ECONMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s Minister of Plantation Industries Naveen Dissanayake said he wants to focus on cleanliness in tea exports this year and promised tough action against corruption in the trade.
“This year, I want to concentrate on cleanliness and quality and intend to take tough measures to protect the image of Ceylon tea,” he told a news conference.
The main problem was ‘refuse’ or low grade tea not up to export standards coming into the market, and being shipped after being mixed with good grades.
“There’s a lot of corruption in the tea industry – low grade teas are being mixed with other grades and exported – we won’t tolerate that,” Dissanayake said. “We will deal with it in tough manner. We have to hit that hard.”
Dissanayake said the regulator, the Tea Board, was under “tremendous pressure” and finding it difficult to crackdown on corruption given the size of the industry, with annual exports of US$1.5 billion.
“You can imagine the money in the industry. A lot of nefarious things are happening, especially impure tea coming into market – they are buying up people, spending money, getting officials on their side,” Dissanayake said.
“I want to clean it up – I don’t think I have taken hard decisions. I had been concentrating on production and price issues we were saddled with. Now that we’ve brought prices back up, I hope to focus on tea quality and cleanliness to ensure a quality tea industry.”
Tea Board Chairman Rohan Pethiyagoda said the regulator’s resources were not enough, given the size of the problem.
“The trade is about 1,000 kilos a day. It’s a huge volume, difficult to monitor.”
The Tea Board has only 40 inspectors paid Rs35,000 a month.
(COLOMBO, January 26, 2018)