An eye on contrasts

Monday, 14 March 2011 00:12 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Galle Face is the hot spot for land grabbing these days, with three hotel properties to be developed along the beach. Shangri-La hotels and China National Aero Technology Import and Export Corporation (CATIC) are earmarked to be two out of the three companies acquiring this choice real estate.

The area that currently houses the Defence Ministry and Army Headquarters is to fetch an estimated US$ 325 million from the sale and the bulk of the money is to be funnelled into the state-of-the-art premises that are under construction in Battaramulla. This is just a taste of the development that the Government is planning with pipeline ideas to reclaim land from the sea to build an island off Galle Face that will house more malls and amusement parks. This creation is to be connected to the mainland via massive overhead bridges.

The sheer magnitude of the plans are such that it takes a moment before a person can take a step back and ask whether these are sustainable, inclusive and environmentally sound projects.

While the Defence Secretary is releasing plans about the massive Galle Face revamp, SriLankan flight attendants are readying to wear white arm bands in protest. They are demanding that their members be treated properly and safeguarded from intimidation by the management as well as recruited onto the permanent staff. This is just a small example of the challenges that Sri Lanka faces in not only getting its internal processors streamlined but in also understanding what type of product it is displaying to the world.

The Philippines, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Singapore are all attractions that Sri Lanka must compete with and they already have the massive shopping malls, amusement parks and resort hotels to keep tourists busy. Attracting numbers of family and MICE tourists, these destinations have already set the benchmark for Sri Lanka to follow. Or must it be followed? True, we need an attractive city with choice shopping malls and luxury hotels, but what about the other side of this balance? What about the environment and giving the tourists a ‘different’ experience from the ‘shop and spend’ ideal that is being presented everywhere else?

Sri Lanka is beautiful and has managed to maintain its greenery to a large extent. However, its people are poor and need economic growth urgently. The massive tourist projects must give jobs to people and give the opportunity for their livelihoods to grow. How much of the US$ 325 million is going to local contractors, builders and workers? How is the Government going to deal with challenges presented in providing high service standards if their employees are not happy? Where is that famous Sri Lankan smile? And how can it be preserved?

On Saturday the President inaugurated the ‘Divi Neguma’ project that is targeted at upgrading the contribution of the masses to the economy by encouraging livelihoods and home gardens. It is to cost Rs. 10 billion, yet the thousands of farmers who lost their crops and animals to the floods remain largely uncompensated with a national plan for recovery drowned out. Planning big is great, but in doing so we must not lose sight of the big picture. Ensuring that the people’s needs are met in real time is what will ensure practical development.