It is no secret that the new government formed after a January 8 ‘revolution’ heavily exploited names of two of the world’s largest multinational firms to gain political advantage at the now concluded General Election of August 17. One of them was Google Inc. and its ‘Project Loon’ and the other was the hype over the German car manufacturer, Volkswagen planning on setting up an assembly plant in Kuliyapitiya.
On the Loon project, some Sri Lankan government representatives went berserk on political talk shows promising to the extent that it would ultimately result in the provision of “free Wi–Fi services to all Sri Lankans” raising many eyebrows. These pronouncements were made despite the multinational concerned choosing to keep mum by not even issuing a formal statement regarding how it planned to execute this project.
What is now ironic is that whilst news of Google Loon project’s initial entry into Sri Lanka gained prominent media coverage, perhaps due to the announcement itself being made right at the official residence of the Prime Minister, the Temple Trees, there has been less hype in the same media of a recent interesting development.
Somewhere around a fortnight ago, international media has been reporting on a fifty-foot Google research balloon, falling from the sky and crash-landing into a palm tree in Las Vegas, United States. Reports said that this balloon is part of the same research and development project tagged Project Loon, which the government of Sri Lanka was also hoping to execute in partnership with Google Inc.
Meanwhile, in the case of Volkswagen, Sri Lanka’s Board of Investment on August 15, 2015, i.e just two days prior to the General Election, hurriedly arranged a press conference to announce that it was signing an agreement with the authorized sole-agent for Volkswagen in Sri Lanka, Senok Automobile (Pvt) Ltd to set up an assembly plant.
While the MoU signed was not disclosed to the public, representatives from Senok at the press conference also categorically stated that they would neither make any comment on the workings of the plant. The motive of making the announcement then at the time was thus seen with skepticism as Volkswagen AG being a public company having a primary listing on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange, had not even filed a formal disclosure of its major plan to the German Exchange possibly in violation of Trading Rules of that country.
During question time at the press conference it was also revealed that the investor was at the time yet to even finalize the exact location of the 30-acre land for the proposed plant in Kuliyapitiya.
Meanwhile, on a very recent development, VW is now reported to be facing multiple investigations in the United States, including, a criminal probe from the Department of Justice following its admission that it deceived US regulators in exhaust emissions tests.
On Tuesday, VW said around 11 million vehicles were equipped with diesel engines at the center of a widening scandal over faked pollution controls that will cost the company at least 6.5 billion euros ($7.3 billion). Since the news of this ‘cheating scandal’, Volkswagen shares have so far declined by as much as 20 percent, bringing its drop in two days to 35 percent, or about 23 billion euros in market value!
Since the conduct of elections, the government of Sri Lanka is yet to make any update on these two pre-election announcements. And so it seems that at least for now, though the ‘Yahalapanaya’ government could have successfully deceived the public on a political platform by using the names of the two multinationals, it appears that however it is still fighting short of that much needed ‘Midas touch’.