Tea industry in crisis
It was the day the suicide bomber struck at the
army headquarters that Dr Ziyard Mohamed, harried Director of the
Tea Research Institute (TRI) returned to the country along with
colleagues after a successful visit to Japan convincing the authorities
to lift an unofficial ban on Ceylon Tea imports over contamination
The tea expert believes the crisis over the attack
on the army commander shocked the country and shifted attention
from possible plans to arrest him on arrival. “Thus I was
arrested only a few days later,” he said recalling a rare
case where one of two persons traveling overseas from the same organization
and with the same approval was arrested for misappropriation of
funds taken for the trip. If that is not victimization; what is?
Subsequently all charges against Dr. Mohamed were
dropped and the President ordered his re-instatement on Friday as
our story in this section shows. His trip had been approved by the
TRI board but we hear that some directors were ‘gunning’
for him and waited till he was away to bring in flimsy charges.
Ironically it was the TRI director’s efforts,
backed by the Sri Lankan team, in Japan through the presentation
of trials and documents to show Ceylon Tea was clean as a whistle
that has cleared the way for Japanese buyers to resume purchases
in Colombo from May 29 onwards.
But what credit does Dr Mohamed get for fighting
for the industry and country? Arrested by police and being sacked
from his job. Ever since his arrest, that sent shockwaves across
the industry, many industry specialists have rung up newspapers
and urged that we take up the issue and fight for the unjust actions.
Dr. Mohamed’s version of events is explained
in our story while officials earlier spoke on the misappropriation
of funds or leaving the country without proper authorization. If
for a moment we are to forget all that: how does the Ministry secretary
then explain sacking only Dr Mohamed when another TRI officer went
on the same trip and both their names were sent at the same time
for approval, and no action was brought against the latter? Some
one has to do some explaining here; the minister, if not the secretary!
We hope justice and saner counsel will prevail
and the TRI director restored in his position. There are a few state
institutions in the tea sector that are and have been working well
and supporting a totally private-sector driven industry.
It is the TRI and the Tea Board (in patches over the year but not
now) that have provided that support to Sri Lanka’s main commodity
export. Victimizing officials in these institutions when they are
doing a good job is the last thing the authorities should do. Punish
people indeed if they have violated a law or state regulation but
now that a Court has cleared the TRI director of all charges, why
penalize him any further?
Our other stories today also discuss another tea
industry problem - the role of the Tea Association of Sri Lanka
(TASL) and its status now.
The association has not been able to perform its
role as envisaged and that after ADB funding through the state ends
in 2008, the TASL may automatically go into oblivion.
What a sad state of affairs but in this case it’s
not the state that is entirely at fault. The problem is that the
private sector stakeholders haven’t been able to reach a consensus
on any of the issues pertaining to its mandate and thus another
white elephant- this time a private-sector driven body has emerged.
The money doled out for the running of the TASL
(Rs 21 million so far) comes from an ADB loan which someone has
to pay. Again a case of the people having to pay for an experiment
that hasn’t worked because private stakeholders were simply
selfish and looked for short term gains instead of putting the country
and the industry first.