Recap: The Peony souvenir sheet controversy

In an article published on 8th September 2012 in the Sunday Times, we are able to revisit the controversial manner in which stamps of Sri Lanka were issued abroad prior to the date of issue. The article is reproduced below:

New Rs. 30 stamp first issued and sold abroad

By Nadia Fazlulhaq

Issuing of stamps is similar to issuing of currencies; both should be done with maximum security through proper channels and be first issued to the citizens of the country of origin.

A stamp depicting a Peony flower, a flower named after a Greek myth, was issued in March this year by the Philatelic Bureau of the Department of Posts, the authorised body to issue stamps. It bore a face value of Rs 30.00. Though it was issued in March, the stamp had been exhibited overseas before its official issue here. The stamp was designed and printed by an Agent, International Philatelic Agencies in the United Kingdom.

Usually, when a new stamp is to be issued, a proposal is forwarded to the Philatelic Advisory Committee for its approval, as a matter of policy, but no such approval was sought and obtained from the committee, for this stamp.

International Philatelic Agencies Director Fazal Kamaldeen, in a letter dated May 26, 2011, to the Postal Services Ministry Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, sought approval to produce 61,000 mini sheets (six stamps to a sheet), of which, 1,000 to be supplied to Sri Lanka Post (SLP), free of charge, while 60,000 mini sheets would be ‘exclusively used for industrial philatelic purposes overseas’.

The letter also stated that the stamps will be printed by a leading European security stamp printer, who was not identified. After a request from the authorities here to increase the number of mini sheets to 10,000, the Agent sent a letter on June 18, 2011, to Mr. Fernando, along with a prepared agreement and a copy of the artwork of the stamp.

The agreement stated that, “the Agent is irrevocably authorised to print at an officially recognized and registered security printer, a quantity of 70,000 souvenir sheets (mini sheets), of six stamps each (Peony flower) with a face value Rs. 30 per stamp, for promotion and distribution in connection with the WUXI International Stamp Exhibition in China.”The agreement also stated that SLP would receive a royalty of US$ 7,500, which will be paid after the contract has been duly been signed and on time, and that SLP will receive, free of charge, 10,000 mini sheets.

Sri Lanka received Rs 2.6 million from the US$ 7,500 royalty, and 10,000 mini sheets of six stamps to a sheet, valued at Rs 1.8 million. But if the agent had sold the 60,000 stamps, they would earn a sum of Rs 10.8 million.The Universal Postal Union, affiliated to the United Nations, of which Sri Lanka is also a member, which controls postal activities worldwide, clearly states in its code of ethics that, postal administrations shall not produce postage stamps or philatelic products intended to exploit customers.

“Printing of postage stamps should only be awarded to security printers who are signatories to the Code of Ethics for postage stamp security printers, and have achieved or undertaken to achieve certification as a security printer,” it states.

This stamp named ‘Peony flower’ was exhibited and sold by Director Fazal Kamldeen at the 27th Asian International Stamp Exhibition(WUXI International Stamp Exhibition) held in November 2011, and according to sources, the stamp was sold far in excess of its face value of Rs. 30, and that too, in US dollars.

Aruba, Ascension Islands, Bosnia, China, Estonia, Gibraltar, Papua New Guinea, Macedonia, Romania, Samoa, Saint Martin, Suriname and Tajikistan participated in the flower theme project along with Sri Lanka.

Similarly, in 2006, a request by the same organisation to print Rs. 100 and Rs. 500 stamps, was approved for a royalty of Rs. 5 million. The Philatelic Bureau last month issued a notice identifying the printer as Austrian State Printing House in Vienna.

Several attempts by the Sunday Times (ST) to contact Ministry Secretary Hemasiri Fernando, failed. Finally, Mr. Fernando’s PA, Mr. Ariyapala directed the ST to contact the Post Master General (PMG) over this issue.

PMG Abeyratne

In an interview with PMG Abeyratne, who assumed duties two months ago, he claimed ignorance of the agreement, but stated that any stamp that is exhibited and sold abroad, should have been first issued in the country of origin.

“When it comes to approving designs and printing of stamps, the Ministry Secretary has the authority to coordinate, but the agreement is signed by the PMG, who is the authority under the Posts & Revenue Stamp policy,” he said.


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