Lanka a Shangri-La to its people

Subservience to Govt.’s undemocratic agenda gets rewarded while expose of the wrongdoings within prompts witch-hunt, charge opposition MPs
By Chandani Kirinde, Our Lobby Correspondent

It seems this Government likes to reward wrongdoers and punish those who attempt to expose corruption and malpractices, as some Opposition MPs alleged in Parliament last week. A case in point is the decision to send former Inspector General of Police Mahinda Balasuriya as Ambassador to Brazil, after all the gregarious claims by some government politicians, that the man had stepped down from office, admitting responsibility, for the police crackdown in June, on workers of the Free Trade Zone (FTZ), that left one person dead and scores of others injured. And now he is being rewarded with an ambassadorial appointment to exotic climes.

In contrast is the case of former Sri Lanka skipper Kumar Sangakkara. He and the country received a rare honour, when he was invited to deliver the 2011 MCC Spirit of Cricket Cowdrey Lecture at Lords in London. He did not disappoint, and delivered a speech which won him worldwide praise, but unhappy with the bitter truth he spoke, regarding the appalling state of affairs of the country’s cricket administration, Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage now wants to probe Sangakkara’s right to express such views, in light of his contractual obligation to the country’s cricket hierachy.

To anyone looking in from the outside, it would seem obvious that the Government is more intent on covering up the embarrassment caused to some of its people, than addressing issues such as mismanagement, corruption or abuse of power, as was correctly pointed out by some Opposition legislators in Parliament, including UNP MP Dayasiri Jayasekera on Wednesday during the debate when a Rs 20 billion supplementary estimate was sought to build a new Defence headquarters in Battaramulla.

Such criticism, of course, falls on deaf ears in a Parliament where the Government has a two-third majority, and the Opposition is weak and disorganised. There is also almost never any admission by the government side that there are mistakes being made, in the way in which the Government goes about its business.

During the debate, Senior Minister for International Monetary Cooperation Dr. Sarath Amunugama said the Rs 20 billion was part of the money received from the sale of land at Galle Face to the Shangri-La group. He said that, with the investment by the world renowned group, there were more international interests in Sri Lanka to build luxury hotels. “At least seven more world renowned hotel brands have expressed interest, including some wanting to build seven star class luxury hotels in Sri Lanka,” Dr. Amunugama said.

Sports Minister Mahindananda Aluthgamage too spoke at length of the increasing number of tourists arriving in Sri Lanka and the luxury hotels needed to accommodate them. “There will be more than 2.3 million tourists arriving in Sri Lanka by 2018,” he said.

While development work is welcomed by all, the Government’s rush to build luxury hotels, brings up the question as to whether its priorities lie with building homes for thousands of people who remain homeless and displaced, mainly due to the civil strife of the past, or building fancy hotels to please tourists, while ignoring more basic needs of the people.

The lack of transparency in the Government’s land and hotel deals too came up during the debate, with UNP National List MP Dr. Harsha de Silva alleging that there was secrecy in the way in which the Shangri-La deal was done. “The Government must follow proper procedure with transparency and disclose to the Parliament details of these deals, as is required under the Strategic Development Projects Act,” he said.
DNA MP Anura Dissanayaka said this government was following the agenda of the UNP of selling off State land to foreigners. “The land has been sold 100% tax free to foreigners. Those who are in power now, opposed the sale of land to foreigners when the UNP was doing it. For a government that wears “nationalism” on its sleeve, this is the worst kind of double standards,” he charged.

Parliament approved the supplementary estimate with assurances by the Government that what was being constructed was a “Pentagon” style Defence complex, which would rival all others in Asia.

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