Devaka Wickramasuriya (2018)

Ladies & Gentlemen;

A warm welcome to all of you for the Annual General Meeting of The Mascots.

I welcome all our distinguished invitees;

  • The wives of our dear departed colleagues - Mrs. Shirani Adihetty, Mrs. Ranmali Amerasinghe, Mrs. Maheshi Gunawardena, Mrs. Dakshini Dharmaratne, Mrs. Ruwani Sirimanne and Mrs. Manel Delgoda,
  • M/s Naresh Ratwatte and Dhayan Madawela, President and Vice President of the Association of Ex Planters,
  • M/s Padma Nanayakkara and Ranjan Gunasekera, President and Secretary of the Southern Planters Club,
  • Mr. Herman Gunaratne,
  • Mr. Jivaka Atapattu,
  • Mr. David Colin-Thome
  • And last but definitely not least, Ms. Woody Sanders.

Thank You for have honoured us by accepting our invitations and being present with us today.

I would also wish to thank all members of The Mascots, especially those present here today; your support has been outstanding. In fact, your support is what has made us what we are.

I must apologize to members that our Association having been somewhat dormant during this year. This was chiefly due to your office bearers, like the tea on the plantations we all served on for many years, being “ageing stock” and therefore not as vigorous as we were!

We are indeed fortunate that our “better halves”, obviously following the contention of the Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) that replacement of “ageing stock” does not have a beneficial “rate of return”, have decided to continue with us probably due to them too being “ageing stock”!!!!

Despite this serious impediment, during the period under review, we did have a well-attended get together at the Capri Club in September 2017. We also contributed a sum of Rs 100,000/- towards Project Gratitude - a Health Camp arranged by the Association of Ex Planters for estates workers in the Matale District to show our appreciation to them on the 150th Year of Ceylon Tea. Randy McLeod and I represented The Mascots at this event and I wish to congratulate the Association of Ex Planters for the excellent arrangements made.

All of you would have read the reports in the press where Dr. Romesh Dias Bandaranaike, referring to himself as the “public face” in the privatization of plantations, had made various baseless and vicious insinuations and allegations against the SLSPC and JEDB. I responded via the newspapers and websites, which published these reports, for the simple reason that the SLSPC was my former employer and my firm belief that that one should defend your former employer when baseless and vicious insinuations and allegations are levelled against them. Most of you would have what Dr. Bandaranaike had to say and my responses and hence see no reason to elaborate further.

One matter that however needs mention is the claim of Dr. Bandaranaike that the SLSPC and JEDB had a debt of Rs 8 billion at the time of privatization. This is not denied but the manner in which it has been referred to is utterly misleading. This Rs 8 billion, as confirmed by Dr. Bandaranaike, refers to the long-term loans received by the SLSPC and JEDB from the World Bank and other international lending agencies to undertake the much-needed capital development on plantations, which too was confirmed by Dr. Bandaranaike.

However, Dr. Bandaranaike’s insinuation that the development had not been done, as we are all aware, is totally incorrect. I really wonder how Dr. Bandaranaike arrived at this conclusion as I, having been a working planter as well as Deputy President of the Ceylon Planters Society at the time of privatization, I am unaware of him visiting any plantation to personally verify this and even, if he did, whether he had the ability to make a proper assessment. It is also surprising that Dr. Bandaranaike’s deputies at the Plantation Restructuring Unit – M/s Rohan Fernando & Gayan Samarakoon – did not enlighten him on the factual position, as they both were employees of the SLSPC and JEDB respectively!!

The development, as you all are aware, had in fact taken place but however the benefits had yet to be realized i.e. tea replanting will commence generating a revenue only seven (07) years after planting while rubber replanting takes six (06) years to commence generating an income. Therefore, repayment had not commenced or had been done only partially, resulting in the balance outstanding remaining as a debt of the SLSPC and JEDB at the time of privatization. Therefore, if one considered the matter prudently, this debt should have been transferred to the RPCs as it was the RPCs who would eventually have reaped the benefits of the development done. However, those entrusted with the privatization of plantations, instead of considering the matter in this context, prevailed on the Treasury to absorb this debt and then use it as a “weapon” to castigate the SLSPC and JEDB and justify the privatization in the manner it was done by them!!

Therefore, those entrusted with the privatization of plantations should be held responsible not only for the considerable loss caused to the Government of Sri Lanka, in the ad hoc and utterly irrational manner they caused the sale of the controlling interest in “profit making” RPCs for a mere Rs 102 million each, which resulted in a total loss of around Rs 1.8 billion and for causing the Treasury to absorb a sum of Rs 8 billion which should not have done. Their actions resulted in a loss to the Government of Sri Lanka of around Rs 9.8 billion, which in today’s context would be a minimum of Rs 50 billion!!

All this and other matters which I am certain you are aware of, would make one realize that the privatization of plantations was done in the most flippant manner by those entrusted with the exercise. Therefore, my fervent hope is that a complete investigation is done on the manner in which the privatization of plantations was done, not merely to punish those guilty of disposing of probably Sri Lanka’s greatest asset in a most irresponsible and unacceptable manner – in my opinion they should be indicted for treason - but also that the findings of such investigations could become a manual or ready reckoner on HOW NOT TO PRIVATIZE ANY GOVERNMENT ASSET!!!!

Much ridicule is being cast on the SLSPC and JEDB as they presently are, by spokesmen of the RPCs and the Planters Association, especially that they have to be funded by the Treasury. Those doing so have completely forgotten or have chosen to ignore the fact that the estates leased to the RPCs belonged and yet continue to belong to the SLSPC and JEDB. Therefore, as in the case of RPCs who sub-lease estates allocated to them and collect the rentals due on such sub leases, the lease rentals paid by the RPCs for the estates they manage should actually be paid to the owners of the estates – the SLSPC and JEDB – and not the Treasury. If this was the case, there would have been no necessity for the SLSPC or the JEDB to seek assistance from the Treasury but would have resulted in the SLSPC and JEDB assisting the Treasury! This alone would establish the absurd principles followed in the privatization of plantations by those responsible and to add insult to injury, these very same individuals together with the representatives of the RPCs and Planters Association castigate the present day SLSPC and JEDB for their performance, after having taken away all their better estates and leaving them only with a handful of estates in very poor condition and with no finances to resurrect them!!!

Getting back to matters of The Mascots, I am extremely pleased to report that we continue to be financially sound. Our accumulated surplus as at 31st December 2017 was Rs. 360,000/- of which Rs 350,000/- has been placed in Fixed Deposits. As at 31st December 2017, our Bank Balance was Rs 73,000/- which resulted in our total assets as at 31st December 2017 being Rs 423,000/-. My thanks are due to our Treasurer, Hemannath Wickremesooriya for his dedication in performing the duties of Treasurer so efficiently. Thank you Hemannath.

As at date our membership stands at 67 Resident Members, 40 Overseas Members and 15 Associate Members who are in fact the wives of our dear departed colleagues. If there is anyone who has been left out, please let me know so that the omission could be corrected forthwith.

A very sad event that occurred during the year was the sudden and untimely demise of my dear friend and our Secretary, Leslie Dharmaratne. He passed away just seven days after our last AGM and his loss is something that has affected and will continue to affect The Mascots in the future. We also lost Chula Delgoda, Mohan Ganapathy and Wickrema de Alwis who were all stalwarts of The Mascots. May Leslie, Chula, Mohan and Mr. de Alwis rest in eternal peace. To the wives and families of these dear departed colleagues, we offer our deepest sympathies and assure them that the memory of these great gentlemen will always be with us.

With the demise of Leslie, the post of Secretary was not filled. Therefore, in addition to my duties as President, I performed the duties of Secretary as well as assisted our Treasurer Hemannath in the preparation and presentation of our Accounts.

The current General Committee headed by myself as President, comprises of Sunil Wickramasinghe as Vice President, Hemannath Wickremesooriya as Treasurer with Randy McLeod, Winston Rupasinghe, Gnana Samaratunga, Harin de Costa and Maithri Liyanage functioning as Committee Members and Tilak de Zoysa, Manik Pereira and Sarath Sirisena as Trustees. I wish to thank every one of them for the co-operation extended to me.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have held the post of President – initially with the Association of Ex Planters of Maskeliya and thereafter The Mascots – for 15 consecutive years – in fact from the inception of both Associations. Therefore, though I had unsuccessfully attempted to relinquish office as President previously as well, I was determined that I should do so this year.

Your Committee unanimously accepted my proposal that Sarath Sirisena succeeds me as President and I am confident he will take The Mascots to much greater heights in the future.

I was also able to persuade our Treasurer Hemannath, who too has held the post of Treasurer for the last 15 years – initially with the Association of Ex Planters of Maskeliya and thereafter with The Mascots - to continue to hold office as Treasurer for another year. Hemannath has agreed, after he got covering approval from his “Commander-in-Chief”, on the condition that Gnana Samaratunga, who is currently a Committee Member, assists Hemannath and functions as Assistant Treasurer though officially holding the post of Committee Member. I trust there would be no objection to this from the house. Thank you all for your consent.

During my period as President, my most significant achievement was the trip I arranged, almost single-handedly, to our former home – the Maskeliya / Upcot District. The trip in itself was an absolute success and thoroughly enjoyed by all.

I have also ensured, throughout the period I held office as President, that the charge levied from members for all our functions, was as low as possible. This was due to no other reason other than that we are all retired “ageing stock” and not having as much spare cash to spend as we would have liked to. Notwithstanding this, the functions were all of an excellent standard and enjoyed by all. All this was possible due to the generosity of our many well-wishers. This year, though our well-wishers continued to support us, we have utilized a part of the funds lying in our Current Account for our Annual General Meeting as I was firmly of the opinion that some our surpluses should be used for the benefit of our members.

When The Mascots was created in November 2013, the only funds we had was a sum of Rs 63,000/-which was available with the Association of Ex Planters of Maskeliya. Now, five years later we have 6 (six) times this amount in Fixed Deposits, amounting to Rs 350,000/- as well as around Rs 50,000/- in our Current Account, which I am certain you will agree is a very significant achievement indeed especially because it was just over a period of five (05) years!

I am grateful to all the Committees I had to work with as well as the membership who co-operated with me wholeheartedly resulting in us achieving what we have. I must also specially thank the Trustees of The Mascots – M/s Tilak de Zoysa, Manik Pereira and Sarath Sirisena as well the late Lasantha Fernando who were an absolute strength and source of encouragement to me.

Even though I am relinquishing office as President, I have consented, purely as a temporary measure, to continue on the Committee of The Mascots as Secretary until your new President identifies someone of his choice to take over the crucial post of Secretary.

Before I conclude, I must inform you all of a magnanimous offer conveyed to me in an email by our Overseas Members – Chris & Judith Bean – where they state;

"We would be very pleased to host any members of The Mascots visiting New Zealand and Napier which is on the east coast of the North Island. An e-mail giving us some warning would be appreciated as we travel a bit and are not always at home."

My thanks are also due to David Hills and his team at the DBU for the excellent arrangements, Ruwanthi for her customary efficiency in handling what I call our “front desk” and the DJ for the hopefully wonderful music he will churn out.

It was my pleasure and privilege having served all of you as President and I sincerely thank all of you for having given me the opportunity to do so.

Thank you once again, Ladies & Gentlemen, for your presence today as well as your patient hearing.

Devaka Wickramasuriya
10th November 2018


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