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Lanka crisis is personal for Origin Tea brothers

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Social and economic crisis engulfing Sri Lanka is half a world away but feels very close to home for brothers Chris and Lawrence Seaton in Brisbane, says a report by Brisbane Financial Review.

Their burgeoning Brisbane-based business, Origin Tea, is about to go mainstream with the supermarket launch of products previously only available in cafés.

“We want to keep money flowing into the economy and into the pockets of locals,” Chris said.

The challenge is that the tea comes from Sri Lanka, where a financial crisis is causing severe shortages of essential goods such as fuel, medicine and food.

About 200 people work at Origin Tea’s factory in Sri Lanka, which is experiencing daily power cuts that last up to eight hours. This means switching to diesel generators, which increases production costs by 10 per cent to 20 per cent.

Chris Seaton was in Sri Lanka last month and was shaken by what he saw.

“Sri Lankan families don’t even have gas cyllinders so they can cook and put food on the table,” he said.

“Inflation there is heading towards 30 per cent, which puts all of the cost of living and interest rate talk here in perspective.

Sri Lanka is on the brink of bankruptcy and people have taken to the streets demanding the resignation of the president, who they hold responsible for the economic crisis.

A drop in tourism means the South Asian country is running desperately low on foreign currency reserves and is struggling to import fuel, medical supplies and raw materials.

Along with additional costs for diesel at the factory, pandemic-related supply chain problems mean Origin Tea must pay $6000 for every shipping container it brings to Australia, a six-fold increase on the $1000 it paid before COVID-19.

But the Seaton brothers are refusing to give up on their Sri Lankan operation.

Chris made an urgent trip to Colombo last month to establish new suppliers because local manufacturers could no longer import what they needed, including packaging.

Many Sri Lankans spend their days vying for the limited fuel stocks, so Origin Tea had to organise a shuttle bus, so employees could get to work.

“My role has changed to focusing on how to get dollars into the country because the people who manufacture our cardboard and tea bags can’t pay their suppliers,” Seaton said.

“We want to keep money flowing into the economy and into the pockets of locals.”

Origin Tea was established in 2012 when Chris and Lawrence were fresh out of university and in their early 20s.

Their vision was to “make tea cool”.

“We saw a gap in the market for single origin tea, as single origin coffee became the latest buzzword,” Chris said. “Origin Tea is one of the few offering traceability of high-grade Ceylon tea from a single origin in Sri Lanka.”

Unlike blends, single origin products guarantee provenance.

Until the pandemic, Origin Tea was largely a wholesale business, with products stocked in 1000 cafés nationally.

COVID-19 made the Seaton brothers realise they needed to sell directly to consumers, and their Origin Sticky Chai will be available in supermarkets from next month.

Agribusiness is in their blood. Their grandfather, Donald Seaton, was the founder of oilseed crushing business Gardner Smith, which was run by dad Gary until it was sold to GrainCorp in 2011.

“We have always been about making tea fun and cool but with the situation in Sri Lanka becoming more serious by the day, making and exporting our tea has become vital to helping locals feed their families,” Chris said.

Australian National University economist Sriram Shankar said Sri Lanka’s crisis was caused by many factors, including a heavy dependence on China for domestic investment, external debt and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Tourism had also come to a standstill as the government was accused of political corruption.

“President Gotabaya Rajapaksa made large tax cuts that affected government revenue and fiscal policies, causing budget deficits to soar,” Dr Shankar said.

“I think Sri Lanka is on the verge of bankruptcy, as it has recently announced suspension of its foreign debt payments.

“For recovery, in the short term it needs to be bailed out by the IMF. It is currently negotiating a deal with the IMF. However, in the medium term it needs to initiate serious economic reforms to overcome the crisis.”



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Wimal asks for PSC probe into top officials’ complicity in violence

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Colombo HC lawyers concerned over shocking developments

By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, says a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to investigate the role played by IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Public Security Ministry Secretary Maj. Gen. (retd.) Jagath Alwis in the recent SLPP hothead attack on those demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, including Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Weerawansa yesterday (18) told The Island that Parliament should inquire into the unprovoked attack that triggered an extremely violent response by the public as well as those awaiting an opportunity to unleash violence on selected group of lawmakers on 09 May.

The former Industries Minister said he was confident that Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, would look into the issues at hand.

Responding to another query, Weerawansa said that Senior DIG Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon’s claim that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary had interfered with his (Tennakoon’s) plan to disperse the SLPP mobs couldn’t be easily dismissed.

MP Weerawansa declared, in Parliament on Tuesday (17), that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry dissuaded the Senior DIG from performing his duties although he had received specific instructions from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stop the march on Galle Face. The former JVPer questioned whether those conspirators wanted to show the world the failure on the part of the police and the armed forces to maintain law and order.

Asked whether police headquarters and the Public Security Ministry had responded to his accusations, Weerawansa said he hadn’t been contacted by them so far.

Pointing out that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), inquiring into 09 May turmoil had recorded Senior DIG’s statement, Weerawansa said that the outfit could issue an interim statement on the matter.

The Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association said that the shocking revelation, made in Parliament, should be expeditiously inquired into.

The Association’s President Attorney-at-Law Lakshman Perera said that the ongoing investigations had taken an unexpected turn in the wake of high profile specific allegations pertaining to the conduct of the IGP, as well as the Public Security Ministry Secretary. Pointing out that the HRCSL and the CID had already recorded DIG Tennakoon’s statement, pertaining to the incidents, and the officer was among a group of 22 persons slapped with a travel ban by the Fort Magistrate, lawyer Perera said that the CID couldn’t turn a blind eye to accusations directed at the head of the department as well as Secretary to the relevant ministry.

Lawyer Perera said that investigations couldn’t be completed without verifying accusations made in Parliament.

Lawmaker Weerawansa said that the question was on whose behalf the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary intervened at a time the country was under emergency and after the Senior DIG in charge of Colombo received specific instructions from the President himself.

Although the SLPP goons did not shed any blood or cause any serious injuries, unlike the well-organized mobs that caused havoc across the country thereafter, MP Weerawansa said that he couldn’t comprehend why the police and the armed forces allowed the situation to develop to an extremely dangerous level.

The HRCSL in its initial reaction to the unprovoked attacks on those who had been demanding the resignation of the government condemned the violence caused by a group of people who made it very clear that violence was their intention.

HRCSL Chairperson retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe said: “The failure of the police to prepare for this eventuality and prevent and manage the violence and destruction is a gross failure of public order. There must be an immediate inquiry into this matter. The inaction of the police to prevent the clash is condemned.”

The Island brought the latest developments to the notice of the HRCSL yesterday as MP Weerawansa said that those who conspired and planned the project that involved those at the helm of Temple Trees then and the SLPP should be arrested. The conspirators shouldn’t be allowed to escape justice while the CID arrested those who carried out the actual attacks.

Police spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said that the department couldn’t respond to what transpired in Parliament. Acknowledging that he was aware of the allegations made in Parliament, Attorney-at-Law Thalduwa said in case their response was sought through proper channels, whatever the queries would be answered.

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Dr. Pathirana says IGP, Public Security Ministry Secy. allowed goon attacks

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Galle District parliamentarian Dr. Ramesh Pathirana has reiterated that IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Secretary to the Public Security Ministry, Maj. General (retd) Jagath Alwis had facilitated the 09 May unprovoked attack on anti-government protesters.

The former Minister Pathirana declared in Parliament yesterday (18) that National Freedom Front (NFF) leader MP Wimal Weerawansa’s allegation, pertaining to the origins of the violence, was true.

Dr. Pathirana said that he was among those who had brought supporters to attend a meeting chaired by the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The vast majority of those who attended the Temple Trees meet on May 09 wanted to thank the war-winning President as he gave up active politics, the MP said. However, some unscrupulous members had instigated the participants there.

Dr. Pathirana said he had been at Temple Trees at that time and as he feared violence could erupt due inflammatory speeches, contact was made with Senior DIG in charge of Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon. Dr. Pathirana said that the senior police officer had assured him that the police were ready to face the situation and confident of preventing those who attended the Temple Trees function from reaching Galle Face.

“Thereafter, I left Temple Trees for a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There were several other members. When trouble erupted, President Rajapaksa immediately got in touch with Senior DIG Tennakoon, who revealed he had been asked not to use force by the IGP himself.”

Dr. Pathirana said the President had asked the senior law enforcement officer why he didn’t carry out instructions issued by him (the President).

The Galle District MP emphasised that the IGP and the Secretary to the Public Security Ministry were responsible for the violence at Kollupitiya and Fort police areas which triggered violence in many parts of the country. (SF)

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New Deputy Speaker not from Rajapaksa political dynasty

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Newly-elected Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa said that he was not a member of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s clan.

The Hambantota District Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmaker said so when The Island asked him whether he, too, was a member of the Rajapaksa family now under fire over the continuing political-economic-social turmoil.

Rajapaksa polled 109 votes at a secret vote held in Parliament on Tuesday (17) to secure the Deputy Speaker’s post. MP Rajapaksa defeated Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne, who polled 78 votes.

The SLPP rebel group members refrained from voting for Rajapaksa after the top SLPP leadership ignored their appeal to fill the vacancy through consultations with the SJB.

Rajapaksa succeeded SLFP’s Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who quit the post twice, the second occasion after beating SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar at a secret vote.

Deputy Speaker Rajapaksha said that he had served as the Chairman of the Ambalanthota Pradeshiya Sabha in 1997. Subsequently, he became a member of the Southern Provincial Council.

Asked whether he was a resident of the Rajapaksas’ home base, Deputy Speaker said that he was from Pallerotta, Ambalantota. (SF)

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