With reference to the Daily Mirror news item on Page 1 headlined,‘Tea promoting officer in hot water!’ the Assistant Director of the SriLanka Tea Board Dhanushka Karunaratne has sent the following response:
“Honestly, I have known and worked with Hasitha de Alwis since 2013, from the day that I joined the Sri Lanka TeaBoard. He is the most experienced Ceylon Tea PromotionOfficer currently working at the Sri Lanka Tea Board and had alsoreceived high praise from all the governments which were in power during hisentire career. The main secret behind this was that he never looked for political favour from the powers that be but depended on personal merit.
Unfortunately today, most ‘‘Government PromotionalOfficers’’ give first priority to the use of jargon like, ‘‘paper work /documentation’’ and ‘‘government procurement’’. They finally finish-offtoo many paper files during their career and most importantly they rarely if at all take time to promote the country’s best products. I do not mean that jargon is not important especially inavoiding bribery and corruption. However, jargons should not bean excuse to attend to promotional work for the sake of promotingthe country’s best products as well as the overall image of the country.In addition, in a situation where people criticise politicians even forevery rupee they spend, no one knows that the country spends nearlyRs.15 million a year together with a free vehicle permit to maintain a single diplomat.
Against this background, I have personally observed the work done by Mr.de Alwis, a well-known ‘‘Government Promotion Officer’’ cum diplomat,giving first priority to promotion-related work while fulfilling the required Government AR & FR rules. Mr. de Alwis AR & FR never compromised his promotion to that of collecting dollars while doingnothing. In addition, he always listened to the needs of all stakeholdersin the Ceylon Tea industry and acted accordingly while ignoring the‘‘Typical Bureaucratic attitude’’ of ‘‘Today’s Typical GovernmentOfficers’’. Further, his knowledge on Tea markets is excellent, alwaysup-to-date and analytical with a 360-degree approach to the relevantmatter. Thus, it is natural to see all Ministers / Chairmen appointed by any Government obtaining his advice on Ceylon Tea Promotionalmatters.
Not only job-related knowledge, but his ability to speak,read and write in both Sinhala and English should also be valued as a national resource. Since nearly 95% of Ceylon Tea markets are inforeign countries, the Sri Lanka Tea Board having officers with a goodcommand of English at least to properly present Ceylon Teas to anInternational audience also play an important role. I have personallyobserved how Mr. de Alwis handled all my Media conferences that Iorganized when I was the Ceylon Tea Promotion Officer of the Sri LankaEmbassy in Beijing China. He always coupled his job-related knowledgewith his language skills. Hence, prominent Chinese especially Chineseonline media reported what Mr. de Alwis highlighted as Top Stories.This article shows Daily Mirror has done some goodinvestigation. Whilst valuing the Daily Mirror’s interest in the SriLanka Tea Board, I would like to highlight this article as ‘‘One-sided’’. Yes, Mr. de Alwis was instrumental in opening TeaBureaus in Japan and Poland. In addition, he was also instrumental inguiding the Ceylon Tea Bureau headed by myself attached to the Sri LankaEmbassy in Beijing China. The Ceylon Tea Bureau in Beijing China is themost recent Ceylon Tea Promotional expansion that the Tea Board didduring the past seven years.
In this background, I was also lucky enough not only tohead the move as the first Ceylon Tea Promotion Officer sent onDiplomatic terms to China; but also to be guided by an experiencedofficer like Mr. de Alwis, together with Sri Lanka’s then Ambassador Dr. Karunasena Kodithuwakku who is also an excellentDiplomat, an economist, an educationalist and a gentleman politician.Therefore, it is natural to see Mr. Jayampathy Molligoda, the presentChairman of the Tea Board, another well experienced and a wellknowledgeable ‘‘Ceylon Tea Man’’ allowing Mr. de Alwis to continue evenwith a difficulty in paying him. Having trust on the Tea Board, Mr. deAlwis has also now worked nearly several months without even a properremuneration.
However unfortunately, this article does not highlight anyof the above. It talks only about an ‘‘internet scam’’ that has happenedin the Ceylon Tea Bureau in Dubai, United Arab Emirates when Mr. deAlwis was heading the Unit as the relevant Ceylon Tea PromotionalOfficer. Yes, an inquiry was done within the Tea Board, the loss incured by theTea Board was some Rs.450,000 (nearly a half a million).Though internet scams can happen to any individual and Mr. de Alwis was in no way involved in the scam and it was finally decided by theTea Board to recover the money from this ‘‘Old man’s EPF’’ since this happenedjust after his retirement. Therefore, the Rs.450,000 was deducted from his own EPFwhen he was retiring from the Tea Board as his ‘‘retirement party’’while giving a wrong example to young officers like us for organizinginternational promotional work through emails with a high risk ofinternet scams. On the other hand, Mr. de Alwis has finally paid the Rs.450,000 from his EPF. Against this background, it can be concludedthat Mr. de Alwis has already paid back the Rs.450,000 to the Tea Board even though he was not involved in the scam. Therefore, even when the matter is now sorted out, I do not know why some people are making a huge fuss about this? The people who make these baseless allegations may be doing so due to personal agendas instead of spending their valuable time in discussing what should be the next bestmarket for Ceylon Tea after Japan, Poland and China based onNational interest. I strongly believe the Daily Mirror a well-known Englishnewspaper that I also read will think positively about my request.
The writer is the Assistant Director of the Sri Lanka TeaBoard, a former Ceylon Tea Promotion Officer, 3rd Secretary of the SriLanka Embassy in Beijing China and the Chairman of Tea Board JSS(Employee’s Union).