CEO sent ‘home’
H.D. Hemaratne, Director-General of
the Sri Lanka Tea Board, was sent on compulsory leave
last week by its chairman H.A.C. Abeywardene in a move
that shocked the industry as the former was widely considered
as an honest officer with integrity.
The dumping of this senior officer,
who has worked at the Board for the past 30 years, came
following a long clash with Abeywardene over many issues.
The chairman confirmed that Hemaratne
has been sent on compulsory leave and when asked whether
an inquiry is being held, said: “Yes, it will
be held but we have not decided when and who is conducting
it.” Asked whether the Plantations Ministry has
ordered an inquiry into Hemaratne’s conduct, he
said: “There is no such thing. I did not receive
any such directive.”
He also said the Board doesn’t
come under the purview of the Ministry, a view contracted
by government officials.
Ministry Secretary J. Abeywicrama
told The Sunday Times FT that when the ministry was
informed of the chairman’s decision “he
was instructed to conduct the preliminary investigations
as soon as possible.”
The Sunday Times FT learns that the
Secretary of any Ministry is the Chief Accounting Officer
of all institutions and organizations that come under
the Ministry. In this case the Tea Board comes under
Asked to comment, Hemaratne denied
the charges. “I have asked for a proper charge
sheet in order to defend myself,” he said.
Hemaratne’s temporary removal
comes on the back of the victimization of former Tea
Research Institute Director Dr Ziyad Mohamed who was
forced to quit after establishing his innocence following
bogus charges brought against him by his chairman in
Dr Mohamed, another honest and efficient
officer, was temporarily jailed, sent on compulsory
leave and subsequently the court dropped all charges
of alleged misappropriation against him. President Mahinda
Rajapaksa then reinstated Dr Mohamed but the latter
quit because he has filed a fundamental rights case
against the authorities over wrongful arrest and defamation.
That case is coming up in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
Abeywardana in a letter to Hemaratne informing him of
the decision has lined up several allegations of fraud
and deception against him. However to date Hemaratne
says he hasn’t been issued a proper charge sheet.
The matter has been brewing for some time with The Sunday
Times FT reporting a few weeks that there were attempts
to sideline Hemaratne.
The tea industry in one voice said
it was shocked by the development and described Hemaratne
as an exemplary officer.
“He is a good officer and has
served the trade well. He has been an exemplary officer.
In this instant we do not know what has happened until
the chairman issues the charge sheet,” said Tyeab
Akbarally, President of the Colombo Tea Traders Association
and a member of the Tea Board directorate.
The way Hemaratne was sent on compulsory
leave is also questionable. The Sunday Times FT learnt
that the normal administrative practice is to first
investigate a complaint before any action is taken against
an officer. After the preliminary inquiry is held the
officer is ask for an explanation and if the explanation
is not satisfactory, an official is appointed to further
investigate the matter.
Padma Nanayakara, President of the
Tea Association of Sri Lanka and the Tea Smallholders
Association, like many others, was stunned by the decision.
“To the best of my knowledge
Mr. Hemaratne has served with honesty and integrity
for the last 30 years. He started as a clerk and worked
his way up to this level with a lot of dedication and
integrity. He has done a lot of service to the industry.
The entire industry is shocked. The situation is pathetic
it is a sad state of affairs at the board,” Nanayakkara,
who is also a board member, said.
He also expressed his concern over
the future of the industry as ‘fearless officers
who exposed the malpractices’ are being victimised
as the industry has experienced in the resent past.
Nanayakkara said Hemaratne’s
removal was ‘news’ to the board of directors
as the board had previously taken a decision not to
take any action against Hemaratne on the issue over
the appointment of a deputy commissioner which is currently
in dispute before courts.
The chairman’s letter to Hemaratne
refers to this ‘disputed’ appointment as
one of the causes for the ‘removal’ action
in addition to other allegations of fraud and misrepresentation.
Niraj De Mel, a former chairman of
the Tea Board, said it is a sad day in the industry
to see honest officers being victimized. “I cannot
imagine an honest officer who has worked for 30 years
in the Tea Board being sent on compulsory leave. However
I do not know what the reasons are; we have to wait
for the inquiry,” he said.
The chairman’s letter to Hemaratne
alleges that he had wrongfully appointed a Deputy Commissioner
and the Assistant Director of Laboratories; has been
responsible for unauthorized use of funds; and collection
and misuse of tsunami funds.