/

Sri Lanka’s Visa Policy in the Spotlight: Heated Cabinet Meetings Exacerbate Internal Rifts

In response, the cabinet opted to maintain the existing $50 visa fee for a 30-day stay while extending visa-free services to select countries, including India, China, Russia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia.

2 mins read
Katunayake Airport [File Photo]

by Our Correspondent in Colombo

A heated cabinet meeting has ignited a political firestorm over the government’s decision to outsource visa issuance to a foreign entity. The contentious move has not only divided opinions within the government but has also drawn sharp criticism from various quarters, setting the stage for a potential political crisis.

At the center of the storm is the decision to authorize a foreign entity to issue on-arrival visas for visitors to Sri Lanka. This decision, made during a tumultuous cabinet meeting, has triggered internal discord, with the Minister of Tourism, Harin Fernando, going as far as threatening immediate resignation should the project proceed. Adding fuel to the fire, a purported fake letter of resignation attributed to Fernando began circulating on social media mere minutes after the cabinet meeting concluded, further muddying the waters.

The controversy deepened when Minister Fernando vehemently distanced himself from the decision during a press conference, emphasizing that the company, tasked with managing the visa process, was not under his jurisdiction. He underscored his original proposal for visa-free entry for citizens of 67 countries, expressing dissatisfaction with the prospect of visitors having to pay for visas.

In response, the cabinet opted to maintain the existing $50 visa fee for a 30-day stay while extending visa-free services to select countries, including India, China, Russia, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia. Additionally, the responsibility of issuing visas upon entry was shifted to the Immigration Department.

However, the Minister of Public Security, Tiran Alles, staunchly defended the controversial project during a separate press conference held in the morning. He highlighted the necessity of the new system, citing instances of corruption within the immigration department, where exorbitant bribes were allegedly demanded for visa issuance. Minister Alles emphasized the urgency of implementing an advanced technological solution to curb such malpractices.

Yet, the project faced relentless scrutiny, with concerns raised over transparency and potential conflicts of interest. Pubudu Jagoda, the Education Secretary of the Front Line Socialist Party, lambasted Minister Alles for failing to address critical questions and accused the government of lacking transparency in its dealings.

Moreover, allegations linking the involvement of an Indian company in the visa issuance process added another layer of complexity to the controversy. Despite denials from the Indian High Commission, suspicions persisted, further complicating an already volatile situation.

Amidst escalating tensions, the government revealed its commitment to the project by signing a twelve-year agreement with the foreign entity, despite mounting opposition and the looming threat of legal battles. The potential repercussions of reneging on the agreement were likened to the fallout from a previous dispute over imported organic fertilizer from China, which strained diplomatic relations and resulted in hefty fines for Sri Lanka.

Critics warn that the controversial visa project could similarly strain diplomatic ties and deepen internal political fissures, posing a significant challenge to the stability of the government. As the debate rages on, the fate of Sri Lanka’s visa policy hangs in the balance, with far-reaching implications for the nation’s national interest and international relations.

Sri Lanka Guardian

The Sri Lanka Guardian is an online web portal founded in August 2007 by a group of concerned Sri Lankan citizens including journalists, activists, academics and retired civil servants. We are independent and non-profit. Email: editor@slguardian.org

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Latest from Blog