‘Princess Noori,’ Machiavelli’s ‘Prince’ and Ceylon Tea

Tuesday, 13 August 2013 00:51 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Much has been written and published recently on the brutal attack and murder of Nihal Perera, Superintendent of Noori Estate, by a notorious criminal gang led by an ex-Pradeshiya Sabha Chairman known as ‘Atha Kota’ and his close relatives. According to media reports, a total of 21 suspects including the former Deraniyagala PS Chairman were arrested over the incident. The Magistrate directed that the identification parade was not required as CID informed Court that they have identified them clearly. Residents of Deraniyagala had accused the Police of failing to carry out their duties properly in investigating previous crimes, allegedly due to political pressure. Incidentally 20 Police officers attached to the Deraniyagala Police Station were transferred in July. Noori Tea Estate and Factory is managed by Walters Bay Tea Estates Ltd., a BOI company engaged in marketing ‘Pure’ Ceylon Tea, on a joint venture with Bogawantalawa Tea Estates PLC. The owners and top officials of Walters Bay, US, whose Manager Nihal Perera was killed by goons, have written to the Defence Secretary recently stating that they are very appreciative of the efforts being made by him to ‘resolve the crime’. Earlier, the US Embassy had expressed concern about the crime, Walters Bay Tea Estates being a company based in the US. Princess Noori Noori tea is much sought after by discerning tea connoisseurs world over, especially in Russia. As for Ceylon Tea exports, Russia continues to be the largest buyer of tea from Sri Lanka and has imported more than 50 million kilos of tea out of 320 million kilos of total exports. The largest importer of tea into Russia, Orimi Trade, which has been importing the ‘Princess Noori’ tea brand since 1996, has a 30% market share in Russia, thus successfully competing with multinational giants like Unilever, Tetley’s, etc. ‘Princess Noori’ has become the most preferred brand in Russia. Incidentally, the first consignment of Noori tea was exported by owners of Noori estate, BTE PLC, as far back as 1996 to Orimi Trade and that prompted Orimi to get involved in the tea trade and become the market leader in Russia. Since then Noori teas have been fetching high prices at the Colombo auction. However, during the last couple of years, this gang led by ‘Atha Kota’ had been terrorising the area coming under Noori, acting in the most inhuman manner without any respect for law enforcement officers. This lawlessness has prevailed in Noori until the new manager has assumed duties but sadly he had to sacrifice his life for doing the right thing. The law enforcement officers and civil society have now realised that time has come to put in place a system to maintain law and order to avoid any occurrences of this nature not only around Noori but other areas as well. This could be the turning point for creating a better and more conducive environment for estates to carry out their work smoothly without any hindrance. This is possible only if the authorities are able to eliminate undue political interference and cohesive tactics adopted by certain people in the estate sector across the country. The writer’s view is that the estate managers as producers and the tea exporters have the necessary skills and competencies and the commitment to realise the true potential of this vast untapped resource, thus optimising the net foreign exchange from tea exports, provided a conducive environment is created by all the stakeholders. Further, there has to be a clear understanding by both the Government and private sector as to the role of private sector estates in promoting estate-village social integration since estate management is directly interwoven with the socio-political fabric of society. That does not mean that the estate managers have to give into undue pressure from local politicians and/or powerful trade unions with high political bargaining power. Machiavelli’s ‘Prince’ In a recent interview with The New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond was asked which book he would require President Obama to read if he could. His answer was Machiavelli’s ‘The Prince,’ written 500 years ago. ‘The Prince’ is a political treatise by Italian diplomat, historian and political theorist Machiavelli. Machiavelli emphasised the need for realism, as opposed to idealism. Machiavelli took it for granted that would-be leaders naturally aim at glory or honour. He encouraged ambition and risk taking. According to Machiavelli, the two most essential foundations for any state, whether old or new, are sound laws and strong military forces. A self-sufficient prince is one who can meet any enemy on the battlefield. As long as the city is properly defended and has enough supplies, a wise prince can withstand any siege. Diamond said that what continues to make ‘The Prince’ compelling reading for today’s political leaders is Machiavelli’s insistence “that we are not helpless at the hands of bad luck”. Machiavelli stands strongly against the use of mercenaries and he also had personal experience in Florence. He believes they are useless to a ruler because they are undisciplined, cowardly, and without any loyalty, being motivated only by money. During the J.R. Jayewardene regime from 1977 till the end ’90s, opponents were criticising President Jayewardene and his overall governance style, saying that he was an ardent follower of principles and practice of Machiavelli’s ‘Prince’. The criticism was levelled against the manner in which he took away civic rights of main political opponents and used his own constitution to extend Parliament in 1982 through a referendum, which can be seen by innocent citizens as a democratic feature. It goes without saying that the proportional representation and preferential voting system for the entire district resulted in the election of members who were unknown to the grass root level ordinary citizens and villages. The opponents were accusing the Jayewardene administration of using political thugs to intimidate Supreme Court Judges who had given rulings against the State for breaching human rights of some activists. However, he was compelled to give in to pressure from other countries to tamper with his own 1978 Constitution by introducing the 13th Amendment and establishing the provincial council system under Provincial Council Act No. 42 of 1987. It is interesting to note that just before PCs were installed, the ‘Pradeshiya Sabha Act’ No. 15 of 1987 was passed in Parliament, thus establishing over 300 Pradeshiya Sabhas in the country with a view to providing greater opportunities for the people to participate in the decision making process. ‘Atha Kota’ who received the highest number of preferential votes in Deraniyagala electorate at the PS elections held in 2008 is a by-product of that process. Therefore, any lasting solution to bring back law and order at Pradeshiya level has to be found by critically analysing the far-reaching implications of establishing the local authority system through PCs and PSs and of course a parallel administration system of having a number of divisional secretariats and offices of the GAs across the country. Devolution of Police powers to PCs It is true that Sri Lanka has adopted decentralisation of power, which has resulted in devolving power to PCs and PSs across the country. An article published on 31 July in a daily newspaper by a proponent of greater devolution beyond 13th Amendment asked this question: Is it not the thinking of the proponents of anti-devolution that only the Sinhalese can be trusted and should be given police and land powers and not Tamils and Muslims? The writer’s own view is that this has nothing to do with obstructing a process of devolving powers to the North East Council, thus preventing the finding of a solution to the ‘ethnic issue’ in this country. It is a question of lack of skills and competencies of the council members and government officials (Police officers) at regional level in order to exercise authority to serve the people without using undue power. It is also a question of the capacity to understand the role and functions of local government authorities, perhaps due to many complications surrounding the formation of PCs, PSs and the divisional secretariats and the duplication of work among many local authorities and the Central Government. In addition, a lack of sufficient fund allocation from the centre to undertake development projects at grass root level would have aggravated the problem. Most of the members of provincial councils/local government authorities are unsuitable and incapable of exercising their legitimate authority, leave alone Police powers in order to maintain law and order for the benefit of the people. It is important to critically evaluate in order to address both, the policy incongruencies at macro level as well as how powers are being misused (especially Police powers and powers vested in the chairmen of the PSs and chief ministers of PCs, viz. IGP and AGAs of the divisions) at grass root level by unscrupulous elements. In terms of the PS Act, chairmen appointed for the PS become the CEOs and that is how ‘Atha Kota’ became the most powerful CEO of this country. It is interesting to quote Section 43 of the PS Act No. 15 of 1987, which says the CEO has the power to cut trees within the pradeshiya sabha area. An eminent person known to the writer mentioned in a lighter vein that the culprit Chairman of Deraniyagala PS would have misinterpreted the relevant section obviously due to his poor educational background to make use of that clause to meet his personal gain. The writer is personally aware of the number of Police entries and Court cases filed against the former PS Chairman for the illicit felling of trees and encroachments around Noori, most of which have now been cleared and vested in the company on behalf of the State. Conclusion What is required now is to devise a proper legal and administrative system for proper devolution of authority to be exercised at ‘grass root level’ and the power vested in the ordinary citizens of this country to manage their own affairs. This is the spirit of effective devolution as universally accepted. There seems to be a general consensus on this matter. The present units of devolution, PCs and PSs are too large administrative establishments, thus negating the very purpose of the principle of devolution with the objective of getting closer to the people. The writer’s view is that power could be devolved to 24 ‘district councils’ as stipulated in the Constitution and to the proposed ‘gam sabhas,’ instead of having larger units of devolution, namely the Pcs and PSs, some of which have become white elephants and/or corrupt establishments. However, a legal provision could be made to permit any two or more district councils within the same province to amalgamate and operate as a provincial administration. This is to accommodate any request that may come from the Northern Provincial Council to manage their own affairs as people living in the entire province are predominantly Tamil-speaking population. Therefore, any proposal to devolve power to district councils instead of provincial councils cannot be construed as a true dilution of the powers vested under the 13th Amendment. As far as the local authority elections are concerned, it is important to have a hybrid system combining ‘first past the post’ and some percentage of proportional representation method, thus totally eliminating the preferential system (manape). The proposed amendment to the Local Authorities Elections (Amendment) in 2012 reverting back to the ward system is a step in the right direction. It is also important to put in place a mechanism to have (a) a properly structured district coordinating committee meetings to be held regularly, and (b) a more positive dialogue on social integration for village level activities including physical and social infrastructure development programs. This mechanism will lead to greater participation by truly ‘people’s organisations’ both at gam sabha level and district level. This would create a conducive environment, thus providing opportunities for the people to participate in the decision making process. This is the only way to prevent unscrupulous people of the calibre of ‘Atha Kota’ to get into key positions at local authority level to intimidate innocent people and destroy public property.

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