Lalin I. De Silva receiving his award from Speaker Karu Jayasooriya presented by C.P.S. in recognition for his forthright articles to save the plantation industry in the presence of President Suresh Navaratnam
The 79th Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Ceylon Planters’ Society was held at Waters Edge recently under the patronage of Speaker of Parliament Karu Jayasooriya as the chief guest.
This annual function is the most important and significant official cum social event looked forward to by the entire planting community of the country.
Speaking at the AGM, outgoing President Suresh Navaratnam said that we are indeed aware that tea and rubber are in a deep crisis and all are aware of the reasons that have led to the crisis.
Some better-managed companies, despite the financial constraints, continue and maintain the basic agricultural practices, which is commendable, but sadly a few companies have ruined these assets to a virtual point of no return and the entire industry knows who they are. Navaratnam requested Ministers Navin Dissanayake and Kabir Hashim to intervene and prevent further erosion of the plantations by a few companies.
He further said that it was no wonder that the industry finds it difficult to halt the exodus of planters and to study the research done by Dr. Dan Seevaratnam in this regard. He pointed out that some management agencies have run out of funds to pay even statutory dues such as the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF), Employees’ Trust Fund (ETF) and gratuity and there were instances that managers/superintendents were warranted/arrested and put into the cooler and later bailed out.
The other matter he brought to the notice of the Speaker was the retiring age of planters and to consider increasing the retiring age to 60 years, since private companies are refusing to accede to this request citing a variety of excuses.
New market strategy
Speaker Karu Jayasooriya addressing the gathering said that the plantation sector was the main backbone of our economy sometime back and the foreign exchange earner employing the largest workforce in the island and made substantial contributions towards government revenue and should now focus newly emerging Global markets such as Iraq and European markets.
He said Sri Lanka needed to move away from low productivity and his attention has been drawn to certain issues of the members of the society and the major burning issue of the retiring age of planters. He further said that he is aware of the Ceylon Planters’ Society has a proud history of championing cause of the planting community in this country and there is no doubt that the planters with their experience, intelligence and innovative skill will meet the future with confidence and assure an era of higher productivity and Sri Lanka looks upon the planters to give of their best and they will be blessed with good leadership.
Challenge status quo
Dr. Dan Seevaratnam said that any progressive government, organisation, company or family needs to continuously challenge the status quo.
He said all of us have been talking about a “plantation industry” and asked on “what business we are in?” A business is defined by its competitors and who are the competitors? Coffee, Cola’s, soft drinks, milk, water and all these are beverages. If it is acknowledged that tea is competing with beverages, then we cannot deny the fact that we are in the beverage marketing business and not in the business of managing plantations unless and until the tea industry identified itself as a beverage marketing business, it will always beset with the challenge of shrinking margins that will eventually make the industry unviable.
Dr. Seevaratnam said that our challenge now is to create history by transforming this ailing tea industry into a beverage marketing industry.
Annual revenue target by 2020
President-elect Ajantha Moonemalle said he would work with stakeholders towards an annual revenue of US $ 10 billion to the national economy by 2020 from the industry. He proposed a fresh start with end in mind, which is a sure fire strategy.
Moonamalle also thanked Chairman pro-tem Dr. Dan Seneviratnam and said that Dr. Seevaratnam has already demonstrated how human resources management (HRM) concepts could help turnaround management of plantations of Sri Lanka, at a time when some have confined this knowledge merely to a “lip service”.
We need to be open to obvious alternatives and be part of the global trends, if we really want to be winners, he added.
(Lalin I. De Silva is the former Editor of Ceylon Planter’s Society Bulletin)