Sri Lanka’s self-destructing tourism industry: Some points to ponder I read with considerable scepticism the Tourism Ministry’s new ‘strategic plan’ to focus on increasing tourist spending rather than tourist numbers.Already Sri Lanka’s hotel and restaurant industry provides Third World services at First World prices. By imposing minimum hotel rates the Government effectively kills the competition [...]


Letters to the Editor


Sri Lanka’s self-destructing tourism industry: Some points to ponder
I read with considerable scepticism the Tourism Ministry’s new ‘strategic plan’ to focus on increasing tourist spending rather than tourist numbers.Already Sri Lanka’s hotel and restaurant industry provides Third World services at First World prices. By imposing minimum hotel rates the Government effectively kills the competition that may contribute to a change in this status quo.

Different rates for foreigners to enter Sigiriya, a World Heritage site. Pic by Kanchana Kumara Ariyadasa

Wealthy tourists rarely visit Sri Lanka, as there are far better destinations with better amenities closer home. The typical Western tourist who comes to our shores is either a backpacking student or a lower middle-class couple who have saved for many years for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Yet many Sri Lankans seem to equate white skin with wealth, and coupled with the widespread ‘beggar mentality’, this quickly alienates people who could otherwise be Sri Lanka’s best tourism ambassadors in their own countries.

As for the Chinese and Russian markets, these visitors usually come in tour-groups and payments are made in their home countries.
Sri Lanka will never match, say, Thailand in attractiveness, simply because our hotels and restaurants are over-priced. The Thai government also does not practise the discrimination that the Sri Lankan government does with regard to foreign tourists. Sri Lankan tourism developers have a “get-rich-quick” mentality which is harmful to the real development of the country. A clever businessman thinks long-term: he knows that winning the trust and loyalty of customers through providing satisfactory, honest and reliable services is the best way to market his product and stay for the long haul.

Foreign visitors, from the time they arrive at the Colombo airport, are harassed by all kinds of touts and con-men. Those who are independent travellers (not staying in private homes or luxury hotels, and not part of charter groups) are especially vulnerable. Why the airport authority, in conjunction with the Tourist Development Board, cannot provide pre-paid taxi services at the same rates for locals and foreigners, as is done in many other Asian airports, is beyond my understanding.

Furthermore, what ‘Sri Lankan values’ does a tourist learn who has been forced to pay several thousand rupees to climb Sigiriya, explore ruined cities, obtain a pavement seat for the Esala Perahera, or visit the Dalada Maligawa? Surely World Heritage Sites belong to citizens of the world and not just to Sri Lankans. And the irony is that it is often these visitors’ governments that are paying for the maintenance of these sites through international agencies. Isn’t this practice of charging one rate for locals and a much higher rate for foreigners, despite the fact that some locals are far richer than many Westerners, simply racist? In any case, can we know how much of the dollars collected at such sites ends up in the public treasury?

Instead of hiring expensive foreign PR agents to promote Sri Lanka abroad, why doesn’t the Tourist Board read the large amount of research that already exists on how to make tourism a means to alleviate poverty rather than making more fat cats?
Our Tourism Ministry and the hotel industry are simply killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.
Dr.Vinoth Ramachandra
Colombo 3

Touched by the use of words
This is a simple appreciation of the Sunday Times journalist for her August 13 article titled ‘Saved from the grip of death’.
In her touching writing style, she has used some adorable appellations such as amma, thaththa, aiya and akka, instead of mom, dad, brother, sister to refer to the ailing young girl’s immediate family members.
Please convey my humble regards to the writer, Kumudini Hettiarachchi, for her rather novel effort to bring such lovely Sinhala words to the English readers.
M. Wickramasinghe
Via email

A note of thanks to Apeksha, the Cancer Institute, Maharagama
Not so many years ago, the words ‘Cancer Hospital’ was shunned and spoken of in hushed voices. But over time there has been a significant transformation, modernisation and improvement in handling and serving patients. It has also changed its name, and is now known as Apeksha Hospital (Apeksha means “Hope”).

I was recently diagnosed with cancer in my vocal cords and was instructed by my doctor to undergo ray therapy for 33 days. Hence, I had no option but to go to this hospital for treatment. This is where the most wonderful experience took place. I was scared and alone in my illness, but during this period what touched me immensely was the courtesy and kindness of everyone I came in contact with.

The time allocated for my treatment was between 7 and 8 a.m. each day. From the doctors down to the minor staff, everyone would greet you with a welcoming smile and be ever ready to help in whatever way possible. Their love and dedication to duty goes beyond words. Thus, it became a happy journey for me each morning. I received good care and the staff gained my confidence, making me feel comfortable with the treatment provided which went seamlessly. Furthermore, I noticed that the hospital premises were immaculately clean. It is thus, not surprising, that I completed my treatment and recovered fast within three months.

Thereafter, attending the clinic was also a continued pleasure for me. No long queues. As soon as I arrived and gave my card, my file was sent across and I was taken into the relevant room and attended to immediately and efficiently. The doctors would give me a patient hearing and then prescribe the required medication. The competency of the doctors was awe-inspiring; so were their dedication and expertise. The hospital staff is some of the most hardworking people, excelling at the work they do day in and day out, without complaining.
I also had the privilege of being treated at the Emergency Treatment Unit (ETU), where the same courtesy and kindness was dispensed by the doctors, nurses and medical staff in no small measure.

Medicines can heal but inspirational words gave me the strength to fight from within. I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the doctors, nurses and medical staff for what they gave me when I needed it most. God bless and keep you all as you serve the sick. Of course, for all those who enter these portals, it is Apeksha without a doubt.

M.P. Perera
Talangama North

20th Amendment: A merit-based election  system will ensure good governance
I refer to the article by Javid Yusuf in the Sunday Times of August 13 and note with regret that citizens would not be given the final opportunity of giving counter proposals on the final electoral reforms report of the steering committee prior to its submission to the Cabinet. Simply put, it is a case of politicians usurping people’s sovereignty. Also, I learn that electoral reforms will see the light of the day through the 20th Amendment.
It is clear that the Government is still short of setting up a robust and a simple system of good governance through electoral reforms. The proposed ‘Mixed Voting System’ is complex (practised only in 30 countries out of 213 countries!) and will restore all the ills and defects of the much maligned ‘Preference Voting System’ though on a lesser scale.

As a concerned citizen, I submitted my proposals in 2016 to the ‘Public Committee on Constitutional Reforms’, but they have apparently been ignored for reasons best known to the committee. In the circumstances, I wish to present my simple recommendations on electoral reforms and highlight the benefits accruing therefrom to the country. They could be introduced without going through a referendum.
1) Repeal the infamous optional ‘Preference Voting System’ and bring back the district merit list of nominees (Please also refer 3c below). As a result, there will be no need for prospective MPs who will occupy the top of the administration ‘pyramid’ to collect ‘preference votes’ by resorting to unethical and extravagant measures.

2) The present decentralized political administrative structure should be made more productive by specifically laying down the responsibilities and limits for the respective layers in the pyramid avoiding overlapping of job roles. In our view, there is a need to rationalise the role responsibilities of MPs who are mainly ‘lawmakers’ and transfer them to the PCs and PSs which in the process should get more mileage from the media as they are closer to the public than the National level MPs.

3) Election process
a) The most critical need at a national election process is to determine the winner and the number of seats won by each party/alliance out of 225 seats in Parliament. It can be guaranteed, only by applying proportionate arithmetic to the total valid National vote picturing the entire country as one electorate, thereby ensuring an equal value for all Sri Lankan valid votes. Since Sri Lanka enjoys a decentralised administration, despite being a small country, equality in vote value at a national election should not be compromised in favour of petty regional imbalances arising out of ethnic and caste considerations.

b) Next is the district-wise apportioning of seats out of the total number of seats won by each party or alliance. It also can be done by applying proportionate arithmetic to district-wise number of votes mustered by each party/alliance.

c) Thereafter, nominating MPs to each district will be automatic as district-wise nomination lists in merit order would have been already publicised by each party/alliance. At present, this list is furnished in alphabetical order to cover 196 seats. For good governance and logical purposes, this list needs to be seen by the voter in the order of merit so that he will get an idea of the calibre and the quality of the persons who are likely to represent him in the National Parliament.

The real objective of the ‘National list ‘(29 members) too can be achieved by including those nominations also in the district lists so that one can visualise one master- nomination list of professional politicians fielded by each party or alliance sub-divided into 22 or 25 districts. The nominating parties or alliances may be allowed to add three or four extra nominees (also in merit order) to the bottom of each of their district-merit nomination lists to provide for resignations, deaths or expulsions.

Thus, the sole responsibility of selecting politically professional nominees in merit order will fully devolve on the respective parties or alliances and not on the voter. For this purpose, as corporate bodies, they should have in place, a transparent, unbiased, structured interview system meeting the Government laid down eligibility criteria, to select their nominees. In deciding, the voter will take into account, the quality, character and efficiency of such nominees who have to implement the party manifesto and action plans as a team in the event of victory.

4) In a modern representative democracy, the voter expects the political parties to emulate efficient corporate bodies to produce powerful manifestos and pragmatic action plans. Since the election manifesto becomes critical for voter decision, it has to be made a legally enforceable document.

5) With this district merit list in place, the ‘cross-over’ mockery also will face a natural death as in the event of death, resignation or expulsion of an MP, the next person in the merit list will get automatically appointed. This was the original mechanism laid down under the 1978 Constitution till the provision got subverted by the present ‘preference voting method’. However, in our view this ‘crossover’ farce needs to be sealed constitutionally without leaving any legal loopholes.

6) Apply PR arithmetic to allocate Cabinet portfolios (numbering 30 already specified by the Constitution), so that all seat-winning parties will be represented in the Cabinet. This will ensure Cabinet portfolios to smaller parties like the TNA and the JVP and in the process, answer the promised ‘+’component of the much maligned 13th Amendment which has become irreversible due to its international implications.
7) The present provision for Parliament to increase the number of Cabinet portfolios at will should be replaced with a specific, tolerance limit of say + 5 of the 30 constitutionally specified number.

8) ‘Good governance’ demands that the President acts as a statesman cum caretaker of the people devoid of political hues, ethnicity and religion. Accordingly, the President should be prevented by law from engaging in any kind of party politics during the term of his or her office.
9) Dictatorial powers, if any, of the President should be removed.

10) To derive maximum cost benefit for the country and to obtain rational election results from the voters, the presidential election and the general election should be held on one specified day enshrined in the Constitution.
11) Similarly, it is rational that the Provincial Council elections too be held on one legally specified day after effecting these much needed reforms.
12) Local councils should be depoliticised allowing the people to elect independent, educated, social-minded, respectable people with high integrity in the locality. At local level, people need grassroots development facilitators cum ombudsmen and not politicians who are compelled to favour their political supporters and recover their campaign expenditure by hook or by crook.

Other related issues
a) Given a decentralised political administration system of governance, it is imperative to rationalise the number of MPs (225) through a proper work study based on well-defined objectives and role responsibilities. Examples from countries in the region need to be taken in to account to constitutionalise a formula of 01 MP for ‘X’ number of registered voters. In our view, even the present 225 is an unproductive assemblage for Sri Lanka.

b) MPs’ salaries and perks should be recommended by an independent committee comprising productivity and work study experts. The MPs colluding to increase their own salaries and perks is tantamount to a ‘conflict of interest’

Need for a new political and media culture
The above measures elicit a ‘paradigm shift’ in the political culture, approach and attitudes of both politicians and the people. The voters should change their attitudes and refrain from approaching any national level MP to solve their problems. This change of attitude will automatically happen if the Government ensures ‘Yahapalanaya’ in the most important public institutions such as the police, the judiciary and the public service. In extreme circumstances, a voter may approach an independent local provincial council or pradeshiya sabha member to overcome administerial delays. On the contrary, it must be noted that under ‘Yahapalanaya’, political interference is taboo!
The presence of patriotic, political professionals who place the country first in their agenda will no doubt take our Parliament from ‘confrontational politics’ to one of ‘consensual and rational politics’ allowing the country to develop in harmony. In this scenario, what is best for the country will always happen and the question of hung parliament will become a misnomer.

It will also remove a massive volume of unproductive work load from the Elections Commission.
Let the taxpayers’ money be spent on productive, simple and meaningful elections instead of repeating the same old system afflicted by fundamental defects purely to satisfy the boisterous emotions of a coterie of misguided politicians and sections of the public.

Bernard Fernando

Colombo 15: Projects move at snail’s pace, and vehicles, too
The roads in and around Colombo 15 have been dug up for the past one year or so to lay underground pipes and cables. Work has been going on haphazardly—stopped for weeks, resumed and stopped again. As a result, Aluthmawatha Road, Srimath Ramanathan Mawatha and Modera Street have become almost unmotorable.

Motorists endure long traffic snarls. As vehicles go over big potholes the underbelly of cars scrape the road – a heart wrenching experience for every vehicle lover. The situation is worse during the evening rush hour when container trucks queue up along Srimath Ramanathan Mawatha to enter the port. Moreover, when a container truck wobbles precariously as it moves on the damaged roads, it puts the lives of motorists and road users at risk. A few days ago a container fell from the flatbed to the side of the road. Fortunately, there was no vehicle or a pedestrian nearby.

We, as citizens, wouldn’t mind being inconvenienced due to these infrastructure developments. But what we cannot tolerate is the undue delay in these development projects and the haphazard manner in which they are carried out.

Colombo 15


North Korean relations and the case for foreign affairs archive
The August 20 article by Chandani Kirinde was a superb analysis of the relationship between Sri Lanka and North Korea in the last 50 years. She has delved into past newspapers and archives. It was a fine piece on the history of a bilateral relationship.

If we wish to improve research and writing on international affairs in Sri Lanka, then we need a proper archive. The Foreign Office should ensure that there is a publicly available archive of Sri Lanka’s foreign relations since independence. It can be done in collaboration with an institution like the Lakshman Kadiragamar Institute. Some time ago, when a commemorative volume of Sirimavo Bandaranaike was being written, the compilers found it impossible to obtain the speeches of Mrs. Bandaranaike on the Indian Ocean Peace Zone, and other significant speeches of hers on international relations — even in the Foreign Office.

International relations cannot be conducted without a sound awareness of the history of Sri Lanka’s foreign relations. I hope that the new authorities at the Foreign Ministry look into this matter and make an attempt at developing a comprehensive archive of Sri Lanka’s foreign relations. I know personally that the many initiatives taken by Mrs. Bandaranaike in the 1970-1977 period were not fully recorded in the Foreign Office archives.

On Sri Lanka-North Korea relations, while I agree with the thrust of Chandani Kirinde’s article, we should not forget that North Korea is one of the most authoritarian and dictatorial of countries, and probably as bad as the Nazi regimes which triggered the Second World War.

I had the opportunity to work as an international consultant to the UN in North Korea in the 1990s. It was a horrible regime, and everyone was being watched. There was a JVP delegation from Sri Lanka in Pyongyang at the time, and they were gung-ho about the progress made by North Korea, having been taken around the country by the regime, and lavishly entertained. The reality is totally different with the complete suppression of the people, and any kind of free expression on any issue. It is a country which teaches foreign languages for functional reasons, and there is no teaching of humanities or religion. While Sri Lanka has to be careful in crafting its foreign policy, we should also be alert to the obnoxious nature of the regime that is North Korea.

Leelananda De Silva
Via email

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