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Govt. to develop ECT fully, remaining terminal on paper open for foreign investment

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ECT: Prez accepts trade unions’ formula, crisis resolved

By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has accepted a proposal by 22 port trade unions aimed at resolving a crisis over the proposed handing over of the East Container Terminal (ECT) at the Colombo harbour to India’s Adani Group.

The unions have accepted external investment in the proposed West Container Terminal (WCT) while the government undertook to fully develop the deep water ECT now in operation. 

Urban Development, Coast Conservation, Waste Disposal and Community Cleanliness State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, who intervened in the dispute on behalf of ‘Viyathmaga’ yesterday (31), told The Island the trade unions’ proposal was in line with President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s policy statement at the last presidential election in Nov 2019.

The trade unions and the President reached consensus on this latter on Friday (29) amidst several political parties in the ruling SLPP objecting to the deal on the ECT. National Freedom

Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa spearheaded the protest by seeking a common stand on the port issue. Among those who supported the initiative were Yuthukama MP Gevindu Cumaratunga and the SLFP that had been involved in the original plan to involve the Indians at the ECT.

Responding to another query, Godahewa explained that ‘Viyathmaga’ Executive Committee member Dr. Priyath Bandu, who had served as Chairman, Sri Lanka Ports Authority during previous Rajapaksa administration, too, joined discussions with trade unions in the wake of them resorting to ‘work to rule’ as part of their strategy to discourage the incumbent government from going ahead with the tripartite agreement on the ECT finalized during the previous yahapalana administration.

 Dr. Godahewa said that ‘Viyathmaga’ intervened as the outfit felt the continuing failure or the delay on their part to address the issue at hand could cause irreparable damage. Dr. Godahewa said that only the trade union affiliated to the JVP refused to reach consensus on this matter.

Asked whether the government was really serious about accepting the trade unions’ formula, Dr. Godahewa said President Gotabaya Rajapaksa accepted workers’ call for one Cabinet paper on the ECT and the proposed WCT. There couldn’t be any further issues in this regard as no less a person than the President gave his go ahead, Dr. Godahewa said.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has instructed port minister Rohitha Abeygunawardena to take necessary action in this regard.

The State Minister explained that initially about 16 trade unions had accepted the proposals. There had been some delays as a result of some of the seven remaining trade unions

raising objects, Dr. Godahewa said, adding that finally six more trade unions declared their support. The State Minister emphasized that he along with Dr. Priyathbandu intervened after having received President Rajapaksa’s blessings. The President felt that progress couldn’t be made unless the government reached a clear understanding with port trade unions.

Dr. Godahewa said that in terms of the original ADB approved plan, three terminals at the Colombo port were to public-private partnerships. Dr. Godahewa said: “The ADB plan covered three terminals. China managed Colombo International Container Terminals (CICT) is one such terminal, the partly operational ECT run by the SLPA and WCT, a facility which is only on paper.” The SLPA, according to Dr. Godahewa developed the ECT after the previous Rajapaksa administration secured ADB’s consent to develop two of three terminals with external investments whereas it retained the ECT.

Dr. Godahewa said that the previous administration finalized a Memorandum of Corporation (MoC) with India and Japan in spite of specific decision taken by the government to develop the ECT on its own.

Dr. Godahewa said that the public shouldn’t be confused with the agreement on South Asia Gateway Terminals (SAGT) in the Colombo port finalized way back in 1999. The SAGT investment partners comprised John Keells, Evergreen, A.P.Moller Group and SLPA. The SLPA owns only 15 per cent shares. In the CICT operation, too, the SLPA’s stake is 15 per cent.

Dr. Godahewa said that the government could engage those interested in investing in the proposed WTC as President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the trade unions were on the same page as regards the port issue.

In the wake of successful Viyathmaga intervention several political parties met at Minister Weerawansa’s Colombo residence on Saturday (30) where they vowed to oppose Indian investment at the ECT under any circumstances. A senior NFF spokesperson told The Island that of the 14 political parties and groups in the SLPP, the participated in the discussion. Among those present were Ven Atureliye Rathana, State Minister Dayasiri Jayasekera, Minister Udaya Gammanpila, Minister Vasudeva Nanayakkara, Prof. Tissa Vitharana, MP, State Minister Jayantha Samaraweera, Weerasumana Weerasinha, MP, Asanka Navaratne, MP and SLPP National List MP Gevindu Cumaratunga.

Dr. Godahewa emphasized that their decision not to accept foreign investment at the ECT shouldn’t be misconstrued as opposition to external funding of local projects.



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Sabry denies China caused SL debt crisis

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Foreign Minister Ali Sabry, PC, has dismissed assertions that China caused the current economic crisis here.The Minister made Sri Lanka’s position clear in an interview with WION’s diplomatic correspondent Sidhant Sibal. Asked whether Minister Sabry believed that the current economic crisis is due to China, its policy of debt crisis, the Minister has said: No, I don’t agree with that, which is a western phrase. We don’t agree with that. The Chinese never came and forced us to take money. Actually, we have gone and sought funds and they have respected that and invested in our country. They are the biggest investor in our country, we don’t agree with that phrase. Having taken the money we have put them into proper use or who so ever we can get in return is the issue for Sri Lankans, therefore we don’t associate with that kind of phrase, actually Chinese have been good friends for us and they have been the biggest investor in the country post conflict.

Commenting on Sri Lanka’s ties with China, WION quoted Sabry as having said: “Our relationship with Beijing is very strong for a long period of time, they have been our close friend. This year we have celebrated 70 years of economic ties with them, beginning with the Rubber Rice pact, we exported rubber to them and imported rice. So ours is a strong relationship and basically it has been a commercial relationship, economic relationship where they have come and invested heavily in Sri Lanka during a difficult period of time for us and during the 26 years of the conflict, during the last few years, Chinese supported us with supply of arms to get rid of the threat from one of the most ruthless terrorist organizations, the LTTE and in order to bring back peace to our country. In that context we have had a very good relationship with them. Sri Lanka always follows the dynamic, neutral foreign policy where we would want everyone to be a friend of Sri Lanka and enemy to none. That is our foreign policy, that is our relationship, so given this dynamic, we would continue the same thing but taking India’s sensitivities and security concerns to heart because that is very important for us.”

WION: How has the talks been with the IMF and has India played a role in facilitating the talks? I believe this is the 17th bailout you are trying to secure.

Ali Sabry: I started the negotiations with them, and they have studied, and staff-level agreement has been reached, prior action before the EFF, extended fund facility, we have agreed on. We have agreed and implemented some of those things. The EEF facility is for 2.9 billion, and the moment the IMF gets involved, it infuses confidence in the system, ADB, World Bank all come on the table, and we probably will be able to return to the money market, so that is why it is so important. India, had actually provided us with a lifeline during the most crucial time of our history, in terms of economy and those credit lines kept us going for a long period of time. I remember, when I was in Washington, your Finance Minister Sitharaman led your group and supported us in our discussion with the IMF and they have continued to do so. So it is important and Indian support is very critical to us. India has played a great role in supporting the neighbour in the most difficult time of its history.

WION: Why didn’t China offer financial assistance, as India did, during the recent crisis?

Ali Sabry: The Chinese also supported us just before the particular period of time, they also provided us with some financial facilities and credit line, also they did provide us some soft arrangement to bolster our reserves at the central bank, apart from that some humanitarian assistance also. We hope China will step up in providing us with debt restructuring assurances, along with India so that we can go to the IMF and resolve the matter once and for all and get back to the recovery path. So, it’s important for all creditors and all investors that Sri Lanka recovers and recovers fast. The longer the debt gets suspended, the longer it takes to recover. It is bad for all the creditors and investors; everybody understands that, including China.

WION: Has China offered to restructure…

Ali Sabry: We are still in discussions for that, they have been cooperative and part of the common platform where we share information, recently in Washington. They also took part on the virtual platform. So China, India, Paris club, and Japan are all cooperating with us, so we are in the final stage of trying to get the debt restructuring and assurances. We are hopeful all countries and all our friends will not let us down.

WION: Have you asked for more Indian support.

Ali Sabry:Not really, right now our economy has stabilized to some extent and we should be able to manage ourselves. Right now, we have reached out to India and the rest of the world, it’s not for aid or any more loans but basically investments. We are working with Indians and Indian companies and the government to work together in various areas for mutual interests, so that investment comes into the country and it will be beneficial for both Indians and Sri Lankans.

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Electricity users threaten legal action if power tariffs hiked again unilaterally by Minister

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CEB records Rs 6 billion profit in October

By Anuradha Hiripitiyage

The Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB) recorded a profit of six billion rupees in October, Electricity Users Association (EUA) Secretary Sanjeewa Dhammika told the media yesterday.Dhammika said that if the CEB increased the price of electricity again, the EUA would take legal action.

“There are 6.5 million users of electricity and I urge the Minister of Power and Energy not to take them for granted. Minister Kanchana Wijesekera, on Thursday, told Parliament that they will increase the electricity tariff again,” he said.

The CEB made a profit of six billion rupees in October. Electricity was produced using water, coal, and renewable sources, he said.

“The average cost of electricity production was around five rupees. A unit of electricity was sold at around 32

rupees. The Minister says they are still making a loss. The Minister has no power to increase tariffs. The Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL) can only increase the tariff. The current Minister has said there is no need for a PUCSL. He wants to increase tariffs the way he wants, without oversight. We won’t allow that to happen. Apparently, he has asked the Cabinet to review tariffs, once in six months,” he said.

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Baglay reiterates India’s commitment in line with ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’

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Indian High Commissioner Gopal Baglay on Thursday (24) reiterated their commitment to Sri Lanka’s capacity building endeavours in line with India’s ‘Neighbourhood First Policy’.

Baglay emphasized that training engagements between the Armed Forces have instilled a spirit of brotherhood and interoperability amongst the services and form the foundation of their abiding bonds. A large number of NDC India alumni in Sri Lanka have risen to the highest echelons of defence leadership, which testifies to the importance of nurturing these strong relations, according to a statement issued by the Indian High Commission here.

Baglay said so at an event to mark 50 years of association between National Defence College (NDC), India and Sri Lankan Armed Forces in Colombo. The special event celebrated the enduring bonds of cooperation, camaraderie and friendship between the militaries of India and Sri Lanka. Secretary of Defence, Chief of Defence Staff, Commanders of Sri Lanka Navy and Air Force along with other alumni and dignitaries from the Ministry of Defence and Sri Lanka Armed Forces graced the occasion.

Secretary of Defence, Gen (retd.) Kamal Gunaratne and High Commissioner Gopal Baglay jointly launched the webpage of the Alumni Association of NDC India in Sri Lanka at the event to facilitate closer and continued engagements between the two countries and the premier Indian defence institute. The webpage would be hosted on the website of High Commission of India (www.hcicolombo.gov.in/ndca) and act as a medium for the alumni to stay connected with their alma mater and keep abreast with the latest on defence cooperation between the two maritime neighbours.

As part of India’s unwavering commitment to capacity building of Sri Lanka Armed Forces and focus on regional cooperation, NDC India has made valuable contributions towards enhancing regional peace, security and stability and such forums effectively enable fostering of cordial and warm relationships between the two countries.

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