YAHAPALANA AND THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA Part 9B
Posted on August 19th, 2019

KAMALIKA PIERIS

COLOMBO-TRINCOMALEE ECONOMIC CORRIDOR

 The plan for a Colombo Trincomalee Economic Corridor, which is considered part of the MCC Compact, was developed initially by the Asian Development Bank. In 2018, the media reported that the Asian Development Bank had initiated a comprehensive development plan for the Colombo-Trincomalee Economic Corridor (CTEC) to address some of the development challenges faced by the country.

An economic corridor development plan with the potential to generate 1.2 million new jobs by 2030 was proposed in a 2018 study by the ADB, reported the media. This corridor development plan seeks to address regional imbalances in the country and also extend the strengths of the Western Region to the other end of the Colombo Trincomalee Corridor and along the corridor as well.

The primary corridor, (which means the Colombo-Trincomalee economic corridor) will be an east-west corridor that takes advantage of existing international gateways, such as the Bandaranaike International Airport and Colombo Port, which are located at the western end of the corridor. Trincomalee’s ‘proximity to potential transport gateways’ ( which means its harbor) and position as a key tourist attraction will help to establish it as a complementary location to Colombo on the eastern end of CTEC and along the corridor.

The proposed Central Expressway, which connects the two, which is about 280 kilometers long, will act as the spine of the corridor. An influence area of 50 kilometers on either side has been selected, which cuts across 6 provinces and 10 districts. The districts in the influence area cover 42% of Sri Lanka’s total area, account for 58% of the total population and contribute 86% to industrial output.

The nurtured development of Trincomalee will balance the corridor’s growth by increasing the competitiveness of the eastern part of the corridor, which will help to address regional imbalances in the country.

To implement the economic corridor, it is necessary to identify economic centers that can be prioritized for development and made ready for attracting investments”. Valuable resources must be channeled in a focused manner, thus maximizing the potential benefits of the corridor. The right mix of industries needs to be promoted in order to develop effective and efficient production clusters along the corridor. Aligning them with existing transport spines helps generate synergies that further boost the potential of the corridor, concluded ADB.

Critics were not impressed. They observed that the Colombo-Trincomalee project will carve out an economic corridor from Colombo to Trincomalee, taking in Colombo, Negombo, Kurunegala, Dambulla, and Trincomalee, covering 1.2 million acres, in a manner that physically divides the territory of Sri Lanka into two distinct parts. It has been alleged that the MCC envisages an electric railway line that would bisect the country in a straight line linking Trincomalee with Colombo. The underlying purpose of the MCC compact was to divide Sri Lanka into two distinct parts, said, critics. That the so-called economic corridor is to serve the interests of the U.S. that have upgraded the status of Sri Lanka to that of a Military Logistics Hub.

ADB stated that the corridors were to help economic growth in economically poor areas. Critics pounced on this.  The majority of the Districts within the economic corridor do not qualify on grounds of poverty, they are below the national poverty headcount index of 4.1 Districts with high levels of poverty are outside the proposed corridor, they said.

Expanding on this, critics observed that of the eight Districts included in the Colombo Trincomalee Economic Corridor, five of them, namely, Matale (3.5), Kurunegala (2.9), Anuradhapura (3.8), Polonnaruwa (2.2) and Gampaha (2.0) are below the national headcount index of 4.1. Therefore, only three Districts, Kandy (5.5), Kegalle (7.1) and Trincomalee (10.0) qualify, since their poverty indices are high and well above the national average of 4.1. Districts, where the poverty headcount index is considerably higher than the national average and therefore requiring attention are not in the corridor. Districts such as Ratnapura (6.5), Monaragala (5.8), Badulla (6.8), Batticaloa (11.3), Kilinochchi (18.2), Mullaitivu (12.7), Jaffna (7.7), Nuwara-Eliya (6.3) are well above the national poverty index.

Lasanda Kurukulasuriya added her views. .Readers may recall how in January 2019 the US military carried out what it called a ‘temporary cargo transfer initiative’ where US Air Force planes brought cargo into the Bandaranaike International Airport – which is a commercial airport – and transferred supplies to an aircraft carrier USS John C Stennis of the US 7th Fleet. US embassy statements did not specify where the aircraft carrier was, but reports suggest it was in waters off Trincomalee. If the US plans to use the ports of Trincomalee and Colombo as part of a logistics hub to support its military activities in the Indian Ocean, the relevance of a high-speed rail link connecting the two port cities becomes obvious.

The Colombo-Trincomalee economic corridor ends at Trincomalee. Trincomalee harbour provided shelter to the British Eastern Fleet, during the 2nd World War. However, following independence in 1948, Sri Lanka took over the control of the Trincomalee harbour in 1957, said, commentators. Since then, for the past 60 years, one of the largest natural harbours in the world has been in a deep slumber, without making use of its real potential.  Britain’s first possession in Sri Lanka was Trincomalee (1796) and it was the last to go (1957).

When J.R. Jayewardene was President, India exerted pressure regarding Trincomalee, continued the commentary. The letters exchanged in 1987 said that Trincomalee or any other port of Sri Lanka will not be made available for military use by any other country in a manner prejudicial to India’s interest. Restoring and operating the Trincomalee oil tank farm shall be a joint venture between Indian and Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka must no employ foreign military and intelligence personnel prejudicial to India and Sri Lanka must not provide facilities for a foreign broadcasting organization which could be used for military or intelligence purposes.  This was a reference to Voice of America broadcasting from Iranawila.

In 2017 Yahapalana announced that Japan, India, and Singapore would develop the Trincomalee area.  Subana Jurong of Singapore is to draw up the master plan for Trincomalee and BOI would enter into an MOU with this firm.   This would also create opportunities for the people of Rajarata. Yahapalana also said that discussions were on with both India and Singapore for developing the Trincomalee harbour. Japan will also play a role in building the Trincomalee port.  End of section 9 (Continued)

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