HAMBANTOTA PORT: THUNDERSTORM YET PREVAILS
Posted on December 26th, 2016

with Ravi Ladduwahetty Courtesy Ceylon Today

I think the currency of leadership is transparency. You’ve got to be truthful. I don’t think you should be vulnerable every day, but there are moments where you’ve got to share your soul and conscience with people and show them who you are, and not be afraid of it
American businessman, Chairman/ CEO of Starbucks and former owner of the Seattle SuperSonics. Howard Schultz

The thunderstorm over the Hambantota Port yet prevails with most of the core questions and contentious issues remaining unanswered.

It was only in yesterday’s Ceylon Today Sunday Edition that this columnist had an in- depth question and answer interview with the State Minister of International Trade Sujeewa Senasinghe in which he said the same answer repeated, which sounded as a well rehearsed banter: “I don’t know, I have not been informed. Please ask the Minister”. That also sounded like a chorus song!
Some of the key issues which remain unanswered and which needs to be investigated are the missing US $ 500 million in the light of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa announcing that his Government had invested US $ 1250 million, but the Chinese had said that they had invested only US $ 750 million, about taking another Chinese loan for a railway line between Kurunegala and Dambulla based on the revenues of the Hambantota Port where the loans were taken from the Chinese Government which are reportedly at lower interest rates, the Minister being unaware of there being a Framework Agreement which was signed which was within the public domain and also published in the previous week’s Ceylon Today in full on Page 10 of the main paper, various components of the project were factored or not in the value et al.

Also some of the other major issues which have not been factored in, which remain unanswered are: how the project was virtually proceeded with, despite the massive opposition from the Minister of Ports and Shipping Arjuna Ranatunga, widely acknowledged as one of the key stakeholders of the project, the Ministry and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority and others, conflicts of interests with the members of the Project Committee sitting on the Cabinet Appointed Negotiating Committee and a disparity of the evaluation between US $ 50,000 lease rental in the backdrop of the land value being over US $ 1000 billion! Another key matter of contention was whether the right value had been assigned to the Port with the Port being just a few nautical miles just within the strategic sea route between the Suez Canal and the Straits of Malacca.

TRANSPARENCY

It is with these aspects of these clauses in mind that this columnist brings in the quote from the respected US business magnate on transparency which was the buzzword starting from the first Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga Presidency in 1994, but what ensued was something diametrically opposite as chalk being different from cheese Transparency, if we are to have it, we should be having it to the point of nudity, both literally and metaphorically!

State Minister of International Trade Sujeewa Senasinghe cannot say all that he is saying, seated in his office chair, holding the post that he is enjoying. The fact of the matter is that he is an integral part of the Government, becomes a mockery of the very good governance, or Yahapalanaya which has now become Ya(m)apalanaya or
(W)ahapalanaya!

To put it mildly, take the case of a family where the father does things, purportedly in the best interests of the family, but keeps all in the dark. Usually, barring grace exceptions, things don’t happen that way in any family.

So, in the same vein, the President and the Prime Minister as the incumbent Head of State and Head of Government respectively, should have kept the Government Members informed of what is happening, irrespective of who holds what rank. That is basic. The entire Government Parliamentary Group should have been apprised of the nitty gritties. The media has every right to pigeonhole and criticize constructively the policies of the government, especially with the Right to Information Act has also been passed in Parliament.

So, this is not a deal that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Minister of Strategy and International Commerce Malik Samarawickrema should be doing solo. That is also the way of this latest story of the Super Ministers is also going to materialize! Two Provincial Councils have already shot it down, with the approvals having to come from the Provincial level itself. The manner in which the Hambantota Port Framework Agreement has also been signed is shrouded in cloaks of secrecy.

Hats off to PM

One thing more. Despite all the criticisms of this Hambantota Port Development and issues revolving round it, on the positive side, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should be congratulated for proposing to bringing in the Development ( Special Provisions) Bill at least on one count. That is to leapfrog the Foreign Direct Investment into the country, which is woefully inadequate right now.

It is true that the Board of Investment is the major organ which approved these investments but the rest of them such as the Environmental Impact Assessments ( EIA) and others require the approvals of Regional and Local Authorities which makes the investors to go round and round the mulberry bush, so to speak.

This is not a new phenomenon having gone on uninterrupted for at least 20 years. There was also a tome that slain President Ranasinghe Premadasa also initiated a similar mechanism to fast track the mechanism for investments during his tenure.
The Hambantota Port project was not something that the current Government started. That was inherited. However, it was Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his abridged government of 2001-2004, who created this concept, having created Regional Ministers at provincial level, but of Cabinet rank. This is how Hambantota District MP Ananda Kularatne was sworn in as Minister of Southern Development. Much was spoken by him to this columnist in a full page interview in a previous newspaper that this columnist was employed in.

So, it is up to the current government to spell out all the details of the Hambantota Port Project and the involvement of the public so that the public could decide where the malpractices occurred, and more so whether they were by the previous or the incumbent regime.

([email protected])

2 Responses to “HAMBANTOTA PORT: THUNDERSTORM YET PREVAILS”

  1. aloy Says:

    Give Hambanthota port to a local Company having a track record of good management and proven capacity. If we cannot manage something we must not build it. As it is even the money the Chinese are supposed to pay is not going to pay the loans. Some say it is going to build a railway line to Polonnaruwa. What for?. That also means that the debt burden is not so severe for the people to bear up.
    I am sure if we stay non aligned ( and not become anti-west & US) this port will become viable by servicing Indian subcontinent and transshipment hub for the East Asian economies. Lets also not blame MR for building it.

  2. Gunadasa Says:

    “President Mahinda Rajapaksa announcing that his Government had invested US $ 1250 million, but the Chinese had said that they had invested only US $ 750 million ”

    I thought “Government” and “Chinese” are two different entities. Therefore total investment amount to $2 billion !

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

 

 


Copyright © 2018 LankaWeb.com. All Rights Reserved. Powered by Wordpress