ECT : Prostituting Sri Lanka’s best Port
Posted on January 24th, 2021

Sri Lanka is never short of controversy. Colombo East Container Terminal is at the centre of a major national crisis which would decide the future of the current government and would decide the country’s future. The issue has traversed this far partly as a result of clueless politicians, corrupt public officials, wheeler-dealer advisors and not soliciting the advice from correct quarters. First and foremost, any government elected to power by the People are duty-bound to protect the sovereignty of the nation and not its neighbor. Secondly, any decision taken has to be in the best interest of the nation and not because of geo-political pressures. Politicians’ role is to find ways to come out of political issues and the diplomats, advisors and think tanks are there to find alternate ways to mitigate issues.

Let us take each argument

In May 2019 a Memorandum of Cooperation was signed between the Yahapalana Government, India & Japan. There was no mention of Adani in this MoC

Therefore, referring to the May 2019 MoC to justify giving Adani ECT is an argument that cannot be accepted. When to this 49% Japan is not even involved presently.

India must be given ECT because we handle 66% of India’s Transhipment

The MoC was signed between India-Sri Lanka-Japan and not between any transshipment providers.

Shipping lines are private companies who berth in Sri Lanka for their advantage not to please or displease India or even Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka handles a large volume of transshipment because it is advantageous to the shipping lines. It is shipping lines who decide where they dock and why and not governments in power. Therefore, the claim that India will remove transshipment if Adani is not given ECT is false unless the Indian Government will subsidize the shipping line for the loss of money to bypass Colombo Port & dock elsewhere.

Price & Time are key factors that India or Singapore cannot challenge Sri Lanka with. This key factor must be understood by all.

The commercial and strategic value of Colombo Port has yet to be understood properly by politicians and key advisors. The combination of PRICE, TIME, DEPTH and SERVICEwill provide a competitive edge over all the upcoming Ports in the region. DEPTH is the factor Sri Lanka needs to complete to win that competitive edge.

These are areas Sri Lanka can attract shipping lines and Colombo Port has every ability to do so especially with the Port City Financial Hub also coming up. The Hub Port status enjoyed by Colombo Port with ECT in full capacity under its own management would mean high dollar income to the ECT/Colombo Port. This is what the 23 Trade Unions are trying to convey to the decision makers and it would be good for the Cabinet Sub-Committee to listen to their arguments before presenting a paper without their inputs landing Sri Lanka in a bigger calamity politically & commercially.

Geopolitics

Decades ago India & US were not on friendly terms. Today, India is a strategic partner of the US. Decades ago India was angry at Sri Lanka’s pro-US stand. This was round about the same time India helped train and fund Tamil militancy and Sri Lanka weathered 30 years of terrorism. The IPKF was forced upon us. It was during a change in government that luckily made India agree to withdraw the IPKF when asked to do so. Indo-Lanka Accord signed in 1987 promised to disarm LTTE and end the conflict within hours. All main clauses of the Accord were breached by India but India continues to make demands. Even after the breach of agreement India has still to return the oil tanks in Trinco. These scenarios are valid reasons for the Sri Lankan public to be cautious of dealing with India. Denying India what India demands before signing on any dotted line is far better than a diplomatic and government-government warfare in the future. We shirk to even imagine such a future scenario.

This is so because India’s strategic partnership with US encompasses directly challenging China in the open seas and US and Indian military are regularly conducting naval exercises with Japan & Australia. Ports will hold a key role in this partnership. We saw the large influx of war ships arriving at regular intervals in Trincomalee and the signing of ACSA with US and SOFA is in the pipeline as well. Donor agencies insist on PPP with external parties to meet their agenda and advantage. Sri Lanka should know to negotiate deals to its advantage not to please the other party.

The ports & airports are the entry exit points to a country & the keys to these points must be held by the State. International trade is dictated by buyers and service depends on the demand. Thus, a commercial port has to develop as per the requirements of the shipping lines and with Sri Lanka situated in the central trade lane, Sri Lanka naturally offers an automatic best place location for any shipping line (main lines/feeder lines). Thus, it is other add-on factors that Sri Lanka needs to provide. It is unfortunate that all of Sri Lanka’s development proposals end up getting strangulated due to petty politics and political prostituting. We have wasted many years in not bringing up Colombo Port as well as other Ports around Sri Lanka to the level it should have been brought with strategic thinking and strategic planning & global marketing.

It was as a result of lethargy, corruption and another instance of prostituting that Queens Terminal went to P&O/JKH in 1999 for 30 years and the lease concluding in 2029 with the Terminal returning to SLPA once again. Ironically the same players that cut this deal are in office currently. With SAGT terminal exactly next to ECT, this would mean the SLPA would have a BOX TERMINAL. There are only 4 such terminals in the world. This would be another strategic asset to Sri Lanka bringing dollar revenue and would be able SLPA/ECT to even compete with CICT giving better offers to shipping lines. The importance of ECT is its berthing capabilities and its services and operations can be developed as an ongoing exercise as Port engineers and Trade Unions are assuring to make the ECT a profitable entity under 100% Sri Lanka’s ownership and control by 2025.

Why India wants to suddenly develop ECT? Why Adani? 

The proposal to develop Colombo Port came during the 1stterm Presidency of Mahinda Rajapakse. India did not show any interest in developing ECT. India’s sudden interest came with the regime change it engineered with US that saw a plethora of Indo-US influence in Sri Lanka. As pointed out by the Trade Unions, the GoSL must be alert to the corrupt nature of Adani who is under investigation for money laundering and corruption even in India. As close associate of Indian PM, the Unions ask a very valid question – what if the Modi Government collapses and the new Indian government is anti-Adani, what is the outcome of influence Sri Lanka will have to weather. GoSL must also note that when India has thousands of people dying of hunger on a daily basis, when areas of India are still living in the cave days, why would India wish to nominate a very close associate to take over 49% of a strategic port, unless it was for India’s strategic purpose rather than to help Sri Lanka develop its port. We must not be naïve to the fact that India is also developing ports to attract shipping lines. Why would India wish to develop Sri Lanka’s Port which would automatically be a first choice for any shipping line over India’s new ports, given the saving in cost and time?

Why would India and Adani give $700m for our Port without having undisclosed strategic plan which Sri Lanka is unlikely to benefit from! 

Is Adani and India giving $700m just to make Sri Lanka happy unless their investment is something different to what we think. How long will Adani demand to stay in Sri Lanka to recover this ‘investment’. What if India is killing 2 birds with one stone by demanding the ECT as a political threat but with intent to ensure ECT development never gets off the ground and giving India the time it needs to build its ports and even entice shipping lines to transfer transshipment at a lesser cost than what Sri Lanka offers. Marketing a port has all sorts of possibilities. We only need to improve the DEPTH of the ECT as all other factors are to our competitive advantage. When Sri Lanka’s decision makers are only interested to put India First, what is our future?

National security of Sri Lanka has to matter far more than making investors happy. With the Port City emerging as a future revenue centre, Sri Lanka has to make sure its next door key commercial port is also kept secure. Giving 49% stake to a corrupt Indian is going to get Sri Lanka nowhere. It also makes any to ask, if 49% is not a sale or a lease, but Adani is giving $700m – what is this deal called!

It is also important to look at how India is separately exerting influence over Sri Lanka – Palaly airport, KKS & Oluvil harbors, IOC, Trinco Oil Tanks and exclusive economic zone which is off limits to Sri Lankans even military, rising influence over Estate Tamils by India, interfering even in the Jaffna university – these cannot and should not be taken lightly. Where India has to take decisions, India doesn’t mince words or is even bothered about angering anyone – the denial of credentials to the guru of Sri Lanka’s India First policy is one good example where Indian bureaucracy dictates to its politicians and is not bothered about making Sri Lanka unhappy.

Sri Lanka is not on a wicket to be dictating to anyone, however, Sri Lanka must maintain a dignity that must return to the foreign policy of Mrs. Bandaranaike who stood her ground on all matters and was respected for doing so by leaders of both Eastern and Western blocs. To this day, she is held in the highest esteem by all including India whom she had to guts to say no to!

The factors presented to the public as reason to give Adani ECT is unacceptable and the issues likely to emerge from this handover is going to be far more complicated and difficult for Sri Lanka to handle. We can part ways before signing on any dotted lines. But if India is given control over 49% of a key port which would entail loss of jobs to Port Workers, management in Indian hands and trouble inside the Port, that would prevent shipping lines from calling at Colombo Port, gaining this $700m giving 49% becomes meaningless. We are going to be saddled with Adani until he is satisfied that he has earned his profits and we don’t know how long he will want to remain and how much trouble he would cause as he is presently doing with Indian farmers!

Shenali D Waduge

4 Responses to “ECT : Prostituting Sri Lanka’s best Port”

  1. aloy Says:

    We have shipping crews including captains who handle ships even longer than 300 meters carrying containers. According to them Indian ports are very inefficient and the workers there have lethargic attitude. Probably that is the reason why shippers prefer SL ports.

    Not only that, they say they can smell (which they say is unbearable)the port when the ship is even 10 to 15 km away as they discharge raw sewage, probably through big waterways as the ports are normally situated near them.

  2. Nimal Says:

    What I am about to write, one might think that my imagination running riot.In somewhere in 1956(I think) my father and other VIPs in the govt,like the AGA,SPs were invited to the command ship of the Indian Navy fleet.It was unusually a horrible wet and a cold at at Trincomalee Navel harbour. The name of the command ship was New Delhi.Usually Trincomalee is a warm place.We were treated right royally by the captain, unlike the South Indians he was so fair skinned. We were all wet and shivering and they treated us with western tea time food by a young beautiful girl and I was so impressed asked her if she could marry me though I was only about 13 years,later to find out that she was like our burghers, an Anglo Indian. I was not sure if she was the Captain’s daughter or another guest.She jokingly said that I was too young to be her husband. I must say I liked girls.
    There were over 100 Ships which I could not count, perhaps I may be wrong. Usually my interest was the big guns on that massive ship but taken up by that girl.The other VIP who came with us from Kandy asked the Captain as to why so many ships, while we had only one ship name Vijaya and it was not there.The other VIP from Kandy told my father that the Indians want to demonstrate to us that they are the regional power after the colonials have left us.I was so impressed with that girl,name de Zuza,I and my burgher friends took the train to Goa to see If could find her. Those days one could get a passport from the post office,valied only to India.GOA was a wonderful place,like another place full of burghers and they showed their appreciation to the Western music put into air by Radio Ceylon, which was very popular in Goa. They were so happy to see us and gave us free accommodation and food, plenty of musical groups singing beetles and Cliff Richards songs. This was in 1964 or 1965.
    Any one with the connections with the Navy could recall their massive presence in Tricomalee.

  3. aloy Says:

    Going a bit further on the “prostituting ….” thread on Nimal,s input with a diversion, I must say Radio Ceylon did a great service (as they are doing even now) to the music lovers of whole of India as well as to us. I think it was 64 when the “Beatle’s” song “I saw her standing there” came out and the guitar playing was made popular. Even in my room there were couple of them at James Peiris Hall at Peradeniya uni .

    I think to make a wholesome person the Arts & Culture as well as the history of their country is needed. In addition technical knowledge and an eye for beauty is also required as reflected in Nimal’s above comment. When Einstein visited the little Rome, Negombo, it seems he had inquired about the fair skinned euroasian girls there at the railway station.

    Now coming back Beatle, I wonder whether those school dropouts who are being immortalized had any formal training on guitar play.
    Here is a recent analysis of that master piece:

    “https://youtu.be/YftBdem3Ne8”

  4. Nimal Says:

    Aloy
    Beatles bring me back great memories.My late burgher friend who lived in US sent us the first LP of the Beatles and all of us knew every word by heart.Only way to get the attention of the burgher girls is to sing songs like,I want hold your hands,Close your eyes…,I saw her standing there,Please please…My pitiless four or five burgher friends use to hang around where the smashing girls were and sing these songs.There was a smashing girl living in an upstairs flat,when we sang ‘I want to hold your hands’ her mother retaliated with a bucket of water. There was another girl,her mother was English,teacher at Trinity and father could a burgher.she was slim and smashing and to entice her or to win her hand I met her out side the church every Sunday with bunch of flowers that was very expensive. Though I could not afford those flowers,I got it from the cemetery from the grave site.I lean my bike on the wall and jump over the wall to the cemetery and take the flowers from there, mostly roses grown in Newara Eliya.The cemetery keeper of the Anglican section came to the church to complain about the missing flowers every Saturday night and found the missing expensive roses in that girl’s hand, she was so furious she hit me with flowers and broke off, but came crying with two others on the day I left Kandy for good to catch the Ship TO Europe.Our Sinhalese fellows were too backward to keep up with the trend and despise me a lot,they despised me a lot at the Ceylon student centre in London when ever I took a girl to have lunch.Last thing I did for our community was to have a big pop jamboree at the mount lavania beach in 1965 with the help of Radio Ceylon and the famous announcer Chris Greet,nearly 75% were young burghers.Our photos came on the first page in the mirror news papers. We were in contact organizing many events in UK but suddenly Chris Greet disappeared into an old person’s home, no one knows where that is.Good old memories I say.

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