Susantha Ratnayake accepts govt. offer to head Tea Board
John Keells Chief Susantha Ratnayake has accepted the post of Chairman of the Sri Lanka Tea Board, though he had been initially reluctant to play a dual role.
Ratnayake has earlier pointed out possible conflicts of interest as John Keells Limited, which he heads, is in the lucrative tea brokering business and he is also Chairman of Tea Smallholders Factories, run by JKH and Central Finance.
He succeeded Lalith Hettiarachchi, son-in-law of H. K. Dharmadasa, Chairman of the Nawaloka Group of Companies. Dharmadasa’s son, Jayantha lost the chairmanship of the Film Corporation to Kumar Abeysinghe, one-time Media Secretary during the then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe tenure (Dec 2001-April 2004).
The Tea Board comes within the purview of the Plantation portfolio held by Mahinda Samarasinghe, a heavyweight of the 2002-2004 UNP-led UNP government.
Welcoming Ratnayake’s appointment, authoritative sources said that private sector business leaders could play a decisive role in economical revival. It would not be right to look at such appointments through a political angle, sources said, emphasizing the importance of public-private sector partnership to meet post-war challenges.
Sources said wooing the private sector chiefs, including those who had been hostile towards the SLFP-led administration was a key element in the overall UPFA strategy, though a section of the government resented the move. Sources said that the main Opposition UNP leadership struggling to overcome a fresh internal crisis was concerned about the development. Responding to a query by The Sunday Island, sources said that this was an effort to sour their relationship with the private sector.
The government recently accommodated Chris Nonis of Mackwoods on the SriLankan Airlines board.
An influential section of the private sector threw its weight behind the Opposition presidential candidate General Sarath Fonseka at the Jan 26 election. About 1,000 executives packed a hall in the Cinnamon Grand Hotel in the second week of January to meet Fonseka, in the company of UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe and JVP leader Somawansa Amarasinghe.
Sources said that the SLFP leadership had overlooked the cosy relationship between some business leaders and the Opposition and even General Fonseka. Sources pointed out that the government accused the Fonseka’s Camp of taking 70 rooms at the Cinnamon Grand and Cinnamon Lakeside, both managed by the JKH, on the eve of the Jan 26 presidential election.
Government spokesmen are on record saying that was part of conspiracy move against the President’s family. The bottom line is that the government has cleared the blue chip company of any wrongdoing by accommodating its Chief.
Wasanthapriya Ramanayke, formerly a Premadasa loyalist, who subsequently switched his allegiance to Ranil Wickremesinghe recently received the appointment as Director Information. Ramanayake played a pivotal role in the UNP media during Wickremesinghe’s tenure, though he pledged his support to President Rajapaksa. Ramanayake is well known for his support for the Oslo-arranged CFA promoted by Wickremesinghe and his chief lieutenants such as Prof. G. L. Peiris and Milinda Moragoda.
Chamuditha Samarawickrema, formerly with the TNL and a key media strategist of the UNP, is now with SLFP General Secretary Minister Maithripala Sirisena. Samarawickrema, who strongly campaigned against the PA/ UPFA received appointment as Sirisena’s media secretary.
Lesser known persons too have found employment in the state sector.