Dobbs saga, Galle Fort and Tourism

Wheeler dealing and shady deals by authorities


By Harischandra Gunaratna

Geoffrey Dobbs has been in the news during the last few weeks since he had a spat with Southern Province Governor Kumari Balasuriya over an issue of hoisting flags during the CHOGM and his subsequent deportation and return to the country a few weeks later.

There are many good Samaritans attempting to sing hosannas about him and even the Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has come to his defence in Parliament and through the media claiming that Dobbs has contributed a lot to Sri Lanka and even had been able to get donations to the tune of US$ 4.5 million hosting the Galle Literary Festival.

 Dobbs and many others came in droves and settled down in Galle taking advantage of sudden abolition of one hundred percent tax that foreigners had to pay to buy property here by the last Wickremesinghe regime. They exploited the situation and took advantage buying  up property in the Galle Fort and most of them then went on to the extent of  altering the architectural patterns to suit their commercial ventures.

No one is legally allowed to change the original structure or design of a heritage property in the country without seeking permission from Director general of Archaeology, but most of the foreigners had changed the old architectural ambience in the houses they bought in the Fort by adding swimming pools in the process and in some cases damaging the original structure.

How did they do it bypassing the Department of Archaeology when it says construction of swimming pools in heritage properties is banned? There has been a great deal of wheeler dealing and obviously

money speaks. These foreigners could have done anything that they wanted contravening the law of the country and the amount of violations they resorted to can be seen today and what is visible could only be the tip of the iceberg.

Successive governments have failed to take action against those guilty, both foreigners and government officials who were hand in glove with them in violating the laws governing the country.

 President Chandrika Bandaranaike even went to the extent of bestowing national honours on Geoffrey Dobbs.

 Even now it is not too late for the Rajapaksa government to appoint a committee to find out the extent to which these foreigners and others have violated regulations here.   

 Bureaucrats in the tourism industry should keep their eyes open and find out what the foreigners are doing here depriving the legimate rights of our citizens and minting money by dubious means and on various pretexts and Dobbs is not the only one.

 There could be many others who would have to be deported.

 The foreigners who operated the hospitality trade in these villas in the Fort and outside saw that the money paid for the guest stay remained in the country of origin or only a part of it came to Sri Lanka and Dobbs’s properties were no exception.

 "The Traveller" learns that a foreign couple who were on holiday here had returned to the Villa in Habaraduwa they were staying after a two week tour of the country and invited their chauffeur for a meal.

 The Villa is owned by a foreigner and the staff objected to the chauffeur on grounds that the owner had tabooed guests inviting any outsider into the Villa. So this is the open apartheid practiced in some of those foreign owned properties 

 Dobbs is a successful businessman  here and he saw the plethora of opportunities before him.

 He was instrumental in introducing elephant polo to Sri Lanka but his intentions were not genuine.

The Elephant Polo Tournament he organised in Galle in March 2007 had its share of misfortunes and it saw the main sponsor SriLankan  Airlines  deciding pulling out as the  issues surfaced were two serious.

An elephant went berserk and attacked a parked van seriously damaging it. In another incident Susie Nguyen, a Vitenamese-American representing the ‘Capitol Pacheyderms’ taking part in a contest and her elephant ‘Abey’ suddenly became restless and threw the competitor off its back. The young woman fell with her legs still strapped to the stirrups. The elephant dragged her along the ground for a few metres until the mahout and some others rushed and sedated the animal and rescued the victim. She luckily escaped with a few bruises.

When Dobbs was asked what was the reason for the restlessness of the elephants, he said that the elephants were too tired and later admitted that the two elephants that went berserk were in musth.

But the question was why were elephants in musth were brought for tournament if Dobbs was so concerned about the safety of the competitors and spectators?

Where the Galle Literary Festival is concerned, though the Opposition leader claims that Dobbs has got donations for Sri Lanka from other countries, he doesn’t talk about the money his two properties and other Villas earned by selling rooms to the participants of the festival.

Dobbs’s claim that he was the first to start boutique hotels in Sri Lanka is being challenged by leading hotelier Daya Ratnayake who points out that his luxury boutique hotel Saman Villas in Bentota was started in  December 1995, But Dobbs’ website claims that his property Sun House that started operations only in 1997 is the pioneer.

So there is a great deal of hype about Dobbs’ operations here and it raises doubts as to why some persons are trying to defend his actions and have gone  to the extent of pleading with the government not to deport  him despite him deliberately flying the country’s flags upside down

One thing is clear that he made his money and so were many other foreigners who  made hay while the sun shone when the then UNP government abolished the 100% tax on purchase of properties by foreigners  

They amassed wealth taking advantage of the situation created by the then ruling party, depriving the country of much needed foreign exchange.

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