UNP MP Harsha de Silva yesterday charged that the Government has hijacked the survey conducted by Nielsen Company Lanka, to suggest that a vast majority of Sri Lankans are backing the 2018 Commonwealth Games (CWG) bid for Hambantota.
He insists that the members of the bid committee have used the numbers in the survey to convey the impression that there is overwhelming support among the people for the Commonwealth Games being held in Sri Lanka in 2018. In a statement issued to the media, he said:
“From the press release of Hambantota Bid Committee CEO Nalin Atygalla, the question posed by Nielsen to the 2,600 sample is ‘How supportive or non supportive are you of Hambantota hosting the 2018 Commonwealth Games?’ The media statements then says that ‘...as many as 87 per cent of the sample were fully or somewhat supportive, with 63 per cent being fully supportive’. This has then been used to spin-doctor the headline ‘Overwhelming nationwide support for Hambantota’s 2018 CWG bid’ to coincide with the visit of CWG evaluation commission to Sri Lanka.
“If I were asked whether I would like to have a nice sports car, I will certainly say yes. But if I were asked whether I would like to have a nice sports car for which I have to pay Rs. 20 million, I will certainly say no – completely different answers because in the first instance I had only one side of the story while in the second instance I have both sides of the story and I am making a rational decision.
“The question being used to make the sensational headline is akin to the first of the two questions above, because it hides a very important aspect of the decision making process – the cost. Surely people like Nalin Attygalle should know how to frame a question or ensure all relevant questions are analysed before making broad statements that could be misrepresenting reality.
“What if the question indicated that the initial cost estimate of the 2018 CWG in Hambantota is some Rs. 440 billion? Will there be ‘overwhelming support’ or will Sri Lankans think that the cost is way more than we could afford at the moment? Would they have thought that the nation has other priorities? What if it was explained to the respondent that Rs. 440 billion is half of the current annual revenue of the Government raised by taxing food, clothing, transport, education, mobile talk time and more? What if it was disclosed that the initial estimates did not take in to consideration how over-budget our construction costs are, as seen by the recent experience of the Hambantota Cricket Stadium?
“Or what if the question indicated that the cost is more than 40 times the entire Samurdhi payment or many times the combined annual budget for health and education? Will people overwhelmingly support such an expense? Maybe they would, but we would not know with this single partial question. Every Sri Lankan would like for Hambantota to host not only the Commonwealth Games but even the Olympics, but the question is whether today, given our post-war priorities, that is the best way we to spend such a colossal amount of money that we simply do not have.
“It is unfortunate that the CEO of the Hambantota Bid Committee is knowingly attempting to paint a picture that may very well be inaccurate. It is also disappointing to note that the credibility of The Nielsen Company, the new name of the survey and market research team which I cofounded with another person in the mid ’90s and sold out some years ago, has come in to question with this cheap political stunt.”