The Chairman of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) Prof. Charitha Herath, Member of Parliament directed the Secretary to the Ministry of Tourism and the Tourism Development Authority to expedite the Preparation of a program to utilize the 12 islands under the Tourism Development Authority in the Kalpitiya area for the benefit of the tourism industry.
It was revealed that although an investor had applied for 5 of the 12 islands which are of 2055 acres in 2011, it had been delayed due to the inability to identify a proper institution to obtain approval for his Water Bungalows project.
The COPE Chairman pointed out that the delay of such a project for 10 years due to the inability to get approval for this investor who already owns hotels of similar nature in the Maldives is an obstacle to the development of the tourism industry as well as the development of the country.
The COPE Chairman stressed the need to utilize these beautiful islands for tourism. The COPE Chairman directed Mr.S. Hettiarachchi and Chairman of the Tourism Development Authority Kimarli Fernando to implement a special project within a strong legal framework since Cabinet approval has been granted for this putting forth a Steering Committee with all relevant parties such as the Marine Environment Protection Authority, Central Environmental Authority, North Western Provincial Council, Coast Conservation and Coastal Resource Management Department.
The aforesaid was disclosed at the COPE Committee meeting chaired by Prof. Charitha Herath held recently (26) to examine the Auditor General’s Reports for the years 2018 and 2019 and the current performance of the Tourism Development Authority.
Also, the Committee paid attention to the audit observation that there was a payment of Rs. 11 million out of 29 million for the renovation of the Kataragama Resort a few years ago for work not done. It was also disclosed that the value of this 11 million has been estimated at Rs. 4.8 million by a re-appointed expert committee. It was also brought to the notice of the Committee that despite a committee being appointed through the Ministry of Public Administration which has made recommendations that the Attorney General conduct an investigation into the incident and punish the culprits, no action has been taken so far. Instead, the Auditor General revealed that only a warning letter had been issued to the officer involved in the said incident and the committee expressed its strong displeasure in this regard. The COPE chairman pointed out that this was not a criticism of the existing management but a responsibility of Government institutions to change this long-standing system and take appropriate action on audit observations and recommendations.
The committee also inquired about the payment of an additional Rs. 10 million for the construction of the Kalpitiya Thoraiadi Jetty and the road near the Wannimundalama Lagoon. The Authority said that it had inquired about this from the Puttalam District Engineer and was informed that further action could not be taken as they did not have the relevant documents. The Auditor-General revealed that although the COPE Committee had given a recommendation in 2016 to look into this matter, the investigation process only began in 2018. The COPE chairman expressed his displeasure over this and stated that state institutions are bound to implement a recommendation made by Parliament, the highest body on financial control in the country, thus, an immediate inquiry should be conducted and a report should be submitted as soon as possible.
Despite spending Rs. 1.2 billion on tourism development in 2018-2019, 1.9 million tourists have visited the country. Therefore, the existing institutions should be set up for the tourism industry under a more efficient mechanism, said the Chairperson of the Tourism Development Authority, Kimarli Fernando. Accordingly, the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority, the Sri Lanka Tourism Promotion Bureau and the Sri Lanka Convention Bureau, which are currently working separately for the betterment of the tourism industry, will form a single entity whilst the Sri Lanka Institute of Tourism and Hotel Management is intended to operate separately, the chairperson further said.
The Secretary to the Ministry said that the Bill on this regard will be presented to Parliament by March-April as it has been approved by the Cabinet. The COPE Chairman instructed the Secretary to the Ministry to expedite the work on this regard if it is the need of the Ministry and the institutions for the purpose of a more efficient mechanism.
The Committee drew attention to the obstacles faced by Sri Lanka in comparison to Maldives which has made rapid progress in the tourism industry. Ms. Kimarli Fernando said that only the highest priced luxury hotels in the Maldivian tourism industry are active, promoting globally through active public relations, operating under a small team of 15 international level experts, and making a significant impact by bringing in leading international investors bringing about such impact. The Chairperson also said that the institute has played a major role in uplifting the tourism industry in the face of the COVID pandemic. She added that her institution has made great strides in training hoteliers amidst the COVID crisis, having fully completed the online registration process.
The COPE Committee also stressed the need to make more effective use of the properties owned by the Tourism Development Authority, including lands in many areas, for the betterment of the tourism industry.