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TEA bitter about using promotional fund to pay worker allowances


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  • Two letters sent to Ministry unanswered
  • Exporters want Govt. to stop collecting levy if promotional activities are not going ahead

 

By Chathuri Dissanayake

The Tea Exporters’ Association (TEA) has opposed the move by the Government to utilise tea promotional fund to pay the Rs. 50 allowance for the plantation workers.

The association is however yet to receive a response to the two that were sent to the Ministry stating their opposition to using money from the fund which was set up exclusively to carry out tea promotional activities.  

“We are not opposed to paying the Rs. 50 allowance to the plantation workers at all, but they should not take the money from the tea promotional fund for any non-promotional activities,” TEA Secretary General Ranjith Abeykoon told Daily FT.

The fund was set up in November 2010 to “be used exclusively by the Board for the purpose of engaging in activities related to tea promotion and marketing strategy, within and outside Sri Lanka”.

 “The fund has however been utilised to give loans on earlier occasions but the TEA “has opposed the decision every time”, Abeykoon noted.

“A few months ago, Fund has given Rs. 1 billion loan to the treasury, when we give loans like that although the money is recoverable, we lose interest collected on the fund,” Abeykoon highlighted.

Abeykoon also claimed that Regional Plantation Companies (RPCs) were also given a loan last year to pay festival advance of the workers, however, SLTB Chairman Lucile Wijewardana denied the claim.

Plantation Industries Ministry Secretary J.A. Ranjith however said the matter was still under negotiation. The delay in response to the letters, he said was because the two parties have been unable to reach an agreement.

However the Ministry has now decided to send a response to the second letter sent by TEA last week, Ranjith said.

Tea promotional activities have been delayed due to administrative issues related to launching the marketing campaign. The Tea Board earlier said that the Rs. 4.5 billion marketing campaign targeting 12 countries, which has been in the works for over two years, will kick off in August this year.

Due to the delay in kicking off promotional activities TEA has asked the Government to terminate collection of the levy. Despite the Minister in charge and the Tea Board giving assurances to do so, the levy is still being charged Abeykoon highlighted. The fund at present has accumulated over Rs. 5 billion, with Minister Navin Dissanayake having to battle with former Finance Minister Ravi Karunanayake from it being taken over by the Consolidated Fund.

The TEA claims that the SLTB promised to work on reducing the levy by 50% in January this year and to completely doing away with the collection by August. However the full amount is still being charged, Abeykoon lamented.

Although there have been discussions in revising the levy, the SLTB has not made any commitments to remove it, Wijewardana told Daily FT.

“This is a levy on the entire product value chain, and as it is at the customs we can collect it. This fund needs to be there, there are other activities such as replanting also that’s taking place,” he highlighted.

Further he said that the fund has already allocated Rs. 1 billion for individual brand promotions where companies are to be reimbursed part of the funds spent on branding activities abroad.


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