Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Volkswagen!
- The Catholic Church had initially objected to the construction of the tree saying it was a waste of money which could have been put to better use
- Weerawansa however said that Ports Authority staff were involved in the construction work and were getting paid from the Ports Authority
- However in just a matter of a couple of weeks after signing the agreement, on September 3, 2015 Volkswagen, after months of denial, had admitted to the EPA in the US that they had cheated on emissions tests on some of their diesel models in the US
One was about the world’s largest Christmas tree and Galle Face and the other the vehicle manufacturing plant in Kuliyapitiya.
While much hype was made over the construction of the world’s largest Christmas tree at Galle Face green, it was found last week that the record is yet to be formally recognised as Sri Lanka has not sought recognition from Guinness World Records.
In order to be recognised as a world record an application must be submitted to Guinness World Records Ltd, considered to be the ultimate authority in record breaking achievements.
The largest artificial Christmas tree recognised by Guinness World Records measures 55 metres (180.4 feet) and was achieved by GZ ThinkBig Culture Communication Co., Ltd. (China), in Guangzhou, Guangdong, China on December 25, 2015.
The tree in China measures 56 m (183.4 ft), including the star on top. The diameter of the bottom of the tree is 22 m, and the circumference is 69 m. The tree was covered with green synthetic foliage and decorated with ornaments and lamps.
Sri Lanka went past the record on December 24 with the tree at Galle Face green despite a short delay in completing the work as a result of some opposition to the construction of the tree.
Constructed at an estimated $200,000, the tree drew the spotlight of the international media but not the record books.
“We haven’t had an application made for this specific record. This is a great achievement and we would encourage them (authorities) to make an application via our website for us to be able to ratify this if successful,” Amber-Georgina Gill, the UK and International Press Officer of Guinness World Records Ltd told The Sunday Leader.
The Catholic Church had initially objected to the construction of the tree saying it was a waste of money which could have been put to better use.
The Christian community in Sri Lanka had also expressed disappointment at the construction of the Christmas tree.
“We are saddened to note the latest addition to the celebrations in the erection of the tallest ‘Christmas Tree’ in the world at Galle Face Green. What is alarming and disturbing is the fact that the placement and location of this giant ‘Christmas Tree’ with all its glamour and splendour, purposefully and discreetly hides the pride of human sin in the ‘Port City Development’. This development project raises serious questions and will have severe consequences on the environment, livelihoods and the displacement of our people,” the Christian community had said in joint statement.
The issue was also raised in Parliament with opposition Parliamentarian Wimal Weerawansa saying Ports Authority was spending state funds to construct the tree.
However Ports and Shipping Minister Arjuna Ranatunga clarified that the world’s tallest Christmas tree was constructed at Galle Face with funds from a private company.
Weerawansa however said that Ports Authority staff were involved in the construction work and were getting paid from the Ports Authority.
Work on the tree later resumed following talks with the Catholic Church.
Even after being dismantled local officials can make an application via the Guinness World Records website and submit their evidence for the records management team to review in house.
“They will need a combination of measurements, photographic and video evidence, witness statements for the team to be able to adjudicate this attempt,” Amber-Georgina Gill said.
While China had the tallest artificial Christmas tree, according to Guinness, the world’s tallest cut Christmas tree was a 67.36 m (221 ft) Douglas fir (Pseudotsga menziesii) erected and decorated at Northgate Shopping Center, Seattle, Washington, USA, in December 1950.
The largest Christmas tree structure is 127.99 m (419.91 ft) tall and was achieved by Energisa Sergipe – Distribuidora de Energia S/A (Brazil) with a creation presented in Aracaju, Sergipe, Brazil in December 2009. The structure was decorated with 25,200 redhot lights and 3,144 strobe lights.
Volkswagen plant not Volkswagen
Meanwhile, a local television report forced the government to quickly prevent a damaging image being given to the administration.
The television report had a spokesperson at Volkswagen as saying that Volkswagen does not have any direct investments in Sri Lanka at the moment.
Kurunegala District Parliamentarian and Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam told The Sunday Leader the government never said the vehicle assembly plant in Kuliyapitiya is by Volkswagen.
Some government statements had however claimed that the Kuliyapitiya vehicle assembly plant is by Volkswagen.
President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe placed the foundation stone last week for the construction of the vehicle assembly plant in Kuliyapitiya.
Meanwhile, in a post on his Facebook, Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva said that he was responsible for the initiation of the Kuliyapitiya project and that the project was to involve Volkswagen.
“In my new job as the Deputy Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs I met with the then Ambassador of Germany Dr. Jurgen Morhard in Early January, 2015. At this meeting the Ambassador indicated that Volkswagen had attempted to set up a plant in Sri Lanka since 2008 but failed due to ‘various’ reasons. I indicated to him that we would be delighted to have VW set up a plant in Sri Lanka and we initiated discussions between the Government and the company. Having initiated the possible investment, the Ambassador and I moved out. In that, handed over the responsibility to the implementing parties and the policy ministry at the time was not an implementation office, rather a planning office. We were told the discussions continued among the various stakeholders locally. We were informed that Volkswagen’s local agent Senok Automobiles representing the car maker negotiated terms with several government authorities to get necessary clearances,” he said.
In mid-August 2015 BOI and Senok Automobiles signed an agreement to establish an assembly plant for Volkswagen in Kuliyapitiya.
However in just a matter of a couple of weeks after signing the agreement, on September 3, 2015 Volkswagen, after months of denial, had admitted to the EPA in the US that they had cheated on emissions tests on some of their diesel models in the US. On September 18, 2015, the EPA went public with this admission of guilt.
Soon thereafter the VW stock crashed and the senior management was fired. Later some 30,000 jobs were cut and it has thus far cost the carmaker some US$ 18 billion in losses.
“This scandal that rocked VW was a complete shock to everyone, obviously including us in Sri Lanka. Apparently Senok Automobiles who had signed for VW had attempted to save the agreement and continue with the investment as planned. However, at one point, I believe after many negotiations, the Government had decided it would be better not to go with a dedicated VW assembly plant due to possible legal issues that could crop up due to the massive fallout from their emissions scam. This we knew today when the PM explained the sequence of events to us,” the Deputy Minister said.
He said that given the BOI agreement had still been in place with Senok Automobiles for the original VW assembly they had rescued the project by agreeing with the BOI to go ahead to establish the plant to assemble various makes of European automobiles.
“At this point the BOI should have announced to the press the change. It’s unfortunate it was not done as all of us were caught by surprise and now have to face this allegation of attempting to hide facts,” he added.
The Deputy Minister said that the vehicle assembly plant was then renamed Western Automobile and the foundation stone was laid for an automobile assembly.
“At no point at the foundation laying ceremony (which I could not attend) had there been any mention of the plant being for VW. In fact since I moved out of my earlier portfolio of Deputy Minister of Policy Planning and Economic Affairs to the new one in the Foreign Ministry in August 2015, I had no dealings with the project and was sincerely unaware of the various changes until it was explained today. I would appreciate that fact be respected before plunging in to accusation of hoodwinking. However if the BOI explained the changes when they happened it would have been a lot better,” he said.
The Deputy Minister noted that as a country Sri Lanka can be satisfied that the assembly plant is being established and many jobs will be created besides thousands of training opportunities for young people.