COLUMBO: The Sirisena government has back tracked on its election promise to “review” the controversial US$ 1.4 billion Chinese funded Colombo Port City project.
The cabinet has now shown the green light for the continuation of the project, in view of the need to maintain good relations with China, government spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne told newspersons here on Thursday.
During the Presidential election campaign in December-January, the United National Party (UNP) leader and the present Prime Minister, Ranil Wickremesinghe, had vowed to review the project saying that it would damage the environment along the Western coast. The review was to be part of an across-the-board review of all Chinese funded projects as these were thought to be bristling with over invoicing and corruption.
But now the Lankan cabinet has concluded that the project is sound, with only one gap to be filled, namely, a study on the impact on the environment of developmental projects to be located on land, Senaratne said.
He further said that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had expressed the view that the project would have to be seen in the light of Sri Lanka’s relations with China and not just as a commercial venture. Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena will go on an official visit to China in the second half of March.
While the project to reclaim land from the sea had got an environmental impact clearance, the impact of the development projects to be located on land on the environment, had not been studied. This study would be done in due course, Senaratne said.
Any other problems related to the project would be discussed when President Sirisena meets the Chinese President in March, Senaratne said.
On the issue of China’s acquiring ownership rights over several hectares of reclaimed land, when Lankan law says that foreigners and foreign companies can take government-owned land only on lease, Senaratne said that the said law will not apply to this case as it is the Chinese who have reclaimed the land.
This argument had earlier been rejected by the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), a party in alliance with the Sirisena government. JHU leader and Power Minister Champika Ranawaka had told the press earlier, that the sea bed up to 200 km into the sea belongs to Lanka as part of its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The seabed cannot be bartered away to a foreign party, Ranawaka said.
The State-owned China Communication Construction Company (CCCC), which is doing the Port City Project, has said that once completed, the Port City would get US 13 billion in foreign investment, and generate 83,000 jobs for locals.