By Kumar David –
The government and Health Minister Pavitra are only part truthful when they say why they are in a funk about reopening BIA. Tourists may be COVID carriers and they fear a second-wave. But the real story is much more, it’s about Sri Lankan workers abroad, especially in the Middle East. The government is broke and does not want them back. A broke government does not want the cost burden of about 60,000 returning workers on its hands. They will have to be quartered for two weeks on arrival, fed and cared for, presumably at government expense; that’s why they are not welcome. Oh yes it can be done, but not by a broke government. China built and fully equipped two 1000-bed hospitals within two weeks; a dozen facilities each with 500 dorm rooms and decent shared toilets could have been put up in Lanka in the last utterly wasted six months.
Ninety percent of Lankan workers locked-down and brutalised by culturally alien security forces in foreign lands would have been happy to return to basic facilities for a fortnight. The cost of buildings, payment for service and catering staff and food would be far less than Rs 300 million up to the return of the last workers. This is a drop in the ocean compared to the $6 to $7 billion that workers remit back each year – this is LKR 1.3 trillion a year (a trillion is a million-million). True the largest part of this is from domestic helpers who have not yet lost their jobs, but still the difference between the contribution of now jobless workers and the mangy attitude of government is five orders of magnitude wide. Some workers may have coughed up Rs 6,000 to cover the cost I estimated. Sri Lanka chooses to benefit from their labour and then discard them when they are in need. Shame!
Tourism proper will not pick up for years not only because our medical and tourist industries can’t cope with post-corona challenges but also because the global travel industry is kaput. But keeping BIA mothballed for seven months (so far) sends the wrong message. How many world metropolitan and capital cities have pensioned-off their airports? With 3100 reported infections we are in the middle (127) of 215 territories and countries in the world corona-meter, but no others have put a padlock on their primary airport for what looks like perpetuity. I am not satisfied that the authorities are setting about the business of preventing a second wave in the right way. They seem plan-less and befuddled. This way, even if they reopen in six months’ the risk will be no different; they are scared and broke. The export economy seems to be slowly recovering but that could be suppressed foreign demand reviving temporarily; that’s not the same as renewal and interactions between businesses. In the meantime, the 2020 fiscal deficit will be nearly 10%, I believe the highest ever in the country’s history, and the economy limps from bad to worse.
Is this why business partners from other countries treat our authorities as primitives, snigger on the side and murmur in their own language “Give the monkeys a banana and send them home” – it’s embarrassing when foreign friends who overheard let you in on the gag. Are those who look down on us not aware of our ‘splendid and prosperous’ achievements? Do they not know what our Civil Aviation Authority is valiantly forging ahead and researching? Please send any olla-leaf flying manuals in your possession to the “King Ravana and the Ancient Domination of Aerial Routes now Lost” project-desk and phone 076 6317 110 to confirm delivery.
Air Ravana commenced operations for cute Indian damsels about 700 BC; in what language were the flight manuals? Prince Vijaya was wolf-whistling at Kuveni say 200 years on, a bad habit he picked up from the boys on Hikkaduwa Beach; proof of thriving tourism. King Pandu Carbs in about 350 BC built Anuradhapura as the cornerstone of a Golden Triangle Tourist Circuit, in what tongue were itineraries olla-leafed? All point to the flourishing of stone-age Esperanto in our beloved Island Pearl long before Tamil and Sinhala showed up and complicated things. Over to fighting fit Vigy and the sporty MPs yearning to gouge his eyes out, all mulling for a joust on the banks of the Diyawanna Oya. Kadavule, Deyo Saaki.