Lotus Tower a fitting symbol for Sri Lanka

In Greek mythology, the lotus eaters were a race of people living on a remote island where they ate lotus plants and forgot their homes and loved ones. They only wished to stay with their fellow lotus eaters and did not care to engage in productive activity. Today, the phrase denotes a person who spends their time indulging in pleasure and luxury rather than attending to practical concerns.

It is doubtful that Mahinda Rajapaksa and his cohort of ministers were well versed in Greek mythology when they named one of their most visible vanity projects, the “Tower of the Lotus” in Colombo. The 350-meter tower, supposedly the tallest in Asia, was built at a cost of $113 million. Of this total, 80% was financed by a loan from the Exim Bank of China to the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) injecting $21.9 million into the project. The construction was entrusted to the China National Electronics Import and Export Corporation and the Aerospace Long-March International Trading Corporation Ltd. under a tripartite agreement signed in January 2012.

In 2015, after the Yahapalana government came to power, the then minister of shipping and aviation, Arjuna Ranatunga, claimed that the land on which the Lotus tower was built belongs to the port authority. of Sri Lanka and that it was not properly acquired by the TRCSL. That same year, some Indian analysts raised concerns that the tower could be used as an electronic surveillance facility with national security implications for southern India.

After many years of construction and delays, it opened, partially, to visitors this week, offering 20-minute tours of the 29th-floor observation deck for Rs. 200 tickets or a 360-degree view while dining for more affluent visitors at the revolving restaurant on the 27th floor. None of the attractions will be able to recover the colossal sum that was spent on its construction.

This is not the first time that the tower has been “open”. In 2019, President Maithripala Sirisena also ceremonially opened the building. That occasion was mired in controversy when President Sirisena said one of the companies hired to work on the project had disappeared with $11 million in public funds. Sirisena claimed that in 2012, during the tenure of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the state-run TRCSL deposited Rs. 2 billion ($11.09 million) with a foreign firm chosen as one of the main contractors. He went on to say that, on his instructions, the Sri Lankan Ambassador to that country visited the address where the company was registered to find that there was no such company.

The Lotus Tower, now inaugurated, should for the second time be a monument that constantly reminds Sri Lankans of the pride of its rulers, rampant corruption and impunity for economic crimes. Despite President Sirisena’s controversial statement regarding massive corruption, to date neither he nor successive governments have held anyone accountable for the alleged crime. The police, the prosecution, the Commission for the Investigation of Allegations of Bribery and Corruption or any other judicial or administrative entity have not taken it upon themselves to open an investigation into the allegations made by the former head of state.

In the days and weeks to come, residents of Colombo and beyond will visit the 350-meter tower, enjoy the views and, if they can afford it, dine at the revolving restaurant. Like the lotus eaters in Greek mythology, they will forget the colossal waste, corruption and impunity associated with this project. It is therefore only fitting that the building be called Lotus Tower because it is indeed a monument worthy of an island of Lotus-Eaters.

James V. Hayes