THE POHOTTUWA GOVERNMENT OF SRI LANKA Part 2 C8b
Posted on November 12th, 2020

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The Prime Minister office made a statement on the MCC project in June 2019. The statement was made public.     The statement said:

The Government of Sri Lanka, with the help of the Center for International Development (CID) at Harvard University, conducted constraints analysis to identify constrains which hampered the economic growth in the country and identified three binding constraints, 1. Access to land 2. Weakness in transport and logistics infrastructure and planning and 3. Policy instability.   Yahapalana government then decided to focus on the two of these, access to land and improvement in transport.

The Government of Sri Lanka and MCC then consulted with hundreds of individuals from government, the private sector, and civil society in small group discussions and one-on-one meetings to understand the root causes of the transport and land binding constraints and potential activities that would address those root causes. The Government of Sri Lanka and MCC also launched multiple rounds of discussion to identify potential projects that could meet MCC’s investment criteria.

On the basis of such engagements and analyses, the Government of Sri Lanka submitted project proposals to MCC for consideration in November 2017. There were two sets of projects, Transport Projects and Land Projects.

ACTIVITIES PROPOSED UNDER THE TRANSPORT DEVELOPMENT PROJECT:

1) Establishing an Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) covering the Colombo Metropolitan area to improve the efficiency, capacity and safety of the CMA road network to improve flow rate, reduce travel time and congestion, reduce traffic emission and reduce accidents.

2) Bus Transport Sector Modernization (BTSM) programme will make a significant improvement to the speed and quality of the public bus system combining state owned and private buses.

3) Developing and improvement of 137 km road sections in the Central Ring Road (CRR) covering and connecting Sabaragamuwa, Uva, North Central and Central Provinces to markets in the Western Province.

 4) Connected to this Road development is a study to locate and finance, locations for wholesale storage of Agro produce in collaboration with private investors at locations on the CRR Road network, to improve post-harvest management of produce.

ACTIVITIES  PROPOSED UNDER THE LAND ADMINISTRATION PROJECT:

  5)  Preparation of Parcel Fabric map and inventory of state land.

6)    Improvement of Deeds Registry.

7)    Improvements of the land valuation system.

8)    Land Grants Registration and Deed Conversion Activity.

9)   Land Policy and Legal Governance Improvement Activity.

The above activities will be implemented in the following 7 districts with the limited funds available for the land sector. (Kegalla, Kandy, Matale, Kurunegala, Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Trincomalee) Further we requested to include Gampaha district as well, said the statement

The statement ended by saying that the copy of the report can be accessed through: https://assets.mcc.gov/content/uploads/constraints-analysis-sri-lanka.pdf. More information on the MCC grant for Sri Lanka could be obtained from https://www.mcc.gov/where-we-work/program/sri-lanka-compact .

The Transport project is in three parts. Part one is an Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) for the Colombo Metropolitan Region, covering approximately 205 kilometers of existing road networks , concentrating on the  eight heavily traveled corridors that link central Colombo with its suburbs   and  including  improvement of  132 junctions in Greater Colombo.

The ATMS will be controlled by a huge Traffic Management Center with real time analysis of traffic flow data,  interconnected traffic signal system and vehicle detection using modern technology. The project will also create more pedestrian crossings, improve sidewalks and introduce ‘road safety measures’‘

The Advanced Traffic Management System had been discussed with other donors. The discussions had stalled because the other donors  had refused to pay certain extra costs relating mainly to land. But  MCC readily  agreed to pay   that too, said RDA gratefully.

Part two is bus service modernization in greater Colombo. This will consist of automated fare collection with smart cards, centralized control of bus schedules and GPS bus tracking to see whether buses are operating according to schedule. These measures would also improve the safety of women, senior citizens and disabled persons. Funds will be also provided for the purchase of new state-of- art buses.

Part three  is the  upgrade of  approximately 131 kilometers of roads in Sabaragamuwa, Uva and Central Province which are in between the more developed roads. This would include the road from Ratnapura to Beragala and Dambulla to Naulla. The Compact is offering a  super asphalt mix which will provide a better  road surface.

The transport project will improve connectivity between the economically backward central region  with ports and markets in the western provinces, continued MCC. Getting transport right is the key to mark Colombo as a regional hub for finance, trade and investment.

That is doubtful. The Compact does not address the primary transport  need in Sri Lanka today, the need for mass transit, by bus and train, for both persons and goods. The Compact  remedy  instead,   is to introduce ICT controls  for  private transport.  The  MCC Transport project  was described in  detail by an  official of the Road Development Authority, at a  seminar   I attended. The audience gave a hearty laugh at the end of the talk.

Critics ignored the transport projects of the MCC and pounced on the land projects. These had serious implications, they said.

 They pointed out that the MCC Land plan  also  includes four ‘Economic Corridors’, Colombo-Trincomalee will be developed as the main economic corridor with three other sub-corridors,  Jaffna-Kilinochchi in the Northern Province, Galle-Tissamaharama in the Southern Province and Chenkaladi-Ampara in the Eastern Province. Anuradhapura and Kandy will be developed separately as metropolitan areas. The feeble excuse given for their creation, was that the corridors   were to help economic growth in economically poor areas.

The plan for a Colombo Trincomalee Economic Corridor, was developed initially by the Asian Development Bank    in  2018. It was to take advantage of existing international gateways,  the Bandaranaike International Airport and Colombo Port.  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.

 MCC critics  focused on the Colombo Trincomalee Economic Corridor.  Critics 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. the US has upgraded the status of Sri Lanka to that of a Military Logistics Hub.

The majority of the Districts within the Colombo Trincomalee Economic Corridor do not qualify on grounds of poverty, either. They are below the national poverty headcount index of 4.1 Districts with high levels of poverty are outside the proposed corridor.

Five of the eight Districts included in the Colombo Trincomalee Economic Corridor, 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.

The National Joint Committee  took an interest in  this Corridor. National Joint Committee noted that the law applicable within the Corridor would be  American law and not  Sri Lankan law.

The country will be divided into two parts by this economic corridor with the northern part being available to create the nation of Eelam as envisaged in the separatist ideology. It is in this northern part that the ancient cities of Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Kurunegala are situated, said NJC .

 The area covered by this economic corridor  contains Eppawala phosphates, Limonite, Thorium, Monazite and rare earth metals Cerium and Lanthanum. When Freeport McMoran, an American Company, in 2000 tried to mine the phosphates in Eppawala this was prevented by Supreme Court saying such assets belonged to the people, said National Joint Committee.

Critics of the Corridor  also took up another matter. The corridors will be based on a  new National Physical Plan (2018 – 2050) which is  expected to replace the earlier Physical Plan (2011 – 2030) prepared in 2011. While the earlier Physical Plan addressed development over the entire territory of Sri Lanka, the revised Physical Plane has deviated from this holistic approach and focused development along “growth corridors” observed critics. These districts overlap with those coming under the MCC.

A National Physical Plan has to carry out certain procedures for it to be accepted as an official document. It has to be prepared under the Town and Country Planning (Amendment) Act (No. 49 of 2000). The earlier Physical Plan had followed all the procedures required by the Act. The question is whether the revised Physical Plan has followed the due process as required by the Act.

Such procedures should include preparing a Draft Physical Plan and conducting hearings with experts, professionals and general public and obtaining provisional approval of the Minister concerned after which it is gazetted with maps and plans, for scrutiny by the public, for them to propose revisions to be incorporated in the Draft Plan. It is after following such procedures that the final version of the National Physical Plan is submitted to the National Physical Planning Council for approval.

The revised National Physical Plan 2050, prepared by the National Physical Planning Department of the Megapolis and Western Development ministry, has been approved by the National Physical Planning Council  and the National Economic Council (NEC) of Sri Lanka and is expected to be gazetted shortly said Daily News in February 2019. It is yet to be made public, although it is said to be ‘completed,’ said analysts in June 2019.”

Critics wanted to know whether the President as the Head of the National Physical Planning Council has approved the Plan. What is the status of this new Plan? If the final Physical Plan had not followed the required procedures prior to the approval of the National Physical Planning Council, how legitimate would be the final version of the Plan, even if it was approved by the President and the Council, and consequently, the status of the Compact negotiated with MCC, they asked.  ( Continued)

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