'Some RPCs falling far short of the dynamism expected of them'



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Minister of Plantation Industries Navin Dissanayake and other dignitaries at the head table


By Steve A. Morrell


'Although the private sector was labeled the ‘Engine of Growth’, some Regional Plantation Companies, ( RPCs) had fallen short of expected growth. The free market economy which Sri Lanka was part of, meant the private sector had to innovate to remain competitive because both tea and rubber were international businesses. Sri Lanka should be within the top players to remain competitive, Minister of Plantations industries Navin Dissanayake said.


‘Quite unfortunately, some RPCs lack the innovative edge to project a more healthy picture of the plantation businesses they manage, the minister said recently addressing a work shop on rubber and oil palm.


Agricultural Specialist / Consultant to the Ministry of Plantations industries Jeevaka Atapattu, delivered the key note address. His presentation was in effect a detailed continuation of the minister’s misgivings that, specifically, some of the RPCs' work standards deteriorated to the extent that replanted rubber clearings which should have the optimum stand of 520 trees per hectare, are now merely 80 trees, on some estates he visited. He said ‘I was appalled to see the extremely poor work standards. Unless we place our development programme on a war footing, our rubber industry will face extinction.’


'Plantation companies were placing more stress on oil palm because of short term profit motives, but neglecting, rubber was and will be a bad decision. He said he would reiterate the government’s decision that oil palm will be restricted to 20,000 hectares. He confirmed felling of the forest cover to accommodate this crop would not be permitted.


'RPCs have no control over market conditions which were causing stress to the management of these rubber holdings. But that did not give them the license to neglect rubber lands within their management sphere. It was essential that cultural practices should not be shelved to counter price declines. 'The fact that we have come to this situation under privatized management after 25 years is a strong indictment on the monitoring systems that prevailed ( or lack of it), on Regional Plantation Companies. he said.


'The common complaint was that the plantations were short of man power. This question did cause trepidation, but this problem was self inflicted. What have you done to arrest the man power situation? Have you put in place various initiatives and incentives to retain a young work force? This has not happened, Atapattu said.


He outlined certain positive ideas to ensure worker retention; for instance, giving them dignity and respect in the work they do. Uniforms, foot wear, and similar alternatives could have been put in place to arrest this situation. But this did not happen. 'When it was first realized this was a looming problem it should have been handled in time. Treat your workers as associates. Do not use the outmoded and dubious tag "Coolie". The paradigm shift in attitude by RPCs is no more an option, but a necessity, he explained.


'Some CEOO complained planters were more out of their estates than supervising their workers. This is a serious accusation which need not have been made. The query could be raised why was this permitted? Planters were given their life styles to ensure they were in situ 24 /7., he added.


'Such recalcitrant attitudes were certainly not the work ethic of the Agency Houses during the pre nationalization era of the plantations.


'Planters not being on their estates unavoidably resulted in standards deteriorating, causing a position of intense concern, Atapattu stressed.


He added: 'Management structure of RPCs were top heavy with a series of desks in Colombo, with regard to work that could be handled by half that number. You senior people should be on the estates, and not behind a desk in Colombo.


‘You might think in my position I am interfering in your companies. But my responsibility is to ensure government assets in your charge are not mismanaged. We expect private sector dynamism and innovation, nothing less. You appear to have maintained the same lethargic uninspiring model of nationalized management. I would request you move into the dynamic private sector. If in doubt we could guide you.'


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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