Too much clout for private sector
By Nirmala Kannangara
Minister of Tourism Nandana Gunatilleke is to
re-establish the Sri Lanka Tourist Board and repeal the
Tourism Act of 2005 enacted during the tenure of former
Minister Milinda Moragoda. Minister Gunatilleke talking
to The Sunday Leader said that he would not be swayed
from the programmes he has for his Ministry.
Refuting allegations levelled against him by certain
‘big wigs’ in the hospitality industry Tourism Minister
Nandana Gunatilleke said that decision making on issues
related to his Ministry will be made by him.
“Unnecessary powers given by the Tourism Act of 2005 are
harmful to the industry and also the majority of the
board members in the Sri Lanka Tourism Development
Authority, Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau, the Hotel
School and the Convention Bureau should be from the
government and not from the private sector partnership.
They have taken decisions to suit their agendas and not
to suit the government agenda. I would not tolerate such
decisions and once the existing laws are amended I could
implement the Mahinda Chinthanaya in the Tourism
Ministry,” he claimed. Excerpts:
Q: Did you initiate the complaint through the police on
the Hikkaduwa Fest nude photos?
No. I did not make any complaints to the police as I was
away in Japan and returned only on Sunday. Upon my
return I heard that the Criminal Investigation
Department (CID) had taken some suspects into custody
but could not verify whether it was my Ministry
officials or any other outsiders that helped the police
to nab the guilty party.
Q: The JVP almost killed tourism in the late ’80s and
early ’90s. Now as Tourism Minister how exactly do you
intend to restructure this very vital sector?
The then JVP neither killed tourism nor did anything
wrong to the industry but always worked towards the
betterment of the leisure sector.
followed by Raul Castro has never tried to destroy their
country’s leisure industry but have developed it to earn
foreign exchange. Likewise although Vietnam and China
are two communist countries still they have uplifted
their tourism industry so did we.
am not a JVP member but belong to an alliance of the
UPFA government. All these accusations are made by the
‘big wigs’ of the hospitality industry but certainly not
the SME sector. The main reason for them to accuse me of
being not accountable is that they do not want to accept
me as their Minister. They wanted someone whom they
could control. Now all their plans have gone wrong and
they are making several accusations against me and my
Q: Is the industry currently facing a crisis situation?
No the industry is perfectly in position and does not
face any crisis situation. Those who were not allowed to
control the Ministry work are saying that there is a
crisis situation in the industry.
directed the relevant officers to attend to all urgent
work to increase the product but understand that there
is a certain group that does not want to see me
developing the industry.
would not accuse the entire private sector partnership
for the situation, but most of them are pulling my leg
trying to stop me from developing the industry. For
instance it was these officers who wanted to get a good
portion from the proposed US $ 20 million World Bank
tourism industry project. But failing in their attempts,
they are now trying to create a crisis in the industry.
would like to tell them that as long as I serve as the
Tourism Minister I would not allow the industry to face
any crisis situation as they hope would happen.
Q: Do you have plans to involve the private sector to
help boost tourism?
Certainly yes. I very much need their help, as this is
a private sector driven industry.
Should not the private sector be brought in as an
executive partner to help manage the industry?
True the private sector partnership is vital to revive
the industry but we should not give the upper hand to
them. It is the private sector partnership that has
taken all the vital decisions in the industry earlier,
but what I understood was that the decisions made by
them were not to suit the government but their personal
the government authority that has to reign and not
personal agendas which are harmful to the tourism
industry. As a result, while giving the private sector
an opportunity to help me to boost the industry it is
Mahinda Chinthanaya that has to be implemented at the
Q: Why did Prema Cooray (regarded as an authority in the
hotel trade) and Cornel Perera tender their resignations
soon after you were appointed Minister Tourism?
They did not tender their resignations soon after I was
appointed. What in fact took place was that I wanted
them to step down two months after my appointment as I
found they were not cooperating to achieve my goals. It
was disheartening to see that these two Chairmen did not
even come to meet me after I took over office.
could I work and how could I expect a proper job from
such people when they were not ready to cooperate with
me? I do not have any grudge with the board members
either, but if I know that I would not get their support
then I would not hesitate to remove any officer holding
office irrespective of positions.
Q: There is criticism that you have begun to bring in
from outside the industry, persons who have no knowledge
of the management needs of the industry, and are
removing members of the private sector who were
associated with the industry such as Cooray and Perera?
These are all baseless allegations. Those who cling to
director boards in the Tourism Development Authority,
the Hotel School, the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion
Bureau, and the Convention Bureau think that they are
the best set of people in the industry, which is not.
are many more educated people in the country to serve
these boards and I would get their service to the
betterment of the industry in the near future. The newly
appointed Chairman Hotel School Sarath Kodituwakku is a
senior lecturer who has a MBA and is a good
administrator as well. Being a lecturer I think he is
the best person to head the Hotel School.
who is levelling these allegations against me and these
do not scare me. I know what I have to do in order to
boost the tourism industry and bring dividends to the
was why I decided to appoint the most suitable persons
to key positions and I have received the blessings of
President Mahinda Rajapakse in all my endeavours. To be
fair, I also should be thankful to the former Hotel
School Chairman Prema Cooray for being very diplomatic
in handing over his resignation to me personally telling
me he was ready to help me in whatever way he could in
order to develop the tourism sector although it was I
who asked him to step down.
Q: The latest development is that the unions have got
activated and are seeking to re- establish the former
Sri Lanka Tourist Board and do away with the Sri Lanka
Tourism Development Authority and the Sri Lanka Tourism
Promotion Bureau; they also seek to have the Tourism Act
of 2005 repealed. Won’t this be a huge setback for the
This course of action would not be a setback but
certainly a boost to the industry. Yes, very soon
legislation would be passed to bring back the Sri Lanka
Tourist Board and to repeal the Tourism Act of 2005
which has done nothing to the industry but has
influenced the private sector partners to take the upper
hand in all important decision making in recent past.
Although 90% of the tourism sector is a private sector
driven industry still it comes under the Tourism
Ministry, which is a government institution. Although
Mahinda Chinthanaya is in full force in all government
institutions it is sad to note that Chinthanaya policy
was not implemented at the Tourism Ministry. The four
key institutions under the Tourism Ministry – the Sri
Lanka Tourism Development Authority, Sri Lanka Tourism
Promotion Bureau, the Convention Bureau and the Hotel
School were headed by boards and the majority of the
members were from the private sector over which the
government did not have any control. In that backdrop
they took decisions according to their personal agendas
and also to satisfy their superiors and not the
result there is an urgent need to rectify the mistakes
made in the past and accordingly the Sri Lanka Tourist
Board would be re-established and the controversial
Tourism Act of 2005 would be repealed.
Q: We have over the years seen millions being spent on
promotion without the desired results. Do you believe
there is no better promoter than a satisfied customer
and if we only invest in the tourist we shall reap rich
Certainly without spending millions of rupees on
promotional campaigns and foreign fairs we still could
promote destinations through our valued customers by
providing the best facilities we could. That is why we
need to spend more on the product than on promotional
campaigns and we are now in the process of improving the
worst is that the officers in the Tourism Ministry want
to trot all over the globe by way of promoting Sri Lanka
as a destination, which have already cost the country
and the Ministry a tidy sum. Being the Cabinet Minister
in charge of tourism I will not tolerate such colossal
spending. However I had to give my permission for about
15-20 foreign promotional campaigns that had been
decided on earlier.
to stop the globe trotting of two employees in the
Ministry who have already passed their retirement age.
Although they had the blessings of their former
employers to travel abroad for promotional campaigns, as
a Minister who does not want to waste public funds I had
to stop all these unnecessary expenditure.
future I will see as to how the promotional activities
have to be done but certainly concentrate more on the
product and on satisfying customers to get better
feedback rather than spending millions of rupees on
unnecessary foreign fairs and campaigns.
Self inflicted crisis in the tourist industry
By K. Godage
self inflicted crisis seems to be enveloping the all
important tourism industry, the fourth largest
foreign exchange earner with potential to become
even the first and we find that the government is
killing the goose that lays the golden egg. The
latest development is said to be the appointment of
two JVPers (one of whom is said to be an illegal
immigrant) to promote tourism from Japan! I do hope
this rumour is a malicious one and not correct, but
if it is true it serves to indicate the value the
new leadership in the Ministry places on the
promotion of tourism.
After many years the tourism industry which is a
private sector driven industry and has suffered huge
losses over the years was looking forward to a good
year, but their hopes appear to have been shattered
by the government as a result of appointing a JVP
MP, whose party almost killed off tourism in the
late ’80s and the early ’90s, as Minister in charge
The industry has been plunged into a crisis. The
Minister could not have been expected to know the
industry or have any particular commitment to a
private sector owned industry such as this. I would
have thought that it was not in the interest of the
government itself to make such an appointment. He is
being unfairly accused of seeking to ‘nativise’ the
industry, whatever that may mean.
Surely they should have understood the importance
of the industry to the country. A committed person
such as Nandana Goonetilleke could have been
appointed Minister in charge of the Coconut Industry
or a domestic sector subject he would no doubt be
familiar with. With their commitment there is no
question that he would do a good job.
Reforms to restructure
The last Minister (Milinda Moragoda) had instituted
reforms to restructure the industry and established
four separate ‘agencies’ under the Tourism Act No.
38 of 2005, which had not been implemented not only
because of vested interests but because of many
inherent flaws which the likes of former Chairman
and former WTO Consultant H.M.S. Samaranayake who
chaired the Committee and former Supreme Court
Judge, Justice Ranjith Dheeraratne, who functioned
as the Legal Consultant to the Committee, to study
the restructuring of the industry, and the last
Chairman Renton De Alwis had pointed out.
The private sector which drives the industry was
brought into running the industry along with the
public sector; a Tourism Development Authority was
created together with the Sri Lanka Tourism
Promotion Bureau, the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau
and the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel
Minister Moragoda had brought in persons from the
private sector, of proven ability such as Prema
Cooray and Cornel Perera. Cooray, head of a well
known group of hotels was brought in as Chairman of
the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau and Cornel Perera,
who also needs no introduction, was brought in as
Chairman of the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and
Hotel Management. These appointments inspired much
needed confidence to the industry, so much so that
even the World Bank decided to fund a capacity
building project for the tourism industry; this was
said to have been unprecedented.
Private sector driven
The intention of the Tourism Act No. 38 of 2005 was
to make the industry private sector driven because
of the very nature of the industry, but the new
Minister has, in keeping with their ideology, for
they are opposed to the private enterprise, begun to
reverse the process by bringing in from outside the
industry, persons who have no knowledge of the
management needs of the industry, and removing
members of the private sector who were associated
with the industry; both Cooray and Perera have
resigned on their own volition.
The Marxist Minister does not realise that this is a
private sector industry; it is they who have
invested in hotels and also invested in promoting
their hotels, and in the process, the country, as an
attractive tourist destination. The Private
Sector-Public Sector partnership is ended and it is
now said that the World Bank which was also prepared
to help the small and medium enterprises is
considering pulling out of the project. This would
of course be a huge setback.
The latest development is that the unions have got
activated and are seeking to re establish the former
Sri Lanka Tourist Board and do away with the Sri
Lanka Tourism Development Authority and the Sri
Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau. They also seek to
have the Tourism Act of 2005 repealed. There is
merit in the criticism that more money is being
spent on promotion whereas more monies should be
spent (and rightly so) on infrastructure and
Millions spent on promotion
have over the years seen millions being spent on
promotion without the desired results, there is no
better promoter than a satisfied customer and if we
only invest in the tourist we shall reap rich
rewards. ‘Sri Lanka’ requires no special branding;
over the past 30 years we have received publicity
even in Iceland, may have been for the wrong
reasons, but articles or commentaries always mention
the beauty of the land and that it is an exotic
destination and was the ‘Pearl of the Indian Ocean’
or that it is “Paradise lost.”
need of course to project the fact that our country
is not just beaches for Western tourists escaping
their winter but that we have seven World Heritage
sites and much more to offer. We have indeed spent
millions nay wasted millions on a certain type of
advertising which has brought no results — only
benefiting foreign advertising companies. The money
is certainly better spent on developing the product.
We must invest in attracting the high yielding
tourist and ensure that they return after their
first visit. Regarding the matter of developing the
product, let us for a start clean up our beaches,
the beach in Mt. Lavinia, a favourite with tourists
and locals alike, is filthy beyond description and
must be seen to be believed. Two canals empty their
garbage into the sea and the garbage including
faecal matter is washed up on the beach.
need to spend millions to clean up the old Dutch
canals, move the shanty dwellers to decent high rise
apartments — why not two or three sky scrapers at
Wanathamulla — to clear that eyesore and the shanty
dwellers of Colombo; that would be money well spent.
Let us also establish a Tourist Police arm to
protect the tourists from perverts and thugs roaming
our beaches; the ‘Welle kollas’ should be given
training to embark on a respectable occupation —
the funds of the ADB or of the World Bank which it
is said was intended to assist SMEs in the tourism
sector could be well spent for this purpose.
There is indeed much that can and should be done to
deliver a better deal to the all important tourist.
The authorities should also have inspection teams or
a ‘Flying Squad’ checking out the hotels to ensure
that they are not fleecing tourists, they should be
told to invest in the tourist so that they would
return to their hotels and bring others in.
There certainly are many issues which need to be
looked at afresh but there is no denying the fact
that the private sector, which has invested so
heavily in the industry must be brought in as an
executive partner in the management of the industry,
which in fact belongs to them. Many are of the view,
most unkindly, that giving this Ministry to the JVP
is like asking the wolf to mind the chickens.
Minister fights shy
The Sunday Leader
posed the following questions to Tourism Promotion
Minister Faizer Mustapha as well, but he said he
could not and was not it a position to answer a
single one of them.
1. Who initiated the complaint through the
police on the Hikkaduwa Fest nude photos?
Do you agree that the JVP almost killed tourism in
the late ’80s and early ’90s?
As Tourism Promotion Minister how exactly do you
intend to restructure this very vital sector?
Is the industry currently facing a crisis situation?
Are you and Minister Nandana Gunatilleke at
Do you have plans to involve the private sector to
help boost tourism?
7. Should not the private sector be brought in as
an Executive Partner to help manage the industry?
Why did Prema Cooray (regarded as an authority in
the hotel trade) and Cornel Perera tender their
There is criticism that Minister Nandana Gunatilleke
has begun to bring in from outside the industry,
persons who have no knowledge of the management
needs of the industry, and are removing members of
the private sector who were associated with the
industry? Is this true?
10. The latest development is that the unions
have got activated and are seeking to re-establish
the former Sri Lanka Tourist Board and do away with
the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority and the
Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau; they also seek
to have the Tourism Act of 2005 repealed. Won’t
this be a huge setback for the industry?
11. We have over the years seen millions being spent
on promotion without the desired results. Do you
believe there is no better promoter than a satisfied
customer and if we only invest in the tourist we
shall reap rich rewards?
ADIC on the mat
The photos that were said to be from the
Hikkaduwa Fest were found to be doctored using
By Risidra Mendis
The mystery behind the circulation of the
controversial nude photos of youngsters at the
Hikkaduwa Beach Festival 2009 has been unravelled,
with the arrest of an official of the Tourism
Ministry and three employees of the Alcohol and Drug
Information Centre (ADIC).
The Sunday Leader issue of September 13 it was made
known that some doctored photos were being
circulated in the country as part of the Hikkaduwa
Beach Festival. Organisers of the event also
revealed to The Sunday Leader that these photos were
not part of the Hikkaduwa Beach Festival but was
part of a mud slinging campaign by another party.
The Hikkaduwa Beach Festival 2009 and one of the
largest to be held in South Asia brought together
locals and foreigners for four days. The Beach
Festival has generated an income of Rs. 160 million
and exceeded last year’s revenue of Rs. 120 million.
The Tourism Promotion Bureau and the Hikkaduwa
Tourist Service Providers Association (HTSPA)
organised this event.
Originated from the Tourism Ministry
The Sunday Leader learns that even though three
employees of ADIC were first arrested by the
Criminal Investigation Department (CID), the
original email with the doctored nude photos was
originated by an official in the Tourism Ministry.
The original email with the nude photos was
allegedly sent by an official in the Tourism
Ministry on August 6 under the subject ‘Hikkaduwa
Beach Party.’ On August 11, Amaranath Oswald Bandara,
Malith Pradeep Silva and Derrick Samantha Guruge of
ADIC received this same email circulated by the
Meanwhile the Tourism Ministry had made a complaint
to the police with regard to the circulation of
these nude photos. But even though the origin of the
first email could be traced according to the latest
technology, the CID during their investigations
traced the controversial email to the ADIC office
and Bandara, Silva and Guruge were arrested, for
removing the subject line (Hikkaduwa Breach Party)
and pasting it in the middle of the nude photos and
forwarding the email to others.
However according to the latest investigations by
the CID it was revealed that Sanath Lakmal
Subasinghe of the Tourism Ministry first circulated
the email with the nude photos.
official from the Tourism Promotion Ministry told
The Sunday Leader that three employees of ADIC and
one employee from the Tourism Ministry were remanded
till October 6. “We are very happy that the CID was
able to arrest those responsible for this email as
we repeatedly said these nude photos were not from
the Beach Festival. These photos were circulated
prior to the Beach Festival. I cannot comment on the
fact that the JVP is behind this incident,” the
Tourism Promotion Ministry official said.
Executive Director, ADIC, Pubudu Sumanasekara said,
on September 16 officers from the CID visited ADIC
and after some inquiries arrested three employees (a
middle management level officer and two junior staff
members) having alleged that they were involved in
the preparation and distribution of a false email
containing a picture and certain graphics and giving
a false impression of the recently concluded
Hikkaduwa Beach Festival.
Produced before court
“The CID also took away three computers of ADIC for
further investigation. After two days the three ADIC
employees were produced before the Magistrate’s
Court and placed in remand custody. ADIC wishes to
specifically state that the origination, preparation
and distribution of this email containing false
photographs which is at the centre of controversy
did not originate from ADIC.
“Internal inquiries into this incident have revealed
that on August 11 the wife of one of the arrested
employees had transmitted to him a mail which
contained the caption “FW OWC: Hikkaduwa Beach
Party.” According to the body of this email it had
been received by this lady on August 7 from a person
at the Tourism Ministry. It is also evident that
this employee at the Tourism Ministry had received
the original email from another employee also at the
Tourism Ministry. The original email had been sent
out on August 6 from the Tourism Ministry inclusive
of six photographs and with the caption “Hikkaduwa
Beach Party,” Sumanasekara said.
added that the ADIC employee who received the email
from his wife appears to have with the assistance of
the ADIC graphic artist amalgamated four photographs
and made certain graphical changes bringing in
inter-alia a part of the caption of the mail he
received into the body of the main photograph and
some additional words and graphical additions.
Modified the mail
“Thereafter the third employee from ADIC appears to
have sent the modified mail to several parties. It
is indeed unfortunate and regrettable that the
contents of this email sent gives an erroneous
impression of the Hikkaduwa Beach Festival.
“ADIC wishes to specifically state that the acts
described above by the three ADIC employees though
done using ADIC computers had been performed in
their private capacities and certainly not in their
official positions or in execution of instructions
from the senior management of ADIC. The preparation
and distribution of the second mail was not in
furtherance to ADIC’s programmes, projects or
“In fact the three employees in the presence of ADIC
staff informed the CID that they designed and
distributed the email in their personal capacity and
that other staff and the senior management of ADIC
were unaware of what they did,” Sumanasekara
In violation of rules
added that the conduct of the relevant employees is
in violation of the internal rules of conduct of
ADIC and that the Board of Governors of ADIC had
decided to take stern disciplinary action against
“Even before the three employees were arrested by
the CID, I made a statement to the CID that ADIC’s
senior management was not aware of this incident.
The CID when reporting facts to the Magistrate’s
Court did not allege any complicity on the part of
ADIC relating to the conduct of the three employees.
“Legal Counsel representing ADIC also brought this
matter to the attention of the Magistrate. However
in view of the fact that the impugned conduct is
that of three ADIC employees, and ADIC equipment has
been used, ADIC deeply regrets the embarrassment
caused to the organisers of this event.
“However it maybe noted that the original email
which contained the relevant false photographs had
originated from within the Tourism Ministry itself,”