For the first time in the history of Surfing in our country, a huge donation of surfboards was made to us by a number of organization in UK. When doing the documentation there was an error. We mentioned the Name of the Surf Club as the receiver thinking that this was the most legitimate thing instead of a individual name. We weren’t VAT registered or had a TIN number and the problems started with us being required to register the club for VAT and obtain a TIN number.
Most if not all the club members were from the other side of the island and some who lived in Colombo volunteered to assist to get the documentation. We soon realized that this process would take at least a week which means the consignment would be charged for demurrage. With this in mind we decided to explain our situation to a number of persons in the relevant authorities to no avail. They said we had to stick to the process and get the club registered for VAT etc.
We were not trying to elude paying the relevant taxes but sought a way rectify the error made above. If we can just transfer the receiver to an individual as against to a club then we can get the consignment sooner.
In utter desperation we went to the office of the highest authorities to see if his office can intervene to assist in our cause. All we need a note/ directive stating that this is genuine cause which were highlighted as follows;
1. The surfboards would be handed over free of charge to the surf clubs on the east, south and west coast clubs. We would teach the beneficiaries how to conduct surf instructing and earn a living out of the sport. Perhaps get them out of the bad influences and help them make something concrete from their lives and talents.
2. The surfboards will be used to encourage the sport in the island amongst male and females. Many of them are from the poorer families. Like other sports like Cricket, surfing offers a very promising option as a professional sport. We have the most critical resource – Waves! We just need the boards and some professional guidance.
3. This initiative would give impetus to create surfing revolution to raise the standard of surfing in the island and helping us draw closer to our dream of seeing our countrymen compete at the international surfing circuit.
The repercussions of us not being able to get the surfboards out on time would lead to;
1. The club members unable to bear the demurrage cost
2. The boards thus being ‘stuck’ and eventually ‘lost’ at the port
3. The surfers not getting their surfboards – no practice, no additional source of income perhaps a new livelihood
4. The donors being disappointed and not assisting Sri Lanka due to ‘strict rules’ and ‘short term focus’
5. The locals surfers not being able to pursue a dream of competing internationally and bringing fame to our country
Having shared this viewpoint and after much pleading one would expect at least a glimmer of hope but the words were, ‘This is out of our focus, you need to go through the process’. Having pleaded again and mentioning that Sri Lanka would lose out on the opportunity to position itself as a surfing destination and be a competitive force in the surfing world the answer was ‘there’s nothing I can do’.
This was certainly the most saddest day of my life. To see a dream being shattered. Rules are rules I am sure. But true leadership is to look beyond the rules and understand the motive and genuine intention of a plea and make things happen. We are not robots to have to stick to a specific routine or code, we are humans. We were not asking for a duty free car or a land or anything like that. In fact we were are willing to pay the taxes applicable. We just asked for them to give a directive about our intention, change the receiver from a club to a person so we don’t have to go through the process of registering for VAT and obtaining TIN numbers thus helping us to get the items out faster.
I just got back from Cinnamon Grand Hotel (no I didn’t party or eat at a fancy restaurant, I just needed to pick up something). But while there I see a brand new Mercedes Benz with no number plates. There were tons of other fancy cars near to it and lot of armed forces and I say to myself, ‘man, I just ask them to help us by perhaps giving a directive by a letter thus making the process faster so that the poor guys don’t have to bust a month’s salary to pay the Rs. 15,000 in additional cost'. Note month’s salary and Rs. 15,000.
It’s pretty painful to think that the poor guys always get screwed and the big guys always get through. Yes, its life. Perhaps now its time to make the change.
I don’t know what will happened. I don’t know the outcome of this post. I hope someone would see that our intention is genuine and perhaps help us. Yes we will get registered next time but just help us to get the boards released faster, that’s all we ask.
Tomorrow the boys will miss work, take a bus from the other side of the country and travel to Colombo. Duration of the journey estimated at 12 hours (yes, in the bus its 12 (unlike in a car or helicopter) and with this heat, it is going to be a long tough journey). We will probably have to find accommodation etc as well. A lot of money again spent. Why? Because we are passionate about the sport and in-spite of all the hardship we will and continue to face, we will strive to see at least a bit of our dream being realized. Sri Lanka - The Birth of a Surfing Nation.