collaborate more. Quoting from the Buddha, the Prime Minister said “a thousand candles can be lit from a single candle and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared”.

We must look to ways of working in close cooperation to achieve the best possible solutions for everyone and create high growth areas, enabling the wider South and Southeast Asian region to fulfil its economic potential and bring higher living standards to its people. Sri Lanka envisages offering many new opportunities to foreign investors and collaborate with developed nations to obtain science and technological expertise, strengthen human security, and counter climate change including adopting mitigation and adaptation strategies.

As Sri Lanka embarks on this important journey we look to Singapore, the one country in the region that is hailed as the modern success story of economic advancement combined with political stability and ethnic harmony. Although Sri Lanka and Singapore are different in many ways from geographic size to complexity of issues and challenges faced, there is much that we can learn from the ‘Singapore Story’. From the management of lean and efficient government to combating corruption; the establishment of credible performance benchmarks in the public sector to strengthening the rule of law on commercial matters; effective investment strategies and tourism promotion; creating an educated and skilled workforce that is merit-based and building strong institutions – there is definitely much to learn.

I end with the words from Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew that I quoted as I began “There was no secret, we had no choice but to take chance and sail into rough waters”.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today, Sri Lanka has no choice but to take this chance; this opportunity before us, which may not present itself again, and work collectively with commitment, with the assistance of the international community, to re-build our country as a strong, united and prosperous pluralistic nation, ensuring ethnic and religious harmony, economic success, political stability and a balanced foreign policy.

Thank you.

Mangala Samaraweera
12 November 2015

Autonomy of Central Bank

The Central Bank functions under the Monetary Law Act, which permits a high degree of autonomy from government in its day to day functioning. The Bank is financially independent of government and that contributes to its autonomy.The Secretary to the Ministry of Finance is a member of the Monetary Board which governs the Bank. That link provides a means of regular communication between monetary policy makers and government. The law provides for the relevant Minister to give written directions to the Governor on matters of policy. These provisions and the sensible behavior of politicians and governors had until 2005 assured the autonomy of the Central Bank. A touching instance of the appreciation of that autonomy is the news item in your newspaper of 10 November, where D.E.W. Gunasekera is reported to have said, ‘… the safest place for both funds (EPF and ETF) is the Central Bank.’. When the EPF act was being considered by the Cabinet in 1958 Trade Unions insisted that the management of EPF money be entrusted to the Monetary Board that governs the Central Bank and the EPF Act contains a clause to that effect. In 2002 or 2003, the senior management of the Bank considered that in order to avoid conflicts in objectives of the Bank, EPF, then mature with experience, be made independent of the Bank. When the proposal went to the Cabinet it was shot down because Trade Unions would hear none of it.

There are good reasons why the largest investment fund in the country should not be managed by the monetary authority of the country, the central bank. The central bank is responsible to society for maintaining price stability and the stability of the banking system. This will require the bank to vary interest rates to prevent rising or falling prices of any high magnitude. The effect of local interest rates on capital movements making the exchange rate move accordingly complicates the question. The central bank also may have to take other measuresto ease or squeeze credit. All these activities of the bank may have large or small effects on the small stock market in the country. To make matters complex the Central Bank is responsible for managing the public debt.

Under the last responsibility, the Bank is expected to keep interest cost to government low. That requirement puts a drag on raising interest rates, no matter what maintaining rice stability may require. Contributors to EPF expect the Central Bank to maximize returns on their savings. That requires the Central Bank to keep interest rates high, no matter the demands of price stability. In addition, EPF has the largest investible fund in the country, with power to move the small bond and stock markets whichever way it wishes. Now, a fall in bond prices is the inverse of a rise in interest rates. If bond prices fall, investors will move to buy bonds selling stocks, which makes capital expensive to entrepreneurs.

Since everything is connected with everything else in money, capital and foreign exchange markets, it is practicable and wise that different entities take decisions regarding monetary policy, investment of the largest pool of savings in the country and the management of the public debt for the government.Things were manageable when public debt was mostly owed to governments and intergovernmental financial institutions, and when total debt was small and absorbing only a small part of total government expenditure. That age when the Central Bank could juggle many balls in low air is over and it is time that the Central Bank was relieved of the burden of performing this magic. At some point, a ball is going to drop.

The enormous size of EPF funds in relation to bond and capital markets makes it a probable maker or breaker of markets. There were accusations that during Governor Cabral’s tenure the market for particular stocks were manipulated. These have neither been investigated nor withdrawn by the accusers. Besides these irregularities, the Bank can be under temptation to manipulate bond markets to make interest rates move with its desired direction to achieve objectives of monetary stability. However, this may conflict with the objective that the Monetary Board earns the high returns for EPF. It is best that a different set of people make judgements about the investment of EPF money and leave the Central Bank free to run monetary policy, as it considers most prudent.

There is the point raised by D. E.W.Gunasekera and emphasised by Trade Unions right from the inception of EPF. How much of that fear is imagined? Surely, it can’t be beyond the ingenuity of our lawyers to formulate a bill that can put up dykes that fingering politicians cannot breach. And surely, there cannot be a complete absence of men and women of integrity who can withstand pilfering fingers of politicians. With trade unions as a main stake there will be a formidable watch dog guarding poaching politicians from trespassing into forbidden territory. Serious thinking by trade unions leaders will give rise to an institutional arrangement that will keep EPF money safe and earning a reasonable return to savers. That kind of arrangement will relieve the Monetary Board of the kind of confusion that arises in policy making when it has been legislatively required to follow conflicting objectives.

I have argued earlier that requirements of public debt management puts the same kind of conflicts before the Monetary Board. There were a series of papers produced in the Bank, 2003-2004 on the subject and they can be very useful to reconsider the question.

Exchange control management is no longer as important as it was and the department will wither away as foreign exchange begins to move freely.

A smaller Central Bank with EPF, Public Debt and Exchange Control out of its portfolio will be free to pursue objectives of price stability and banking system stability. With that arrangement I wonder what ‘Regional Offices’ of the Central Bank espoused by Governor Mahendran will do.

Autonomy of the Central Bank seems now to be irretrievably broken. However one has hope. To the common man Prime Minster Wickremesinghe comes out as a man of immense good sense and he can preach to anyone of us convincingly the virtues of central bank autonomy. It is futile and indeed and not all together wise to imagine that in our market conditions the Central Bank can function independently of government policy. The provision in the Constitution that Parliament has control over financial matters cannot be invoked to deny the Central Bank autonomy in its normal functioning because the Monetary Law Act functions under the Constitution and that Law provides for the autonomy of the Bank. If Parliament wishes so do away with autonomy they had better change the Monetary Law Act.

We are witness to this deadly erosion of autonomy of universities to the extent that a senior academic was recently driven to write in this newspaper (October 07, 2015) ‘university autonomy: an empty word’. Please, please, let us not do that with the Central Bank. It is not simply the place where I first worked and who paid for the education of many overseas but also the place which provided a pool of expertise which governments over a long period of time tapped when they wanted such. One recalls GamaniCorea, W. M. Tillekeratne, M. R. P. Salgado, W. Rasaputram, J. B. Kelgama, P. B.Karandawala, A. S.Jayawardena and P. B. Jayasundera among those who worked with distinction at the call of the government of the day. This pool of ability was available because the Bank was autonomous to take decisions on training staff and nurturing them with much care in the Bank. I was associated for a short time as a consultant to a committee that decided on these matters. I recall the care with which each staff member’s career was discussed when opportunities opened up for training overseas and placement within the Bank. A rule applied mechanically that each staff member must be transferred out every five years would have denied us some of the most brilliant people to come out of the Central Bank. Let the Monetary Board and the Governor and Heads of Department at lower levels decide on these matters and let politicians keep their fingers in their own pie. As we have seen there are many juicy plums out there. The Governor may be a henchman of the President or a long standing friend of the Prime Minister who if however does not have the personality to keep those relationships in the background can only bring disaster to the Bank and the economy. If the Governor and the Board are incompetent find substitutes as provided in the law and not gangster fashion as when Chief Justices were removed and appointed in the recent past.

The supremacy of Parliament does not carry with it that there are no areas of autonomy within the law and that such autonomous institutions are not essential for the healthy functioning of a body politic, the same as you need small amounts of some minerals for animal bodies to function.The grand story about autonomy is the separation of powers in government. The demand for autonomy for some institutions including universities, central banks, media institutions and NGOs come from the fundamental fear of totalitarianism. So long as the force of gravity of government can keep these satellites in orbit let them have their own revolutions on their axis!

Aftermath of Tilak Marapanas resignation

Law and Order Minister Tilak Marapana resigned last week after an uproar in the Cabinet, over his perceived pussyfooting on the ongoing investigation into the floating armoury of the Avant Garde Maritime Service Limited (AGMSL).

Mr. Marapana’s only ‘offence,’ it appears, that he earlier told Parliament that the considered opinion of the Attorney General was that there was no considerable and admissible evidence to institute a legal case against the weapons that were found in the ship, MV Mahanuwara during a police raid. The docked ship was raided at the Galle Harbour soon after the Presidential election in January this year. (Last month, a second ship, MV Avant Garde was raided when it returned to the Galle Harbour after a voyage in the Red sea)

Mr. Marapana who himself was a former Attorney General and leading lawyer stood by the AG’s department, while some of  the boisterous members of his Cabinet and several others outside appeared to suggest that the AG should cater to their whims and fancies.

It was not Mr. Marapana, but his opponents, who were interfering with the case and by their action, trying to influence the AG’s department.

Now, emboldened by their ‘success,’ those very individuals want Justice Minister WijeyadasaRajapakshe removed, again because the latter too had stood by the AG’s department.

avants-3(1)

A rather interesting spectacle of washing dirty laundry in public is now taking place as the government ministers RajithaSenaratne, WijeyadasaRajapakshe and former Army Chief Field Marshal SarathFonseka trade flimsy allegations with each other.

However, the most disturbing of all, was a reported attempt to summon the Attorney General before Parliament to explain why his department decided not to institute a legal case against the weapons found in the Avant Garde’s floating armoury.

AGMSL was involved in a joint venture with the fully state-owned RaknaArakshaka Lanka Limited (RALL) to provide weapons and sea marshals for the ships against maritime piracy.

The AG’s department, after considering evidence submitted by the CID and observations made by the Defence Ministry and Sri Lanka Navy, has decided that there was no ground to take legal action against the AGMSL under the Fire Arms Ordinance, Explosive Act or the Prevention of Terrorism Act. CID has been advised to submit any evidence of corruption related to the management of the company to the Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption. A separate probe into alleged corruption and money laundering is now being undertaken by the Bribery Commission.

AGMSL was providing private maritime companies with weapons, which were issued to it by the RALL. Those weapons were to provide security to ships against maritime piracy. Sri Lankan Navy provided the service until 2012, until it handed the business to AGMSL.
Now the government has decided to revoke the monopoly of the AGMSL. The Navy has taken over the provision of weapons to private maritime security companies. Under government orders, RALL has decided to discontinue its engagement in maritime security.
Private Military Companies (PMC), a multi-billion dollar industry worldwide, are not new to Sri Lanka. In the 80s, when much of the world shunned us after the Black July, South African PMCs trained some specialized units of the army. Maritime security firms have recently become a thriving industry as despondent Somalies make sea piracy a multi-million dollar business.

“If the AGMSL and any government officials have flouted the law, it needs to be investigated. However, the Attorney General has decided that there were no admissible grounds for legal action. Under the normal circumstance, the controversy which has become an embarrassment for the new government would have been laid to rest.”

If the AGMSL and any government officials have flouted the law, it needs to be investigated. However, the Attorney General has decided that there were no admissible grounds for legal action. Under the normal circumstance, the controversy which has become an embarrassment for the new government would have been laid to rest.

tilak

However, this case is an exception due to the involvement of one man: Gotabhaya Rajapaksa.
A few of his opponents want to hound him – no matter the legal grounds for such an action.
Therefore, mutual recrimination within the government ranks over the Avant Garde probe is not just a power game among a few politicos. It is now becoming a witch-hunt, which threatens to undermine the independence of institutions that the government pledged to foster, one of which being the judiciary.

Last week, the Bar Association of Sri Lanka raised concerns over what it described as “a spate of and growing vilification and personal attacks” on the members of the judiciary and Attorney General’s Department, and the attempts to summon the AG before Parliament.

Sri Lankan politics is cheap. It has not changed much under the Yahapalana government. The danger is that some politicians, in the government, in the opposition and outside Parliament, tend to think that the Attorney General should kow-tow to them.

Their attempts to vilify independent institutions and their office holders bode ill for the future of our democracy. In fact, we should celebrate the new found sense of independence in our judiciary. That the judiciary now rules by the law, and not by the dictates of the self-interested politicos is an admirable sign.

“A rather interesting spectacle of washing dirty laundry in public is now taking place as the government ministers RajithaSenaratne, WijeyadasaRajapakshe and former Army Chief Field Marshal SarathFonseka trade flimsy allegations with each other.”

Therefore, the top leaders of the government have a responsibility to rein in their own ranks. The greatest feat of the new government, so far, has been resurrecting independent institutions. Its leaders should not allow its ranks to roll back that process. The integrity of those institutions should not be weakened to achieve petty political and personal ends. It was not long ago that a Chief Justice was impeached because she refused to issue rulings in favour of the regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa. Some of the recent critics of the judiciary and AG’s department, in fact, placed their signatures in that infamous impeachment motion – though many of them regret it now. Some of them, may have a low esteem towards those independent organs of the State. Their remarks betray those sentiments.

Of course, the public expect the government to investigate allegations of corruption, excesses and abuses of power blamed on the previous regime. However, that should be done through the due process of law, and not through kangaroo courts – or by influencing the judiciary and other independent institutions.
After all, if we need Kangaroo courts, we could well have kept the former regime in power. It was pretty good at it. We should celebrate the new found independence of the judiciary – and tell the self-interested naysayers to be quiet!

Maithri’s conspiracy: Lethal dose administered to Marapone tried on Wijedasa, Vajira and finally Ranil

A conspiracy to oust Prime Minister RanilWickremesinghe and to replace him with a defeated prime minister of the SLFP has come to light, based on reports reaching Lanka e news inside information division. A pro SajithPremadasa group of MPs about 25 including a small UNP group of State deputy ministers who are disillusioned because they did not obtain cabinet minister portfolios have held secret discussions in this regard. Lanka e news shall be revealing the names of this group later, as this is not the opportune moment to do that.

Behind this secret conspiracy is an ungrateful president himself who is only worried about the defeated SLFP under his own leadership, and hence   nursing the hope that an SLFP government shall come into power under his leadership. Obsessed with these evil thoughts and wrongful desires ,the president bit the hand that fed him , by kicking out the very people who installed him in power within two days of becoming the president , while  painting the wrong picture that all these treacherous moves and activities are orchestrated  by the Rajapakses, based on reports .

As a preliminary step, which is part of the traitorous conspiracy, after plotting successfully the resignation of ThilakMarapone who is very close to Ranil, the same calculated plot has been hatched against WijedasaRajapakse and VajiraAbeywardena who are also very close to RanilWickremesinghe. As part of this conspiracy,a newspaper canard was published as lead news in a weekend newspaper belonging to ThilangaSumathipala who is a close crony of the president. The article carried the bogus news under the caption ‘Vajira, Marapone, Wijedasanot wanted  – UNP MP’s petition.’   The names of the UNP MP’s mentioned therein are those who were not in the UPFA nomination list given by Maithri to Mahinda Rajapakse , yet  succeeded at elections on the UNP votes  after securing nomination through UNP party.

Both ruling government and opposition under a dictator

It is a matter for regret that the new Government instead of forging ahead with new plans and programs, is allowing the traitorous group to engage in a series of conspiracies to undermine the parliamentary power of the UNP party led by Ranil   that came into power on the votes of the people.
The epicenter of this conspiracy is the formation of an unofficial opposition party under Maithripala Sirisena.  While there exists an official opposition, and Sampanthan is its leader, Dinesh Gunawardena has been proposed to lead the unofficial opposition with Dallas Alahaperuma as the chief opposition whip.  At the budget debate separate time allocations are also requested for them.

What is most perplexing is, this unofficial group meets as the UPFA parliamentary group under the president himself. Besides, the UPFA ministers appointed by president Maithripala are to openly criticize the government’s actions designedly to provoke the people against Ranil and the UNP.

A case in point is the conduct of sports minister DayasiriJayasekera. While being the sports minister he is bitterly castigating the FCID and its actions. In the midst of this if the president says, the president must be informed in case the army commander under him is to be interrogated, it is very evident who is fueling Dayasiri to criticize FCID.

Maithripala Sirisena is engaging in all the dirty tricks and sordid games to bring the ruling government as well as the opposition at the same time under him and run them. He is trying to eat the cake slyly and gobble it selfishly alone not realisinghe will be left with nothing when the most valuable moment for sharing arrives. By all these machinations and manipulations, he is trying to form an SLFP government clandestinely, when in fact what he should do on the contrary is, warn and correct his subordinates who are acting counter to dent the unity of the government. Mind you they are the UPFA MPs, and UPFA leader is Maithripala, and not Mahinda Rajapakse.

It is a pity that the president has conveniently forgotten on whose votes he came to power on 8th January. He is able to appoint the most corrupt individuals of the Maithripala Sirisena –Rajapakse era and strengthen the SLFP, all because he won on 8th January. At the same time when the UNP appoints it members on par with his, they are being chased out.While appointing pro MaRaHettiarachchis and Chamudhithis shamelessly, Zuhair who was appointed by the UNP was expelled.

The latest reports are even worse and most reprehensible… :

The Digital ministry of Harin Fernando belongs to the UNP, yet it is Kumarasinghe Sirisena the notorious corrupt younger brother of Maithripala who forcibly appointed himself as the chairman of Telecom Mobitel which comes under the Digital ministry, thereby depriving the UNP of the opportunity to appoint a chairman of its choice.

The Directors , KrishanthaCooray and ThusithaHaloluwa appointed by the UNP are strongly opposed to Maithripala’s  younger brother’s attempt to raise his monthly salary to Rs. 10 million, as well as they are against  his other  corrupt activities . Recently Maithripala summoned Harin Fernando and told him to dismiss KrishanthaCooray and ThusithaHaloluwa from their posts. The reason cited was, they are opposed to his younger brother.

It is significant to note when people who elected the government mounted charges, Ranil set an example by requesting ThilakMarapone to resign.It is best if Maithripala follows that example set by Ranil. What Maithripala should also do is order his corrupt self centered younger brother to resign, instead of turning antagonistic towards those who are against the younger brother’s corrupt and nefarious activities.

In the midst of all these nefarious and horrendous activities, to further compound the confusion , Mathripala Sirisena has given over a business concern of  the country to the forces bypassing the parliament .

May we remind,the people steered Maithri to power not to create a presidency through him, but  rather  to abolish presidency 

In the circumstances, the people who elected this government to power are entitled to understand the situation in the right perspective..

The people did not make Maithripala president, to start a SLFP government, and for him to continue as president. Rather it was to abolish presidency through him. If Maithripala had revealed ahead that he was going to be the leader of the SLFP two days after winning, not even a stray dog would have voted for him. May we remind lest he has forgotten, Maithripala all along said till his tongue protruded out in fatigue that, since he won by fielding as a common candidate, after becoming president he would be impartial and sans party affiliations.

President Maithripala having  forgotten all those solemn assurances, is now exploiting  the powers of the obnoxious executive presidency to transfer businesses to the forces ; and  through his younger brothers, daughters and sons in law trying  every business in the country to make money. In addition, he is seeking to change the prime minister who was duly elected on the people’s votes and wishes, while day dreaming of forming an SLFP government .

(By a separate report we shall reveal soon about how using the family including younger bro, daughters and sons in law , who through involvements in the country’s businesses are seeking to make a fast buck at people’s expense to the country’s detriment.)

It is fortunate that the people at least had been able to identify the creature within ten months, before it is too late.  It is well for Maithripala Sirisena Lokka (chief) , his henchmen and hangers on to remember it took just one month only for the people to throw out lock ,stock and barrel , the Rajapakses and the regime of Rajapakse who arrogated to himself the powers of five presidents.

Hope and endeavour is one thing; achievement is another : “We are transforming Parliament into a vibrant institution”

Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala is confident that nearly 201 MPs belonging to the main political parties are expected to forget their   political differences for a period of two years to  realise a common goal for the benefit of the country and its people. But events taking place currently do not project positive images in that direction.

When taking into account the use of abusive language, the waving placards, shouting slogans, claiming they were performing a Sathyagraha and consuming liquor, one could associate such behaviour with the Sri Lanka Parliament of today. Would the people of this country continue to witness such drama in the future? Or could Parliament live up to the standards the present government is claiming it would deliver? The answer given by the Deputy Speaker Thilanga Sumathipala to this question during an interview with the Daily Mirror was ‘yes’.

Following are the excerpts of the interview.

You have been the Deputy Speaker for a brief period; what do think of the current Parliament?

Thilanga

In my opinion, it’s going to be fine. It will be a new experience for MPs and also the people. Nearly 201 MPs belonging to the main political parties despite their political differences have come together for a period of two years to realise a common goal. I think it is going to be a great success.

But some members of the Opposition are complaining they are being curtailed from speaking in Parliament?

Anyone can complain but ample time is given to all members to speak. So, there is no problem with regard to speaking time. The truth is that  some Opposition members are not present to speak when time is given to them.

There is an allegation that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is exerting undue influence on the Speaker?

The Prime Minister has never influenced the Speaker in any way. He has never come into the Speaker’s chambers whenever there was a ruling pending and the the Speaker has never acted partially either.

The government has promised many changes in parliamentary proceedings to ensure more democracy. As representatives of Parliament, what changes do you plan to introduce to bring about that effect?

We are transforming Parliament into a vibrant institution that maintains a high degree of accountability when it comes to public funds. Accordingly, we are looking at placing overseeing  committees. A budget office to guide these committees is also being planned. We hope to have it in place early next year. These changes will bring more transparency and I am personally happy that the budget office is going to be a reality because I came with that proposal in 2012 .

Other suggestions are being made to ensure democracy by making select committee meetings open to the public. Is this possible?

As far as we are concerned, there is nothing wrong in allowing the media into observe  select committee meetings. It will enhance the participant’s contribution towards Parliament. This way more accurate figures regarding funds would emerge.

How about the live telecasts? Two hours of parliamentary sessions are shown live on Rupawahini now; is there any possibility of showing entire parliamentary sessions live on TV?

At the movement two-hour sessions are telecast live. But there is an issue there. When state TV is used to cover parliamentary proceedings, it results in a loss of revenue to the Sri Lanka Rupavahini Corporation because it loses advertising time. When this [monetary] aspect is considered showing an entire day’s proceedings in the House would be a problem. However, most countries where House sessions are shown live on TV began with these issues. I believe we will find a solution to this matter in  time to come. There are other issues that need consideration. For instance, some MPs may take advantage of the live telecast to gain political mileage. Anyway we hope to introduce a system where people could watch the telecasts.

You attended the International Parliamentary Union (IPU) sessions recently when the IPU wanted details on the probes carried out on the killing of several MPs. How have you responded to this request?

The IPU wanted details in the investigations carried out on the killings of four MPs: T. Maheshwaran, Nadarajah Raviraj, Joseph Pararajasingham and Minister D. M. Dassanayake. I contacted the families of these members prior to my departure and inquired after the [progress] of the investigations and  legal proceedings. There was no issue pertaining to the probe on the killings of MP Maheshwaran and D M. Dasssanayake and the IPU was happy with the progress made on these probes. In fact court cases pertaining to these have ended. But the investigations and the court cases pertaining to the killing of  Raviraj and Pararajasingham are pending and the IPU wanted periodical reports on the progress that have been made on these two investigations. Actually the former Chief Minister of the Eastern Province Sivanesathure Chandrakanthan (Pillaiyan) is behind bars in connection with the killing of  Pararajasingham while the suspects of Raviraj’s killing are also under arrest. Considering this level of progress, the IPU has acknowledged that Sri Lanka had advanced in ensuring democracy in the country by apprehending those who had been responsible for breaking the law in the country in 2015.

The crisis in Tea Industry 3

The Meeting held between Tea Exporters Association, Planters Association and Sri Lanka Private Tea Factory Owners Association

The Ex-Co of the Tea Exporters Association (TEA) convened a meeting with the Tea Producers sector stakeholders last week (28-10-2015) to discuss the current tea market situation. The Planters Association (PA), led by Chairman Mr. Roshan Rajadurai and Sri Lanka Private Tea Factory Owners Association (SLTFOA) headed by Chairman Mr. Anil Perera took part at the discussion. Sri Lanka Federation of Tea Small Holdings Development Societies was unable to attend the discussion due to a meeting called by the Hon. Minister of Plantation Industries at the same time.

At the outset, Mr. Rohan Fernando- Chairman/TEA welcomed the members of The Planters’ Association, Sri Lanka Tea Factory Owners Association and members of the Ex-co of TEA. Chairman was of the view that both producers and exporters are in the same situation due to the current tea market crisis and that all should come out together. As an Association, TEA was keen to have a discussion with stakeholders, especially with producers for the greater interest of the country and the industry. He stated that the tea industry has experienced similar difficulties in the past too but current situation is different as it is confined to our main export markets. Regular meetings with stakeholders during both good and bad times are necessary to make the relationship strong by understanding each other’s difficulties and find remedies that would not be viewed as one sided.

- Mr. Roshan Rajadurai -
– Mr. Roshan Rajadurai –

The committee discussed with regard to a possible oversupply situation of orthodox tea in the global market due to current low demand from Russia and Middle East. Sri Lanka tea exports in the first nine months of 2015 have dropped by 15 Million kg compared to last year but the production shortage was only 1Million kg. The tea export revenue loss during the same period has been Rs. 24 billion. On the other hand, the Kenyan tea production has dropped by 50 Million kg and Indian tea production declined by 10 Million kg during the first nine months of 2015, creating a shortage of CTC tea in the world market.

Members were in agreement of the need for improvement of tea quality as a measure for price improvement. It was stated that good quality teas attract relatively better prices whereas the problems are mainly with poor quality teas resulting in a lower average price. If the producers together with tea small holders maintain quality standards it will help to increase the NSA even with lower volumes. They also agreed that it is easy to sell tea when the prices are on upward movement but under the current situation foreign buyers are reluctant to place orders in anticipation of further price drops, as they maintain adequate stocks. The producer members were hopeful that the market improvement witnessed in the last three sales would continue for some time.

Strengthening the Tea Auction process for better price realization was discussed. Mr. Anil Perera, SLTFOA stated that it is difficult to eliminate the packing of small lots as there are many small factories that cannot manufacture large volumes of tea. He further stated that factories do try to produce different types of tea grades at the request of exporters, another reason for increase in lot numbers. Chairman/TEA stressed the point that factories should produce only according to CTTA tea grade nomenclature and deviating from this practice could affect them badly when the prices are on downward trend.

Chairman/TEA explained the rigorous process exporters have to go through to put a brand on the shelf in a foreign country due to strict food safety regulations imposed by the importing countries. Even a country like Nigeria takes a long time to approve a product. Hence, the Government Authorities responsible for ensuring export of good quality tea from the country should strictly monitor the tea manufacturing process and the relevant quality parameters at the point of export to facilitate efforts of brand exporters.

It was observed that availability of large number of Tea Manufacturing factories in the country more than the required level is a main factor for manufacture of low quality tea in Sri Lanka. With an annual tea production of around 340 Million kg, the country has 714 factories whereas Kenya has approximately 115 factories for production of around 400 Million kg of tea. In Sri Lanka, the installed factory capacity far exceeds the available green leaf. Apart from the historical reasons the adhoc policies of the Government are the reason for the large number of tea factories far in excess of the requirement. Due to this the factories compete for the limited availability and absorb low quality green leaf resulting in poor quality in the final product. The three Associations urge the Government not to issue any new permits for establishment of tea manufacturing factories at least for the next three years and also SLTB to control the expansion of capacities of existing factories.

The Government decision to withdraw the Rs. 80/= subsidy for green leaf suppliers was welcomed by those present as they believed the scheme was politically motivated and led to some malpractices and discouraged the producers of good tea. Mr. Roshan Rajadurai, Chairman/PA said that government assistance is needed to strike a deal with Trade Unions on the wage issue based on productivity. At present, the RPCs spend about Rs. 1,100/= per worker per day although the wages are not linked to productivity and had become a huge burden on the companies. The labor cost component account for 70% of COP of teas manufactured by RPCs compared to a lower percentage in other tea producing countries. Both TEA and SLTFOA agreed with PA on this issue. All were unanimous that Government and Trade Unions should seriously consider a wage model linked to productivity for long term survival of the tea industry.

Mr. Rajadurai also said that government has banned Glyphosate, an herbicide which is essential for the tea industry without introducing any alternate products. As a result, they now have to use labour for weeding, further increasing the cost of production and also creating other problems like soil erosion. The migration of labour from plantation to other sectors is another area worrying the industry. The participants were of the view that mechanization of plucking will be the long term solution.

A member of TEA, pointed out that International blends can be done about USD 2 per kg cheaper than Sri Lanka tea. Since 95% of Sri Lanka tea is meant for exports, the producers should look at the cost of production from foreign buyers point view and not from local perspective. Sri Lankan producers should also look at COP of other tea producing countries as it has to compete with them. There is no short term solution for cost reduction models and hence RPCs to convince the workers to agree to a model for improving productivity and sharing revenue. The Planters Association has requested the government to extend the existing Collective Agreement on wages for a further one year period due to the cash flow problem. The RPCs are unable to continue the business without any cash infusion from the government as a concessionary loan as the banks are reluctant to offer further loan facilities to them.

The participants also observed that devaluation of local currency has not supported the tea prices as witnessed on previous occasions. The depreciation of currencies in Russia, Iran, Syria, Turkey etc in the recent past has negated the benefit of devaluation of the Sri Lanka Rupee. The collapse of the oil and gas prices has eroded the purchasing power of major tea importing countries and therefore recovery in the global economy is essential for stabilization of the tea prices. In view of volatile global economic situation the need to have Business Plans for a five year period by all stakeholders of the tea industry was also emphasized.

Mr. Rohan Fernando, Chairman/TEA thanked the representatives of both organizations for taking part at the discussion. It was agreed to refer the main areas of discussion to the respective state organizations for remedial action. All agreed to meet on a regular basis to discuss matters of mutual interest for the benefit of the tea industry.

The crisis in Tea Industry 2

In the early seventies Sri Lanka had a closed economy which restricted imports severely. The Plantation Sector was nationalized and the Agency Houses were given compensation for their tea & rubber estates, Many of these plantation Companies retained a large cadre of very experienced tea planters who were of European origin. With the nationalization of plantations the experienced planters found themselves unemployed virtually overnight because the companies subsequently clustered into Sri Lanka Plantation Corporation (SLPC),Janatha Estates Development Board (JEDB) and the Private Plantation Clusters which were given on an initial lease basis to newly formed plantation companies. Many of the SPC & JEDB companies were subsequently manned by political appointees who did not know the difference of a tea bush from a mulberry bush! They raped the plantation sector turning it in to the current specter which is witnessed today as loss making white elephants. The first thing they did upon assuming office, was to sell off the assets both in the estate inventory and also the very essential, forest cover that was maintained in the estates.

Today in hindsight it is obvious not only to the plantation fraternity but to any layman that this was the most irrational move made by successive governments to dispose of the service of experienced planters ,some of whom had been in service for all most 50 years having been born in estates to their planter families.

One avenue that opened up was the newly burgeoning African plantation industry in Zimbabwe and Kenya who welcomed these veteran planters with open arms.

Today we experience a newly resurgent tea industry in Kenya which has become the largest exporters of black tea having pushed Sri Lana’s tea exports to the third place. It is well known that Kenyan teas on an average do not fetch highprices as Sri Lankan teas but in volume far surpass s the local volumes. Because Kenya has a paucity of plantation labor they use tea cutting machines and manufacture a type known as CTC teas (Cut Tear and Curl) which is predominantly used for tea bagging industry.

The current crisis in tea prices and volumes is directly linked to the middle eastern and central Asian Republics (CARS), oil producing nations facing a decline in oil prices as a result of contractions in the Chinese economy and the ISIS/ISIL irregular ‘black oil’ flooding the oil market. It is proportionately linked to the oil revenues that that are used for consumption of commodities such as tea.

Furthermore the practice of new planting in Tea estates has been reduced due to the high cost incurred in the process even though there is a subsidy available for new planting and replanting as well. Most of the current small holdings are about 20 years old producing very poor flushes.

Therefore one of the strategies adopted to resurrect the industry would be to go for a large subsidized replanting project nationwide which would not only reduce the unsellable volumes now entering the market but also improve future quality as well .The labor force now underutilized will also benefit from extensive replanting programme.

Furthermore incentives should be provided for value addition in tea and market diversification as well as upgrading the factories to meet EU standards.

It would be also rational to decommission the factories that working below par as a result of bad manufacturing process and shortage of bought leaf.

The labor unions in the plantation sector are now highly politicidsed. Their leaders are now very active in parliament .Election promises given to plantation union members is irrationally high wages which cannot be justified nor sustained. Most demands are for wages above the current cost of production of most estates. It is in the hands of the Plantation Union Leaders such as Mr. Thondaman Junior MP, Mr. Digambaram MP, Mr. Radhakrishnan MP Mr. Yogarajan to work towards welfare measures in the tea industry such as modern housing, improved healthcare, estate education and other social improvements such as alcohol dependency reduction among estate workers and also the very necessary issue of integrating the workers with neighboring communities

Many of these decisions lie in the hands of the new minister Navin Dissanayaka MP  and Tea Commissioner, Dr. Rohan Pethiagoda, who is well known for his experience in the industry and has been established as a natural historian par-excellence.

The crisis in Tea Industry

Tea plucking underway
Tea plucking underway

The Cabinet Minister in charge of the Tea Industry took urgent steps to mitigate the tea crisis. His response was to put 1 Billion into the tea industry by purchasing tea from the auctions in Colombo in order to boost tea prices. If this strategy works it will only grant temporary relief to the tea factory owners and the Brokers.

Then again the question arises whom will he purchase the tea from? Will he purchase good tea or low quality tea? Will he purchase from the plantation companies or from private individuals? Will he purchase from his nearest or dearest? Will he purchase from his friends (both of whom have large interests in tea industry), such as Ms. Pavithra Wanniarachchi MP or Mr. Vasudeva Nanayakkara MP who now sit in the house of parliament. Or will he simply ignore the Politicians and their interest in the interest of Yahapalanaya. That too will be a travesty because even if you are a member of parliament you too have the right given to all Sri Lankan citizens. Is the attempt to shore the tea prices an effort too little and too late?

Tea Tasters
Tea Tasters

Let us see the history of tea crisis which began in the late 90s. It is a well-known fact that the tea prices are clearly linked to the world crude oil prices. The reason being that most of the tea consumers are from the rich oil producing countries and from the Central Asian Republics (CARS). Many of whom love the Low Grown variety of Sri Lankan Black tea which again is double the price of high grown teas which tend to be favored by the Europeans and the states, & Australia. Most of the low grown teas are made in private factories situated below two thousand feet in elevation (Ratnapura, Galle, Matara, Kegalla, Kalutara districts) after purchasing tea from tea small holders. Many of these tea small holders who own more than five acres have become millionaires virtually overnight because of this lucrative trade.

Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda - Tea Board Chairman
Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda – Tea Board Chairman

Quite recently the outgoing Chairman of the tea Small Holders Association said that one of the problems of the tea industry is over capacity for low grown tea manufacture because every Tom Dick and Harry with political clout has got a permit to open new factories even though there is a saturation of tea factories in most areas. The lucrative low country, tea industry has attracted many unscrupulous persons who resort to unethical tea manufacturing methods in order to boost black tea prices. The blackness of tea is highly sought after because it indicates a high level of liquoring quality apart from the aroma. In order to achieve blackness the tea factory owners prefer to purchase undamaged premium leaf and bud. But because of the surfeit of competing factories they purchase substandard damaged and mature leaves as well. This practice has two results bad quality tea without blackness and high output of refuse tea. It is important to understand that refuse tea percentage increase is caused by majority of tea leaves being purchased being toomature or the highquantity of moisture (lack of chlorophyll production due lack during heavy rains) in the leaf. Both these issues can be overcome by good cultivation practice and regular plucking routine.

Navin Dissanayake MP

It is a well-known fact that Pure Ceylon Tea is just that, tea and nothing else, unless stated on the label of the tea box which carries the world famous lion symbol which has been the pride of the Sri Lankan tea industry for centuries.

BLACKNESS OF TEA

In order to increase the blackness of tea some unscrupulous tea factory owners have resorted to incorporation of slaked lime, sugar solution, for caramelization during firing or sugar molasses! Many factories have been sealed after detection but soon resume manufacture due to political or other pressures. Refuse tea is mixed with tea after adding textile dye (which can be one of the reasons CKDu) and sold illegally in the local loose tea markets while some refuse teas are exported abroad as genuine Ceylon Tea. This practice prevalent in the Gampola area. The most popular tea manufacturing machine among the Gampola mafia is the tea grinder.

One of the biggest drawbacks that Sri Lankan tea manufacturers have is the age old tea manufacturing process which is neither hygienic nor acceptable to the current international tea trade that requires stringent quality control processes such as HACCP or ISO or EU standards.Many tea factories have been filmed by potential tea buyers and subsequently rejected large tea offers when they have seen videos of the local tea production process. In many factories tea is still dumped on the factory floor.

The Tea Board regulations in force also stipulate that bought tea leaf should be transported in plastic crates to avoid premature bruising and contamination. However the policing of the tea industry and specially the factory is in the hands of the Tea Inspector. Efficient functioning of this person can lead to advancement of the Tea Industry as a whole .The excessive proliferation of tea factories the recycling of refuse tea and all other unacceptablepractices. Most tea inspectors visit factories to take ‘samples ‘oftea. This means that he the TI can amass an enormous quantity of tea as much as 5 kilograms per factory of premium grade for gratis. Another problem is the under investment in support services such as research and development which is primarily conducted by the Tea Research Institute. Today this premier tea research institution is very sorry looking specter of the grand prestigious edifice which had served many a generation of planters and tea factory owners .Today its worse than a Katcheri (full of unproductive red tape brigade) commented one of the Tea Politicians. Therefore the onerous task of lifting this industry from the doldrums falls fairly and squarely on the shoulders of   Mr. Navin Dissanayaka and the newly appointed Dr. Rohan Pethiyagoda who has been appointed at Tea Board chairman.