With reference to the Daily Mirror news item on Page 1 headlined, ‘Tea promoting officer in hot water!’ the Assistant Director of the Sri Lanka Tea Board Dhanushka Karunaratne has sent the following response:
“Honestly, I have known and worked with Hasitha de Alwis since 2013, from the day that I joined the Sri Lanka Tea Board. He is the most experienced Ceylon Tea Promotion Officer currently working at the Sri Lanka Tea Board and had also received high praise from all the governments which were in power during his entire career. The main secret behind this was that he never looked for political favour from the powers that be but depended on personal merit.
Unfortunately today, most ‘‘Government Promotional Officers’’ give first priority to the use of jargon like, ‘‘paper work / documentation’’ and ‘‘government procurement’’. They finally finish-off too many paper files during their career and most importantly they rarely if at all take time to promote the country’s best products. I do not mean that jargon is not important especially in avoiding bribery and corruption. However, jargons should not be an excuse to attend to promotional work for the sake of promoting the country’s best products as well as the overall image of the country. In addition, in a situation where people criticise politicians even for every rupee they spend, no one knows that the country spends nearly Rs.15 million a year together with a free vehicle permit to maintain a single diplomat.
Against this background, I have personally observed the work done by Mr. de Alwis, a well-known ‘‘Government Promotion Officer’’ cum diplomat, giving first priority to promotion-related work while fulfilling the required Government AR & FR rules. Mr. de Alwis AR & FR never compromised his promotion to that of collecting dollars while doing nothing. In addition, he always listened to the needs of all stakeholders in the Ceylon Tea industry and acted accordingly while ignoring the ‘‘Typical Bureaucratic attitude’’ of ‘‘Today’s Typical Government Officers’’. Further, his knowledge on Tea markets is excellent, always up-to-date and analytical with a 360-degree approach to the relevant matter. Thus, it is natural to see all Ministers / Chairmen appointed by any Government obtaining his advice on Ceylon Tea Promotional matters.
Not only job-related knowledge, but his ability to speak, read and write in both Sinhala and English should also be valued as a national resource. Since nearly 95% of Ceylon Tea markets are in foreign countries, the Sri Lanka Tea Board having officers with a good command of English at least to properly present Ceylon Teas to an International audience also play an important role. I have personally observed how Mr. de Alwis handled all my Media conferences that I organized when I was the Ceylon Tea Promotion Officer of the Sri Lanka Embassy in Beijing China. He always coupled his job-related knowledge with his language skills. Hence, prominent Chinese especially Chinese online media reported what Mr. de Alwis highlighted as Top Stories. This article shows Daily Mirror has done some good investigation. Whilst valuing the Daily Mirror’s interest in the Sri Lanka Tea Board, I would like to highlight this article as ‘‘One-sided’’. Yes, Mr. de Alwis was instrumental in opening Tea Bureaus in Japan and Poland. In addition, he was also instrumental in guiding the Ceylon Tea Bureau headed by myself attached to the Sri Lanka Embassy in Beijing China. The Ceylon Tea Bureau in Beijing China is the most recent Ceylon Tea Promotional expansion that the Tea Board did during the past seven years.
In this background, I was also lucky enough not only to head the move as the first Ceylon Tea Promotion Officer sent on Diplomatic terms to China; but also to be guided by an experienced officer like Mr. de Alwis, together with Sri Lanka’s then Ambassador Dr. Karunasena Kodithuwakku who is also an excellent Diplomat, an economist, an educationalist and a gentleman politician. Therefore, it is natural to see Mr. Jayampathy Molligoda, the present Chairman of the Tea Board, another well experienced and a well knowledgeable ‘‘Ceylon Tea Man’’ allowing Mr. de Alwis to continue even with a difficulty in paying him. Having trust on the Tea Board, Mr. de Alwis has also now worked nearly several months without even a proper remuneration.
However unfortunately, this article does not highlight any of the above. It talks only about an ‘‘internet scam’’ that has happened in the Ceylon Tea Bureau in Dubai, United Arab Emirates when Mr. de Alwis was heading the Unit as the relevant Ceylon Tea Promotional Officer. Yes, an inquiry was done within the Tea Board, the loss incured by the Tea Board was some Rs.450,000 (nearly a half a million). Though internet scams can happen to any individual and Mr. de Alwis was in no way involved in the scam and it was finally decided by the Tea Board to recover the money from this ‘‘Old man’s EPF’’ since this happened just after his retirement.
Therefore, the Rs.450,000 was deducted from his own EPF when he was retiring from the Tea Board as his ‘‘retirement party’’ while giving a wrong example to young officers like us for organizing international promotional work through emails with a high risk of internet scams. On the other hand, Mr. de Alwis has finally paid the Rs.450,000 from his EPF. Against this background, it can be concluded that Mr. de Alwis has already paid back the Rs.450,000 to the Tea Board even though he was not involved in the scam. Therefore, even when the matter is now sorted out, I do not know why some people are making a huge fuss about this? The people who make these baseless allegations may be doing so due to personal agendas instead of spending their valuable time in discussing what should be the next best market for Ceylon Tea after Japan, Poland and China based on National interest. I strongly believe the Daily Mirror a well-known English newspaper that I also read will think positively about my request.
The writer is the Assistant Director of the Sri Lanka Tea Board, a former Ceylon Tea Promotion Officer, 3rd Secretary of the Sri Lanka Embassy in Beijing China and the Chairman of Tea Board JSS (Employee’s Union).