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Poor-quality decision-making main cause for destruction of plantations

22 April 2016 12:00 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}



We have been stressing on the systematic killing of this world-renowned plantation industry of Sri Lanka through a series of newspaper articles during the past few months. These articles were a gist of the evolution of the plantation industry of Sri Lanka since the first nationalization of lands by the then Agriculture and Lands Minister the late Hector Kobbekaduwe under the Sirima Bandaranaike government way back in 1972, to the present times covering more than 40 years. 
We thank all those newspapers wholeheartedly for doing a yeoman service by the nation by publishing them amidst fierce propaganda by a small, yet powerful group of anti-Sri Lankans claiming to be industry leaders. They propose handing over the plantations to the workers with a different name tag called ‘revenue sharing’ and furthermore getting these poor workers to pay for the sins committed during a long period of time by these senseless top rung of the regional plantation companies (RPCs).
They seem to be thinking that this handover (revenue-sharing model) is the only viable option to overhaul and to turnaround the loss-making plantations managed by the RPCs. However, some RPCs have undertaken this task already. Can they get those lands back from their current recipients - workers? The failure to do so will definitely lead to the cannibalization and destruction of the lands. Was it a collective decision by all the RPCs? No, it was not. Then, how can such a poor mechanism be implemented without the knowledge of the golden share? Isn’t this an instance of poor-quality decision-making again? 


Failure to manage ‘change’ 
Most of the tea and rubber fields in many RPCs are in the process of becoming uneconomical due to the fact the desired level of replanting had not taken place on time. Either they are more than 30 years in production - hence, past their prime or in the case of rubber, the bark is fully gone due to the poor-quality decisions by the top management. So how on earth the poor workers are expected to increase labour productivity when the bush and the tree both have reached an age of senility in addition to the fact that the soils on which these crops are grown are left to be eroded , hence depleted with nutrients?
They say that the fish start rotting from its head. This appears to have some relevance to the CEOs of most RPCs. Are they mentally insane to give wide propaganda for such sinister thoughts that may be widely applicable in right organisations that have created an enabling work other than the plantations managed by the RPCs of Sri Lanka? The pattern of poor decision-making is widely 
visible here. 
All directors of crop research institutes in Sri Lanka ought to know about this dangerous situation. Whether they appraise the state on this condition or continue to become best of friends with such mediocre CEOs is a question worth probing. This is why most say that the RPC-managed plantations are sitting on a time bomb. Those CEOs are now trying to escape impending legal suit or a thorough hit from the workforce, hence, the mighty hurry to hand over the fields to workers with the blessings of the government. This also explains the dangerous agendas by political giants in the Indian Ocean who are competing with us. 
These CEOs appear to only know how to claim credit for favourable market conditions and to blame successive political systems that were in power up to now during poor balance sheet performances. They may also extend the blame to the workers, staff and executives on various grounds with little understanding that they are leaning on them without any value addition to the product they make by being in the corporate offices with all luxuries. However, taking quality decisions and understanding the ground realities have never been their strong suit. In fact, the naked truth is that these CEOs, or at least most of them, have failed to 
manage ‘change’.
This is widely evident if someone compares the ‘asset base in every plantation’ that was in place in 1972 with the one at present. You can even undertake a similar comparison with the base of 1992. This is clear evidence for poor-quality decision-making. The asset base has been stripped off denying multiple benefits to the nation which is a crime of its kind. That is the effect of poor-quality decision-making on a 
national economy. 
Although we use the term RPCs in general throughout this article, we recognize the RPCs that have done wonderfully well. Unfortunately, thanks to the apex organisation where all RPCs come under, efficient RPCs have also become prisoners in their own homes. They are expected to go in accordance with the wide majority on the disguise of the brotherhood of employers. This is yet another case of poor-quality decision-making. 


Reasons for present situation 
The present role of most of the RPCs is to wait idly by and observe the chaos. The other role they play is to privatize profits and nationalize losses due to their ulterior motives and agendas. Mostly, all RPCs have similar cultures and issues but the handful of RPCs that have done things differently have been able to keep away from a red balance sheet and make a good return on investment (ROI) comparatively. The only reason any person could see their success is their managerial competence and commitment to managing change. They have exploited their core competencies in order to achieve competitive advantage. 
Nevertheless, the vast majority of the RPCs that inhibit the instinct to blame are still trying to understand the meaning of management. This is why we loudly say that poor-quality decision-making is the key factor for the downfall of the industry. If the government wants to intervene, then the starting point is to ensure that all CEOs of the RPCs are competent in managing large bases of assets. As intimated through this article, we must take action to prevent the destruction of this gem of an industry. 
There are many contributory reasons for the present situation of the RPCs stemming from the core issues as mentioned earlier. Lack of a timely diversification of crops, not considering favourable crops that can afford to attract and retain high-calibre professionals, lack of attention on soil development and enrichment, poor attitude towards ground water retention and realities of climate change, lack of developing people objectively and systematically, not adding value to the process (entire value chain) or to the product, not undertaking life cycle analysis, no initiatives to decrease inefficiency of both men and machinery are a handful of such reasons. 
It is the responsibility of the CEOs to manage them. That is why we say that the blame should be assigned to poor-quality decision-making. We must look inwards and perceive the situation with a better view of doing well rather than observing Kenya, India or any other country and detailing excuses. Who is fooling whom?
Wage negotiation with such a poor-quality mentality is a task that can never be achieved. This is absolutely futile. It is our understanding that the government should lay down policies asking only CEOs of RPCs with an MBA or an equal educational competency to get involved in any top level discussion of this magnitude. Two wrongs cannot make one right. All ministries must take a lead from plantation example and recognize the educated and competent to get involved in discussions at a policymaking level.
All CEOs, executives and staff have earned their annual increments already but daily-paid workers have been denied even a reasonable increment due to inflation, which is beyond imagination even from the lowest quality management in the world. This is the typical Sri Lankan planter mentality and it must 
be corrected. 
RPCs must look at the annual increments (based on inflation) on the basic wage to the daily paid workforce instead of once in two-year daily wage hikes. The over kilo rate too may be increased based on the current value of money as affordability matters to all levels of employees. The wage component may be taken away from collective bargaining procedure on plantations considering the global economic situation. 
The CEOs must face the challenge of getting an increased price for their produce. If the wages are still inadequate, then they must look at the list of assets that are managing at a plantation level and use those assets to find solutions to these problems, thus creating new businesses. Any plantation today has an abundance of idling labour that can be made use of for any of these 
new ventures.  


Impending risk 
The public and state officials must understand the impending risk of not listening and acting to the needs of masses fairly. The horrible experiences some of the most sought-after planters experienced during a not so distant past should not be repeated due to silly actions by the most revengeful and incompetent set of CEOs managing certain RPCs. 
The management of RPCs should be streets ahead compared to the smallholders, which is not difficult to understand. RPCs are comparatively highly resourceful but if the RPCs say that they like to learn from the smallholder models then we have a serious issue with the thought processes of such CEOs of RPCs. At least the spokesmen should exercise caution when making such degrading statements to the media. The readers are not defocused to the extent that those spokesmen are. If the argument is correct, how do the other plantation companies exist in other countries? 
The initiatives of the RPCs must be very clear. They must first initiate action to develop soils using various methods, including using microbial populations to a determined standard of soils. E.g.: plantation soils: six inches below the surface, a cubic inch of soil must contain C%, CEC, EC, Clay, sand, microbes, etc.
 Currently most RPCs have violated lots of soil conservation acts thereby actively contributing to wilful soil erosion. Such violators can be charged in a court of law. Who is going to pay the heavy penalty for such poor-quality decision-making in 
the end? 
Clearly, mono-cropping has failed. Therefore, we need to install multi-cropping systems to improve crop productivity. Then we have to inject HRM concepts into RPCs heavily, as almost 65 percent to 70 percent of the so-called high cost of production in tea, rubber or coconuts is due to the cost of labour 
component alone. 
The level of job satisfaction at all stages in the RPCs is at a lower level as job commitment, self-motivation and other factors are keeping performances far away from the desired levels. The number of out-migrates from plantations annually bear evidence for this dissatisfaction. The ultimate responsibility lies in the hands of the CEOs, but then again we have a situation of incompetency at the top-most level in most RPCs. 
It is not the trade unions (TUs) that should be held responsible for the sustainability of the plantations managed by the RPCs but the set of executives headed by the CEO. 
I have sited enough of examples to prove my point that poor-quality decision-making is the main influential reason for the destruction of the RPC-managed plantation industry of Sri Lanka. True leaders do not assign blame to other employees. 
True leaders do not falter in carrying out their duties efficiently. True leaders own up to failures publicly and take meaningful initiatives to turnaround the management. Plantation spokesmen today resemble immaturity, infant-like thought processes and anti-Sri Lankan agendas.  The ministry should not waste any more time in solving plantation issues. A “lot more senior and practically proven planters await the right call by the state to support a worthy cause even at this eleventh hour. There lies a possibility of drawing foreign funding to meet the requirements.” We must not waste time procrastinating when they do not have to reinvent the wheel. 
This could be the altering decision the plantation industry is in dire need of.  It is about time we said no to poor-quality decision-making. We strongly believe that US $ 10 billion by 2020 is a high probability only if all improve on the quality of decision-making at the topmost level of any RPC. We have a readymade practically-proven team of plantation executives and entrepreneurs ready for this giant leap forward. Our hats off to the CEOs of RPCs who are already making quality decisions under similar ground situations of that of others! After all, managers are paid for making right decisions. 
(Lalin I. De Silva is former Editor of Ceylon Planters’ Society bulletin)


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