By Sharmini Serasinghe –
It appears that our Emperor’s attempts to show-off his new clothes viz spanking new infrastructure, spotless city etc., to the world through CHOGM went seriously wrong!
At the expense of the Lankan tax-payer we managed however to provide a free and very expensive platform for the LTTE diaspora to be heard through the Eton– educated gab of none other than the British Prime Minister David Cameron himself. He made no bones about why he was coming to Sri Lanka and what he was going to do here and he did it!
The Indian PM let his British counterpart do all his dirty-work and stayed at home blaming it on ‘domestic’ problems.
The LTTE rump managed to get Sri Lanka to foot the bill for a hugely successful international media blitz held on our own soil to espouse their cause.
Prince Charles had a nice Birthday party!
Other CHOGM invitees had an all-expense-paid holiday in sunny Sri Lanka and went home.
All’s well that ends well, but what did Sri Lanka get out of hosting this carnival?
Besides egg on our faces, we got as ‘gifts’ two old boats from Australia which might otherwise have ended up in a scrap yard, with two caveats attached – they are to be used for preventing any prospective Sri Lankan asylum seekers making a nuisance of themselves in Australia and the Sri Lankan tax-payer must foot the bill for the “rebuilding” of these ‘gifted’ old boats!
And of course we and our future generations were landed with a LOT of bills amounting to over a staggering Rs. 6 billion which we the tax-payers must pay over many years to come!
That’s about it, as far as what Sri Lanka got from hosting this mega carnival!
What Sri Lanka didn’t get from this event is a long list of negatives that may go on forever.
To start with, according to local media reports city hotel occupancy levels were far below expectations. The originally expected occupancy of 4,000 city hotel rooms was never realised with only 50% of that at approximately 2100 rooms being actually occupied during the event.
Reports further state that if not for CHOGM, the average occupancy rates of city hotels at this time of the year would have been around 75% to 80% percent. One leading hotelier reportedly claims that his hotel lost “a good Rs.80 million of business due to CHOGM”. And that is only the reported loss of one hotel. What about the others that carried out massive refurbishment of their properties in time for CHOGM?
Almost all of Colombo’s schools were closed for two weeks and Universities Island– wide also closed for one week disrupting education.
The massive economic losses incurred by business enterprises, due to disruption caused by road closures and restriction on vehicular traffic is mind boggling.
I hope an honest cost benefit evaluation will be carried out to assess if the benefits of hosting this ‘show’ outweigh the cost or vice versa.
The only positive indicator so far is that Sri Lanka’s business community was pleased with the exposure the country received as a prospective destination for trade, investment and tourism. However it is still too early to predict how successful the much touted Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) was, as impressive numbers of foreign participants is not an indicator of its success.
In a new world-order where trade is more important than politics, let us hope nevertheless, that some measure of success was derived through visiting business leaders and entrepreneurs linking up with one another and that it would ultimately transform into investment agreements benefiting the country.
At least then we would stand to benefit from this otherwise useless exercise called CHOGM!
*Sharmini Serasinghe was Director Communications of the former Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) under Secretary Generals Dr. John Gooneratne and Jayantha Dhanapala. She counts over thirty years in journalism in both the print and electronic media.