Beauty blemished by the beast

Once again, Sri Lanka has been named the “World’s Best Island” – this time by Travel+Leisure magazine, which published the result based on a survey of its readers. It’s time we start believing what those outside are telling us about our island home. It’s time we step up to do our part in building a country that remains worthy of these honours.

That tourism has been the hardest hit since Easter Sunday is a given – arrival numbers for April, May, and June have fallen dramatically year-on-year, and the industry has already seen retrenchments and closures. While negotiations continue among stakeholders over the length and breadth of financial relief requested and offered, the greater need is to manage the country’s image, especially in key source markets, to offer greater assurance to potential travellers.

If economic resurgence is a national priority, and bringing tourism back on its feet is an economic priority, then positive image management is in national interest. But, so little has been done so far despite the opportunity presented by the crisis for a moment of cohesion and solidarity.

The worst offenders when it comes to image management have been the Government itself. Having been caught on the wrong foot by letting its guard down and allowing extremist terrorism to spread its vile roots, it seems the State’s new modus operandi is to compensate for its intelligence failures by being perhaps a little too transparent about the wrong things.

You may wonder why a newspaper would find fault with transparency instead of promoting it. But any responsible citizen would understand the need to balance transparency with national interest. It is sense and not censorship that must prevail.

For a country striving to be seen as safe, friendly, and inviting, it hardly inspires confidence when each week, several reports emerge of new discoveries and arrests connected to the bombings. Assurances that the terror networks have been demobilised do little to make people safe when new evidence of their complexity keeps arousing new fears. Some things may be better left unsaid – and perhaps it’s time we left the military and intelligence community to discharge their duty discreetly and prudently.

The administration chooses discretion when it suits its needs. A good example is its silence and defence of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the US. Just last week, the newly appointed Chairman of the Ceylon Chamber of the Commerce Dr. Hans Wijayasuriya had his credibility and motives questioned by the Prime Minister’s Office for daring to seek clarification on the agreements with the intent to reduce public speculation. That the PM and his secretary chose to take the widely respected Dr. Wijayasuriya head on reflects a clever diversion tactic that is often resorted to by those in power when they choose secrecy over transparency.

The image management imbroglio is just one of the many lamentable predicaments we find ourselves in thanks to dysfunction and discord within the administration. It really is time that the public, led by the private sector, rise up to create the country we want; we must take greater control of how the world sees us and by doing so, invite more of the world to come see us.