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On The Spot

 
No miracle


Minister Nandana Gunatilleke —
 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?

A: 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?

A: The then JVP neither killed tourism nor did anything wrong to the industry but always worked towards the betterment of the leisure sector.

Fidel Castro of Cuba 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.

Now I 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 party.         

Q: Is the industry currently facing a crisis situation?

A: 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.

I have 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.

I 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.

I 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?

A: Certainly yes.  I very much need their help, as this is a private sector driven industry.

 Q: Should not the private sector be brought in as an executive partner to help manage the industry?

A: 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 agendas.

It is 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 Tourism Ministry.   

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?

A: 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.

How 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?

A: 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.

There 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.

I know 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 country.

That 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 industry?

A: 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 government.

As a 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 rewards?

A: 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 product.

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.

I had 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.

In 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

A 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 of Tourism.

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 Management.

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 development.

Millions spent on promotion

We 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.”

We 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.

We 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 


Faizer Mustapha

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?

2. Do you agree that the JVP almost killed tourism in the late ’80s and early ’90s?

3. As Tourism Promotion Minister how exactly do you intend to restructure this very vital sector?

4.  Is the industry currently facing a crisis situation?

5. Are you and Minister Nandana Gunatilleke at loggerheads?

6. 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?

8. Why did Prema Cooray (regarded as an authority in the hotel trade) and Cornel Perera tender their resignations?

9. 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 ADIC computers

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).

In 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 Tourism Ministry.

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.

CID investigations

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.

An 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.

He 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 activities.

“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 explained.

In violation of rules

He 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 these employees.

 “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,” Sumanasekara said.

 

 
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