SLPP presidential candidate Gotabaya Rajapaksa said many shareholders involved in the tea industry had said that it has the potential to generate up to US$ 5 billion foreign revenue and that it should be the target of the new government.
Speaking at a conference of tea factory owners in Colombo on Tuesday evening, Mr. Rajapaksa said he believed that Sri Lanka's tea industry has crumbled due to re-exportation of imported inferior tea. “We should restore the value given to the 'Ceylon Tea' brand name. We should focus on a new market and to further promote Ceylon Tea by creating a tea market dedicated for us. Only by producing high-quality tea, we can generate a higher income," he said.
He said the private sector cannot achieve this target on their own and that they needed the sponsorship and the backing of the government.
Meanwhile, he said there were a number of dire issues related to human resources in the plantation sector such as lack of labour force, lack of facilities for them and the inability of youth moving away from the estates.
“Some ask me whether all who live in the areas of coconut triangle such as Kurunegala pluck coconuts. That's not the case. There are professionals coming from that region such as doctors and engineers. Then why the people in the estate sector are only limited to tea plucking? This mentality of the youth should be changed so that they can move onto other occupations. We should do that as a government," he said.
Speaking on the salaries of estate workers, Mr. Rajapaksa said the government has assured a daily wage of Rs.1,000 to an estate worker, but it could not be achieved. “I think this should happen. At the same time, we should introduce a simplified tax system for businessmen. I believe it is reasonable if we can bring down the VAT to 8% from the current tax structure," he said. (Lahiru Pothmulla)