Plus - Letters to the Editor

Estate planter is country’s unsung hero

For decades, in pre- and post-Independence Sri Lanka, tea and rubber have been the country’s main foreign exchange earners. Unlike other industries, more than 85 per cent of the raw materials for tea and rubber production are made locally, which means comparatively low costs to the State.

Tea and rubber are highly worker-intensive, involving clear-cut direction and execution for productivity and quality. How is this productivity and quality maintained? It does not happen automatically. It happens through meticulous direction and execution.

It is here that the role of the “planter” comes into full force. The planter combines the energies of men, material and machinery (the “Three Ms”), in the fullest sense. The planter’s management of the Three Ms is what produces Sri Lanka’s wonder beverage – tea, and its high-quality natural rubber.

A planter is the prime contributor to Sri Lanka’s growth. He is a self-starter and motivator. It is he who drives the workforce – to grow, produce and process, and often under very trying conditions.

The planter must have a rigorous and intensive training in field work, cultivation, harvesting, scientific applications (fertilisers, etc.), manufacturing, pay-rolls, and the managing of information systems.
A planter is a jack of all trades and a multi-tasker. He is the complete industry man.

He administers an estate with a large resident workforce. He has to look after their welfare, which includes housing, co-operative societies, medical attention and facilities, and so on. A planter has to be a teacher, a school principal, a father, a brother, a technician, a doctor, a co-op manager, a district secretary, a custodian, and finally a leader. He must look after and guide a resident population of a couple of thousand people, most of whom lack a basic education and social status. These are the people who have laboured to give our country a “brand identity”.

Sadly, few in the tea and rubber business appreciate the contribution of the planter. His work includes growing, producing and processing, and also marketing – all buzz-words in the corporate world. These days the talk is of revenue derived from the tea and rubber industries, value addition, and the ethical branding of teas. Our vision is to make Sri Lanka one of the world’s “tea hubs.”

Let us not forget the eminent planters of yesteryear, who served the country at corporate and national levels. People like Ken Balendra, of John Keells, and Cubby Wijethunga, of Nestles, took their companies to ever greater heights. One should not forget the late Ranjan Wijeratne, who spearheaded the move to crush terrorism in the South. Today, Nishantha Wickramasinghe heads the national carrier, Sri Lankan Airlines. All these people were once planters. Our estate workers are the critical factor in Sri Lanka’s tea-rubber success story. Sadly, planters today are not given the credit due to them as drivers of economic growth. This failure to recognise their contribution is especially sad in the light of the country’s rapid development.

I urge all estate planters and estate planter-related bodies to make the planters’ presence felt by the nation. The planters are the people behind the “Sri Lankan brand and identity.”

R. Dahanayake, Former planter

Miracle of Asia, indeed

Oh, yes,– our country really does deserve to be described as the “Miracle of Asia”, after what the government has done. In primary school, we were told that the country’s main exports are tea, rubber and coconut, and now we are importing coconuts. And at the rate our tea industry is being ruined, very soon we may be importing tea as well.

There are news reports that camels are to be brought down to Sri Lanka. Is this because our Ministers have sold off the duty-free vehicles and duty-free vehicle import permits, and are now considering camels as a mode of transport?

Miracle of Asia, indeed!

W. D. Amaradasa, Panadura

Duty-free package would be a fitting reward for expat workers

There have been numerous letters on the matter of giving expatriate workers in the Middle East and other countries the privilege of importing “duty free” any vehicle of their choice. There should be some such reward scheme, based on number of years of overseas employment, salary earned, and total amount remitted to Sri Lanka.

Overseas-based Sri Lankan workers have remitted US$ 3.8 billion, while 60 per cent of all remittances come from the Middle East. It would be fitting to give those returning from duty abroad a “duty free permit.” In fact, expatriate workers should be given many more incentives, such as life and health insurance, housing loans, and so on.

This would encourage more Sri Lankans to seek jobs abroad and thus increase the collective remittance to boost the economy. The Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment would also greatly benefit.

Past Ministers have paid only “lip service” to proposals concerning the expatriate workers, and done nothing. Let us hope the new Minister of Foreign Employment will give his earliest attention to this matter. Over to you, Minister Dilan Perera.

Vernon Dawson, Dehiwala

Aranayaka Road in a state of disrepair for more than 10 years

I showed a friend a photograph and asked him to say what it depicted. “Is it a paddy field?” she asked. I showed the photograph to another friend, and he asked whether it was a picture of a slide used with a microscope to study some science subject.

They were both wrong. It was a photograph of our road – the road from Aranayaka to Thelleka. The road was unrecognizable as a normal road. I took this photograph in the first week of January. It showed only a section of our road. There are several sections of the road that look like this.

The road is in the Kegalle District, and comes under the Aranayake Pradeshiya Sabha. The road is about 3 kilometres. The first kilometre was repaired last year. The other 2-km stretch has been in a state of disrepair for the past 10 years.

The residents of many villages, such Wewala, Hakurugammana, Kaththetuwa, Thelleka, and Bowalgaha, use this road daily. Many schoolchildren use this road to go to schools in Kegalle, Mawanella, Kandy, and Pinnawala. Imagine how these children, in their white uniforms and socks and shoes look when they use this road.

This is the only road we have in order to go to Aranayaka town. We take buses from Aranayake town to go to other parts of the country. The Aakurugammana Temple, the Co-operative, the Post Office, the Samurdhi Bank, and the Thelleka Primary School – all are situated on and around this road. We have approached the authorities many times about repairing our road, but nothing has been done.

We hope someone with authority will see this letter and do something. We hope this will be done soon. We cannot wait for the next election, when people come around to ask for our votes, to appeal for help.

Dr. A. R. N. Karunathilaka, Aranayaka

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