26th August 2001
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Tourist industry concerned at alarmist SMIC statement

By Faraza Farook

A government statement warning that Colombo is under LTTE threat has raised concern of the possible negative impact of this statement on the tourism industry which is campaigning to promote the image of Sri Lanka, in the light of adverse publicity about Sri Lanka, following the attack on the Katunayake airbase and airport.

Ironically last Wednesday's statement by the Special Media Information Unit (SMIC) stating that Colombo was under LTTE threat, was in contradiction to what the tourist industry has been telling the world - "Colombo is safe", a spokesman for the tourist trade said.

Tour operators and tourism industry officials who did not wish to be identified told The Sunday Times that the untimely statement was an irresponsible act of the Government at a time of crisis when the international community was keeping a close watch on Sri Lanka.

"Such statements cause concern at a time when there is an attempt to show that the city is safe. It will only make it difficult for us to convince the international market" they said.

Commenting on the statement a leading tour operator said the government was letting the country down by encouraging the terrorists to whack the battered economy further.

"They are not seeing beyond their nose," said Shippers Council President Rohan Masakorala adding that it was not right to issue such a statement at this moment in time.

The SMIC statement did not carry the signature of the Director of Government Information Ariya Rubesinghe, under whose purview the SMIC functions. The Sunday Times learns that the statement had been released without Mr. Rubesinghe's knowledge.

The matter has stirred a controversy within government ranks with the issue being taken up at the highest level.

Ministry of Information and Media Secretary Janadasa Peiris said there was nothing he could say as it was "a government statement".

Information and Media Minister Anura Priyadarshana Yapa and former Director of Information now Water Minister Dr. Sarath Amunugama too declined to comment.

Meanwhile a recovery plan for the tourism industry prepared by the travel trade and tour operators in conjunction with the Tourist Board has been handed over to Treasury Secretary Dr. P.B. Jayasundara last Thursday. The industry has urged the Government to assist it to recover from the present crisis.

One of the main proposals was to assist the industry's survival by way of loans at reduced interest rates. Assistance has also been sought to help hotels to continue with their current cadre instead of shedding staff.

Accordingly, Tourism Ministry Secretary Dr. P. Ramanujam told The Sunday Times a number of factors would be taken into account to consider relief assistance to those in the industry.

"The Treasury is expected to finalise all matters by this week. The quantum of loans will depend on the business in the hotel during the last six months, the percentage of cancellation of bookings etc.," he said.

Mr. Ramanujam said both state and private banks will get involved.

He said the Tourism Ministry was intending to send copies of the report by the International Civil Aviation Organisation on its inspection of the airport, to all embassies to persuade them to change their travel warnings to a travel advisory.

"The ICAO has given us a positive report following its inspection, copies of which we are still to get. Once we get the copies, we'll send them to the foreign missions to assure them that the airport is safe," Mr. Ramanujam said.

Walker Tours Managing Director and head of the Tour Operators Association Vasantha Leelananda said the tourist sector was still suffering from the consequences of the July 24 attack on the airport.

"Major markets are not looking at Sri Lanka at the moment. We are getting a trickle from France, Spain and Italy, but the real volumes are not coming and the trend will continue for sometime," Mr. Leelananda said.

Despite efforts to assure the international community and the tourist industry that Colombo is safe, even last week one more country issued a travel advisory warning its citizens to avoid Sri Lanka.

Those who resigned must be re-sworn, claims UNP

By Shelani de Silva

The submission of resignation letters by some Cabinet ministers and deputy ministers has pushed them into a legal muddle with the UNP deciding to challenge the issue in courts and calling on them to be re-sworn in their posts.

The UNP yesterday claimed that the undated letters of resignation of 28 deputy ministers and three ministers which were handed over to the President last week were legally valid and they should be considered as having vacated their posts.

Although the Government was reportedly planning to return the letters, the UNP is challenging the legal validity of the holder of the post.

The UNP claims that the parliamentarians who tendered their undated letters of resignation have to be sworn in again according to the Constitution if they intend to hold the posts they held.

Former Attorney General and UNP MP Tilak Marapana told The Sunday Times that the parliamentarians vacated their post from the date they forwarded their resignations.

'If the resignation letters are undated, the resignations comes into effect from the day they were forwarded. According to the Constitution, unlike in the case of other posts, there is no question of the letter being accepted or not, it is only through communication, which the deputy ministers and ministers have done' said Mr. Marapana.

Mr. Marapana added that in the case of a public servant tendering his resignation, the question of it being accepted will arise but not in the case of a minister or a deputy minister.

It was speculated that the handing over of undated letters of resignation of deputy ministers was a pre-emptive move to prevent government members crossing over to the opposition.

Meanwhile, in a letter to Ministry Secretaries UNP Deputy Leader Karu Jayasuriya last week said that with the deputy ministers tendering their resignations, they are no longer entitled to draw a salary or other perks.

The letter states that if the privileges are made available to them the respective ministry secretary will be held responsible.

Aeroflot planning a comeback

By Tania Fernando

The Russian national carrier Aeroflot which pulled out of Colombo in September last year is planning on making a comeback.

The airline stopped operations in Colombo citing restrictions on seat capacity and unprofitability.

Airline sources say that Aeroflot is presently negotiating to fly to Colombo via Dubai. Director (Operations) of Civil Aviation H M C Nimalsiri said that while he was aware of Aeroflot holding discussions with SriLankan Airlines, no firm decision has been made.

The Country Manager of Aeroflot Alexandre M Iourakov said they are presently negotiating but no decision has been made.

"We are all looking forward to coming back to Colombo soon, and are awaiting instructions", he said.

Emirates, the Dubai based international carrier, which also owns a 46% stake in SriLankan Airlines said its revised schedule on the Colombo - Dubai route will be maintained until the end of September.

In a press release, it said that while it maintains operations on the Dubai-Colombo route, the service between Colombo and Singapore will continue to remain suspended.

"From September 1, Emirates will utilize the services of SriLankan Airlines to fly passengers between Colombo and Male, who can then take a connecting flight of Emirates flying from Male to Singapore and Jakarta", the release said.

Credit squeeze hits public servants

Government has restricted granting low-interest loans to public servants with some of the applicants having to wait for more than one year to obtain loans, government trade union sources said.

"We are going to take this up with the Government as our members are complaining about the delays or non-granting of loans in certain institutions', General Secretary of the Samastha Lanka Lipikaru Seva Sangamaya, G.K. Piyadasa said.

Public servants are entitled to housing loans at 4.2 percent interest, a distress loan equivalent to 10 months salary and a standard Rs. 5,000 loan. Mr. Piyadasa said that there was strong speculation that the government was planning to suspend the loan scheme due to shortage of funds.

A Treasury official denied the total suspension of loans but said the subject was taken up for discussion thrice this year with no final decision being reached.

Denying that loans are being refused due to shortage of funds, the official said funds are released depending on priorities.

Meanwhile, loan applications pending for over two years is quite common, while monies paid back on loans taken being used to issue new loans.

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