The Sunday Leader

Lessons To Be Learnt For The Hambantota Games

The noveau riche (new rich) always try to keep up with the Joneses. We Sri Lankans are noveau riche now — at least we are told so. We are about to be placed in the ‘middle income’ group of countries. Ours is a Land of the Rising GDP.
The sun is shining through the monsoon clouds; stock market is ticking away like a tourist hotel taxi meter. Airports and harbours are being opened up like bus stands and public toilets, roads are being widened and improved to make them fit enough for Formula One racing and double the number of people killed earlier. Flyovers are flying over despite the caustic comments of Ravi Karunanayake. Everything is rosy in the garden of Mahinda Rajapaksa except of course that Rosy, the loyal UNPer, is still in Ranil’s garden.

Can’t say paang

And like the noveau riche we have to keep up with the Joneses next door — the Indians. They staged the 72 nation Commonwealth Games this month. Never mind it was a rotten show but it could well be our turn to host the next Commonwealth Games in 2018. Also forget the fact that they are a sub-continent with 1.2 billion people and with some of the richest in the world — the Tatas, Ambanis and Mittals — having had growth rates of around 8 per cent GDP for years.  We are not a sub-continent but only a speck in the Indian Ocean but we are a mighty atom.
Our growth rate was only 4 per cent last year but our wizard in the Central Bank, Cabraal says next year we will be hovering around 7 per cent. Officially we don’t have billionaires but unofficially it is anybody’s guess. In this blooming and booming democratic (some say autocratic) capitalist nirvana everything appears to be heavenly save we have not had our favourite pol sambol and paang for months, with a coconut at Rs. 50 and a paang gedi also around Rs. 50. These are mere aberrations in an efficient capitalist economy moving smoothly, we are told.

If NZ can’t, yes we can

2018 may seem a long way off, but we are the front runners to host the next Commonwealth Games (CWG). A recent issue of the Sunday Star Times of Auckland (October 20) says that the New Zealand government had cried a halt to the country’s bid to host the Games in Auckland and thanks God for it. Auckland could have easily hosted the event with the ‘only likely rival being Hambantota in Sri Lanka’ and even though reasons for hosting the games were compelling on paper, the problem was that the government had estimated a net loss of $ 600 million, the paper says.
We are not aware of the cost of the Hambantota Games but perhaps New Zealand estimates could give us an approximate indication. But why should we follow these foreigners? We are a sovereign and independent nation. Never mind the billions of dollars.

The Indian debacle

Perhaps the Lessons Learnt Committee should invite some pundits from New Delhi to tell us what went wrong with their CWG on which they spent billions of dollars and which they had many years to plan for. We have not been able to figure out the total expenditure involved in this Indian fiasco but some of the expenditure cited is staggering. Suresh Kalmadi, Chairman of the Organising Committee who was the target of major allegations had been quoted that the Games raised less than its sponsorship target of $ 85 million. Big Indian state owned enterprises; Railways, Central Bank of India, Air India were sponsors and also from the private sector were equally powerful names: Tissot, Tata Motors, Coca Cola and Reebok. Two sponsors, NPT Ltd (India’s biggest power producer) decided to scrap its $7million sponsorship while Power Grid of India backed out of its Rs. 100 million contract because of negative publicity surrounding the event.
The Government of India spent $ 4.6 billion upgrading stadiums, refurbishing roads, building overhead passes and water utilities.  We did feel sorry for our neighbours who had made a great effort and spent billions of dollars to make it a success. Even on the last day before the inauguration it was not certain whether some events could be held and Western TV channels gleefully showed frantic Indian workers — women squatting down in the sarees — just like ours, preparing the track. Nonetheless the Games took off on schedule — like an Indian wedding ceremony coming off on the last day, Indian commentators said. But even though they gained some kind of satisfaction it delighted Western officials and commentators to see India in a spot. It in a way proved their belief that ‘the natives’ cannot carry out jobs of such complexity and magnitude.

Coming out party

The Commonwealth Games was the coming out party for resurgent India — a spiraling economy and a nuclear power. China had staged a magnificent Olympic Games, confounding predictions of all Western critics. It was now the turn of the other Asian power. Plainly this was only showcasing India and not to demonstrate the athletic prowess of Indian athletes who had given no such indications.
India despite its spurt in economic development after taking to the open economy still retains much of what former American ambassador to India and famed academic John Kenneth Galbraith called a ‘functioning anarchy’. Much of the Nehruvian socialism has disappeared but instead has come in vigorous crony capitalism. In the years of preparation for the Games contracts were given and even though stringent conditions were specified, whether they were insisted on remains much in doubt. Schedules were not kept and this is possible only under a corrupt bureaucratic system.
Delayed implementation and faulty construction is papered over by bureaucratic corruption and tolerated at a very high level by the political bureaucracy. An event like the Olympics and CWG requires precision construction, and adherence to deadlines and when the mega projects involving billions of dollars come to a head, the ‘functioning anarchy’ falls apart. We are not familiar with the ways in which the corruption machine of our neighbour works but we are well aware that both countries share a common lackadaisical and common corrupt culture. The higher echelons of the Indian bureaucracy and politicians overcome with patriotism and perhaps chauvinism as well, wanted to showcase India. But what happened was it mirrored how India  in reality works, according to an excellent article published last week in The Hindu by P. Sainath.

Reality and illusions

There are lessons to be learnt from sports jamborees as well as political jamborees. A basic lesson is that irrespective of the billions of dollars spent on attempts at showcasing, it can only result in the true mirror image being exposed.
Breaking down of huts of the poor, translocating beggars to places where they cannot be seen, covering up  hideous sites with delightfully painted canvasses cannot hide the state of the country. Perhaps Minister A.H.M. Fowzie, one of the last survivors of the  much drummed up non aligned conference (he was called Pelpath Kadapi) held in Colombo and can  tell about it all to precocious young bucks like Namal Rajapaksa that transforming reality into fantasies — however  much the amount of dollars  spent — is an impossibility.
Before commitment to the tantalizing prospect of the Hambantota Games is made, it is essential to consider whether such games can be held in a rural backwater with a scant  population despite recent constructions and all the family enthusiasm. Can Sri Lanka afford to spend millions or even billions of dollars for an event that will last only a few days and soon be forgotten?  For whose benefit is all this? Do we have enough funds to go on such extravaganzas while around 45 per cent of the people are below the poverty line? Have we forgotten austerity in public life?

5 Comments for “Lessons To Be Learnt For The Hambantota Games”

  1. billy

    as usual the slogan is ” yes we can’t”

  2. maalupan

    another tamaasha in of the Rajapissa’a.

  3. Bala

    Before we bid for the games, I suggest we fix the very fragile sewer system in and around Colombo.( Greater Colombo). Only few know but houses in Fairfiled Gardens in Borella has cess pits ( no sewer) . So are many in Colombo muncipal limits. Another important thing is to examine the heads of the people who proposed holding Hambantota Games and provide appropriate counselling and medicine. Otherwise they will propose for the next will be Olympic games and World Cup soccer. As Gamini Weerakoon has mentioned India , now a very wealthy country by any means ( otherwise how could they afford 6 $US billion ?) is no match for Sri Lanka. We have not learnt our lessons.

  4. ashok

    The problem with Sri Lanka is the attitudes of people.Some behaviours of people need to be changed to call us a civilized society.Changing of Governments have nothing to do with that.See how people drive in our streets.See how they use public toilets.See how they spray “Bulath Kela from moving vehicles or at everywhere! I think the bane of or backwardness and economical under developments all as a result of attitudes of our people.Not a single country in the world university graduates are asking for the jobs from the government.We get free education and then the jobs too.This is ridiculous.

  5. LJaya

    This could be another IIFA if government failed to plan properly without considering the econonic benefit. A developing country, recovering from 30 year civil war cannot afford such losses at the expence of the will of few in power.

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