THE REIGN OF MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA Part 6
Posted on April 11th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The Rajapaksa period saw several advances in the university sector. The Ocean University was established by Act No 31 of 2014 to provide graduate and diploma level training in fisheries, marine and nautical engineering.  It is located in Mattakuliya, Colombo. It offers degrees in Fisheries, Marine Science, Marine Engineering, and Transportation Management & Logistics Coastal & Marine Resources Management. There are certificate courses in Diving, Welding and mechanics of Floating Vessels. The first convocation was held in 2016.

The Sri Lanka Technological Campus was started in September 2015. It is a subsidiary of Sri Lanka Telecom. It is a private institute conducting programs in electronics, telecommunications and computing. The main campus is at Padduka in the former satellite station premises. It is the first corporate funded, fully residential non-state university in Sri Lanka.  The curriculum is fashioned after the global standards set by Washington Accord for Engineering degrees and Sydney Accord for Technology degrees. Its degree programmes are recognized by the University Grants commission.

Kotelawala Defence Academy started to train doctors, because the armed forces needed more doctors. There was a shortage of doctors in the army, said Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in 2017. Our goal was to find a solution to this problem by establishing a new medical faculty.” The First Batch of Officer Cadets of the Faculty of Medicine of the General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University were conferred with the Degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) in 2014.

University of Moratuwa had produced very good electronic graduates but   there were no opportunities in electronics in Sri Lanka. The big companies were not interested and there was no local electronics industry, the graduates were going elsewhere.  In 2014, government granted Rs 160 million for an Advanced Electronic Design Centre at University of Moratuwa. This grant enabled them to purchase electronic design automation tools, software for designing circuit board and chips through automation process. These were very expensive and no   local company could afford them. The centre was functioning by 2015.

Mahinda Rajapaksa made a considerable contribution to the energy sector. Both ‘Norochcholai’ and ‘Kerawalapitiya’ were started during Rajapaksa’s period of rule. The Lakvijaya Power Station is in Norochcholai, Puttalam. It is the largest power station in Sri Lanka. Construction began on 11 May 2006, with the first unit commissioning on 22 March 2011. There was an awful fuss when Norochcholai was considered, saying it was bad for the environment, because Norochcholai is coal fired.

The Yugadanavi Power Station (also known as Kerawalapitiya Power Station) is a 300 MW, oil-fired power station located in Kerawalapitiya in Wattala.  It uses heavy fuel oil. Kerawalapitiya power plant is owned by, West Coast Power Ltd, a government owned entity

Construction of the power station began in November 2007, the first 200 MW phase was completed in a record 10 months and was inaugurated by President  Rajapaksa on 8 December 2008. The plant had to be available to the CEB by November 2009 to avoid power cuts. The second phase was completed in February 2010. Kerawalapitiya is today one of the largest power plants in the country with 300MW capacity. It is second only to the 900MW Norochcholai coal power plant.

Eng. J.A. S Perera, CEO of WCPL, provided a history of the project, in an interview with the media. This land was owned by Ceylon Electricity Board for a long time and it was intended to put up a combined cycle power plant by CEB, he said. There had been several attempts by the CEB to build a power plant but none of them succeeded for various reasons. The Rajapaksa government which came to power in 2005 made a fresh attempt.

Lakdhanvi Ltd was selected as contractor to build the plant by a Cabinet appointed tender board to build a 300MW plant that can operate on liquefied natural gas, heavy fuel and auto diesel. That attempt also failed as the Ministry of Finance did not permit the CEB to borrow USD 300 million for the purpose or get a loan to build it.

The Finance Ministry told the Power Ministry that the project would have to be outsourced. They wanted private investors to invest. The war was at its height and it was not easy to get investors. A new company was set up in the name of West Coast Power Ltd to raise around USD 300 million for the purpose.

The WCPL went to banks but no Sri Lankan bank was able to give such a large amount. Finally HSBC Hong Kong agreed to give loan for 70 per cent of the project cost but demanded a government guarantee, since the WCPL was a new company. Euro 152.2 million loan was given by HSBC PLC-United Kingdom and France to finance the project, in four 12-year tranches and one 10-year tranche.

Even then the WCPL still needed to raise 30 per cent of the cost by way of equity. The EPF agreed to invest Rs. 2,975 million while Lanka Electricity Co. (LECO) agreed to put up Rs. 2,000. The National Savings Bank and ETF also agreed to give loans. These were converted to WCPL equity. Ministry of Finance including the NSB and ETF has 50%, EPF has 27.05%, LECO has 18.18% and Lakdhanavi 4.77% of the shares. Unlike in a normal equity investment scenario, the interest to NSB and ETF was also used to finance cost of the project.

Equity investors usually do not take equity until funds for the entire project is secured. In this case, the investors put in their money without waiting for this, taking a very high risk. If WCPL failed to get the loans, these equity investments of EPF, LECO, NSB and ETF would have led to a major crisis for those organizations. That was the kind of risk they took. The WCPL never had to spend more than its original equity of 12,425 million rupees and 152 million Euros, said Perera.

We have kept this power plant in an excellent condition. We have won many international awards. It is one of the very few combined cycle power plants in the entire world running on heavy fuel oil, which is cheaper than diesel. CEB only wanted a diesel operated power plant. Operation with diesel, which is a much cleaner fuel, is lot easier. But by operating on heavy fuel oil, we save this country more than ten billion rupees a year.

The Kerawalapitiya power plant helped to avoid power cuts on many occasions. We came on line in 2009 and avoided the predicted power cut.  There were several dry years for the CEB after that. During those years, this power plant did the bull work for the CEB.  There were many failures at Norochcholai too.

No other power project has been as unfairly criticized as this. Now the plant is operational and making profits, so it is easy for people to criticize. Nobody now appreciates the situation which had prevailed when this power plant was constructed. There was a global financial crisis. Banks would not lend any money. Many big banks collapsed. There was a war going on and security threats. Even the engineering drawings of this very power plant had once been found in an LTTE camp in the North, concluded Perera.

The Rajapaksa government was a pioneer in solar energy. LOLC Group Company Sagasolar Power opened Sri Lanka’s first ever utility scale solar power plant in Baruthankanda, Hambantota in 2016. The construction had started in 2010 and was completed in 2015 at a cost of US$ 18 million. This plant is over seven times the size of the largest solar project in Sri Lanka, said the media. It has the capacity to produce 10MW of power that will be given to the national grid.  The project will provide 20GWh which will be sufficient to provide the annual electricity needed so 15,000 typical Sri Lanka homes.

Sri Lanka Navy had re-established its Hydrographic Wing in 2012.  In 2018, it had earned Rs. 1.69 million by providing professional consultancy services and bathymetric surveys for private sector institutes. In 2017, there was an MOU with Netherlands to use the Sri Lanka Navy store in Galle, to store       weapons needed by its personnel for protection of vessels. They were storing them in Singapore till now. Sri Lanka, under Mahinda Rajapaksa had provided this storage for many private firms. This is the first with a government, stated the media.

The Rajapaksa government opened a newly built state-of-the-art fish trade centre at Peliyagoda in the outskirts of Colombo In 2011. This replaced the St. John’s fish market built in 1894 in Pettah, Colombo. The new Central Fish Market Complex, situated on a 3.17 hectare reclaimed marshy land along the main Katunayake airport expressway, was built at a cost of 1.7 billion rupees. The Asian Development Bank provided 675 million rupees and the government provided the remainder.

This wholesale fish complex has 148 stalls on the ground floor. The top floors have been allocated for banks, post offices, police services, a restaurant, and a quality control room. The complex also had 25-metric tonne ice factory, three cold storages, and a water purifying plant. A modern parking facility to accommodate 500 cars   was planned for. Sri Lanka Fisheries Corporation had   in 2011 signed an agreement with the Power Asia International Company for this car park. The Peliyagoda fish market complex is expected to become a distribution and selling centre of fish to all corners of the country, said the media in 2011.

Mahinda Rajapaksa had, in March 2012, negotiated a Japanese Development Assistance (ODA) loan package to Sri Lanka administered through Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to supply of 124 ambulances and provide four secondary hospitals Galgamuwa, Kalawanchikudy, Teldeniya and Warakapola, with facilities and necessary equipment to implement early detection, treatment and prevention of non-communicable diseases.

Kaluwanchikudi Base Hospital and Warakapola Base Hospital were refurbished first.  Theldeniya Base Hospital complex was done in 2017. Theldeniya Base Hospital was revamped with a five storied Operation Theater Complex, Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU), Judicial Medical Office Unit and latest bio medical equipment.

Rajapaksa supporters complained in 2015 that the UNP had removed the Mahindodaya” name board from the technology labs set up in schools country wide. They also complained that Yahapalana was sabotaging the projects started by Rajapaksa.

 Construction work on the multi million rupee Information Technology Park at Hambantota was stopped after Yahapalana came in, observed COPE in 2017. The construction work was stopped after completing three stories out of seven because the constructor failed to finish the work on time, said the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission. Several investors including Intel Corporation, IBM, two universities from India and Singapore, Tech One Global, and Mobitel had expressed willingness earlier to set up IT ventures at this IT Park.

The Rajagiriya flyover, touted as Sri Lanka longest flyover, a four lane structure, was completed in January 2018. It was initiated by Rajapaksa. Yahapalana government had modified the plan and the traffic jams are continuing despite the flyover.

Gotabhaya Rajapaksa had made improvements to the parks and central spaces, through the UDA. Daily Mirror of 5.5.17 had a two page spread on the jogging tracks and walking paths round Colombo. There was Diyath Uyana opened in 2011, which was attracting scores of locals, non locals and also cyclists.  Crowds come flooding in, said the report.

There was the Diyawanna jogging track, well lit by solar powered lamps and with benches to sit and enjoy the breath taking view of Parliament and Diyawanna oya. The Kumbulewewa jogging track which overlooks a picturesque stretch of paddy fields is located near the Diyawanna track. Occasionally, one may observe local farmers tending to their harvest.  

The Bellanwila jogging track also had benches and a breathtaking view of lake around Pillawa temple .The  Beddegana wetland park, was  a tranquil haven of 18 hectares rich in lush foliage, marshy land home to several endemic birds dragonflies and butterflies. Urban wetland park Nawala, was used for jogging. It had lotus shaped ponds. Independence Square is now a jogging and cycling track with an open air gym. Viharamaha Devi Park was well lit by solar powered lamps. There were public toilets. There were bins along the pathways.

But these walkways and cycling paths were neglected when Yahapalana government came to power. Under the Rajapaksa   government these parks were looked after by the military, Yahapalana withdrew the army.  Authorities, such as RDA, Municipal council,   and the   Provincial road development authority   were not prepared to look after them. Today these parks and walkways are neglected. They are also dangerous, with snakes and crocodiles, complained users.  Bellanwila jogging track is going to rack and ruin, thousands used it, they said.

The 450 meter-long Wattala exercise track   used by hundreds of residents daily for walking, jogging and practicing yoga,  was destroyed in 2016  in a spectacular manner, at midnight with crowbars and bulldozers.   The solar powdered lamps also went. It was alleged that the track was destroyed so that a powerful insurance company could build a massive housing complex. The argument that it was built on private land was dismissed. The SLLRDC said the exercise track had been built on a canal reservation area that came under the purview of the SLLRDC and therefore it was state land.   The track was restored following public outcry, but it was no longer usable.

Projects started by Mahinda Rajapaksa were not completed because Mahinda Rajapaksa in his greed for power failed to complete his term of office. He had two more years to go.  If he had stayed on,   the projects he started would have been completed.  Now Yahapalana government   is completing the projects started by Rajapaksa. Rajapaksa supporters cannot bear this. 

Former Minister of Prison Reforms and Rehabilitation Chandrasiri Gajadeera accused Yahapalana government of taking credit for constructing a modern prison to international standards at Angunakolapelessa. “Former Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa and I laid the foundation stone for the Angunakolapelessa prison and all work was done by the previous government, but this government will open it   next month,” he said in February 2017.

A test run on the Matara-Beliatte stretch of the southern railway extension took place amidst cheers and boos, in January 2019. A group of protesters, holding photographs of former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, delayed the start of the train at the Beliatta station by blocking the line. A   second   group stopped the train midway, demanding compensation. A third group of Rajapaksa supporters protested at the Bambarenda station.

When the Matara- Beliatta line was completed, and the first train was ready to depart from Matara railway station, in April 2019, these supporters turned up again. They put up a banner congratulating Mahinda Rajapaksa for initiating the project. Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters were highly worked up and it was a strong protest. Television cameras recorded Rajapaksa supporters and Yahapalana supporters, yelling and hitting each other. This was shown on evening news.

The matter did not end there. Television news on 10.4.19 showed Mahinda Rajapaksa turning up at Matara railway station. He bought a ticket, got on the Matara- Beliatta train and sat down at a window seat. The Matara railway platform was bursting with his supporters and as the train left Matara station, television cameras showed Rajapaksa with his hand extended out of the window, greeting supporters and patting children’s heads. Another throng of excited supporters were waiting at the next station, Kekunadura.  This would have been repeated at the three remaining stations, Bambarenda, Wevurukannala and Beliatta too. Mahinda Rajapaksa supporters, it appears, feel strongly about Mahinda Rajapaksa.  (Continued)

One Response to “THE REIGN OF MAHINDA RAJAPAKSA Part 6”

  1. aloy Says:

    Lots of valuable info here.
    Looks like MR had a vision on high tech things and established the Technological Campus under SLT at Padukka. I hope international level graduates who can go to any part of the world and work confidently would come out from this. Likewise he had given funds to Moratuwa uni to start an Advanced Electronics Design Center with necessary software to do computer aided designs of circuit boards etc. Have they made use of this facility?.

    The first sentence in fourth para saying that Moratuwa has produced very good engineers is wrong. I have come across some of them and found that they are not serious people at all. I haven’t seen or heard any significant thing done by the IT section there except flying some drones.

    Our country depends on IT companies to produce to earn foreign exchange.I believe it is the fourth largest foreign exchange earner. I was watching a Derana 360 program where one professor from Colombo uni described our IT professional like garment workers who are earning an elevated wages. I fully agree with him. One does not need any special skills to do coding as long as he knows one of the high level programming languages which are all English like. Our niche market in garments have been taken over by countries like Bangladesh, Kenya, Vietnam etc as our production cost are high. In time to come same thing will happen to software development industry also unless we follow the new developments taking place in countries like US & UK. A paradigm shift is taking place in this field with the use of Digital Logic Level (or hardware level) also for the development of software. I give a link to a video that explains the whole thing.
    In addition we should start manufacturing the equipment that are used in the garment industry by making use of the facilities that have been made available by the previous government. This would help us to reduce the cost of production and who knows we could even be able to export them.

    ‘https://youtu.be/XW_h4KFr9js’

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