- JVP slams Govt. for entering into agreement with India and Japan
- Questions why Govt. cannot develop ETC
- Says allowing foreign companies to operate at Colombo Port could become a security issue
- Insists governments are only caretakers of national assets and do not have moral right to divest them
By Ashwin Hemmathagama – Our Lobby Correspondent
Opposition lawmaker and Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake on Tuesday faulted the Government for entering into an agreement with Japan and India to develop the Easter Container Terminal of the Colombo Port.
Criticising the Government of allegedly selling the strategically important asset within the Port of Colombo, MP Dissanayake held governments were only caretakers rather than owners of national assets and as such could not divest them.
“There are media reports of the Government signing agreements with India and Japan on 28 May awarding the Colombo East Container Terminal. This terminal, which is a property of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority, was modernised in 2015 at a cost of $ 80 million obtained from the Bank of Ceylon to berth larger vessels. Making use of a moment when national attention is directed at something else, the Government went ahead with the awarding,” he said.
According to MP Dissanayake, trade unions had drawn up plans to run the Colombo East Container Terminal and the jetty soon after it was modernised in 2015. However, the particular Cabinet Paper Minister Arjuna Ranatunga presented was rejected by Cabinet.
“Signatories to this MoU were the Ambassador of Japan, High Commissioner of India, and the Minister of Ports. The administration has awarded the terminal to those two countries making use of this MoU. At this moment the SAGT is managed by the John Keells Group and Colombo International Container Terminal is managed by China Merchant Holdings, which was given during the Rajapaksa Government. This happens to be the only remaining jetty the SLPA has left. According to reports, the Government took this decision with Narendra Modi getting re-elected. This agreement has created a threat to 1,000 employees engaged in Colombo Port-related jobs,” he added.
MP Dissanayake wanted the Prime Minister to explain to Parliament the rationale for the decision to award the modernised State asset to foreigners instead of purchasing the necessary equipment and moving forward with operations.
“Instead of making use of the modernised jetty, what made the Government give it out? Have you completed the awarding process? Who took the decision that this jetty could not be used to make money unless awarded to a foreign party? What were the facts used to reach that decision? Did any foreign nation force Sri Lanka to award the jetty to India? Will this not be a security threat to Sri Lanka?”
Rejecting MP Dissanayake’s charges, Leader of the House Lakshman Kiriella said the Government was unable to shoulder the burden further in the absence of sufficient funds. “We don’t have money to develop these assets, so we need to attract investment. In reality, our annual income is not sufficient to service our debt. SriLankan (Airlines) is another example. It can be run at low cost but there is no money to develop further. We haven’t sold the terminal but the Government has entered into a partnership where the SLPA has majority shares,” explained Minister Kiriella.
However, Dissanayake charged that money could not be the main reason to reach the decision. “The Treasury need not invest money to develop this jetty and national income has no bearing over the awarding of the jetty to a foreign country. The Ports Authority makes money for the Government and its finances are different from SriLankan Airlines. After the modernisation of the jetty, you only needed Rs. 800 million to purchase the gantry cranes. Can’t you pay this Rs. 800 million? During the recent past you spent large amounts of money to import vehicles for ministers. On top of that, you have been paying Rs. 22 million as rent for the building in which the Ministry of Agriculture is now established. You are not the owners of this country but trustees,” he added.