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Killing the proverbial goose

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I am an investor in tourism, in the southern province beaches. Along with me there are about 50 other, mostly foreign and a few local entrepreneurs who have put in huge amounts of effort and money into a stunning bay in Tangalle, called Mawella. This article is to highlight how ill-thought out and self-serving plans of government ministries and officials can jeopardize and ruin your investment. Suddenly we find out the fisheries ministry/department has come up with plans to develop it as a fisheries harbour/anchorage!! An outdated plan done without anybody’s knowledge or consultation. Not even the fishermen!!

This is one of the most pristine of beaches in Tangalle, untouched by any commercialization or destruction, or pollution. It’s a quiet, peaceful and secluded long stretch of a bay. It’s what the high-end tourists crave for, when they look at places like Sri Lanka and the Maldives for holidays. The unique features of Mawella bay are – the whole bay is swimmable, shallow and crystal clear calm waters almost all year round, a unique and natural long cliff outcrop in one corner of the bay protecting it (I don’t think there’s anything like it in the whole of Sri Lanka’s coast line). A wide and long perfect crescent of a beach (an hour long walk, one way), white powder sand all year round lies like a white carpet of welcome to everyone who visit it, from fisherman to tourist, and Mawella still remains untouched by ‘development’. Whatever tourism developments that has taken place here is well concealed, unobtrusive, low profile, luxury villas situated all around the bay. Majority of these are foreign investors making their home here or investing in tourism. Large amount of foreign investments have been poured into this bay. This is after the fishermen who owned these properties sold them. These lands and houses remained ruined, derelict and abandoned for nearly 10 long years since the tsunami destroyed them. When tourism began reviving after the end of the war in 2009, demand for these properties went up and the fishermen made a tidy sum out of selling them, having themselves been housed inland, by the government.

Now the Fisheries Department has unearthed some plans from a bygone era for the bay, to build a fisheries harbour/anchorage and is going ahead pell-mell with implementing it, with scant regard to the current developments already happened there. With their blinkers on, they have no inkling nor care for the current economics or the future potential of the bay. This harebrained plan was probably mooted by the ‘yahapalana’ government in 2017. But to go ahead with it, would spoil (if not ruin) the prospect of continuing high level tourism on one of the finest and largest beaches on the South Coast. This type of tourism is exactly what Sri Lanka needs and exactly what tourists want , in this fiercely contested international market.  Such tourism provides both local jobs and brings more tourists to Southern Sri Lanka who will be spending big money. Its prospect has recently been further enhanced by the completion of the Southern highway. But no tourist will want to visit a stinking mess of a fisheries harbour. It will be the end of tourism for one of the most stunning bays in Tangalle. People who fell in love with this island especially Mawella bay, have brought their investment to Sri lanka. They are the people who have already responded to the government’s call to ‘Invest in Sri Lanka’ launched by the tourism ministry. They have trusted in the Tangalle tourism zone hype made by the heads of government. All this is now in jeopardy, and risk of ruin because of the shortsighted action of another government department. This comes while tourism is reeling from the impact of Covid-19. In spite of expensive advertising it will be very hard to find investors in these unprecedented times. If adverse publicity of this debacle gets broadcast to the rest of the world, it would kill all investments that the government is trying so hard to woo.

The sad part is most fishermen of the Mawella bay are against this development project too. The fisheries officials have had several stormy meetings and clashes with them. Some fishers have already made their complaints/objections to higher officials and ministers of the fisheries department. ‘Maadal’ Fishing, the most ecofriendly and sustainable form of fishing happens here. The Anchorage project will kill this instantly. But in spite of the uproar, the project seem to be steamrolling ahead regardless. Why is this unnecessary and forced development? May be it’s because some funds are available for fisheries development and it needs spending? Or pocketing ?! Rumour has it that an area politician has already got the contract to supply quarry to the project.

If the planed fishing harbour or anchorage happens all our years of effort of development of the bay for tourism will get washed out to sea. Our input to Mawella has been not just large amounts of money, but time and passion. We the investors, are not the only victims of this man made catastrophe. A vibrant environment, a proliferate ecosystem, a lively wildlife, a stunning beauty and the very nature and characteristics of this bay stands to be changed. For the worse. Forever. Thus our urgent appeal to all decision-makers of the government to intervene and prevent this destruction of a perfect bay, and the scuttling of a thriving tourist industry. There is no shortage of fisheries harbours and anchorages in this part of the coast. Matara to Tangalle boasts of the highest concentration of fisheries harbours in the island. New ones are to be added soon. There is a dedicated fisheries bay (Hummanaya bay) right next door to Mawella, if they need to shift this project to a more suitable alternate site. So a solution to this looks very simple, easy and most of all, accommodating for all. There is no reason why both industries can’t exist side by side. They may even complement one another someday in the future – Fishing as a tourist activity/attraction.

Tangalle is not just about beaches. Yes, Tangalle beaches are the next big thing in the tourism map of the world. But then there is Cricket. F1 (If Namal Rajapakse’s projects take off). Mawella Lagoon airport. Expressway connectivity. MIA, Yala, Kumana, and Udawalawe wildlife. Blowhole (By the way, ours is the only one in all of Asia!), home to unique landform – coves, bays, lagoons, cliffs, and headlands not found in any other beaches of Sri Lanka, New heritage and historical sites being discovered which could rival Anuradhapura. As such what facilities do you have to cater to all this? How many rooms? What kind of rooms? Everything is poised for Tangalle to be the gateway to high-end tourism in Sri Lanka.

But we have reason to hope. Because from what we’ve seen of the government so far, It has stuck to its vision. Hopefully there are knowledgeable people installed in the right jobs by now. Especially in environmental, tourism, investment, and economic portfolios. That is President Gotabaya’s secret for success. We hope this will catch the eyes of such. If not the government will be definitely killing the goose that lays the golden egg as far as foreign investment is concerned.

 

Citizen S

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Opinion

Reminiscences of Colombo University Arts Faculty and Library

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Whilst extending my felicitations to the University of Colombo on the centenary celebrations of the Faculty of Arts and the Library of the University, I would like to record my contribution towards these two units as the Registrar of the University.

It was during Prof. Stanley Wijesundera’s tenure as the Vice-Chancellor (VC) in 1980 that the proposals for the buildings in respect of the Chemistry Department, Physics Department, New Administration, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Arts and the Library were mooted and submitted to the Treasury. At that time it was the National Buildings Consortium that assigned the Consultants and the Contractors for the new buildings to be constructed. Within that year the Treasury allocated sufficient funds for the Chemistry, Physics, Faculty of Law and the New Administration buildings. However, no funds were allocated to the Faculty of Arts and only Rs. 7.5 million was allocated for the Library building.

With the funds allocated the Chemistry, Physics, Law Faculty and the new Administration buildings were able to get off the ground. The construction work in respect of the other two buildings could not commence due to non-allocation of sufficient funds, even though the consultants and the contractors and already been selected.

As the Minister of Finance at that time was from Matara, he was more interested in getting the required buildings for the newly established University of Ruhuna completed, which was in his electorate. This meant that the University of Colombo would not get any funds for new buildings other than those buildings where the construction work had already begun.

The university needed a building for the Faculty of Arts very badly as this Faculty had the largest number of students. The Vice-Chancellor requested me to draft a letter to the Minister of Finance. Accordingly, I drafted a letter and submitted to the VC for his signature. He told it was an excellent letter, and he signed without a single amendment and submitted same to the Minister. The Minister approved the releasing of the funds. Now the consultants to the building project studied the area required for the building and found that a small portion of land was necessary from the land of the Planetarium. My efforts to get the land from the person in charge of the Planetarium, the Senior Assistant Secretary and the Secretary himself were not fruitful. I told the VC of the position and that he would have to speak to the Minister in charge of the Planetarium, Mr. Lionel Jayathilaka. He got the Minister on line and addressing him by his first name and informed the Minister of the problem. The Minister immediately got it attended to. However, when the construction work started, they found that the additional land area was not necessary.

At that time, the payments to the consultants of building projects was 15% of the total value of the cost. So, in designing the building they tried to add various unnecessary items to jack up the cost. When the first phase was completed, the building looked monstrous and it was like a maze, as it was difficult to find your way out once you get in. I requested the architect to add some coloured tiles on the floors and the stairway and a few decorations on the walls. The university had a never ending tussle with the contractor as he was like Shylock asking for more, when everything had been paid. He tried various tactics but did not succeed in getting anything more as I was adamant not to give in.

When the second stage of the building project came up, I told the consultant to drop all the unnecessary items and have a straight forward building. This was done by the new contractor at much less cost to the university.

The Library building was the last of the buildings planned in 1980 that was awaiting construction. When Mr. Richard Pathirana became the Minister of Higher Education, I spoke to the two engineers who were assigned the task of supervising the building projects of the universities, and managed to get the funds passed by the Treasury for the construction of the Library building. When the Minister came on a visit to the university, he told me that the building that should have been done for Rs.7.5 million will cost Rs.253 million. I told him that the Treasury never gave any money after approving the initial funding of Rs.7.5 million. Anyway, I had achieved what I wanted to do and the building was successfully completed. Now the furniture for the Library had to be procured. When quotations were called the suucessful tenderer had brought a sample of the study tables. I rejected this as it was inferior to what I wanted and asked the officer concerned to get the design of the furniture from the library in the University of Peradeniya. This was done and the furniture was installed. The official opening of the new Library was arranged. By that time I had retired from the position of Registrar and was the Director of the Institute of Workers’ Education. Even though I was instrumental in getting the building done, I was not invited for the function. That is gratitude!!

 

H M Nissanka Warakaulle

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Opinion

Ali Sabry bashing

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Justice Minister Ali Sabry has appealed to his critics to spare him from the criticism that he was behind the calling of applications for the appointment of Quazis for Quazi Courts (The Island/23.01.2021). In my view, the allegations levelled against Justice Minister Ali Sabry are unfounded and uneducated. If you are an educated and unbiased citizen of this country, you’ll understand it better. The applications for Quazis for Quazi Courts have been called by the Judicial Service Commission, an independent Commission chaired by the Chief Justice of this country. If you aren’t happy with this decision, you have to take it up with the Chief Justice, not the Justice Minister. He has no control at all over the Judicial Service Commission. In a way, criticising that Justice Minister influenced the Judicial Service Commission, chaired by the Chief Justice, tantamounts to contempt of the Supreme Court. Moreover, Quazi Courts have been in existence for well over 70 years, and it hasn’t affected the Sinhalese or the Tamils nor has it been incompatible with the common law of this country. If there is any serious discrepancy, it can be rectified. But I wonder why the calling of applications for Quazis has now become an issue. I also wonder if the removal of Quazi Courts was promised as a part of the subtle 69 mandate. This is not the first time similar allegations have been made. When Rauf Hakeem was Justice Minister, Member of Parliament Pattali Champika Ranawaka  made serious allegations that more Muslim students were admitted to the Law College and led many protests and ultimately a group of monks stormed the Law College in protest. He had charged that Law College entrance exam papers were leaked and criticised the then Justice Minister Rauf Hakeem for it. He  knew very well that Law College came under the Council of Legal Education chaired by the Chief Justice and  Attorney General and two other Supreme Court judges among others were  members of this Council, yet he had made these allegations with a different motive. Amidst international outcry, Muslim Covid victims have been denied burial. To make the situation worse, some vindictive, venomous elements are now trying to create another bad scenario that Muslims can’t marry either according to their faith, and tarnish the image of this country internationally and drive a wedge between communities. Therefore I earnestly ask the law abiding and peace loving citizens of this country to work against these vindictive, venomous elements.  

 

M. A. Kaleel 

Kalmunai. 

 

 

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Opinion

What do Northern political parties seek?

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Political parties, based in the North, are reported to be getting prepared to attend the UNHRC sessions next month. For several decades, the only thing they did for their constituents is to spread feelings of hate among them, against the government and the people living in the South. Today, we have two important issues where India is involved – re. the Colombo Harbour and the death of four fishermen. There is another perennial issue of Indians fishing in our waters. Have these parties uttered a single word on those matters? What do they expect to gain, or achieve for the Northerners, even if they could prove SL war crimes allegations at the UNHRC? Can they honestly say that they were not a party to the LTTE and other terrorist outfits which looted, tortured and killed hundred or thousands of civilians, both in the North and the South?

Other than shouting about the rights of their people, have they done anything for the wellbeing of the people in those areas? Whatever was given to the people were those given by the Government on a national basis. Excellent example is the conduct of C V Wigneswaran, who held the high position of Chief Minister of the Northern Province for five years – had he done any significant service for the people? Those parties never complain about India for the killings, torturing and raping done by the IPKF, or the damage and loss due to the activities of Indian fishermen.

India too overlooks all that, and to keep Tamil Nadu happy, forces the SL government to grant whatever the Northern Parties demand.

 

K SIRIWEERA

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