- Opposition Leader says treatment of Geoffrey Dobbs will be a big blow to investor confidence and tourism
The Founder of the Galle Literary Festival, Australian Citizen Geoffrey Dobbs has been denied entry into Sri Lanka yesterday, after he was deported last month, the main opposition United National Party revealed.
The issue of Dobbs’ deportation and rejection was raised in Parliament yesterday with Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe speculating that someone in the Government may be eyeing the acquisition of his considerable property in the Galle District.
Dobbs, who was asked by immigration authorities to leave Sri Lanka following a spat with the Southern Province Governor Kumari Balasuriya just before CHOGM 2013, arrived in Colombo this morning but was not granted visa to enter the country.
Requesting a clarification from the Prime Minister in Parliament, Wickremesinghe quipped: “But today, when you are trying to abruptly stop him, the only reason we can come out is that someone is trying to get these properties that he owns in the Galle Fort.”
The Opposition Leader observed that turning away an individual like Dobbs who had been a hotel operator and businessman in Sri Lanka for so long and had become world renowned for spearheading the Galle Literary Festival featured in several international magazines would hurt the country’s tourism industry. “Can you tell me why one of the leading promoters of tourism in Sri Lanka has been denied entry to the country? We have heard of Geoffrey Dobbs who really started the boutique hotels down south. He started the Galle Literary Festival. He has also, to my knowledge, got a lot of money, about $ 4-$ 5 million to Sri Lanka in donations,” Wickremesinghe said.
He said that the Commissioner-General, Immigration had told his Secretary that Dobbs was an “undesirable person”.
“I think this is going to affect the tourism industry at the peak. In fact, his hotels are the ones – these are boutique hotels – that get the best income from tourism,” the Opposition Leader noted.
Wickremesinghe urged the Government to listen to Dobbs and determine if he has really done something wrong. “If you think he has done something wrong which he cannot be forgiven then there is a way of doing it and giving him time to fold up the businesses. But personally, I do not approve some of the things that have happened. I do not think it is a matter of really sending a person out of the country. The final decision lies with the Government,” he said.
“I do not know whether the Minister of Tourism was even consulted. I myself was going to speak to the Minister of Tourism. It will break investor confidence and tourism,” Wickremesinghe charged.
After Dobbs’ deportation he had been advised to return to Sri Lanka and sort out his issues here, Wickremesinghe noted. “But this morning he emailed me and said he had been denied entry to Sri Lanka,” Wickremesinghe told the House.
The British-born Dobbs was instrumental in organising the Galle Literary Festival that turned into a highly popular event for tourists and locals in Galle every January. The event, garnering high profile sponsorships like SriLankan Airlines and HSBC brought significant numbers of tourists and visitors to Galle each year. This year GLF was not held due to Dobbs’ poor health. (DB)