Editorial/Opinion

Politics of destruction

We Sri Lankans have a knack for shooting ourselves in the foot and blaming everyone else for the self-inflicted pain. Take for instance the three-decade-old war, which in effect could have been prevented if the post-independence rulers were more circumspect in handling the minority issues.
After the bitter lessons the war taught this nation, it would have been reasonable to expect that the country’s post-war leaders would be wiser to the machinations of extremist elements, whose only agenda through the years has been to rouse ethnic hatred.
Today’s political leaders, from whatever hue, have been dabbling in politics for at least four decades and have seen both the best and the worst that this country has gone through. Maithripala Sirisena, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and Mahinda Rajapaksa are all in their late sixties or early seventies and are complicit in one way or the other in what has gone wrong in this country.
Yet, despite this, they harbour no qualms about resorting to the same old game of playing the ethnic card either by commission or omission, depending on the requirement.
Today, the seeds are being sown for ethnic confrontation between the Sinhalese and the Muslims using the same old shenanigans while the leaders look the other way.
In fact, the very same people who sow these seeds of racial disharmony are the very ones conducting rallies protesting that the Government is not doing anything to stem the growing racial discord while the Government does what it does best – nothing. This double game of unscrupulous politicians is nothing new, but the fact that ordinary people keep getting fooled by them is certainly cause for concern.
It has been apparent for some time now that the current leaders of the two main parties who are supposed to work in unison are pulling in different directions. While the Prime Minister and his government have been trying to get the sputtering economy back on the rails, the President on the other hand, has either by design or default, dug pit after pit for the economy to crash into. He is obviously under the impression that a bankrupt economy under the stewardship of the so-called economic wizardry of the UNP, will keep them off the electoral equation for some time.
He may be right in that assumption and half of this hatchet job has already been executed. While the thinking may be as juvenile as it can possibly be, he has not spared a thought for the long-term sustainability of the national economy which continues to be at the mercy of international lenders. It is this fragile economy that has been forced to bear so many body blows in the recent past, all of which have been self-inflicted.
Take for instance the tourism industry. Sri Lanka is a country that has been blessed with every conceivable resource to thrive and prosper just by peddling these assets. Yet, even with the whole world applauding and acclaiming Sri Lanka’s tourism potential, going so far as declaring it the top destination to visit in 2019, one man has been instrumental in decimating all that groundswell of goodwill to sweet nothing.
One may recall how just last year, when the tourism industry was preparing for a bumper winter season, the President did the unthinkable by sacking the Government and causing a political storm that grabbed global media attention for all the wrong reasons. The result? Thousands of cancellations and another bleak winter for tourism.
Then, just as the industry was raising its head again, the Easter Sunday attacks took place, which is now becoming increasingly apparent could have been prevented had those in authority done their job.
Now, with the President deciding to arbitrarily re-introduce the death penalty, Sri Lanka is once again in the global news headlines for all the wrong reasons.
It is completely unfathomable that the country’s President is oblivious to the sensitivities of the tourism industry where even the slightest negative incident or headline can, overnight, translate into thousands of cancelations in bookings.
Many countries, especially in this part of the world, owe their economic prosperity to tourism. Take Maldives for instance, though the numbers maybe comparatively lower, they have created a niche market and now the entire economy is dependent on tourism.
Take Singapore for example – a country with absolutely no natural resources, is today, a tourism hotspot earning billions of dollars. The same goes for Dubai, where the barren desert was turned into a super luxury oasis that is thriving on investor dollars.
The successes of the tourism industry in all these countries have been due to the singular reason of consistent policy. Every arm of government supports the industry and works in concert to ensure visitors keep coming back.
Unfortunately for Sri Lanka, government policy keeps changing and regulatory bodies rarely have the interests of the industry at heart. One only needs to look at the top – at the PM and President to be specific – to see where we are going wrong.
Although a controversial subject, alcohol is an integral part of the tourism industry in any part of the world, including in the more cosmopolitan Arab world. Yet, it seems to be fashionable for the Government of Sri Lanka, in all its wisdom, to clamp down on making alcohol available to tourists.
Given the self-inflicted injuries to the economy and the restriction of revenue potential, it is unlikely that the Government will be in a position to achieve the budgeted revenue targets. The immediate consequence will be to borrow more to bridge the shortfall. This vicious cycle will go on as long as our politicians only look toward their short-term electoral gain and in the process drag the country towards a debt trap.
As far as tourism is concerned, Sri Lanka is having its moment in the sun but if the one at the top doesn’t see the light, it will be lights out for the industry. It is time that the politics of destruction stopped for at least the sake of the future generations.