Govt. is trying to turn back policies regarding loans: Harsha

Monday, 12 July 2021 00:29 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

By Asiri Fernando

SJB Parliamentarian  Dr. Harsha De Silva at yesterday’s media conference

Opposition MP Dr. Harsha De Silva yesterday charged that the Finance Ministry is poised to turn back the policy of not obtaining loans or funding infrastructure projects.

“Why is the Government going to pay the contractor $ 1.6 billion over 15 years for a highway project that will only cost around $ 650 million?” the Opposition MP questioned regarding the Kelaniya-Athurugiriya Highway project, cautioning that project also endangers the Thalangama wetlands which is covered by the Ramsar Convention.  

The proposed Elevated Highway Project (EHP) between the new Kelani bridge to Athurugiriya via Rajagiriya is a first of its kind; where full ownership of the Highway will be with the China Harbour Engineering Corporation (CHEC) for 18 years, with work planned to commence in 2025. The Cabinet approval for the project to be awarded to CHEC was given in April this year, with strict conditions placed not to offer traffic guarantees or annual payments for the project.   The Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP claimed conditions put in place for the proposed highway between the Kelani bridge and the Athurugiriya to be built on; Build, Operate, Transfer (BOT) model are being changed.

“We have learned that Basil Rajapaksa, as the new Finance Minister has put forward a Cabinet paper to pay the company $ 54 million every six months for 15 years. The Government is planning to pay them $ 1.6 billion for the project,” said the SJB Parliamentarian and former Economic Reforms Minister claimed. 

“That is what the Government is getting ready to do. President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that the country will not take loans or spend our money on infrastructure projects. Minister Gammanpila said the same. So, what is happening now?” Dr. de Silva questioned, adding that the planned dollar payments will add to the country’s forex woes.

The SJB MP stated that the Opposition had warned about the feasibility of the project. Pointing out that investors will likely not find the venture profitable without local contributions or guarantees of traffic. 

“It was clear that viability gap financing was an issue. Investors will not come if it is not profitable. We told this to the public before. The Government has now changed their policies and is misleading the public. It is deception,” Dr. de Silva charged.    

He questioned why the Government was moving ahead with the new project, planning to make payments in the billions, while having rejected the Light Rail public transport initiative which was to be funded by JICA. He opined that with the LRT out of the way, a paid highway on a BOT basis may be more lucrative. 

“The Government has revised its policy. The Government claimed that the Light Rail Project was too costly. We all know that it is the improvement of public transport that will help reduce congestion. The Light Rail Project would have done that. It was to be paid back in 40 years at a very small interest rate. So, why is the Government changing its policy now?” the Opposition MP argued.

MP de Silva blamed the Government for mismanaging investment opportunities, adding that the termination of the JICA LRT project has now forced the State to pay compensation for it.

Further, Dr. de Silva warned that the environmental cost of the project is likely greater than the financial, pointing out that the invaluable wetlands at risk. “They are Ramsar’s only wetlands within a city in South Asia’s. The value to the wetlands is immeasurable,” he added.