Mattala Airport and Hambantota Port Foreign interest and our liabilities
Posted on July 30th, 2018

By Shivanthi Ranasinghe Courtesy Ceylon Today

Maithripala Sirisena insists that he will carry out the death penalty. His mere statement has caused an avalanche of protests. EU has threatened to withdraw the Generalized Scheme of Preference (GSP+) facility.

International NGOs have warned the Government of dire consequences if the moratorium on the death penalty was lifted. At a recent seminar titled, ‘Countering Drug Trafficking in the Indian Ocean. The Role of the UNODC and the Southern Route Partnership,’ Shanaka Jayasekara warned that as the UNODC does not endorse the death penalty, the West will no longer share its intelligence with Sri Lanka if a prosecution leads to a death penalty. These threats have irked many for this is a domestic matter to be decided solely by Sri Lankans. What Sirisena had really done in effect is to stir up a hornet’s nest, to once again distract us from a more contentious issue: the sale of the Mattala Airport to the Indians.

The West’s and the West-funded bodies’ stand is not surprising. During thirty years of war against terrorism, their undisguised sympathy was with the terrorists. Now that terrorism is history in Sri Lanka, their sympathies are with the criminals who are mostly drug barons, traffickers and dealers. The schoolchildren and the youth who are their most common victims do not factor in the equation. These so-called human right defenders have a problem with the State-sponsored executions that would take place after a detailed judicial process where the accuser will be given every possible support to defend himself and prove his innocence. If the accuser cannot afford a defence, the State will go to the extent of providing him/her one.

Murders However, the ordinary citizens have no such organized defence against the rising tide of the underworld menace and drug-related crimes. It has been reported that in the first six months of this year there had been 252 killings. All these killings might not be directly drug-related. What this figure shows though is the strengthening of the underworld, which is the hub of drugs and drug-related crimes. In these executions, often the judge, jury and the executioner is the killer himself. The victim is not given any chance to defend him/herself or appeal against the ‘sentencing’. Most of these executions are carried out in broad daylight and sometimes include victims who happen to be mere bystanders. There also had been a number of mistaken identities as well. Such is the carelessness of the killer.

Jayasekara, who is the Programme Coordinator for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Regional Office for South Asia, does not explain the reasons for the West to withhold intelligence that has the potential to save thousands of young lives. The destruction of lives from narcotics is absolute and unparalleled. Over 50 countries still carry out the death penalty. In US, out of 50 states, 31 practises capital punishment. Pakistan lifted its moratorium on death penalty in 2014 and has since then executed 465. In 2018, the GSP+ facility for Pakistan was extended by another two years.

Trigger reaction Sirisena’s remarks over the death penalty would have been just that – a remark – had it not been for the trigger-reaction of the West and West-funded bodies. It is this blatant hypocrisy of the West that trade with countries that already carry out executions without a murmur and the crocodile tears they shed for those who violate the human rights of others that  ensue a debate on the topic.

This very cleverly ignited debate dominates the front pages of the newspapers with at least one or two headlines every day. This thus essentially drowned the hush-hush negotiations taking place with the Indians over the national asset, The Mattala Airport. Vested interest parties derided the infrastructural developments taken by the previous government as white elephants. This derision was blindly accepted by many, including learned editors reputed for their independent, apolitical thinking.

Magampura Port and the Mattala Airport were touted as the two main white elephants. This was simply because of the location. Both are in the constituency of the former President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Therefore, many assumed without further analysis that these projects were built just to bolster his political image.  These independent thinkers overlooked two important factors. The first was, they overlooked who first brayed that these were white elephants. It was the then Opposition (who are now in Government). They derided everything the previous Government did – including its successful efforts to eradicate terrorism. They insulted the Security Forces, ridiculed the victories over terrorism and celebrated the setbacks. Until the very end, they denied the glaring truth that was obvious to the rest of the nation, which was that we were winning the war against terrorism. Apparently such poor judgment did not suffice to discredit them.

The other factor that was overlooked was the location. Yes, it is where Mahinda Rajapaksa hails from, but that is not all there is to it. The location of the Magampura Port was decided on because it is the closest in proximity to one of the busiest shipping lines that is forecast to grow in greater importance, in time to come. Sixty per cent of fuel to China goes via these lanes. This entire area was designed to become a huge industrial zone and the naval and air hub of Southern Asia.

The one question that must be answered by all those who wrote almost daily against these two ventures is simple: If these two were white elephants, why would the Chinese and the Indians want those?”

It has been argued that such a small country as ours do not need two international airports. If so, why is this government talking of investing USD 65 million to expand and convert the existing Sri Lanka Air Force’s airbase at Hingurakgoda to a second international airport? What is the master plan? How will it help the Sri Lankan economy grow? Will it be just a mirror image of the Katunayake International Airport or something much more as envisioned for the Mattala Airport? These are the questions this government needs to answer.

The Mattala Airport was built in a sparsely populated, jungle-dominated area. Its current isolation and lack of basic facilities like a taxi service inclusive transport system, hotels within the vicinity were added to its discredit. These protestors forget what Colombo looked like a hundred years ago, what areas around Battaramulla, Hokandara and Athurugiriya were like a couple of decades ago.

From the muted buzz it is apparent that the controlling share of the Mattala Airport would be given to the Indians just as the Magampura Port was handed over to Chinese management. On the face of it, the ownership is still with us. However, the deal is such, that we are to be responsible for the security of our national assets, whilst it will be milked by the foreign powers. The greatest irony is that whilst we provide naval security to the Magampura Port, the Sri Lanka Navy must pay rent to the Chinese management for ‘occupying’ the Port property.

Premier Wickremesinghe gave a controlling share of the Magampura Port to the Chinese. He is now working hard to give a controlling share of the Mattala Airport to the Indians. In effect he is bringing two archenemies within kilometers to one another in a land that has no issues with either party. He is now cheeky enough to advise the Sri Lanka Navy to be ready to battle a ‘submarine war’. In effect, he admits that their battles will be on our land and their collateral damage would be us. At the very least, Wickremesinghe should tell us what measures his government has planned to face such an eventuality.

Watching the unfolding events, it is clear we do not have a Nationalist Government nor a Liberal Government. What we have is a sadistic government that is deliberately laying a trap against its own people and waiting with undisguised glee for the results to yield.

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