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Terrorism, tourism and failed leaders

08 May 2019 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

Last week, Sri Lanka Tourism chief Kishu Gomes vent his frustration when he saw that committee after committee was being appointed by the President and Prime Minister as if they were having a mini contest to look into how Sri Lanka’s tourism industry could be revived from the fallout of the Easter Sunday bombings by a home-grown but possibly foreign-trained jihadist group.

Gomes did not mince words to point out that this political drama could yield no result unless and until a single national-level committee is appointed with wider stakeholder representation and expressed his fears that too many committees could hinder the industry’s chances for a quick recovery. Gomes, who was the local boss of a US-based multinational for a long period with a proven track record, is a no stranger to Colombo business circles and his appointment to lead Sri Lanka’s tourism establishment was hailed by many. 

Anyone coming from the highest levels of the private sector is well aware of the skullduggeries of both the private and public sectors and more so of the futile nature of these so-called committees, which are nothing but temporary diversions to avoid dealing with the problems at hand. Besides, hardly you see the recommendations made by these committees getting implemented. Hence, Gomes was right in calling for a single committee that represents all relevant stakeholders to devise a time-bounded plan with short, medium and long-term action plans to lift the country’s tourism industry, following the deadliest blow it received in the industry’s history on Easter Sunday.  

Even at the height of the three-decade-old war with the LTTE terrorists, the tourism industry did not reach its nadir as the guerrillas never attacked tourist hotels and or tourists as they sought western support for their cause. As Gomes has clearly indicated, what is required now is a coordinated strategy and a synchronised effort from all sections and parties irrespective of their political and personal differences, to restore the tourism industry. 

There is no better time for Sri Lanka’s political leaders at least to temporarily overlook the bipartisan politics and come out as one voice to deal with the situation as tourism remains Sri Lanka’s second largest foreign exchange earner and the industry employs thousands of Sri Lankans.But the widening differences between President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe could hinder the chances for a quick tourism industry revival and getting the country’s security situation and economy back on track. 

It was only the other day that the country’s current dispensation received a holy slap from Archbishop of Colombo Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith as he was not satisfied with the security measures undertaken thus far.  His words and thoughts struck a chord with the masses at large, who is now compelled to ask the question whether the current administration could handle the crisis situation at hand. The hesitance of parents sending their children to schools, despite the government’s assurance of safety, also shows the lack of trust the citizenry has towards their political leadership.  

Even after the massacre of over 250 innocent people, including over three dozen of tourists in a string of cold-blooded attacks, the government took nearly a week to proscribe the extremist Islamic organisation responsible for this heinous crime and ban the face covering garments, which has been identified as a social divider and a threat to national security by many countries world over. 

Even after two weeks since the attacks, not a single day has passed without some spine-chilling discoveries by the security forces of recovery of large cache of explosives, weapons, safe houses and training centres and various types of garments stored to carry out future attacks.The intelligence agencies continue to come up with shocking revelations as part of their ongoing investigations and such indicate that these terrorists had thrived during the last few years as a result of a security vacuum created by the complacency of the current regime. 
Hence, going forward, Sri Lanka needs to get its priorities right. Sri Lanka, which fought a 30-year-old war, cannot soft-peddle on national security for at least another 30 years. The country is now paying a hefty price for taking national security for granted. It is glaringly evident that Sri Lanka’s state mechanism has been weakened deliberately and the administrators have got their priorities mixed up for the sake of an imported version of reconciliation, which has yielded nothing but creating a vacuum for extremist elements to flourish. 

Therefore, we call upon the political leadership of this country to put national security at the forefront and put their petty politics and greediness for votes behind at least for now for the sake of a peaceful and safe Sri Lanka. We also would like to tell Gomes and others in the tourism sector that there is no hurry and no harm taking the hit in the short term than risking many more precious lives of tourists, who equally love this country, its culture, people, beaches, flora and fauna, by inviting them before the security situation is fully restored. Let us all rally behind our virulent security forces to wipe out the menace of religious extremism of any kind as they did with terrorism for once and for all because we might not get a better opportunity than this to clear this mess.That could well be the strongest PR campaign Sri Lanka Tourism could ever think of.



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