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Chari de Silva leaves Caltex and begins long career at Aitken Spence

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A business leader remembers

by Charitha. P. de Silva

(Continued from last week)

Gaddum offered me the job of accountant shortly after I had passed out as a Chartered Accountant in 1955. Thornton offered me the job of Chief Accountant. I told him that unfortunately I was heavily involved in the Compensation Claim for Caltex and could not let them down. We parted and he wrote me a charming letter. After this experience I got Bertie Casie Chetty to sign all the documents that would be used in the case.

Meanwhile Jim Wollahan, who had developed a huge regard for me, offered me employment as an expatriate. I declined it for a number of reasons. Firstly I had no great desire to live the life of a nomad abroad, traveling from one country to another. Secondly, I knew that it was quite likely that I would be posted to some Asian country like India or Malaysia. My colleagues in those countries, who would be as well qualified as I was, would be earning much less than I did (being an expatriate). In those circumstances it was unlikely that they would cooperate wholeheartedly with me, or view me with great affection.

Around 1962 the government finally took over the assets of the oil companies. The employees were offered handsome severance packages and the staff at Caltex dwindled to a skeleton. At this point, I received my third offer to join Aitken Spence where Jack Reeves had taken over from Mike Thornton, and Ron Law the Chief Accountant had given notice of resignation. I evaluated the two choices before me: either become an expatriate with Caltex or the Chief Accountant of Aitken Spence. I had already foreseen the problems I would be faced with as an expatriate. In any case three unsolicited offers from the same company within ten years seemed too much like Fate. I therefore accepted Aitken Spence’s offer after informing Harry Bernard and Geof Gardiner of my decision. They were sad about it but very understanding. They were also generous, because despite the fact that I was employed by Aitken Spence the day after I left Caltex they paid me the full Compensation Package!

And so it came about that on September 1, 1963 I became the Chief Accountant in-waiting of Aitken Spence. Ron Law whose office I shared remained there for three months during which I learned the ropes. The top men of AS were Jack Reeeves (Chairman), Roy Hinton, Eldsworth Van Langenberg, and Louis Samarawickrema (Directors). The Assistant Chief Accountant was A. Ranganathan a clever Chartered Accountant who was thoroughly familiar with the intricacies of the day-to-day accounting. After Law left and I took over, I allowed Ranganathan to handle the Accounts and I concerned myself with overall policy and personnel matters because there was no HR director. This arrangement worked very smoothly because I detested accounts and Ranga loved them.

Within my first six months I did something which showed the staff that I was a firm (but fair) disciplinarian. It came to my notice that the clerk in charge of tea purchases was cheating us. It became apparent to me, on investigation, that the Chief Clerk who was a powerful individual, had been aware of the fraud and blackmailing the fraudster for his monthly cut. I held an inquiry and sacked the Chief Clerk for being aware of dishonesty and not bringing it to my notice. That was a powerful signal of my views on honesty and my readiness to act when necessary.

Jack Reeves was a kindly, gentle person, who was on the verge of a nervous breakdown because the Chairmanship job in Colombo was too much for him; he had led a comfortable, stress-free working life as Chairman of Clark, Spence & Co. Ltd (a subsidiary of AS) a shipping company at Galle. It was quite painful for me to watch him struggling to sign a document. Because he was a weak man and the two senior directors Roy Hinton and Eldsworth Van Langenberg were equally strong men he compromised and appointed both of them as Joint Managing Directors, a not very satisfactory arrangement.

However, the company continued to run reasonably smoothly, because we were a typical Agency House doing Shipping (Eldsworth), Insurance (Louis) and Estate Management (Roy) and more recently Printing (Roy) with machinery brought down from Galle where Clark Spence had been running a printing press. The directors did not interfere with each other. I was in charge of the Accounts Department, Secretarial work and Personnel. Whenever there was a major difference of opinion between the two strong men it was I who determined the final decision because I would support what I thought was the correct view.

Within one and a half years I was appointed Finance Director. Jack decided that the strain was too much for him, and quit, leaving for England where he settled down in Chichester. When it came to appointing the next Chairman, the rivalry between Roy and Eldsworth was resolved by their agreeing to take it in turns, with Roy taking the first stint.

I recall an amusing incident involving the Minutes. I used to draft the Minutes of the Board Meetings, and found to my annoyance that Roy used to make numerous minor changes such as “in view of the fact that” where I had used the single word “because”. I stomached this for some time and when my patience ran out I came to a board meeting one day armed with books such as “The Concise Oxford Dictionary”, and “Modern English Usage” by Fowler. Much in the manner of a QC in the Courts, I set the books down next to me, and analyzed all the ‘improvements’ that Roy had made in the latest draft minutes. I established that they were not material improvements and amounted to nothing more than a waste of time. From that day onwards Roy did not attempt to improve on my drafts in any way. Years later he admitted to me that he greatly admired my mastery of English.

At about this time, during my first year, Ranga who was the Employer representative on our Clerical and Subordinate Staff Benefit Fund (an approved private provident fund) came to me and told me that he was rather worried about the number of ‘Distress’ Loans that the staff were raising from the Fund. Under the rules all they needed for a loan was to establish need. I told him to bring me the Box File of loan applications that was under his control. One look at it was enough for me to see that the medical certificates justifying the distress loans were fraudulent. They were all, almost without exception, from one Ayurvedic Physician at Gampaha.

I told him to get into his car and drive straight away to the address at Gampaha. He came back within two hours and reported, exactly as I had expected, that there was no such physician at the address. I thereupon, without a moment’s delay, sent for the last applicant for a loan, who was blessed with an illustrious name, H.W. Jayawardena (the same as J.R. Jayewardene’s distinguished brother, a QC). I sat him down opposite me with Ranga seated alongside, and asked him kindly where he had got the medical certificate from. One thing was certain: that it was not from the purported Ayurvedic Physician because Ranga had just driven there and found that no such person existed.

He was so shattered by this news that he told me the truth, exactly as I had expected. He had got it from the head peon, Velayuthan, for a payment of Rs 5.00. He wrote the whole story down, and signed the confession ending with the statement that it was voluntarily made, without any threats posed, or inducements offered, by me to him, in the presence of Ranganathan. I thereafter told him to wait in the next room (Ranganathan’s) while I questioned the head peon. I sent for him, confronted him with Jayawardena’s confession and asked him where he had got the certificate from. He told me that he had got it from Jurangpathy, a clerk in the Shipping Department. He wrote out a full confession. I thereafter sent for Jurangpathy, who told me that he had got the bogus certificates printed at Sarath Printers, Nugegoda. He too wrote a full confession. I had given none of them time to consult their Trade Union. That afternoon I drove to Sarath Printers myself, and traced the Order that had been placed for the printing of the medical certificates.

It turned out that practically all our staff had benefited from these loans and there was a small group of clerks in the Head Office who were selling these bogus certificates after filling them out in Sinhala, for Rs 5.00 each. I discovered that even the clerks in Trincomalee (where we had a branch) had benefited from this scheme and sent their payments by Postal Order to the General Post Office that was within walking distance of us, in favour of another clerk in the ring. I walked across to the GPO and with the permission of the Post Master went through all the Postal Orders of the previous month and discovered a few from our office in Trinco in favour of Samsudeen, one of the head-office malefactors. I took photocopies of those that I found and returned to the office.

Since it was neither practicable nor fair that I should treat all participants in this fraud alike, I drafted Show-Cause letters to the ringleaders, and after receiving their totally unacceptable replies, dismissed them having consulted the Employers’ Federation of Ceylon. They were all members of Bala Tampoe’s Trade Union, the CMU.

They all appealed to a Labour Tribunal. There was an Inquiry at which I was the only witness, and the verdict was that they were all guilty of fraud. They remained dismissed and we did not have to pay any compensation. I have related this episode at length because it was a good example of lightning action; action that was so quick that the employees had no time to consult lawyers or even their Union. There was an interesting aftermath to the whole affair. Hinton wanted to reprimand Ranga for not spotting the fraud that had gone on for over seven years. I was totally against it because it was Ranga who had, even belatedly, alerted me to it. I pointed out to Hinton and Eldsworth that if we pulled him up it would be a disincentive to him ever alerting me in future to any irregularity that he discovered. 1, in fact, did just the opposite. I congratulated him on exposing the fraud. This, I think, was an excellent example of Emotional Intelligence winning over knee-jerk reactions.

(Excerpted from CP de Silva’s Memoirs)



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Features

Glimmers of hope?

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The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self-interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away.

Some of Cassandra’s readers may ask whether she is out of her right mind to see glimmers of hope for the country. She assures them she is as sane as can be; she does cling onto these straws like the dying man does. How else exist? How else get through these dire times?

What are the straws she clings to? News items in The Island of Tuesday 24 May.

‘Sirisena leaves Paget Road mansion in accordance with SC interim injunction.’ And who was instrumental in righting this wrong? The CPA and its Executive Director Dr Pakiasothy Saravanamuttu. It is hoped that revisions to the system will come in such as giving luxury housing and other extravagant perks to ex-presidents and their widows. Sri Lanka has always lived far beyond its means in the golden handshakes to its ex- prezs and also perks given its MPs. At least luxury vehicles should not be given them. Pensions after five years in Parliament should be scrapped forthwith.

‘Letter of demand sent to IGP seeking legal action against DIG Nilantha Jayawardena.’ Here the mover is The Centre for Society and Religion and it is with regard to the Easter Sunday massacre which could have been prevented if DIG Jayawardena as Head of State Intelligence had taken necessary action once intelligence messages warned of attack on churches.

‘CIABOC to indict Johnston, Keheliya and Rohitha’. It is fervently hoped that this will not be another charge that blows away with the wind. They do not have their strongest supporter – Mahinda R to save them. We so fervently hope the two in power now will let things happened justly, according to the law of the land.

‘Foreign Secy Admiral Colombage replaced’. And by whom? A career diplomat who has every right and qualification for the post; namely Aruni Wijewardane. If this indicates a fading of the prominence given to retired armed forces personnel in public life and administration, it is an excellent sign. Admiral Colombage had tendered his resignation, noted Wednesday’s newspaper.

‘Crisis caused by decades of misuse public resources, corruption, kleptocracy – TISL’.

Everyone knew this, even the despicable thieves and kleptocrats. The glaring question is why no concerted effort was made to stop the thieving from a country drawn to bankruptcy by politicians and admin officers. There are many answers to that question. It was groups, mostly of the middle class who came out first in candle lit vigils and then at the Gotagogama Village. The aragalaya has to go down in history as the savior of our nation from a curse worse than war. The civil war was won against many odds. But trying to defeat deceit power-hunger and thieving was near impossible. These protestors stuck their necks out and managed to rid from power most of the Rajapaksa family. That was achievement enough.

Heartfelt hope of the many

The newly appointed Cabinet Ministers leaves Cass un-uplifted. She need not elaborate. She wishes fervently that Dr Harsha de Silva will leave party loyalty aside and consider the country. Usually, it’s asking politicians to cast aside self interest, which very rarely is done in the political culture that came to be after the 1970s. Thus, it is very unusual, completely out of the ordinary to appeal to Dr Harsha to forego party loyalty and do the very needful for the country by accepting the still vacant post of Minister of Finance. We are very sorry Eran W too has kept himself away. As Shamindra Ferdinando writes in the newspaper mentioned, “Well informed sources said that Premier Wickremesinghe was still making efforts to win over some more Opposition members. Sources speculated that vital finance portfolio remained vacant as the government still believed (hoped Cass says) Dr Harsha de Silva could somehow be convinced to accept that portfolio.”

Still utterly hopeless

Gas is still unavailable for people like Cass who cannot stand in queues, first to get a token and then a cylinder. Will life never return to no queues for bare essentials? A woman friend was in a petrol queue for a solid twelve hours – from 4 am to 4 pm. This is just one of million people all over the country in queues. Even a common pressure pill was not available in 20 mg per.

Cassandra considers a hope. We saw hundreds of Sri Lankans all across the globe peacefully protesting for departure of thieves from the government. The ex-PM, Mahinda Rajapaksa’s answer to this was to unleash absolute terror on all of the island. It seems to be that with Johnson a younger MP stood commandingly.

Returning from that horror thought to the protesters overseas, Cass wondered if each of them contributed one hundred dollars to their mother country, it would go a long way to soften the blows we are battered with. Of course, the absolute imperative is that of the money, not a cent goes into personal pockets. The donors must be assured it goes to safety. Is that still not possible: assuring that donations are used for the purpose they are sent for: to alleviate the situation of Sri Lankans? I suppose the memory of tsunami funds going into the Helping Hambantota Fund is still fresh in memory. So much for our beloved country.

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Ban on agrochemicals and fertilisers: Post-scenario analysis

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By Prof. Rohan Rajapakse

(Emeritus Professor of Agriculture Biology UNIVERSITY OF RUHUNA and Former Executive Director Sri Lanka Council of Agriculture Research Policy)

There are two aspects of the ban on agrochemicals. The first is the ban on chemical fertilisers, and the second is the ban on the use of pesticides. Several eminent scientists, Dr Parakrama Waidyanatha (formerly the Soil Scientist of RRI), Prof OA Ileperuma (Former Professor of Chemistry University of Peradeniya), Prof C. S. Weeraratne (former Professor of Agronomy University of Ruhuna), Prof D. M. de Costa University of Peradeniya, Prof. Buddhi Marambe (Professor in Weed Science University of Peradeniya) have effectively dealt with the repercussion of the ban on chemical fertilisers which appeared in The Island newspaper on recently.

The major points summarised by these authors are listed below.

FERTILISER ISSUE

1. These scientists, including the author, are of the view that the President’s decision to totally shift to organic agriculture from conventional could lead to widespread hunger and starvation in future, which has become a reality. Organic farming is a small phenomenon in global agriculture, comprising a mere 1.5% of total farmlands, of which 66% are pasture.

2. Conventional farming (CF) is blamed for environmental pollution; however, in organic farming, heavy metal pollution and the release of carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases from farmyard manure, are serious pollution issues with organic farming that have been identified.

3. On the other hand, the greatest benefit of organic fertilisers as against chemical fertilisers is the improvement of soil’s physical, chemical and biological properties by the former, which is important for sustained crop productivity. The best option is to use appropriate combinations of organic and chemical fertilisers, which can also provide exacting nutrient demands of crops and still is the best option!

4. Sri Lanka has achieved self-sufficiency in rice due to the efforts of the Research Officers of the Department of Agriculture, and all these efforts will be in vain if we abruptly ban the import of fertiliser. These varieties are bred primarily on their fertiliser response. While compost has some positive effects such as improving soil texture and providing some micronutrients, it cannot be used as a substitute for fertiliser needed by high yielding varieties of rice. Applying organic fertilisers alone will not help replenish the nutrients absorbed by a crop. Organic fertilisers have relatively small amounts of the nutrients that plants need. For example, compost has only 2% nitrogen (N), whereas urea has 46% N. Banning the import of inorganic fertilisers will be disastrous, as not applying adequate amounts of nutrients will cause yields to drop, making it essential to increase food imports. Sri Lankan farmers at present are at the mercy of five organizations, namely the Central Department of Agriculture, the Provincial Ministry of Agriculture, the Private sector Pesticide Companies, the Non-Government organizations and the leading farmers who are advising them. Instead, improved agricultural extension services to promote alternative non-chemical methods of pest control and especially the use of Integrated Pest Management.

Locally, pest control depends mostly on the use of synthetic pesticides; ready to use products that can be easily procured from local vendors are applied when and where required Abuse and misapplication of pesticides is a common phenomenon in Sri Lanka. Even though many farmers are aware of the detrimental aspects of pesticides they often use them due to economic gains

We will look at the post scenario of
what has happened

1. The importation of Chemical fertilisers and Pesticides was banned at the beginning of Maha season 1 on the advice of several organic manure (OM) promoters by the Ministry of agriculture.

2. The Ministry of Agriculture encouraged the farmers to use organic manure, and an island-wide programme of producing Organic manure were initiated. IT took some time for the government to realize that Sri Lanka does not have the capacity to produce such a massive amount of OM, running into 10 tons per hectare for 500000 hectares ear marked in ma ha season.

3. Hence the government approved the importation of OM from abroad, and a Company in China was given an initial contract to produce OM produced from Seaweed. However, the scientists from University of Peradeniya detected harmful microorganisms in this initial consignment, and the ship was forced to leave Sri Lankan waters at a cost of US dollar 6.7 million without unloading its poisonous cargo. No substitute fertiliser consignment was available.

4. A committee in the Ministry hastily recommended to import NANO RAJA an artificial compound from India to increase the yield by spraying on to leaves. Sri Lanka lost Rs 863 million as farmers threw all these Nano Raja bottles and can as it attracts dogs and wild boar.

Since there is no other option the Ministry promised to pay Rs 50000 per hectare for all the farmers who lost their livelihood. It is not known how much the country lost due to this illogical decision of banning fertilisers and pesticides.

Recommendations

1. Judicious use of pesticides is recommended.

2. The promotion and the use of integrated pest management techniques whenever possible

3. To minimize the usage of pesticides:

Pesticide traders would be permitted to sell pesticides only through specially trained Technical Assistants.

Issuing pesticides to the farmers for which they have to produce some kind of a written recommendation by a local authority.

Introduction of new mechanism to dispose or recycle empty pesticide and weedicide bottles in collaboration with the Environment Ministry.

Laboratory-testing of imported pesticides by the Registrar of Pesticides at the entry-point to ensure that banned chemicals were not brought into the country.

Implementation of trained core of people who can apply pesticides.

Education campaigns to train farmers, retailers, distributors, and public with the adverse effects of pesticides.

Maximum Residue Level (MRL) to reduce the consumer’s risk of exposure to unsafe levels.

Integrated pest Management and organic agriculture to be promoted.

1. To ensure the proper usage of agrochemicals by farmers

All those who advised the Minister of Agriculture and the President to shift to OM still wield authority in national food production effort. The genuine scientists who predicted the outcome are still harassed sacked from positions they held in MA and were labelled as private sector goons. The danger lies if the farmers decide not to cultivate in this Maha season due to non-availability of fertilisers and pesticides the result will be an imminent famine.

The country also should have a professional body like the Planning Commission of

India, with high calibre professionals in the Universities and the Departments and

There should be institutions and experts to advise the government on national policy matters.

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Thomians triumph in Sydney 

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Nothing is happening for us, at this end, other than queues, queues, and more queues! There’s very little to shout about were the sports and entertainment scenes are concerned. However, Down Under, the going seems good.

Sri Lankans, especially in Melbourne, Australia, have quite a lot of happenings to check out, and they all seem to be having a jolly good time!

Trevine Rodrigo,

who puts pen to paper to keep Sri Lankans informed of the events in Melbourne, was in Sydney, to taken in the scene at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition. And, this is Trevine’s report:

The weather Gods and S.Thomas aligned, in Sydney, to provide the unexpected at the Sri Lanka Schools Sevens Touch Rugby competition, graced by an appreciative crowd.

Inclement weather was forecast for the day, and a well drilled Dharmaraja College was expected to go back-to-back at this now emerging competition in Sydney’s Sri Lanka expatriate sporting calendar.

But the unforeseen was delivered, with sunny conditions throughout, and the Thomians provided the upset of the competition when they stunned the favourites, Dharmaraja, in the final, to grab the Peninsula Motor Group Trophy.

Still in its infancy, the Sevens Touch Competition, drawn on the lines of Rugby League rules, found new flair and more enthusiasm among its growing number of fans, through the injection of players from around Australia, opposed to the initial tournament which was restricted to mainly Sydneysiders.

A carnival like atmosphere prevailed throughout the day’s competition.

Ten teams pitted themselves in a round robin system, in two groups, and the top four sides then progressed to the semi-finals, on a knock out basis, to find the winner.

A food stall gave fans the opportunity to keep themselves fed and hydrated while the teams provided the thrills of a highly competitive and skilled tournament.

The rugby dished out was fiercely contested, with teams such as Trinity, Royal and St. Peter’s very much in the fray but failing to qualify after narrow losses on a day of unpredictability.

Issipathana and Wesley were the other semi-finalists with the Pathanians grabbing third place in the play-off before the final.

The final was a tense encounter between last year’s finalists Dharmaraja College and S.Thomas. Form suggested that the Rajans were on track for successive wins in as many attempts.  But the Thomians had other ideas.

The fluent Rajans, with deft handling skills and evasive running, looked the goods, but found the Thomian defence impregnable.  Things were tied until the final minutes when the Thomians sealed the result with an intercept try and hung on to claim the unthinkable.

It was perhaps the price for complacency on the Rajans part that cost them the game and a lesson that it is never over until the final whistle.

Peninsula Motor Group, headed by successful businessman Dilip Kumar, was the main sponsor of the event, providing playing gear to all the teams, and prize money to the winners and runners-up.

The plan for the future is to make this event more attractive and better structured, according to the organisers, headed by Deeptha Perera, whose vision was behind the success of this episode.

In a bid to increase interest, an over 40’s tournament, preceded the main event, and it was as interesting as the younger version.

Ceylon Touch Rugby, a mixed team from Melbourne, won the over 40 competition, beating Royal College in the final.

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