Speech by Mr. V. Puththirasigamoney Chairman of PHDT regarding the plantation community

The Directors at the head table, Director General, the Chairmen, CEO’s, Managing Directors and those who are representing the Regional Plantation Companies, JEDB, SPC,TRI and all other Stake holders, Special guests, invitees, Internal and  Regional Directors & Staffs of PHDT, Ladies and Gentlemen. It’s my pleasure to address you at this 26h Annual General Meeting of Plantation Human Development Trust.

I learned one thing with my self estimation and evaluation that I must not create a “Guinness Book of World Record” of being the longest staying board member of PHDT and the Chairman without making any significant and meaningful contribution to drastic change towards proper service to achieve set in targets and simply continue stereo type development. We can allow and pave way for innovative, creative, enthusiastic and energetic new board at the correct time. “If you don’t knock the door it will never open” instead you may attempt to find a key. It is not going to take us anywhere only by shedding Crocodile tears.

Can anyone define the board room etiquette and environment where discussion should take primary importance, I learned this little bit in my lecture hall. But when it is turned in to a debate it becomes a house of representative of immature democracy. I am happy to preside a board that turns debate in to deliberations and peaceful conclusions not turbulence end. I thank the board member for their Co-operation.

In this instance I wish to draw the kind attention of this house to the Article of Association of PHDT paragraph 13(V), 55 and 56 for your review and without prejudice to any member of the board and malice I suggest all RPCs should have opportunity to serve on the board of PHDT on rotation basis.

Each member might have their own agenda, so am I. Because when you evaluate the performance of 25 years I have failed to understand whether we have reached our destination, Surely not. Many of us are struggling to answer this question because we have miserably failed to accomplish the task of changing social status of the community. It is not simply because we are sitting in the comfortable zone or in conducive climate. But not properly understanding the aspirations and expectation of the Plantation Worker community from their perspectives.

Are we expecting that our men and Women in the plantation to call you “Kumbuduren saamy” by wearing a loin clothes (Kowanam) with half Vesti and turban (Mundaasu) or Half saree and Padangu (Jute) in this era, where the WORKERS are elevated to be the SOCIAL PARTNERS from Slave, worker, Labour, Employee servant – Master, Employer in this century by this world, as they are entitled to equitable treatment that has not taken place in the plantation. Let us not underestimate the present workers about their status and comparison of other workers with them,because if we afford them opportunity they will also be equal. We must not try to put them in a frame and hang them on to the wall, because today we have judges,Lawyers,Doctors,Engineering,Public servents,Police, Grama Niladhari, Teachers, Government clerks, Surveyors, Media personals and many other vocation from this Community Whereas Indian tamil went to various other  countries at the time they come to Ceylon,Now Sri Lanka Like South Africa,Malasia,Fuji,Guayana to name a few in those countries they have developed them to be equal to others. Some of them like Prime Minister of Guayana Veerashamy Nagamuthu, one time UN High commission for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillai , Datho Samiveloo of Malasia and several others of international fame, their parents were ordinary workers in their country.

Let us look at the welfare activities of the past in the Plantation. How many of us know that feeding Children with food up to 10 years of age offering Sukkuthanni (Ginger Water),Cumbly, Line sweepers, ,Medical Labour and EMA and Midwife visiting line rooms, Creche,Medical facilities ,School, Line and School Kanganies, beside water and sanitation,roofing,roads,payment and drains and white washing of line rooms, temple contribution and many other welfare activities solely done at the cost of the Estate Management, now many of which are undertaken by the Government and our Ministry. At least do they own the 10% share they were offered during the privatization no, they have sold it to find food.

Today it is only the levy that is paid in lieu of welfare. The arrears of which is standing at more than 300Mn to PHDT to meet out our administrative cost. Many of our vehicles are parked including mine for last five months at various repairing garages, some of which are more than 25 years old.  We are unable to pay their bills. Many of Regional office buildings are in dilapidated condition without repairs. Mobility of our staffs are restricted. In addition there are several unsettled bills & invoices. Every third week of the month we are running from pillar to post to pay the staffs salaries. While PHDT’s main stake holders are the RPCs,JEDB,SPC and others.

I do not mean all the companies are in arrears, I appreciate the companies continue pay levy and caring us for the last twenty five years, but some of them and we are forced to serve equally to all companies irrespective of Levy payment. Unless and otherwise this General meeting could approve us not to serve these companies which are not paying the levy dues, however, which means also injustice to the workers by them.

For the last four years we have built 5000 Houses, 142 Child development centres, 212 Concrete Roads, Toilets, 4248 units of Reroofing, Nutrition programmes, Temples, Community centers, Water supply, Electricity more than 8 Billion worth of works has been carried out by the Ministry of Hill country new villages,Infrastructure ,& Community Development in addition to 10 Mn US Dollar  worth of drinking water and 10 Mn US Dollar worth of Child Development  activities are ongoing.

I am not here to paint a beautiful picture of the work that we were able to complete during last twenty five years including upstairs line room. All in all it is a dew drop in the Ocean. Our country boasting of per capita income of 4000 US dollars, but when it comes to plantation workers family what is the result.

However I am not convinced that we have done enough for the last five years and it might take another seventy five years to fulfill the task, so let us think positively and not think that we are engaged in charitable work, believe it that they are entitled for all development work by their right. Because they have toiled for this country for two centuries and beyond. According to UNCHARTER No 25, I quote “Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.”Unquote

Has anyone thought about how we lost GSP from Western world ? It is simply because of infringement of trade unions rights. But if we continue to keep this people of plantation in same level we may lose the business and industry, ISO and other recognition. So,let us work for a change.

I would also take this opportunity to thank Hon. Palani Thigambaram Minister of Hill Country New Villages,Infrastructure & Community Development for his effort to give more And more work to PHDT,   Hon.Navin Dissanayake  – Minister of Plantation Industries making it easy for us to obtain land for this projects,    Hon.Rauff Hakeem -Minister of City Planning, Water supply and Higher Education for the drinking water projects in the Plantation,      Hon.Chandrani Bandara – Minister of Women & Child affairs ,Dry Zone Development for assisting Plantation with Child Development Centres,        Hon.Rajitha Senaratne – Minister Of Health, Nutrition & Indigenous Medicine providing midwife and making arrangements for taking over all health institution to Government. The Government of India for the 14,000 Houses His Excellency the president and Hon. Prime Minister, all other organization, all individuals and the stake holders for their contribution.

I must also commend all the staffs of PHDT for their untiring efforts to complete the work given to them.

Thank you,