Wednesday, 19 January 2005  
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Minister of Tourism promises : 

Tourism revival in three months

Anura Bandaranaike is a leading member of the UPFA Government. He rendered yeoman service towards the formation of the United Peoples Freedom Alliance. Mr. Bandaranaike in an interview with journalist Gamini Bandaranayake outlines the measures adopted by his Ministry to revive the tourism industry following the tsunami disaster

Question:- Colossal damage has been caused to the tourism industry by the tsunami tidal waves. As Minister in-charge of the subject what steps are you taking to revive the industry?

Answer:- The damage has been so grave that it has not been fully estimated yet. All small hotels along the beach had been wiped out while several three and five star hotels too had been washed away. Tourism industry took the biggest beating because most of its hotels were centred around the coastal areas.

Bringing back normalcy to the tourism industry is one of the biggest challenges facing us today. We have drawn up short term, medium term and long term plans to revive the industry. Some of the hotels are already back in business.

We have plans to revive the tourism industry within three months. The industry will be normal and fully operational within a year. Even tourists who were caught up in the tsunami have promised to help us in this endeavour and visit Sri Lanka once again.

Question:- The brunt of the tsunami disaster was faced by the coastal areas where most parts of the tourism industry was centred. How are you going to rebuild the small and big hotels damaged by it?

Answer:- The Government will provide interest-free loans for rebuilding damaged hotels. Some big hotels had lost their furniture, electrical items, kitchen equipment and vehicles in the tidal wave. They will be given tax exemptions to import such items.

That's exactly what most hotel owners had asked. My endeavour is to provide all possible relief and concessions to hoteliers in consultation with the Treasury.

Question:- More than 200 tourists are said to have been killed in the tsunami tidal wave. What action is the Government taking to send their bodies back to their home countries?

Answer:- Bodies identified had already been sent back to the respective countries. Some of the remaining bodies are kept in police morgues in deep freezers to enable relatives to come and remove them after identification.

Question:- As soon as you became Minister you drew up an action plan to develop the tourism industry. What are the new features that have to be incorporated in it in the context of the present situation?

Answer:- This was quite an unexpected and unforeseen tragedy. All plans have to be amended to uplift the industry in a manner it could face upto tsunami situations. But I don't think there will be another tsunami for another 200 years.

Question:- Haven't certain hotel owners faced problems in getting their insurance claims in respect of hotels damaged in the tsunami tidal wave? How are you going to intervene to solve this problem?

Answer:- Most of the hotels had obtained insurance cover against flood and earthquake situations. Some insurance companies think that there are legal impediments against the payment of compensation for tsunami situations.

The tsunami originated from an earthquake and, therefore, insurance companies cannot disclaim liability to pay compensation. However I am hoping to find a quick solution to this problem after discussing it with the Minister of Finance and planning.

Question:- Some tourists have expressed fears about another tsunami. What action are you taking to dispel such fears?

Answer:- We will have close contacts with international tsunami monitoring and warning centres. Once we obtain sophisticated equipment for such a warning system we will be able to warn the public at least 2 hours before such a disaster occurs.

Question:- The Government has taken a policy decision to prohibit construction of buildings and structures within a radius of 100 to 200 metres from the coast. How will this rule affect existing hotels within this stretch?

Answer:- Partially damaged hotels within the 100 metre stretch including large scale hotels will be allowed to rebuild them. In the case of hotels completely washed away the 100 to 200 metre rule will apply as regards rebuilding them. Hotels approved by the BOI will not be affected by this regulation.

Question:- This tragedy has brought about a certain amount of accord between the opposition and the Government as well as between the LTTE and the Government. Can't we transform this into a new beginning?

Answer:- Tsunami did not discriminate against UNPers, SLFPers or JVPers. This was a tragedy common to all Sri Lankans. We can indulge in party politics later. First, we must provide relief to the affected people. All political parties should place the country first in facing this tragedy. The present dialogue among political parties is a healthy sign.

It was because the Japanese people joined hands that Japan was able to rise from the ashes after the devastation caused by the atom bomb. All political parties should shelve petty political difference and assist the Government in rebuilding the nation at this hour.

Political parties which failed in this duty will be spurned by the people.

Question: Although UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has promised unqualified support of his party to the Government in the nation rebuilding effort certain sections of the UNP had been critical of the Government. How do you see this?

Answer- UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe is an experienced politician who had been a parliamentarian for more than 25 years. That is why he is pledging his support to the Government. On the other hand, if the UNP failed to do so at this hour it will become very unpopular.

People like Dr. Rajitha Senaratne, Prof. G. L. Peiris, and Ravi Karunanayake envy this Government. Ranil has no such envy or hatred. Respectable UNPers think that they should support the Government at this moment. Others don't care even if the country is doomed. That's why they are criticising the Government.

Question:- Is the distribution of relief among affected people being conducted systematically?

Answer:- I was visiting USA at the time of this disaster. People there who never knew an iota about our country are now fully aware about Sri Lanka. Americans who flocked to Buddhist temples there after hearing of the disaster responded magnanimously by offering assistance for the victims.

We have now received relief goods from nearly 60 friendly countries and they are now being distributed among the affected people without any discrimination.

Question:- But there are allegations about irregularies and the lack of a proper government machinery to distribute relief.

Answer:- A proper machinery for the distribution of relief is a must. If not there will be duplication. You remember the manner in which roofing sheets received from India were distributed during the UNP regime.

Our party too may have certain bad hats who may try to pocket some of the relief items. It was the UNP which created precedents for such corrupt activities and therefore it is the duty of the UNP to correct such wrongs.

Even the United Nations Organisation had commended the Government saying it had responded in an excellent manner from the time of the disaster.

Sri Lanka was the quickest to respond to the calamity from among the tsunami devastated countries. If not how can there be such progress in the relief, rescue and rebuilding effort in such a short time?

Question:- There have been allegations that the JVP had been trying to gain political capital out of the situation by putting up their party banners while engaging in relief work. Is this true?

Answer:- The JVP is doing a great service towards bringing back affected areas to normality. Whatever it is, the JVP is a dedicated political party and what we ought to do is to learn lessons from it without being jealous of it. The JVP too should try to do a sincere and dedicated service without much ado.

Question:- Some people accuse you of being indifferent and that being a responsible Minister you continued your foreign trip without returning home soon after the disaster. What do you say to it?

Answer:- A certain Sinhala newspaper had levelled accusations against me. People behind this paper have a Bandaranaike phobia. They castigate the President and me. This is very strange. I don't know why they resort to this type of mud-slinging.

I planned to return home the very next day after the tsunami disaster. But that day being boxing day and the end of an year there were heavy bookings for air travel and I could not obtain a seat till January 6.

I took the first opportunity I got to return home. I gave the necessary instructions to the Ministry and officials on steps to meet the contingency and resuscitate the tourism industry.

Question:- Some people say that you are very competent in making political predictions. What is your forecast about the future political situation in the country?

Answer:- I am not a good forecaster. But some political predictions I made have come true. Some people said the SLFP and JVP would never join hands. But I said that these two parties would join hands and that would be a certainty as the sun and moon.

After the alliance was formed I predicted that the UNP would suffer an ignominious defeat at the general elections and that too became a reality. The UNP went home and we formed the Government. But I cannot make predictions about nature.

But I can assure that we will not face another tsunami for another 200 years.

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