Much talked Christmas tree in Galle Face was unveiled on last Saturday night. One million natural pine cones painted red, gold, green and silver and 600,000 LED bulbs decorated the73-meter (238-foot) artificial tree. A 20-foot-tall star - weighing around 60kg topped the tree.
The initial cost estimates reported in the press were confused and early reports pegged the cost at around $13.4m, but then in a statement Mangala P Gunasekara, Minister Ranatunga's coordinating secretary clarified that the cost was closer to $80,600. Minister Arjuna Ranatunga later told media that the government would only release the official cost after the tree was erected, adding that expenses were being met entirely by sponsors and through donations from individuals - not by the state. Port workers, including port engineers worked for the project voluntarily.
The building of the tree, which required the labor of hundreds of port workers and volunteers for four months, were halted for six days earlier this December when Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith publicly denounced it. Even though cardinal was against the Christmas tree idea, which his eminence usually categorically despise and criticized by other priests, was welcomed by some priests.
Then the environment suddenly changed. "When I heard the news I was upset and asked them to stop building straight away," Minister Arjuna Ranatunga, whose initiated the project said to news media. "I am a Buddhist, but since the main leader in the Christian community in Sri Lanka was unhappy, we just had to stop it" he added.
Later, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe put the project back on track when he assured that it wasn’t funded with taxpayer money, but by donations from individuals and private organizations.
Here, one should note some concerning issues. First, there was a courtesy of asking the opinion of the related community and religious leaders. Since the project was started before August, there was much time. On the other hand Sri Lankans are not well-known for their communication skills.
Secondly, even though investment was borne by sponsors, could not they find something more useful for general public? With the increased taxes, people need financial support more than ever. Was it less Christmassy to build the world’s largest shelter for homeless? Or best feast for street children? Addressing real issues regarding the public is never a good ‘thing’ in Sri Lankan politics. More than showing to the world, it is important to work out issues within grass-root level within communities. On the other hand think about the waste it will pile up after exhibition is over.
Initially, it was said tree was a not funded by the government and mostly based on sponsorship. Further government members showed that workers and many others will be benefited from this venture. At least proper tourism propaganda would have benefited if properly organized. It was speculated that the surrounding area of the Christmas tree was rented by a businessman and sublet stalls for lacks. The tree was built with the hopes of promoting ethnic and religious harmony in a country.
Thirdly, did we actually did something for building reconciliation and harmony among the communities? Should not there be more programmes with the Christmas tree? More than a commercial circus, it was little achieved regarding the initial purpose.
Sri Lankans again showed that they are without a long lasting proper plan of addressing real issues of reconciliation and religious harmony.
Anyway Facebook shared different and interesting views regarding the tree.