In his riposte to me by Rohan Fernando, former Chairman of the TEA, in Mirror Business on November 2, I’m gratified to see Fernando has moderated the TEA’s tone: no more talk of missing backbones and “inefficient protectionist elements”.
I have separately written to the present chairman of the TEA enclosing also in detail my views on the proposed tea blending hub. The correct place for this conversation is the Tea Board, not the newspapers and I have urged the TEA chairman to bring his proposals to the Board and argue them before his peers.
It is regrettable that in the two years of my tenure as chairman of the board, the TEA has not tabled any policy proposals on this (or any other) matter at the board. Perhaps they had tried for so long before that that they thought there was no point. Nevertheless, the TEA is one of six stakeholder institutions represented on the board and it is imperative that there be consensus (not necessarily unanimity) among stakeholders for policy reform, especially given the massive risks a blending hub entails. In a 150-year-old industry, change must necessarily come slowly. Fernando was in my class at school, probably also in my Latin class and can no doubt remember the adage ‘Festinalente’: hasten slowly.
I want to take the issue with Fernando on only one matter here. He states that while I used to consult the TEA opinion regularly, I no longer do so perhaps because I am busy and/or in full control and do not require consultation with them. No. It is common knowledge that my door (and my mobile phone) are open to everyone in the industry, especially the heads of stakeholder institutions. When office time is short I have met with them after hours and on weekends, sometimes even at my home or, in what I suspect is a precedent for a Tea Board chairman, theirs. I take or return every call, regardless of from whom it originates. I have never once declined or delayed a request for a meeting and even for the TEA’s AGM on October 20, was present despite being very ill.
On one point in particular, Fernando is right: that as chairman of the Tea Board I can elect to remain or “call it a day”. And that is precisely why I do not wish to make hasty decisions. On the day I assumed office I made a solemn pledge to the stakeholder institutions that as chairman I would conduct myself not as a servant of the government but as a servant of the industry.
Indeed, I recall I quoted William Lentham’s words to Charles I on a much more consequential occasion: “I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak but as this house is pleased to direct me.” I believe I have not betrayed that pledge.
That section of the public, which has been entertained by this spat, would be disappointed to know that before writing his article to Mirror Business, Fernando shared it with me by email and discussed it at length by telephone (yes, I took the call). We have agreed to meet for lunch at the weekend and talk these issues through. No doubt we will each insist on paying the bill. I trust we will not poison each other’s soup.
(Rohan Pethiyagoda is Chairman, Sri Lanka Tea Board)
There will be no further correspondences on this matter.
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