A prominent English newspaper recently reported that the government has paid US$ 2.4 million to a British PR firm to promote its candidacy to host the 2018 Comonwealth Games in Hambanthota. This news item would definitely raise the eye brows of many Sri Lankans who constantly get beaten by the scourge of cost of living. For those who are not aware of international currency rates; 2.4 million US dollars means 264 million Rupees. The minimum salary of a state sector worker in Sri Lanka is Rs. 11000. The average monthly income of a middle class family in Sri Lanka is Rs. 20,000. But, the average monthly expenditure of an ordinary middle class family is way higher than that. As we all know, almost every one of us can feel the excessive pressure, generated by the soaring cost of living. Everyone in this country, including the government of Sri Lanka, has adopted a “hand to mouth” policy when it comes to the ‘income’ and ‘expenditure’. In this context; the government has paid 264 million rupees to a British PR firm in order to promote its bid to host Commonwealth Games in HAMBANTHOTA.
It is not a hidden fact that the government is engaged in a secret love affair with British PR firms over the past several months. The British PR company named “Bell Potinger” was its most trusted partner when it comes to international relations with United Kingdom and European Union. Millions and billions of tax payers’ money has been paid for this PR firm in order to enhance Sri Lankan government’s image and strengthen its relationship with aforesaid countries. In other words, the Foreign Ministry and this particular PR firm exchanged their duties with pleasure and from there onwards Foreign Ministry was operated as a PR firm and this company was harnessed with the duties of Foreign Ministry.
But unfortunately, this PR firm could not provide desired results. They were not able to strengthen the relationships and interactions between the government and EU parliamentarians and on many occasions Sri Lanka was bruised and battered by the European Union. GSP Plus tax concession was removed and all the secret missions which the government carried out in order to get it restored were failed. President Mahinda Rajapakshe’s Oxford visit was another fiasco which ended up with nothing but humour. At the same time, the relationships between Sri Lanka and European Union countries were strained due to many reasons. But ‘Bell Potinger’, the company which was tasked to make these ruptures fixed, did not come out with any good results. So, quite obviously, all the money which was spent on this company was an utter waste.
There are some allegations that a powerful UPFA MP, who represents Southern Province, is the hidden hand behind all these deals with British PR companies. The notorious politician, who’s closely linked with the top leaders of the government, is considered as the person who is responsible for the staggering losses generated by the budget air line ‘Mihin Lanka’. But, as we all know, this sort of huge deals cannot be taken place without the endorsement of the very top people in the government. Therefore, none of them can wash their hands off and claim “I am clean”.
This, I believe, lays the foundation to discuss about the ‘unprecedented’ international policies carried out by the present government. These policies have already created a diplomatic muddle and Sri Lanka is still struggling to come out of it. These inefficacious PR deals are merely a small part of this huge muddle. This kind of deals finally produces nothing but a heavy damage to the exchequer. The exchequer, on the other hand, is not made of cash that has been harvested from trees in Medamulana. It belongs to the poor and innocent tax payers in the country and the government is answerable to the public about the way this money is being spent.In this context; we, as citizens, can ask some important questions from the government. Can a government develop its international relations by wasting millions of tax payers’ money in an imprudent manner? Is this the way they expect to implement Sri Lanka’s foreign policy in the future?
Policies and strategies related to external affairs of a country are nothing but a sheer reflection of its internal policies. If a country has poor internal policies within its own territory it is impossible to expect better external policies or strategies in the international domain. This reality is common to Sri Lanka as well. No one can deny the fact that Sri Lanka was trapped in a diplomatic muddle over the past 36 months and it caused a heavy damage to the country in many ways. They might say that Sri Lanka was ill-treated in International domain since President Rajapakse refused to follow the advices and instructions given by the international community, during the battle against Tamil Tigers. This is partly true. But beyond this, the government was not able to handle the delicate diplomatic issues about Sri Lanka in the international domain plus the leaders of the government were happily lost in political rhetoric. They did not worry about the factor called “International Community”. And, that is why the problems got deteriorated and the government was trapped in many troubles. ‘Way-out’ diplomatic policies and friends did not help President Rajapakse to get rid of this situation. That’s how they lost the support of many influential elements in the international community. No one can put each and every fault, in the account named ” War Against Terrorism”.
It is apparent that the government is eager to host the Commonwealth Games in Hambanthota as an international level image building programme about post-war Sri Lanka. (Regardless of large scale money deals connected to it) This is not the first image building campaign of that caliber. When they hosted IIFA – the Indian Film Festival last year, they came up with the same slogans about “image building” and “tourism”. But what was the outcome? IIFA ended up as another Tamasha which caused a huge loss to the country’s economy. There are many allegations about several dirty money deals linked to Cricket World Cup 2011 in which Sri Lanka took part as a co-host nation. No investigation has been made into these allegations so far. Therefore, we are not permitted by the history to forget this past about the “International Level Image Building Programmes” carried out by the government in recent times. On the other hand, there is a big question mark about the efficacy and productivity of those large scale development projects which took place in Hambanthota such as “Maagampura Harbour”. Therefore, it gives a clear-cut answer about the ‘innocence’ of such deals.
However, the common public must be aware of these developments. Because, at the end of the day, they will have to pay the price for everything from their wallets. In simple words, people are the victims of this jugglery; not the politicians.If the people are happy to be victimized in this manner, that is the most tragic part of the entire story.