Every citizen of this country should realize there are many ‘watchdogs’ all over watching the performance of RPCs. Most of them are quoted in the Colombo stock exchange and registered under the amended Companies Act of 2007. After all, the lands belong to the people of Sri Lanka and no one should fool around with state property! Nevertheless, I admit the PA has served the industry well during the pre-nationalized period, i.e. prior to 1975. However, the million dollar question is whether Sri Lanka has benefited from privatization the country’s biggest asset, which Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s ULF Government nationalized in 1972 and 1975 from 5,000 Sri Lankan land owners and about 175 estate companies here and abroad.
The statistics are good as long as they are “comparable”. The COP or most of the performance indicators in the Plantation Industry do not have established and “accepted standards to interpret” the indicators as such we cannot depend on them with certainties for their accuracy. All we collectively agree with or without statistics is that we have a industry threatening issue that has no solutions internally at the moment. The dangerous outcome of this condition could be fragmentation of plantations land into smaller land parcels for various societal activities. Statistics could be furnished and elaborate the difficulties the RPCs had to encounter during (22) years of private management. However, strangely enough no RPC has offered to hand back the estates due to difficulties in managing the plantations. According to Sir Albert Einstein, if we continue to do the same thing over and over again expecting better results, you should be in mental hospital (insanity).
It should be noted with concern that by statute 2% of the total tea lands should be replanted with VP each year. Anyone is well advised to check with the Tea Commissioner‘s Department, if he/she is unable to trace the relevant gazette published in early 1960’s.The better managed estate companies such as Ceylon Tea Plantations, Standard Tea Company, Eastern Produce Holdings, Scottish Tea & Lands and several rupee companies followed this requirement to the letter.
Ex-planters, who were in service prior to nationalization in 1975, will remember how they had to forward annual returns to the PA each year indicating the acreages replanted.
Late A.M.S. Perera (a former Civil Servant) who was Secretary/PA at that time monitored this exercise very closely, addressed District PA meetings regularly to emphasize the importance of replanting. He did not allow member estates to deviate from the law, which would embarrass the PA. The law may be is in force even now. It’s a matter of time that someone will check whether this exercise followed closely after the privatization in 1992. The civic minded general public is very much concerned about the present state of the privatized plantations. The shareholders of publicly quoted RPCs have a right to know if the condition has been met by the respective RPCs and if not their investment may be heavily affected.
No one denies the fact that tea prices and rubber prices obtained lately are not the best! However, the private owners and smallholders who produce 70% of the national tea crop have managed to survive these difficult times, because they knew the value of replanting. We admit the readymade answer that their overheads are the lowest. But RPCs have access to better management and how far have they been successful in value addition except for few RPCs, who have to be commended for their initiative in to the right direction.
I am surprised to learn that there is no minimum requirement or compulsion to replant tea/rubber in the management contracts signed by RPCs. This is very strange, in other words RPCs are given a free hand to do whatever they like, and no questions should be asked. If this is how the management contracts have been drafted by PRU attached to Ministry of Finance, those officials should explain whether the (22) management contracts drafted by them were to look after the interest of the citizens of Sri Lanka or for the benefit of RPCs.
I have factually produced few incidents to prove my point that the causal factors of the weak financial performances of some of the RPCs and not to attack from the bottomless pit that these entities have fallen into already but to be open to the available alternatives. No institute or individual with common sense has an ethical right to attack another giving a helping hand to wake up and speed up for survival of tens of thousands of citizens of this country.
(The writer is the former Editor of the Ceylon Planters’ Society Bulletin)