COLOMBO: The controversial US$ 1.5 billion Chinese-funded and built Colombo Port City Project has finally come to a halt due to a legal hitch.
The Deputy Minister for Investment Promotion and Highways, Eran Wickramaratne, told Express on Wednesday, that the agreement on the project signed by the Chinese government-owned China Communication Construction Company (CCCC) and the Government of Sri Lanka under the Strategic Development Plan, has lapsed, because it was not ratified by parliament within the stipulated three month period.
“The cabinet had given the clearance but not parliament. And the deadline for parliament’s approval has passed. The project is thus open to fresh bidding and any party can bid now,” Wickramaratne said.
The Maithripala Sirisena government had been dilly dallying over the ambitious project to reclaim several hectares of land from the sea and build an ultra-modern commercial cum entertainment city. It had raised the environmentalists’ hackles besides throwing up issues over its cost. Sirisena had promised to review it when he was fighting the Presidential election.
While the reclamation part of the project had been cleared by environmental experts from the Moratuwa Engineering University, the environmental impact of the development projects on land had not even been studied. Government spokesman Rajitha Senaratne said that environmental clearance for the latter could be secured later, and that the current phase of the project could proceed unhindered.
However, a few days later, another spokesman, Lakshman Kiriella, said that the project could not go on in the absence of all the clearances. Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe endorsed Kiriella’s stand and added that the matter would be discussed when President Maithripala Sirisena visits Beijing in March.
However, with the discovery of a legal lacuna in regard to the agreement itself, the project has ground to a halt, and cannot proceed without being opened to fresh bidding. When the project was given to the CCCC, there was no open bidding. It was an unsolicited proposal and the Mahinda Rajapaksa government had accepted it in toto, and without question.