By Neville Ladduwahetty
According to media reports the government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) has signed three new Agreements, dated 6 January, 2022 relating to the Trinco oil Tank Farms. The first with the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation (CPC), the second with the Lanka IOC PLC (LIOC), and the third with a Joint Venture Company incorporating the CPC holding 51% and LIOC holding 49% called Trinco Petroleum Terminal (Pvt.) Ltd. The three Agreements relate to the ninety-nine (99) Oil Tanks built during WWII on the basis of State leases, for a period of fifty (50) years. The first relates to twenty-four (24) tanks, the second to fourteen (14) tanks and the third to sixty-one (61) tanks.
As stated by the Minister of Energy Udaya Gammanpila, this current agreement is an outcome of the three previous agreements. In the course of an interview, he stated that the first was when “President J. R. Jayewardene agreed with India to develop and operate this tank farm jointly with India, so we have a bilateral obligation with India to develop jointly”. The second was when “Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe, on 7 February 2003, leased out these tanks to India for 35 years. That is how they came into possession of these tanks. The third was when “Malik Samarawickrama – Sushma Swaraj MoU agreed with India to lease out the entire tank farm of 99 tanks to LIOC for a period of 99 years” (The Sunday Morning, January 16, 2022).
Minister Gammanpila has also said, “Sri Lanka was under obligation to India in respect of this tank farm through these three agreements. I had to negotiate with India in this backdrop. If I could ignore these agreements, I would have taken the entire tank farm into Sri Lanka’s possession; I would love to do that. Unfortunately, there are three agreements signed by previous governments and I am bound by them” (Ibid).
To claim that Sri Lanka is obligated by all three previous agreements is not only to assign equal status to all but also to accept the contradictions in the terms among the three agreements. For instance, the first agreement between Sri Lanka’s Head of State and the Prime Minister of India has no time bar while the second is by a Prime Minister of Sri Lanka to lease the tanks to India for a specified period of 35 years and the third, an agreement to lease all the tanks for 99 years, not to India but to a State entity of the government of India, LIOC. Furthermore, the first agreement was to develop the tanks jointly while the other two are on the basis of leasing them. Perhaps, India did not make an issue of violating the terms of the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord because the subsequent agreements are more favourable to it.
The specifics of the latter two agreement are not available to the public. Even if their contents are available to the Minister and he was aware of the circumstances that caused a lease for 35 years with the State of India to be extended for 99 years to an entity of that State as being of equal standing as the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, this is not a tenable proposition. Furthermore, the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord is not limited to the oil tanks, whereas the other two agreements specifically relate only to the tanks. Therefore, as far as the tanks are concerned, there is every justification to address issues relating to them from a totally fresh perspective.
Minister Gammanpila claims this deal was a major achievement. The reason for such a claim is that until the agreements of January 6 2022 were signed, all 99 tanks had been leased either for 35 years or 99 years depending on which agreement one considers to be valid. Therefore, the agreement of January 6 2022 is a considered a gain because it regained 85 tanks that were in the possession of LIOC. Furthermore, the fact that 24 of the 85 would be exclusively operated by Sri Lanka and 61 jointly means a decided improvement. However, it must be clearly understood that the so called “gain” is only in respect of the tanks taken in isolation and not as part of a viable asset.
Could Sri Lanka have done even better and taken over all 99 tanks to be developed by Sri Lanka, while leaving the 14 tanks currently operated by LIOC for the remainder of the 35-year lease period as a measure of good faith? Since the provision of the Indo-Sri Lanka was for operating the entire Tank Farm jointly, and the agreements of 2003 and 2017 violated this provision, a claim could be made that sufficient grounds existed to take possession of all 99 tanks; a wish the Minister himself entertained during his interview.
REVISITING the AGREEMENT and its TERMS
How best to exploit the potential of these tanks has been the topic of much discussion and debate. However, the majority of these discussions have focused on these tanks as a legacy of World War II and how best to exploit its potential. It cannot be denied that taken in isolation, these tanks are nothing but 99 rusting steel tanks without much utilitarian value.
It is only in the context of its location that these tanks take on a whole new dimension and come alive as a vital economic asset because of its proximity to one of the best natural harbours in the world – the Trinco Harbour. Therefore, it is the Trinco Harbour that make these tanks a valuable asset.
These tanks were sited at this particular location because of the Trinco Harbour. Therefore, the tanks cannot be considered in isolation and independent of the Trinco Harbour. The tanks and harbour are inextricably linked and therefore it is absolutely vital that the tanks and the harbor are considered and treated as a single asset and not as separate assets. On such a basis, for the LIOC to hold 49% stake in the joint venture should be unacceptable because it amounts to the harbor being a give-away – a free gift to which a value cannot be assigned. Furthermore, the fact that the tanks amount to nothing but 99 steel containers without the harbour, strong grounds exist for Sri Lanka to revisit the deal and take possession of the tanks because the asset that transforms the tanks into an economically viable asset is the Trico Harbor, which is not associated with the deal.
Having taken possession of the tanks, Sri Lanka should perhaps restore a few tanks per year by seeking funds through local banks and pay back the loans by renting them to interested parties such as the LIOC and others who may find it profitable to store petroleum products when prices are low. Such an approach would be in keeping with the current government’s policy of self-reliance. Furthermore, the pace of restoration could be undertaken to keep in pace with the demand from interested parties.
The current agreement signed on 06 January 2022, which entitles Sri Lanka to operate 24 tanks exclusively and 61 tanks as a joint venture with India is decidedly an achievement over the agreements of 2003 and 2017, which leased these tanks for 35 and 99 years, respectively. However, the implication of these agreements is that both India and Sri Lanka have agreed that deviating from the basis of developing the tanks jointly as stated in the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord is acceptable.
All these agreements relate to the 99 tanks that by themselves amount to nothing but steel storage containers without much utility value. However, they have the potential to be transformed into a vital economic asset because of their proximity to one of the best natural harbours in the world – the Trinco Harbour. Therefore, any agreement relating to the tanks should take into account the fact that without the Trinco Harbour the tanks by themselves have little value. Consequently, the tanks and the Trinco harbour should be treated as a single asset and not as separate and unrelated assets. Under the circumstances, a share distribution of 51/49 favours India disproportionately because the asset that makes the enterprise a viable venture, namely the Trinco Harbour, belongs to Sri Lanka. It is this aspect that makes the 06 January2022 agreement unacceptable because the asset value of the Trinco Harbour has been totally disregarded.
Coupling such a context with the policy to deviate from the concept of jointly developing the tanks into one of leasing in the agreements of 2003 and 2017 gives Sri Lanka the opportunity to renegotiate and take possession of all 99 tanks, but permits LIOC to continue operating the 14 tanks until the current lease period lapses. Having renegotiated a fresh deal, Sri Lanka should restore a few tanks at a time with finances from local Banks, and pay back the loans by renting them to interested customers to store petroleum products.
Such a strategy would be in keeping with the spirit of self-reliance that has been with the Peoples of Sri Lanka and manifests itself occasionally, the most recent being the demand for Sri Lanka to construct the East Container Terminal that the Government intended to outsource. The spirit of self-reliance is not dead. Its resurgence awaits leadership. It is in such a spirit that the Trinco Tank Farm deal should be revisited.
BRICS emerging as strong rival to G7
It was in the fitness of things for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to hold a special telephonic conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin recently for the purpose of enlightening the latter on the need for a peaceful, diplomatic end to the Russian-initiated blood-letting in Ukraine. Hopefully, wise counsel and humanity would prevail and the world would soon witness the initial steps at least to a complete withdrawal of invading Russian troops from Ukraine.
The urgency for an early end to the Russian invasion of Ukraine which revoltingly testifies afresh to the barbaric cruelty man could inflict on his fellows, is underscored, among other things, by the declaration which came at the end of the 14th BRICS Summit, which was held virtually in Beijing recently. Among other things, the declaration said: ‘BRICS reaffirms commitment to ensuring the promotion and protection of democracy, human rights and fundamental freedoms for all with the aim to build a brighter shared future for the international community based on mutually beneficial cooperation.’
It is anybody’s guess as to what meanings President Putin read into pledges of the above kind, but it does not require exceptional brilliance to perceive that the barbaric actions being carried out by his regime against Ukrainian civilians make a shocking mockery of these enlightened pronouncements. It is plain to see that the Russian President is being brazenly cynical by affixing his signature to the declaration. The credibility of BRICS is at risk on account of such perplexing contradictory conduct on the part of its members. BRICS is obliged to rectify these glaring irregularities sooner rather than later.
At this juncture the important clarification must be made that it is the conduct of the Putin regime, and the Putin regime only, that is being subjected to censure here. Such strictures are in no way intended to project in a negative light, the Russian people, who are heirs to a rich, humanistic civilization that produced the likes of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, among a host of other eminent spirits, who have done humanity proud and over the decades guided humans in the direction of purposeful living. May their priceless heritage live long, is this columnist’s wish.
However, the invaluable civilization which the Russian people have inherited makes it obligatory on their part to bring constant pressure on the Putin regime to end its barbarism against the Ukrainian civilians who are not at all party to the big power politics of Eastern Europe. They need to point out to their rulers that in this day and age there are civilized, diplomatic and cost-effective means of resolving a state’s perceived differences with its neighbours. The spilling of civilian blood, on the scale witnessed in Ukraine, is a phenomenon of the hoary past.
The BRICS grouping, which encompasses some of the world’s predominant economic and political powers, if not for the irregular conduct of the Putin regime, could be said to have struck on a policy framework that is farsighted and proactive on the issue of global equity.
There is the following extract from a report on its recent summit declaration that needs to be focused on. It reads: BRICS notes the need to ensure “Meaningful participation of developing and least developed countries, especially in Africa, in global decision-making processes and structures and make it better attuned to contemporary realities.”
The above are worthy goals that need to be pursued vigorously by global actors that have taken upon themselves the challenge of easing the lot of the world’s powerless countries. The urgency of resuming the North-South Dialogue, among other questions of importance to the South, has time and again been mentioned in this column. This is on account of the fact that the most underdeveloped regions of the South have been today orphaned in the world system.
Given that the Non-aligned Movement and like organizations, that have espoused the resolution of Southern problems over the decades, are today seemingly ineffective and lacking in political and economic clout, indications that the BRICS grouping is in an effort to fill this breach is heartening news for the powerless of the world. Indeed, the crying need is for the poor and powerless to be brought into international decision-making processes that affect their wellbeing and it is hoped that BRICS’s efforts in this regard would bear fruit.
What could help in increasing the confidence of the underdeveloped countries in BRICS, is the latter’s rising economic and political power. While in terms of economic strength, the US remains foremost in the world with a GDP of $ 20.89 trillion, China is not very far behind with a GDP of $ 14.72 trillion. The relevant readings for some other key BRICS countries are as follows: India – $ 2.66 trillion, Russia – $ 1.48 trillion and Brazil $ 1.44 trillion. Of note is also the fact that except for South Africa, the rest of the BRICS are among the first 15 predominant economies, assessed in GDP terms. In a global situation where economics drives politics, these figures speak volumes for the growing power of the BRICS countries.
In other words, the BRICS are very much abreast of the G7 countries in terms of a number of power indices. The fact that many of the BRICS possess a nuclear capability indicates that in military terms too they are almost on par with the G7.
However, what is crucial is that the BRICS, besides helping in modifying the world economic order to serve the best interests of the powerless as well, contribute towards changing the power balances within the vital organs of the UN system, such as the UN Security Council, to render them more widely representative of changing global power realities.
Thus, India and Brazil, for example, need to be in the UNSC because they are major economic powers in their own right. Since they are of a democratic orientation, besides pushing for a further democratization of the UN’s vital organs, they would be in a position to consistently work towards the wellbeing of the underprivileged in their respective regions, which have tremendous development potential.
Queen of Hearts
She has certainly won the hearts of many with the charity work she is engaged in, on a regular basis, helping the poor, and the needy.
Pushpika de Silva was crowned Mrs. Sri Lanka for Mrs. World 2021 and she immediately went into action, with her very own charity project – ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’
When launching this project, she said: “Lend a Helping Hand is dear to me. With the very meaning of the title, I am extending my helping hand to my fellow brothers and sisters in need; in a time where our very existence has become a huge question and people battling for daily survival.”
Since ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ became a reality, last year, Pushpika has embarked on many major charity projects, including building a home for a family, and renovating homes of the poor, as well.
The month of June (2022) saw Pushpika very much in action with ‘Lend a Helping Hand.’
She made International Father’s Day a very special occasion by distributing food items to 100 poor families.
“Many are going without a proper meal, so I was very keen, in my own way, to see that these people had something to keep the hunger pangs away.”
A few days later, the Queen of Hearts made sure that 50 more people enjoyed a delicious and nutritious meal.
“In these trying times, we need to help those who are in dire straits and, I believe, if each one of us could satisfy the hunger, and thirst, of at least one person, per day, that would be a blessing from above.”
Pushpika is also concerned about the mothers, with kids, she sees on the roads, begging.
“How helpless is a mother, carrying a small child, to come to the street and ask for something.
“I see this often and I made a special effort to help some of them out, with food and other necessities.”
What makes Pushpika extra special is her love for animals, as well, and she never forgets the street dogs that are having a tough time, these days, scavenging for food.
“These animals, too, need food, and are voiceless, so we need to think of them, as well. Let’s have mercy on them, too. Let’s love them, as well.”
The former beauty queen served a delicious meal for the poor animals, just recently, and will continue with all her charity projects, on a regular basis, she said.
Through her charity project, ‘Lend a Helping Hand,” she believes she can make a change, though small.
And, she says, she plans to be even more active, with her charity work, during these troubled times.
We wish Pushpika de Silva all the very best, and look forward to seeing more of her great deeds, through her ‘Lend a Helping Hand’ campaign.
Hope and political change:No more Appachis to the rescue
KUPPI on the current economic and political crisis: intervention 1
by Harshana Rambukwella
In Buddhist literature, there is the Parable of the Burning House where the children of a wealthy man, trapped inside a burning house, refuse to leave it, fearful of leaving its comfort – because the flames are yet to reach them. Ultimately, they do leave because the father promises them wonderful gifts and are saved from the fire. Sri Lankans have long awaited such father figures – in fact, our political culture is built on the belief that such ‘fathers’ will rescue us. But this time around no fathers are coming. As Sri Lankans stare into an uncertain future, and a multitude of daily sufferings, and indignities continue to pile upon us, there is possibly one political and emotional currency that we all need – hope. Hope is a slippery term. One can hope ‘in-vain’ or place one’s faith in some unachievable goal and be lulled into a sense of complacency. But, at the same time, hope can be critically empowering – when insurmountable obstacles threaten to engulf you, it is the one thing that can carry you forward. We have innumerable examples of such ‘hope’ from history – both religious and secular. When Moses led the Israelites to the promised land, ‘hope’ of a new beginning sustained them, as did faith in God. When Queen Viharamahadevi set off on a perilous voyage, she carried hope, within her, along with the hope of an entire people. When Martin Luther King Jr made his iconic ‘I have a dream’ speech, hope of an America where Black people could live in dignity, struck a resonant chord and this historical sense of hope also provided inspiration for the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.
This particular moment, in Sri Lanka, feels a moment of ‘hopelessness’. In March and April, this year, before the cowardly attack on the Gota Go Gama site, in Galle Face, there was a palpable sense of hope in the aragalaya movement as it spread across the country. While people were struggling with many privations, the aragalaya channeled this collective frustration into a form of political and social action, we have rarely seen in this country. There were moments when the aragalaya managed to transcend many divisions – ethnic, religious and class – that had long defined Sri Lanka. It was also largely a youth led movement which probably added to the ‘hope’ that characterized the aragalaya. However, following the May 09th attack something of this ‘hope’ was lost. People began to resign themselves to the fact that the literally and metaphorically ‘old’ politics, and the corrupt culture it represents had returned. A Prime Minister with no electoral base, and a President in hiding, cobbled together a shaky and illegitimate alliance to stay in power. The fuel lines became longer, the gas queues grew, food prices soared and Sri Lanka began to run out of medicines. But, despite sporadic protests and the untiring commitment of a few committed activists, it appeared that the aragalaya was fizzling out and hope was stagnant and dying, like vehicles virtually abandoned on kilometers-long fuel queues.
However, we now have a moment where ‘hope’ is being rekindled. A national movement is gathering pace. As the prospect of the next shipment of fuel appears to recede into the ever-distant future, people’s anger and frustration are once again being channeled towards political change. This is a do-or-die moment for all Sri Lankans. Regardless of our political beliefs, our ideological orientation, our religion or class, the need for political change has never been clearer. Whether you believe that an IMF bailout will save us, or whether you believe that we need a fundamental change in our economic system, and a socially and economically more just society, neither of these scenarios will come to pass without an immediate political change. The political class that now clings to power, in this country, is like a cancer – poisoning and corrupting the entire body politic, even as it destroys itself. The Prime Minister who was supposed to be the messiah channeling international goodwill and finances to the country has failed miserably and we have a President who seems to be in love with the idea of ‘playing president’. The Sri Lankan people have a single existential choice to make in this moment – to rise as one to expel this rotten political order. In Sri Lanka, we are now in that burning house that the Buddha spoke of and we all seem to be waiting for that father to appear and save us. But now we need to change the plot of this parable. No father will come for us. Our fathers (or appachis) have led us to this sorry state. They have lied, deceived and abandoned us. It is now up to us to rediscover the ‘hope’ that will deliver us from the misery of this economic and political crisis. If we do not act now the house will burn down and we will be consumed in its flames.
Initiated by the Kuppi Collective, a group of academics and activists attached to the university system and other educational institutes and actions.
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