By Chandeepa Wettasinghe
Government authorities have become the tourists in the previously thriving tourism hotspot of Mirissa, as overenthusiastic inter-agency cooperation has led to a crackdown in the region following two consecutive cases of sexual assault and assault on tourists by locals.
“Right now we’ve really benefited from it. We’re all over Mirissa beach. There are a few cops every few hundred yards and Mirissa is dead. So, nothing cool happening there,” Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority Chairman Kavan Ratnayake said.
He described the events, which occurred in Mirissa as a positive development, which has brought attention to a serious problem, and created enough anxiety for inter-agency cooperation, even though he speculated that the tourism industry wouldn’t necessarily have similar views as his.
However, Jetwing Group Chairman Hiran Cooray endorsed this view, as did The Hotels Association of Sri Lanka Chairman Sanath Ukwatte, who said that similar attacks have been happening all over the coastal belt for quite some time, since most offenders are protected by political forces.
Meanwhile, Ratnayake said that perhaps it is now time to let Mirissa become a tourism spot once again. “So maybe, we have to backtrack and fix it. Excise has raided the place, Inland Revenue is all over it. So there’s too much cooperation. So we will have to fix it slowly, and then bring it back,” he said.
The response time of the Excise Department has been even slower than that of the other agencies which had responded, since as recently as last Friday, Tourism Development and Christian Religious Affairs Minister John Amaratunga said that the Excise Department was not responding to requests of his ministry to take action on one establishment selling alcohol illegally, where one of the incidents had occurred.
Amaratunga had blamed the Excise Department for most of the unfortunate incidents occurring all across the coastal belt, since the police is powerless to stop the illegal operation of bars and the illegal sale of alcohol, and most of the offenders do not follow the legally imposed time restrictions on liquor sales, causing excessive inebriation among patrons which lead to altercations.
Sri Lanka Association of Inbound Tour Operators President Harith Fernando yesterday said that compared to a Rs.250,000 liquor license that small establishments should purchase annually, the quarterly fine for operating without such a license is just Rs.3,000, with the law promoting illegal but cost-effective sale of alcohol.
Meanwhile, the Coast Conservation Department has also joined in on the crackdown, by vowing to destroy all illegally constructed tourism establishments along the beaches in Mirissa by next Tuesday, and all across the country during the remainder of May.
However, Provincial Councils and Local Government Minister and Acting Sports Minister Faizer Musthapha has opposed the move, citing the destruction of the livelihoods of the owners and employers of such establishments.