(Development.lk): The Opposition United National Party is accused of making every effort to discourage foreign investments in Sri Lanka, with the ultimate motive of retarding the economic progress of the country. This charge was made by the Acting Minister of Mass Media and Information and the Deputy Minister of Economic Development Lakshman Yapa Abeywardene, addressing a Media Conference in the Government Information Department on Thursday.
He said that despite clear explanations made by him in the Parliament and in Media Conferences outside about granting of lands to Shangri-La Hotel and to China’s CATIC company for construction of Hotels and Shopping/Residential Complexes in Colombo, the UNP MP, Dr. Harsha de Silva has criticised the government in a Media Conference recently about granting of lands to the Chinese company.
He said that although they strongly criticised earlier about provision of lands to the Shangri-La Hotel project, documentary evidence presented by the government has made them to accept the transparency of the deal.
The Minister said that foreign investors come forward for investment after carefully analysing the economic viability of investments and CATIC came forward to invest in the Colombo project only after Shangri-La and the 7 acres of land for CATIC had been given for Rs. 997 million, at a higher rate than the land given to Shangri-La. He said that the UNP’s earlier baseless criticism about CATIC being not in the Hotel trade was discounted by pointing out, with documentary evidence, that it has 11 hotels and 56 Supermarkets. Despite that they are making baseless allegations with the sole objective of discouraging foreign investments as they did when the government obtained the HSBC loan saying that they would not honour the loan if they come to power. He pointed out that no Opposition party in any country of the world would do such things as they do not play politics with the integrity and credibility of the country.
Yapa said that payment for these land offers were made neither to the Ministry of Economic Development nor to the Tourist Authority and presented a photocopy of the receipt issued by the Treasury acknowledging the payment by Shangri-La, and the letter issued by the Treasury to the Commissioner of Lands facilitating the Commissioner to finalise the land agreement with Shangri-La. He said that the government has made all transactions in a transparent manner and in accordance with the standard government procedures and not done things like the UNP’s sale of the Wellawatte Weaving Mills and several other government establishments when they were in power. The Minister appealed to the U.N.P. not to act in a manner to discourage foreign investments and project a negative image of the country.
The Minister further explained that the government entered into an MOU with the CATIC company on 15 February this year and in accordance with the MOU conditions the CATIC has established their Sri Lankan registered company in the name of Avic International Lanka Ltd. He said that accordingly steps have been taken to hand over the land to the Avic International. He said that the Avic International has already paid the down payment of Rs. Five billion and nine hundred and ninety seven million to the Treasury. He presented photocopies of Avic payment made to the Treasury and the subsequent letter issued by the Treasury to the Commissioner General of Lands. He said the total Avic investment will amount to US$ 355 million.
He said that hitherto the highest expenditure per day was made by American tourists which amounted to U.S.Dollars 1,400. However, the Chinese are presently economically vibrant and they spend about U.S.Dollars 1,730 per day. The Minister said that about 65 million Chinese visit foreign countries per year and the CATIC Hotel will also provide a good opportunity to attract a large number of high-end tourists. He said that about 130,000 Chinese tourists visit Maldives a year and although they travel to Maldives via Colombo, Sri Lanka has no way of attracting them to our country, and the CATIC Hotel will also become capable of luring these tourists to Sri Lanka.
The Minister said that due to political stability and the peaceful atmosphere prevailing in the country Sri Lanka had become favourable for foreign investment and during the period from January to June this year, the Board of Investment has entered into agreements for 42 investment projects. This has brought over Rs. 139,936 million as direct foreign investment to the country. In addition to this, he said, that local investors have invested Rs. 33,201 million. Accordingly Rs. 1,73,138 million has been invested for the projects started within the first six months of this year. Agreements have also been reached for expansion of 23 existing projects. Foreign investments amounting to Rs. 12,446 million and local investments amounting to Rs. 52,674 million have been made for these expansion projects, generating 6703 employment opportunities. He said that due to the investments made in Sri Lanka within the first six months of this year, 24,469 employment opportunities had been generated.
The Minister said that MP Harsha de Silva had also criticised the expenditure that would be incurred for shifting the security services units to Pelwatte comparing it with the expenditures being incurred to provide facilities to the people resettled in the North. He pointed out that it was during the time of Lord Mountbattan that Security Services Units were established in various places in Colombo and under the present arrangement all Units will be taken to one place and the total cost will not be incurred in one payment and it will only be released by the Treasury commensurate with the progress of the work. He said that during the last 2 years the government has spent Rs. 33,000 million for the development of infrastructure in the North.
He pointed out that although many developed countries implemented Martial Plans to rebuild their countries after the Second World War, Sri Lanka setting an example to the whole world has rebuilt the North within the last two years implementing projects under normal circumstances.
Referring to the forthcoming local government elections, the Minister challenged the UNP to win at least one local government institution in the South for which elections are being held if possible. He said that even in the North the government would make a significant dent this time winning a considerable number of Local Government Institutions.