CHASING TOURISTS AWAY – SO TRUE
Posted on July 11th, 2009

ASOKA S.

I cannot help thinking that many Lankans have a perception that Investors and Tourists should come to Lanka no matter what because we are the most beautiful island in the world or we offer to them something no other country does. This “frog in the well” attitude coupled with mismanagement at the highest levels have brought us where we are today; still one of the poorest countries in the world without even a stretch of a 10 mile decent road to travel on or worst still without a decent public toilet to go to in the capital city.

I totally agree with the sentiments expressed on Tilak Fernando’s story. My wife traveled back from Lanka in May and she experienced the same 100 meter bus trip from the check point to the terminal but during that time van passengers had to get off and take the bus while cars could proceed. My wife had to produce her passport which is fully understandable but the military officer also asked her “what do you do in ………?” to which my wife answered “nothing I just look after my kids at home” even though she works full time. She did so because she felt the officer asks or probes irrelevant questions at his wish. The people around her too were visibly annoyed with the veracity and attitude of this officer they all giggled

The ordeal tourists go through in Lanka is nothing new. I remember way back in 80’s as a young student I was traveling back to England and the few tourists were harassed in the same manner at the airport they mumbled that “now we know what is the worst country in the world to visit” That was Mrs. B’s time and we were true beggars then possibly in the 4th world league.

True we should not compare a developing country like ours to the standards of a highly developed country but in my opinion the issue here is mis- management.

The manager who is in charge of the check point should have trained the check point and bus personnel in how they should go about this very delicate procedure particularly with regard to the tourists who is our bread and butter. He can use a video presentation to demonstrate, and training can be just half hour-nothing fancy.

As a person who was connected to the Tourist Industry in the nineties I once took part in a large seminar attended by hoteliers in Bentara area that was graced by the Minister of Tourism and a whole army of officials and local politicians. It lasted a good better part of the day in a luxury hotel (so many politicians wasting their public paid salaries doing nothing but enjoying 5 star lunches) . The officials one after the other was lecturing the hoteliers about good environmental practices and highlighting new laws. One agitated hotelier had a simple question. ” why is that Aluthgama town which is a tourist hub is so filthy with thambili shells, cow dung and garbage and fish waste strewn all over stinking to high heavens while you guys are preaching to us about the environmental responsibilities?” . The minister referred this matter to the local Pradeshiya sabha chairman whose answer was there was no place to dump the garbage to which the entire audience laughed.

Why on earth is he sitting there wasting public money without trying to figure out a way to clean up the little town was the million dollar question. Or better still get out so that somebody more competent can handle the matter fast.

I wonder how many of the tourists who close their nose cuz of the stench would return to spend their hard earned dollars when clean, sanitary and welcoming golden beaches of Thailand, Maldives (or hundreds of well established resorts worldwide) are crying for their greenback.

This little example applies to all spheres in our beautiful country where elected and appointed people are sitting on desks blowing smoke while common sense solutions to every day problems are ignored by those who are responsible. I remember my visit to Maharagama Pradeshiya Sabha Office two years ago where thousands of people line up to get a simple permit, etc., but being turned away by line employees as the cases have not been approved. None of the people in charge (managers) are at the desk and the little sign outside their offices says “out.” Where on earth is the accountability? Where is the GA who runs these places? His office sign says “out” too I suppose.

Just outside this pathetic office lies a man size plaque advertising President Premadasa opening this office “in the service of the people” and a good dozen henchmen politicians names are on that too. All is a joke as the very mission of the place has gone to dogs. But I have no doubt that Prize Premadasa meant everything he said on that plaque as he was a man who produced results.

I mentioned the latter case because they both have a common denominator which is poor management. At the heart of management lies results and accountability. This is where government run places are pathetic because there is no accountability. In poor counties like ours Minister’s Brother in Law ends up running these places. This is also why in some countries like the USA and New Zealand, many of government business like the DMV and even the post office are run by the private sector in search of better overhaul performance always remembering to meet the people’s needs efficiently. They don’t perform – they lose the business-as simple as that.

As a brand new morning dawns on Lanka with no more Killers on the streets, the President also may want to re evaluate the possibility of bringing to the forefront a new generation of leaders with fresh ideas and outlook. The Gamini Lokuges, Dinesh Gunawardenes, M H Mohammed and the old guard have done their service. It is time for another team to run the show keeping in line with the 21st century and move Lanka in a different direction.

Or else all the ambitious goals of the government will be just day dreams. Average Lankan people will be at the receiving end. The rich and the powerful will always be fine.

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