The Sunday Leader

“This Speaks A Lot About You” An Open Letter To H.E. The President

At the same time it is pointless and unrealistic to deny that the Tamil people have grievances. (emphasis added) The articulation of grievances by the Tamil people continues to remain at the centre of the Sinhala – Tamil relationship and need to be recognized and addressed directly and fairly as the first step in the post conflict process of reconciliation and peaceful co-existence…….” (8.153 / page – 292 of the LLRC Final Report)

Derelict paper mill in Valaichchenai, The present state. and One of the machines that were used back then

It was no one else but you, as President, who appointed the “Lessons Learnt & Reconciliation Commission” (LLRC) with the mandate to learn and report back on how to avoid another catastrophe, like the one the whole country was through, for 30 years, in armed conflict. But your Commission has, after almost an year of listening to people and reading their submissions, learnt that Tamil people have grievances and most importantly, they are not just 30 years old. They go back at least to the day of independence in 1948 February and there was no LTTE then.
“The Commission takes the view that the root cause of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka lies in the failure of successive Governments to address the genuine grievances of the Tamil people. The country may not have been confronted with a violent separatist agenda, if the political consensus at the time of independence had been sustained (emphasis added) and if policies had been implemented to build up and strengthen the confidence of the minorities around the system which had gained a reasonable measure of acceptance.” (8.150 / page – 292 of the LLRC Final Report)
The “political consensus at the time” was clearly not sustained and that was precisely the reason for a “violent separatist agenda” to emerge in Tamil politics. If, you wish to peruse some of the letters written by late C. Suntheralingam who resigned his seat in parliament, after the Official Language Act No. 33 of 1956 was passed in parliament, to then Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranayake in early 1957 accusing him of trying to shift the proposed construction of a port in Kankesanthurai (KKS) to a location in the South, you would know that the four State corporations KKS Cement, Paranthan Chemicals, Pulmuddai Mineral Sands and Valaichchennai Paper, that went to North – East did not go that way, by virtue of political plurality and clean governance.
Thus the importance of the “Eastern Paper Mills Corporation” in Valaichchennai that had its beginning in 1957. This was later named “National Paper Corporation” during the tenure of Madam B., but was never treated as a national asset. Was finally turned into a government owned business under the name “National Paper Company Ltd.” Apart from economics of running a State corporation efficiently and profitably, what makes Valaichchennai paper corporation important is politics of present day reconciliation, as recommended by your own LLRC.
This is a public business venture that by 1970 had around 3,000 employees and running at a profit. With its raw material – straw – collecting and delivery centres, distribution and sales networks, indirect employment added another 2,00 plus. During that period, Valaichchennai mills was producing exercise books, duplicating and typing paper, ledger paper and different gauges of cardboard. With Embilipitiya Mills that was established with funds pumped from Valaichchennai, the two State corporations met 70 per cent of the paper need of the country.
It was one among the few State ventures that survived the open economy from 1978, till a drastic reduction in duty in 1997 from 35 percent to 10 percent with no turnover tax imposed on imported paper, made production in  Valaichchennai, almost impossible. Even the Government Printer then found importing paper, more cheaper. It was then that  Valaichchennai turned largely into recycling waste paper and established a new network of collecting centres. They were then running into difficulties with their old German machines. Worn out by then after almost 40 years running, they had to go, replaced by new machinery with new technology. That was not what the Chandrika government was looking into. It was obvious they had other interests.
In the 70s running through 80, Valaichchennai mills was preferred by youth for employment, even over bank jobs, say former employees. There was some payment received almost every week. The over time pay, the incentive allowance, then the salary, paid each week. The salary itself was a little more than at banks, which were State owned then.
What was important is that, until it was ditched by the Colombo regimes and left to die, it generated employment for youth in Valaichchennai, in Batticoloa district and in the East. It created a cash flow around, that helped the local economy. It gave a degree of dignity for that society and it helped social mobility for most who would otherwise had to end up, may be toiling the land. Valaichchennai paper mills therefore, seriously meant much more to those people in Batticoloa district, in the East, than the “Mahinda Rajapaksa International Cricket Stadium”, or the “Magampura Port” would ever mean to your people of Hambantota and the people of the South. That is, its political importance in the East, beyond pure economics.
Today it is lying in shambles, whilst the top management appointed under your executive power, lives off by selling cables, iron girders, old machinery and equipment to settle monthly wages of the remaining 170 plus workers and those who had opted to retire on the VRS offered. A Chairman appointed previously by you, an Amarasinghe, stands accused of heavy corruption by the workers. He is accused of importing an outdated Indian boiler for over 32 million rupees, that is now lying huge on an elevated platform, in a debris of a building. The present CEO/ General Manager is accused of total inefficiency and eating out of the remaining assets.
Workers do have a strong case to present. The loss recorded by June 2011 as told by the 04 trade unions representing the Valaichchennai paper mill workers, runs to almost 700 billion rupees. Arrears due on electricity consumed, totals 140 million rupees. While the building that housed the head office in Union Place, Colombo 02, built on profits from the Valaichchennai mills, had been sold for 400 million rupees, neither the operations at Valaichchennai mills nor the workers, had stood to gain.
Since 2008, which period is your period in office as President, workers have not been paid their due EPF and ETF monies, charge trade unions and workers. Now the workers living in their quarters, have no electricity and no water. There is no water source nearby, either. Salaries are not paid regularly. Nor are those who opted for retirement on the VRS offered, paid their promised half pay, till compensations are paid. When that would be, is not in any one’s calendar. This Your Excellency, can not be anything less than plain hell, for human living.
So, let me ask, what has your much hyped “Eastern Awakening” programme, for the awakening of Valaichchennai paper mills ? May be, with your own select men in the board running it, Valaichchennai paper mills can not be listed under the “Revival of Under performing Enterprises and Under utilised Assets Act” as a company running at a massive loss and one that has to be revived. Yet, do you not accept this business venture, profitable as it was in the past, can still be revived and do not have to end up as debris, to be cleared ? That this is an essential economic activity that would also generate direct and indirect employment in thousands for the people in the East ? Is not it your politics, that you do not want it that way ?
This was what, late C. Suntheralingam was stubbornly believing about Colombo Sinhala leadership. He accused, they do not in any way want to develop Tamil areas. As usual Suntheralingam wrote a letter the “Suntheralingam way”, to “Thanthai Chelva” (S.J.V. Chelvanayagam), two days after the B-C Pact was sealed on 26 July, 1957. He wrote to Chelvanayagam, “Into what a sorry pass have you led the Tamils ? … I repeat, while your party wanted federation, I wanted separation, because I am convinced since 1955, that no Tamil should trust a Sinhalese politician and certainly not Prime Minister Bandaranaike, to protect Tamil interests.”
Yet to the dismay of most moderates in Tamil society, PM Bandaranayake walked out to the lawn of his Rosemead Place residence on 09 April, 1958 and tore the signed B-C Pact in front of a group of protesting Buddhist monks, proving Suntheralingam right. “… I am worried whether Tamils in the future will have trust in the Sinhala leadership.” says Saumyamoorthy Thondaman, in his biography “Out of Bondage – The Thondaman Story” sketched by T Sabaratnam, referring to the incident of tearing the B-C Pact.
Have we got out of this stupidity, at least after 53 years of bleeding blunders ? Do not we want the country to prosper ? Would not the reviving of the Valaichchennai paper mills add to our national economic growth, if we allow for efficient planning and management of the mills ?
There is much neglected and jettisoned, qualified expertise there at the factory still. They do insist they could draw up a revival plan, that can easily be lobbied for investment, especially with the World Bank, the European Union and more with the Indian government. Why have not the government thought so ?
This government that was worried “SL Cricket” the governing body was reeling in bankruptcy to the tune of 4.2 billion, decided to quickly credit the awfully corrupt organisation with 01 billion rupees from public money. But they don’t have that pain of mind, for the people in North – East. “They are anyway playing  ‘pandu’ with us” said an employee, when I met them in Valaichchennai, a few days ago.
For all the continuing blunders, you will be held responsible as the head of this Rajapaksa government and rightly so. And, you would then go down in political history as another “Sevala Banda”, unless you turn around and prove you are not.
I do wish, you would !

13 Comments for ““This Speaks A Lot About You” An Open Letter To H.E. The President”

  1. P.L.J.B.Palipana

    Thanks for your valuable contribution.Kusal, where is an ethnic Crisis in SriLanka? You must prove it scientifically. The Muslims came to Srilanka 4000 years ago.They came with out women.Isn’t it or not? Then what is this current SriLankan society. It is a mixture of people. But there is a language difference. So the power devolution is a noncense. What we have to do is the distribution of the Social Wealth(SW).The problem which nobody knows how to divide the SW throughout the SOCIETY( THE IMMEDIENT CLIENT). Take for an example the districts; Nuwaraeliya, Kandy, Matale, Polonnaruwa……and Badulla.Could you find someting common of the Ridimaliyadda of the Badulla district to other villages of the other districts. Do you believe that a seperate Provincial Council is neccessary to the Western Province. Could you even compare Colombo district with the Gampaha district. Strategically to create a MEGAPOLIS it is neccessary to unite Colombo+Gampaha+Kaluthara districts. We must find an Holistic Approach for the future. So you are speaking rubbish or the PCs are completely outdated and eliminated as soon as possible. In COMMON SENCE we can’t blame the MR regime and as a whole the NATION should take the FULL RESPONSIBILITY to solve this issue.

  2. MaRa has come out with economic prosperity, I wonder whether it is MaRa & co family prosperity or does he mean the country ?. When MaRa go on a foreign visit about 200 are taken with him including his dogs & cats not to mention a Kerala Astrologer or two for them to predict when he should wake up, looking which direction, when to go to the wash room, how long to stsy there ect.
    There may be a trick in taking all the Ministers & MP’S, for fear of a coup in his absence, you neverknow what the reason really is. How can you get economic prosperity for the country ? the country is already down the drain. If there is any damage to the drain the Minister in charge will get an allocation of many millions of Rupees of which 3/4 will end up in the pocket of the minister & a major share will go to, you all know whom —————— of the major share 10% will go to ???.

  3. “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush”

  4. I think enough answers/ solutions have been said for a positive solution to S/Lanka post-war problems. The answer either to break or make it lies with the President. If he wants a prosperous and a happy country tomorrow , he has to act fast and deliver what is due to the tamils, so that there will be peace for ever. He should not feel threatned or fear the tamils once the status become normal.

  5. Panduka

    Leaves very little to be said for the wisdom, sincerity or wholesomeness of the Lankan leadership.
    Also, more importantly, it opens a real possibility to disprove old fears and mistrusts, and pave the way for national reconciliation.
    Let’s see how the present regime will choose…

  6. Sangaralingham

    is it lack of trust faith honesty. a form of corruption due to greed opportunity. vote collecting opportunity. 10 fingers 2 often not effective two vital rest cosmetic. country some are vital not many . so prosperity of country depend on its citizens democracy as it stands now has failed its citizens so the minorities pay a price leaders of the majority trying to get elected at the expense of majority only to fail miserably in historical context as to be seen by honest citizens of the future as wellas present. majority not even know what is going on in rest of the country other than his /her back yard

  7. K Ganeshan

    I worked at Valaichchenai Paper Mills from 1 October 1969 till 17 November 1974. This was my first job after graduating in engineering from the then University of Ceylon, Peradeniya. From 1974 February till 1974 November, I was the Mills Engineer (Mechanical). The Mills Manager was Abeyanandan, the Production Manager, Hector Jayasinghe, the Mills Engineer (Electrical), Suntharalingam, the Civil Engineer, Fonseka, the Admin Manager, Kanapathipillai, the Chief Security Officer, Donald Abeyesekara and so on.

    Sinhalese, Tamils, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Christians worked there and it was a thriving industry that produced about 70 tons of paper and board every day in the two mills. Thousands of people and their families depended on the mills for a living.

    I just about cried seeing the pictures of the now derelict factory. I have many fond memories of people and events there.

    I left Sri Lanka in 1974 and have moved on. Therefore, I do not want to get involved in the politics of Sri Lanka. However, I want to suggest that rebuilding the factory can benefit all communities in Sri Lanka and help improve the economy. For what it is worth I am happy to contribute in terms of knowledge if that will help.


    • N. Sivakumaran

      It is very sad to note the downfall of NPC. As stated correctly, it was run fairly efficiently & honestly during Mr. Thangarajah’s (founding Chairman) time & Mr Y.G. Edwards time (1977 to 1987). Unfortunately, there were some persons (such as the one who as the GM or so, made off to Australia after getting involved in frauds (prior 1977) and then returned after 1987 as the chairman of the same NPC!!! What more did the public expect than a downwards trend. Who is to blame but the head of state.

    • Panduka

      K.Ganeshan – your spirit of still offering your services is to be commended/ applauded. In combination with the period you mention as the time you served the V’chenai paper mills, this spirit represents the best of that era post independence, and sadly, the last of that phase before the effects of the narrow-minded and myopic republican constitution of 1972 took effect.

      Lanka can only hope to see the present evolve, over time, to represent that wonderful national spirit, sans, myopic ethnic considerations, once more.

      Be well, and thank you.

  8. wimal

    The power is with in the collective nation and its assets to realize the true development.Realization shouldnt be hindered by political agendas.

  9. Imran Hussein

    Leaders are either born or made. If you are not one of them and you still become a leader you would make yourself a JOKER not a LEADER, the maiden one being SWRD in this country.

  10. Sinhala racist element will say there are no problems for the Tamils in Sri Lanka. In reality, today the Tamils are facing severe hardship in the hands of armed forces. recently I went to North by bus. I have seen hundreds and hundreds of army from Vavuniya to all the way to Jaffna. We have been checked not less than at 10 places before we reached Jaffna. We were subject to poor treatment in the hands of amy. It is not correct by this regime to treat the Tamils this way Treat the Tamils equally and there will be reconciliation..

  11. sridas sivasambo

    Kusal’s is a refreshing expose’ from the other side of the ethnic divide. But then, has there been a dearth for proper advice to successive Singhala rulers, since independence?. We do not think so. It had, right through been a saga of listening to WRONG ADVICE from henchmen concerned with nothing more than the ‘next five years’ to make hay. Naturally, the country suffered as , painfully, successive Governments never changed mode- finding it easy to placate the majority community with invigorated anti-Tamil stance at every turn. The maximum harvest had been during the Rajapakse dynasty paying a heavy price and extracting a much heavier price from the Tamil community which should otherwise have been contributing to the development of the country as equal partners. We know where all this has led to. Despite being pathetic adversaries Tamils too are sorry that their dear motherland has gone to the dogs, due to nothing but the myopic attitude of the politicians who were calling the shots with true patriotism being the marked casualty.

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