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COPE says tourism bureaucracy moves at snail’s pace

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Tourism officials before the Committee on Public Enterprises (pic courtesy Parliament)

Proposal to develop five islands in Kalpitiya delayed for 10 years

Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) MP Prof. Charitha Herath has directed the Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Development Authority to expedite the preparation of a programme to utilise 12 islands under the Tourism Development Authority in the Kalpitiya area for the benefit of the industry. Instructions were issued at a recent COPE meeting.

It was revealed that although an investor had applied for five of the 12 islands totaling 2,055 acres, in 2011, it had been delayed due to the inability to identify a proper institution to obtain approval for his water bungalows project.

The COPE Chairman pointed out that the delay of such a project for 10 years as the investor who already own hotels of similar nature in the Maldives to obtain permission, was an impediment to the development of the tourism industry as well as the development of the country.

The COPE Chairman stressed the need to utilise the islands as tourist attractions. He directed S. Hettiarachchi and Chairperson of the Tourism Development Authority, Kimarli Fernando, to implement a special project within a strong legal framework since Cabinet approval had been granted for that and set up a steering committee with representatives from the Marine Environment Protection Authority, Central Environmental Authority, North Western Provincial Council, Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Department.

The aforesaid issue was disclosed at the COPE meeting chaired by Prof. Charitha Herath held recently (26) to examine the Auditor General’s reports for the years 2018 and 2019 and the current performance of the Tourism Development Authority.

The COPE paid attention to the audit observation that Rs. 11 million out of 29 million had been paid for the renovation of the Kataragama Resort a few years back for but no work had been carried out.

It was also brought to the notice of the COPE that despite the appointment of a committee by the Ministry of Public Administration, which has made recommendations that the Attorney General conduct an investigation into the issue and punish the culprits, no action had been taken so far. The Auditor General has revealed that only a warning letter was served on the official involved in the said incident and the Committee expressed displeasure in this regard.

The COPE also made inquiries about the payment of an additional Rs. 10 million for the construction of the Kalpitiya Thoraiadi Jetty and the road near the Wannimundalama Lagoon. The Tourism Development Authority said that it had made inquiries from the Puttalam District Engineer and been informed that further action could not be taken as they did not have the relevant documents. The Auditor General has revealed that although the COPE had ordered an investigation into the mater in 2016, the investigation process had only began in 2018. The COPE Chairman expressed his displeasure at the delay, and said state institutions were bound to implement a recommendation made by Parliament, the highest body on financial control in the country, thus, an immediate inquiry should be conducted and a report submitted as soon as possible.

Although Rs. 1.2 billion was spent on tourism development in 2018-2019, only 1.9 million tourists had visited the country. Therefore, the existing institutions should be set up for the tourism industry under a more efficient mechanism, said the Chairperson of the Tourism Development Authority Kimarli Fernando. Accordingly, the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau, which are currently working separately for the betterment of the tourism industry, will form a single entity whilst the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management is intended to operate separately, the chairperson said.

The Secretary to the Ministry said that the Bill in this regard would be presented to Parliament by March-April as it has been approved by the Cabinet. The COPE Chairman instructed the Secretary to the Ministry to expedite the work in this regard if it is the need of the Ministry and the institutions for the purpose of a more efficient mechanism.

The Committee paid attention to the obstacles faced by Sri Lanka in comparison to the Maldives which has had made rapid progress in the tourism industry. Kimarli Fernando said that only the highest priced luxury hotels in the Maldivian tourism industry were active, promoting globally through active public relations, operating under a small team of 15 international level experts, and making a significant impact by bringing in leading international investors. The Chairperson also said that the institute had played a major role in uplifting the tourism industry in the face of the pandemic. She added that her institution had made great strides in training hoteliers amidst the COVID-19 crisis, having fully completed the online registration process.

COPE also stressed the need to make more effective use of the properties owned by the Tourism Development Authority including lands in many areas for the betterment of the industry.

State Minister Susil Premajayantha, Members of Parliament Rauff Hakeem, Jagath Pushpakumara, Nalin Bandara, S.M. Marikkar, Madhura Withanage, Premnath C. Dolawatte and officials of the Tourism Development Authority were present at the meeting.



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Wimal asks for PSC probe into top officials’ complicity in violence

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Colombo HC lawyers concerned over shocking developments

By Shamindra Ferdinando

National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa, MP, says a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) should be appointed to investigate the role played by IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Public Security Ministry Secretary Maj. Gen. (retd.) Jagath Alwis in the recent SLPP hothead attack on those demanding the resignation of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the Cabinet of Ministers, including Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Weerawansa yesterday (18) told The Island that Parliament should inquire into the unprovoked attack that triggered an extremely violent response by the public as well as those awaiting an opportunity to unleash violence on selected group of lawmakers on 09 May.

The former Industries Minister said he was confident that Attorney General Sanjay Rajaratnam, PC, would look into the issues at hand.

Responding to another query, Weerawansa said that Senior DIG Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon’s claim that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary had interfered with his (Tennakoon’s) plan to disperse the SLPP mobs couldn’t be easily dismissed.

MP Weerawansa declared, in Parliament on Tuesday (17), that the IGP and the Public Security Ministry dissuaded the Senior DIG from performing his duties although he had received specific instructions from President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to stop the march on Galle Face. The former JVPer questioned whether those conspirators wanted to show the world the failure on the part of the police and the armed forces to maintain law and order.

Asked whether police headquarters and the Public Security Ministry had responded to his accusations, Weerawansa said he hadn’t been contacted by them so far.

Pointing out that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), inquiring into 09 May turmoil had recorded Senior DIG’s statement, Weerawansa said that the outfit could issue an interim statement on the matter.

The Colombo High Court Lawyers’ Association said that the shocking revelation, made in Parliament, should be expeditiously inquired into.

The Association’s President Attorney-at-Law Lakshman Perera said that the ongoing investigations had taken an unexpected turn in the wake of high profile specific allegations pertaining to the conduct of the IGP, as well as the Public Security Ministry Secretary. Pointing out that the HRCSL and the CID had already recorded DIG Tennakoon’s statement, pertaining to the incidents, and the officer was among a group of 22 persons slapped with a travel ban by the Fort Magistrate, lawyer Perera said that the CID couldn’t turn a blind eye to accusations directed at the head of the department as well as Secretary to the relevant ministry.

Lawyer Perera said that investigations couldn’t be completed without verifying accusations made in Parliament.

Lawmaker Weerawansa said that the question was on whose behalf the IGP and the Public Security Ministry Secretary intervened at a time the country was under emergency and after the Senior DIG in charge of Colombo received specific instructions from the President himself.

Although the SLPP goons did not shed any blood or cause any serious injuries, unlike the well-organized mobs that caused havoc across the country thereafter, MP Weerawansa said that he couldn’t comprehend why the police and the armed forces allowed the situation to develop to an extremely dangerous level.

The HRCSL in its initial reaction to the unprovoked attacks on those who had been demanding the resignation of the government condemned the violence caused by a group of people who made it very clear that violence was their intention.

HRCSL Chairperson retired Supreme Court Justice Rohini Marasinghe said: “The failure of the police to prepare for this eventuality and prevent and manage the violence and destruction is a gross failure of public order. There must be an immediate inquiry into this matter. The inaction of the police to prevent the clash is condemned.”

The Island brought the latest developments to the notice of the HRCSL yesterday as MP Weerawansa said that those who conspired and planned the project that involved those at the helm of Temple Trees then and the SLPP should be arrested. The conspirators shouldn’t be allowed to escape justice while the CID arrested those who carried out the actual attacks.

Police spokesman SSP Nihal Thalduwa said that the department couldn’t respond to what transpired in Parliament. Acknowledging that he was aware of the allegations made in Parliament, Attorney-at-Law Thalduwa said in case their response was sought through proper channels, whatever the queries would be answered.

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Dr. Pathirana says IGP, Public Security Ministry Secy. allowed goon attacks

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Galle District parliamentarian Dr. Ramesh Pathirana has reiterated that IGP C.D. Wickremaratne and Secretary to the Public Security Ministry, Maj. General (retd) Jagath Alwis had facilitated the 09 May unprovoked attack on anti-government protesters.

The former Minister Pathirana declared in Parliament yesterday (18) that National Freedom Front (NFF) leader MP Wimal Weerawansa’s allegation, pertaining to the origins of the violence, was true.

Dr. Pathirana said that he was among those who had brought supporters to attend a meeting chaired by the then Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa. The vast majority of those who attended the Temple Trees meet on May 09 wanted to thank the war-winning President as he gave up active politics, the MP said. However, some unscrupulous members had instigated the participants there.

Dr. Pathirana said he had been at Temple Trees at that time and as he feared violence could erupt due inflammatory speeches, contact was made with Senior DIG in charge of Colombo Deshabandu Tennakoon. Dr. Pathirana said that the senior police officer had assured him that the police were ready to face the situation and confident of preventing those who attended the Temple Trees function from reaching Galle Face.

“Thereafter, I left Temple Trees for a meeting with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. There were several other members. When trouble erupted, President Rajapaksa immediately got in touch with Senior DIG Tennakoon, who revealed he had been asked not to use force by the IGP himself.”

Dr. Pathirana said the President had asked the senior law enforcement officer why he didn’t carry out instructions issued by him (the President).

The Galle District MP emphasised that the IGP and the Secretary to the Public Security Ministry were responsible for the violence at Kollupitiya and Fort police areas which triggered violence in many parts of the country. (SF)

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New Deputy Speaker not from Rajapaksa political dynasty

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Newly-elected Deputy Speaker Ajith Rajapaksa said that he was not a member of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s clan.

The Hambantota District Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) lawmaker said so when The Island asked him whether he, too, was a member of the Rajapaksa family now under fire over the continuing political-economic-social turmoil.

Rajapaksa polled 109 votes at a secret vote held in Parliament on Tuesday (17) to secure the Deputy Speaker’s post. MP Rajapaksa defeated Samagi Jana Balavegaya (SJB) MP Rohini Kaviratne, who polled 78 votes.

The SLPP rebel group members refrained from voting for Rajapaksa after the top SLPP leadership ignored their appeal to fill the vacancy through consultations with the SJB.

Rajapaksa succeeded SLFP’s Ranjith Siyambalapitiya, who quit the post twice, the second occasion after beating SJB’s Imthiaz Bakeer Markar at a secret vote.

Deputy Speaker Rajapaksha said that he had served as the Chairman of the Ambalanthota Pradeshiya Sabha in 1997. Subsequently, he became a member of the Southern Provincial Council.

Asked whether he was a resident of the Rajapaksas’ home base, Deputy Speaker said that he was from Pallerotta, Ambalantota. (SF)

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