ECONOMYNEXT – The damages caused to Sri Lanka’s Galle Face Green area due the anti-government protests there must be financially borne by the protestors, Minister of Urban Development and Housing Prasanna Ranatunga said.
“It’s public property and the Urban Development Authority (UDA) has invested a lot of money to develop that area,” said Ranatunga on Friday August 19.
Several protestors had filed fundamental rights petitions at the Supreme Court seeking permission to continue their occupation at Galle Face till August 10. Ranatunga said that the protestors that filed such petitions will be held responsible for the damages in the area.
Sri Lanka’s Aragalaya (Struggle) protestors had occupied the site for 125 days in order to oust ex President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and his government. Friday marked nine days since the area was vacated by the protestors.The crowd kept thinning towards the end of July and into early August due to a combination of reasons. Political analysts attributed it to protest fatigue, a genuine desire to give newly sworn in President Ranil Wickremesinghe a chance, a semblance of normality following what appears to be an end to cooking gas queues and an easing of the fuel crisis, as well as a climate of fear brought about by an alleged government crackdown.
“Estimates should be taken and a court case should be filed, to find the people responsible. We can tell the auditors that the Aragalaya is responsible for the damages,” said Ranatunga.
“Once the damage has been assessed someone responsible has to take charge because auditing discrepancies may occur. Money has already been spent on Galle Face and if we want to spend more, we will be questioned by the auditors on what happened to the money that was already spent,” he said.
A large number of protestors stormed and occupied the Presidential House, Presidential Secretariat, Temple Trees and Prime Minister’s Office on July 09 and after, into which investigations are underway.
After the protestors had vacated the protest site on August 10, Sri Lanka’s police sought public assistance to arrest protestors that broke into state owned entities, even after President Wickremesinghe said had said he had no desire to crack down on peaceful protesters.
“Some groups are trying to spread propaganda through social media that I am hunting down the protesters. This is not true. I will not allow any kind of prejudice against peaceful activists. I will establish an office to protect the peaceful protesters and support them,” he said, though he and others in the government have said previously that unlawful and “fascist” elements that have hijacked the Aragalaya must be dealt with according to the law.
Some protestors who were occupying Galle Face told EconomyNext that they have lost their jobs, have changed their physical appearance and are being forced to pay for damage.
A key protestor told EconomyNext: “I did it for the country, for myself, my family and all who are unhappy. But now my life is at risk. I have changed how I look, I lost my job and am rummaging about my savings which are depleting just like the country’s reserves.”
“The government keeps failing to understand us. We don’t have money to eat and we are expected to pay a price for loving and attempting to save the country from these good for nothing fellows,” said another protestor. (Colombo/Aug19/2022)