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Tourism Minister says powerless to act on Mirissa
Published Date: 02/05/2018 (Wednesday)

By Charumini de Silva

* Admits political interference stopped removal of illegal structures 

  • Insists ministry can do nothing as CCD is under President 
  • Suggests attempts being made to handle situation in a “gentlemanly” manner   

The issue of illegal structures in Mirissa is set to drag on with Tourism Development Minister John Amaratunga yesterday admitting that he was powerless to take action as he could not override the President’s orders following political interference tying up the Coast Conservation Department (CCD). 

“What has happened is some politicians have gone and protested, so the President would have said to stop. We have done our part. I cannot go beyond that. I can’t override the President. The CCD is under the President. I don’t know. My duty was to bring it to the notice of the authorities to stop this nonsense and I have done it. If the authorities don’t act, hard luck,” the Minister told journalists in Colombo.

The CCD was to demolish 17 identified unauthorised buildings on 1 May in the Mirissa coastal area, a decision which was made years ago according to the Act. However, on Monday the department said that it was suspended until further notice as some of the hoteliers had said they would voluntarily remove their unauthorised constructions.

Amaratunga stressed that if the sole authority was his, he would have taken action by now. “We are under different ministries; the Coast Conservation Department is under the President and the Law and Order Ministry is under Ranjith Madduma Bandara. If I was the sole authority, I could have done it.”

However, the Minister said that this interruption must not be a free pass and the suspension would only be until a fresh round of negotiations was held with stakeholders. 

“I think those hoteliers in that area, they are engaged in some discussions, I was told with certain politicians and are bringing it to the notice of the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA). One is that they all need to register themselves, secondly if there are unauthorised structures which are obstructing registered hotels they will make adjustments accordingly. Otherwise if the CCD goes with the Police, they will smash up everything. So without doing that, they are trying to do it in a gentlemanly way,” he added.

When asked where the delay was and the reasons why almost a month had passed without action, he said: “This is Sri Lanka. When we try to do something, somebody goes and tries to stop it. Live with it. We are too democratic.” 

He acknowledged that unless steps were taken to bring establishments under legal purview it could result in tourists eventually being driven from the area.  

“But these fools don’t understand and realise,” he said.

Despite some countries issuing travel advisories, the Minister confirmed that there were no cancellations due to an incident in Mirissa which saw assault and alleged sexual harassment of four young Dutch tourists and four Israel nationalities by local ‘beach boys’. 

He said that except for Mirissa and Negombo, other areas had generated no complaints from tourists about harassment.

Denying SLTDA Chairman Kavan Ratnayake’s recent views that Mirissa was becoming unpopular, the Minister said that tourists were still enjoying the area although nightlife had come to a halt. 

Source: Daily FT

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