Saturday 1 June 2013

Making a White Elephant Black

සුදු අලියා කළු වනතුරු  


Responding to few colourful photos of the picturesque city of Putrajaya that I have posted in FB, Nancy Fernando, one of my good Malaysian friends commented that the city was regarded as a white elephant of Mr. Mahthir Mohamed, as it was built. What she implied was that the city has now become a major attraction in Malaysia which opened doors for the influx of dollar streams to the country, despite its initial status. 

In Sri Lanka, we have been breeding our own white jumbos for the last few years. Mihin Lanka, Hambanthota Port, Mattala Airport, Norochcholei Power Plant, Sooriyawewa and Pallekele cricket stadiums are to name a few. Will these white elephants turn black one day...? 


Malaysia could wait for 20 years for the change of colour, simply because the money was pumped in within their quarters. In Sri Lanka, we are borrowing at mammoth interest rates. With primary school mathematics one may show that even if we achieve those goals predicted at the beginning, the elephant is dead and gone even before it turns light gray. 

Mihin Lanka is not only sinking alone, it is carrying the national career also into the deep ends of dark side, as per the financial status revealed in the parliament. Amid, a huge financial crisis within their own budget and at a time that even once profitable regional airlines such as King Fisher and Sahara are struggling to survive, now the SL airlines are looking forward to investing borrowed money (at fairly high interest rates) for several more planes ...... 

Think if you can think...................where do we end up ...?

Mattala airport has added a menace into the already existing debacle. 

Just a look at the daily time table in Mattala airport (available online) shows the reality. There are couple of Sri Lankan or Mihin flights which go to or come from a nearby destination in the region, touch Mattala airport everyday just for the sake of showing that planes land there. 

Airport internal news confirms that most often none of the passengers go out of the airport or come into the airport from outside to be boarded into a plane. Once a plane arrives at Mattala airport, all passengers are asked to get off the plane, stay an hour or two in a passenger-hall and then get back into the plane. The reason cited is that the plane needs pumping of fuel (within 35 minutes since taking off from Colombo or reaching Colombo). This "getting off-getting in" only boosts the airport passenger statistics which reach the public who say "Hurrah". 

Each passenger is counted twice; one arrived at the airport and one departed from the airport

Some times 50-60 kg of fruits are loaded into the planes and in the news next day it says that the airport has now become a cargo hub. This is not to defame some "good work" of the government, as some people view; unless we understand the reality and take necessary steps to address the chaos, soon everything will end up in utter disaster. 

The government no longer boasts about the number of ships that comes to Hambanthota port. Before the Port was inaugurated several ministers started chirping that everyday over 200 ships pass the harbour within a touching distance. After two and a half years since the inauguration only 30+ ships have entered the harbour; that is also at the expense of the ships that were already used to load/unload at Colombo Port. 

The mega investment at the neighbourhood of Hambanthota port, about which pro-government news sites highlights once in a while, also seems simple illusions. After many months since the so called "inking of agreements", not a single brick has been laid for those projects. If you have close contacts with any of these investors, you may have great fun-time listening to many comedies that they  may share with you.

As I see, the best way of having a free Sri Lankan tour with VIP treatment is to write the right person in GoSL that you are interested in investing at a project in Hambanthota or Mattala. After a week of wonderful Sri Lankan hospitality, you have to sign the guestbook at the premises amid few busy cameramen. Next day you are in the big news with the heading; "Signing an agreement to invest few hundred million USD in a mega project in Sri Lanka"......

I think I have conveyed the message to those who are not yet anesthetized by the government doses. Anyone who is still not bored in reading all the stuff, may move into the next part. 

Some people try to compare the Mahaweli Project of JR with Mega projects of MR. 

I can still remember the time that the accelerated Mahaweli project was planed and inaugurated. I think that I was at Grade 6, just entered Royal College. Sajith Premadasa was at our parallel classes, more specifically at 6S1 where as I was at 6S7. We had the sons of two Ministers of the government, in my class; Krishantha, son of late Neville Fernando from Panadura and Umedh, son of P M B Cyril from Thissamaharama. There were many future defense commanders in our classes who sacrificed their lives for the country two decades later. 

We had to learn four languages for 3 years; from grade 6 to 8; Sinhala, English, Tamil were the compulsory languages and the fourth language was an elective. I selected Japanese. 

For the Japanese Language class I had to go to 6S1, Sajith's class. I think he followed German or French for which he has to move to another class during that period.  I was fascinated by Sajith's school bag; actually it was a briefcase (not known to me at that time) which could be opened by selecting a certain set of numbers. I always used to sit on Sajith's seat so that I could play with the numbers of his briefcase. 

One day when I set a certain sequence of numbers the bag was suddenly opened. I was thrilled by this finding. After the class I stayed few minutes until Sajith returns. I boasted him that I know how to open his bag. This lead to a small-scale brawl which ended up each calling the other by names. Finally other students took us apart and his colleagues of 6S1 chased me away from their class. 

Umedh and I were fighting cocks. For very simple reasons, we used to wrestle with each other, dirtying the white clothes. About three decades after the goodbye to our Alma mater, Umedh and I met in the Facebook few months ago. We were 1000s of km apart and away from our motherland; Umedh is now settled in Canada and I am in Malaysia. Still we share a big laughter chatting about those fighting times.

Krishantha, was a soft spoken over-sized kid. We used to call him by various names referring to his body shape. Other than a grinning return phrase there were no consequences or hard feelings among us.

Ohh, the nostalgic past took me way away from the main topic.  Anyway, what I needed to emphasize was, TODAY at any school in Sri Lanka, what if the son of a small-time businessman....

get into a verbal brawl with the son of the Prime-minister...?

get into a wild street fight with the son of a Minister.....?

or call the son of a Minister..."Thadi Bada"....?

OK let's come back to JR's Mahaweli and MR's mega projects.

As Grade 6 students we had to learn the capacity of each reservoir, the output of each power station, the country that made major contribution to each part of the project, the names of  agricultural sectors (still remember Mahaweli H-kalapaya) and what is the planned cultivation in each sector etc. 

We were made to memorize these facts and figures about 6-7 months prior to the starting of the project. In parallel with the inaugural ceremony there was a quiz completion among kids. 

Even at the beginning, the whole country knew what they were going to get at the completion of the project. Despite many corruptions, underhand jobs, siphoning of funds etc. etc. finally the people got what they were promised. 

After 35 years, under MR regime, an international port was built up in Hambanthota. Even 6 months after the port was opened for service, Ministers of the government swore that there is no sea-bed rock hindering the movement of ships. Finally a rock was removed at a cost of "mere" 48 million USD, as per the statement of the Chairman, Ports Authority. 

No one knows, even today,  how many ships will reach the harbour next year, despite ministers were boasting in the volumes of 200 ships per day before the opening ceremony. 

No one could anticipate the ragged conditions of the turbines at Norochcholei power station which caused the plant to be closed down almost 30 times since the initiation of operations, a couple of years ago. 

No one could (or dared to) tell the public that there could be staggering losses for the next 10 years when Mihin Lanka was inaugurated few years ago.

There were no details of how many planes that will reach Mattala during the first 3 months, firs year, first five years etc. by the time the airport was opened. 

...and the list goes on....

Mahwelli project was carried out with donations and long-term soft loans. Most of the MR projects are done with rapidly approved, medium-term loans at quite high interest rates with short grace-periods. They are categorized as commercial loans, of which the payback is expected from the income generated from the project. 

I really doubt whether the GoSL will be dare enough to do a simple calculation and tell the public; how much income that we need to generate in paying back these loans without borrowing more money at an even higher interest rates in doing so.

Even if the GoSL reveals these statistics, I wonder whether the people in the country have the guts to digest such facts......!!!!

Ignoring is better than understanding 
in a country with anesthetized public. 



  1. Exactly correct sir. All most all our plans or projects are based on facts and expectations without analyzing them. Politicians are trying to get what they want anyhow by using officers appointed as per their wish and their own preferences. If any gives different views or ideas they are not allowed to remain in the process.

  2. I am few years jounior physics student of UOC to you. I agreed with your letter and I like to add few things. GOSL Try to sell the land of the country to china for paying loans. To day no one would agee with me but we can see. When the UNP government privatise the government industries(They allow to manage the GOindustries to privect sector), There were large protest against them. Some of our lecturers also openly criticised their activity.Small political groups like LSSP,NSSP,JVP slashing on. But today some of the lands has soled, some were leased to multinationals, Some are in agreement processing state, only few are protest them. Media does not published any thing about the protest against the GOSL. Today There are no Artist or media personal in sri Lanka, all of them are in someones pocket.