By Sunimalee Dias
The World Bank is expected next week to finalise a US$18 million agreement with Sri Lanka Tourism for a project on sustainable tourism development, officials said on Thursday. The project was dragging its feet since 2010 since authorities were not too pleased about it. Senior External Affairs Officer Sandya Salgado of the World Bank office in Colombo told the Business Times that there were “deliberative meetings between the bank and the government” that were ongoing.
This comes in the wake of a number of discussions and meetings conducted between the institution and the Tourism Ministry and the Sri Lanka Tourism Development Authority (SLTDA) since 2009.
Ms Salgado declined to comment on the discussions, delays in implemention or the concerns intimated by the World Bank to the government. She said the process was expected to finalized next week.
Other sources quoted project staff as saying that this project had not found favour with the Minister or the Secretary to the Ministry (Economic Development) due to which staff was demoralized.
Funding is provided through an International Development Association (IDA) credit facility of US$18 million equivalent with a maturity period of 20 years and a grace period of 10 years. The project is aimed at strengthening the institutional framework for the tourism sector to facilitate environmentally and socially sound investments, in particular in eastern Sri Lanka.
Sources said previously World Bank officials had been concerned over the continued delays and lack of adequately qualified personnel to man the team involved in this project from the government. This comes in the wake of the Tourism Authority that possessed the technical capability being sidelined and ministry-appointed personnel replacing the former; however access to senior ministry officials continued to be a stumbling block in the project’s progress.
The financing agreement for the project was signed in January 2010 after the pledge was made in 2009. Since then there were several persons assigned by the government to head the project as at least two of the project directors had stepped down, sources said. Due to the delay in obtaining approvals from the ministry and even regarding procurement the government’s disinterest had led to this project to be held back for quite some time, sources observed.
World Bank authorities had in fact requested that this project be handed back to the Tourism Authority with the ministry acting as the monitoring agent during progress, sources said. This project involves the World Bank providing technical assistance and funding to all institutions including the Tourism Ministry enabling them to improve their overall efficiency and efficacy.