By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
Suffocating government bureaucracies and processes were lambasted by the Sri Lanka Tea Board Chairman, drawing an equally emotional response from the Finance State Minister at the Colombo Tea Traders’ Association (CTTA) annual general meeting held last week.
“We’re working in a system of bureaucracy that is simply paralyzed. After you finish sitting here, and you move away, I can’t tell what you’ll talk about, but I know one topic you will talk about; ‘nothing is happening’,” Sri Lanka Tea Board Chairman Rohan Pethiyagoda, who was the keynote speaker of the event, said.
He said that he was ashamed of the level of service provided by the Tea Board and that the institution was constrained by the red tape that plagues the other government bodies.
“The red tape is so perverse that it has become a huge problem,” he said.
He noted that the Rajapaksa brothers had managed to cut through the red tape during the previous regime.
“That sort of courage has gone out. I’m not talking about politicians but the executors, who can’t get a job done,” Dr. Pethiyagoda said.
Former Defence and Urban Development Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa managed to cut through the red tape by having military officers deliver documentation that required bureaucratic attention, during an era marked by a fear of ‘white vans’, which the current government takes credit for eliminating.
Pethiyagoda said that the politicians should be pressured into creating a system, which has proper frameworks, in which public sector officials should be held accountable for not meeting standards.
He added that he should be forced to resign if he isn’t providing a satisfactory service to the tea industry.
“Unless we recognize that we’re not doing a good enough job for you, we can’t change. That’s why I’m being outspoken and possibly suicidal, because I’ve tried for a year-and-a-half to get this working and I’ve not succeeded.
It’s frustrating because I know many other heads of institutions are in the same situation. We just cannot cut through the red tape,” he said.
He noted that the tea promotional campaign has not taken off despite it being overseen by three ministers, four secretaries to the ministry, four chairpersons of the Tea Board and four procurement committees and the Rs.5.4 billion tea promotional fund is at risk of being requisitioned by the Treasury, similar to last year.
The chief guest for the event, Finance State Minister Eran Wickramaratne, who appeared to be on the verge of tears at the end of his speech, which he used to address the criticism of Pethiyagoda, said the private sector should not expect all the answers from the government, but create solutions for implementation.
“What I mean by pressure is finding the answer and then pursuing to get the solution for that answer. Don’t assume that the people across the table actually know the answers, particularly when you go into government or the bureaucracy, that they know the answer,” he said.
Wickramaratne gave an anecdotal account of how he helped create the ICT Agency by superseding the old ICT law with a new law, instead of continuing to work within the old law.
However, with respect to a number of uneducated politicians sitting atop of the system, Wickramaratne said that he joined parliament in order to struggle and change the system and that Pethiyagoda should also struggle to change the system, instead of resigning.