Volkswagen or ‘hoaxwagen’?

Friday, 6 January 2017 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The Government yesterday struggled to clarify its own claims that a recently launched vehicle assembly plant in Kuliyapitiya was a venture by the German automaker Volkswagen, after the company publicly denied any investment in Sri Lanka at present.

A USD 26.5 million vehicle assembly plant was launched in Kuliyapitiya on 3 January by President Maithripala Sirisena and Premier Ranil Wickremesinghe. The launch was widely reported in the state and private media on the basis of Government claims that the factory would manufacture Volkswagen cars for export after a three year period of manufacturing for the local market.

Addressing the ground-breaking ceremony in Kuliyapitiya earlier this week, Prime Minister Wickremesinghe boasted that the Government had been able “to create over 20,000 jobs from the MAS Fabric Park, Volkswagen and the Hambantota industrial park within a week. BOI Chairman Upul Jayasuriya also waxed that the Volkswagen plant would be a major leapfrog for the country in the right direction.

But yesterday, a spokesman for the Volkswagen company in Germany told a private television network that there were “no plans for Volkswagen brand investment in Sri Lanka at this point in time.” The spokesman, quoted by the private television channel, said the company could comment no further on the matter.

A BOI agreement was signed with Senok Automobiles, the local agent for Volkswagen in Sri Lanka.

Reports about the ground-breaking ceremony on 3 January for the “Volkswagen” factory were shared widely across Government media and its official social media platforms.

As controversy surrounded the recently launched assembly plant, Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha De Silva clarified on his official Facebook page that the factory would manufacture both Volkswagen and other European automobile brands.

“As you are all aware the VW crisis happened after the BOI documents were signed. So it’s been an uphill task to keep to the original plan. However, it is creditworthy that the project is now off the ground and soon assembling and exporting to South Asia and Africa (sic),” he said.

Education Minister Akila Viraj Kariyawasam also told a news website that the Government “had never said” the Kuliyapitiya factory was a Volkswagen plant, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.