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Unwise double standards on East Container Terminal

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Protest against ECT being awarded to Adani group of India

 

By Harim Peiris

Earlier this week, the Government officially announced that it would not proceed with the proposal to develop the East Container Terminal (ECT) of the Colombo Port, as a joint venture between the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and the Adani Group of India. The announcement by the government, through the Prime Minister no less, raises important questions marks and doubts over the vistas of prosperity and the claims of technocratic policy making and efficient governance, we were all promised by the Government at preceding elections.

 

Private investment into
the Colombo Port

Firstly, a quick look at the Colombo Port would demonstrate that we already have the private sector operating terminals in the Colombo Port, namely the South Asian Gateways Terminals (SAGT), a John Keells Holdings investment and more recently, under the previous Rajapaksa Administration the Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT), a venture with the China Merchants Port Holdings. In both SAGT and CICT, the stake of the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SAGT) is only fifteen percent (15%). In contrast the proposed joint venture for the ECT with the India’s Adani Group, was to have a majority (51%) Sri Lankan stake, through the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and the Adani group and other project managers, the balance minority stake only.

Further in the case of the CICT, the China Merchants Port Holdings, is a Chinese Government entity and so the investor is not a foreign private investor, but a foreign sovereign entity. The same Chinese Government entity, the China Merchants Port Holdings (China Merchants) also owns 85% of the Hambantota Port. So, the principal of private sector and foreign investor participation in Sri Lankan ports, is a clearly established Sri Lankan State policy, going back over twenty years, the SAGT having commenced operations in 1999.

 

Policy clarity and efficient governance

Foreign direct investment (FDI) is the name of the game for Sri Lanka, to both see significant foreign exchange inflows into Sri Lanka and also to significantly improve our infrastructure which will directly contribute to increased growth in our GDP. Both of these are areas where Sri Lanka lags behind our peer group in South and East Asia. Sri Lanka’s GDP growth of the past eight years or so, have been lower than our war era GDP growth and shipping, especially transshipments is a significant potential growth area, for which port capacity and operating efficiency are crucial.

Regarding foreign direct investment (FDI) as well, Sri Lanka lags behind her peer group, especially through equity investments. Further FDI into infrastructure, is harder to attract, than say service industry investments, because infrastructure investments are not only significantly larger, in hundreds of millions of dollars, but also because the projects are long term in nature. Accordingly, the investment by the Adani group would have been a huge foreign direct investment by a private (not government) Indian company and a precursor and confidence booster for other Indian investments. Sri Lanka, geographically positioned as we are, should endeavour to benefit ourselves from the economic growth and success story next door.

A crucial and essential feature of both public policy and governance is that there be both clarity and certainty. In that respect, honouring commitments and especially written agreements become crucial in the conduct of both international relations and commercial activity. The adherence to contracts and agreements is an essential feature of international, local and every common law tradition in the world.

It is in that context, that the previous Sirisena / Wickremesinghe Administration though extremely critical of the Port City and other grandiose projects of dubious utility value, honoured those contracts and proceeded with the projects because of binding nature of the agreements. It was therefore entirely predictable, the immediate Indian Government response to the Government’s announcement, through its High Commission in Colombo, when it announced that the Indian Government expects adherence and implementation of the tripartite Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) signed between Sri Lanka, India and Japan, our largest bilateral donor by far, for the development of the ECT.

Reneging on contracts, tearing up the rule book and thumbing our nose at our closest (and giant) neighbour India, together with offending our largest bi lateral donor by far, Japan is very unwise and hardly likely to lead us to vistas of prosperity. Not only has Japan been a firm and reliable friend of Sri Lanka for over half a century, they have been Sri Lanka’s largest bilateral donor. The Japanese also have considerable sway over the Asian Development Bank, which has been one of the largest, long term concessionary lenders for infrastructure to Sri Lanka. Their proposed loan for the ECT was at a half percent compared with the hefty premium to Libor that all the Chinese loans came at. Compare half percent to say, four or five percent for a half a billion dollars. The math does not add up. This is also after the government unilaterally cancelled the Japanese light rail project, which was meant to address the rather obvious need for mass rapid transit in the Colombo district, beyond our colonial era railways.

The Government position seems very strange. We have declined foreign direct investment and torn up an agreement with our largest neighbour India and our largest donor Japan. We find the East Terminal in the Colombo Port strategic but not the Western terminal, or the SAGT or the CICT or even the Hambantota port, just the East Terminal. We can forgive those who suspect a hidden hand and it is not too hard to see from where. Monopolistic or oligopolistic behaviour is rational for the monopolist or the oligarch. The problem is when the Government is subject to their pressure.

In contrast to the Government, the main opposition Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) of Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa, has very wisely taken a well-balanced position on the ECT, saying a public private partnership is the best way forward.

(The writer served as Advisor, Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2016-17)



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Opinion

An island of Pain and Destruction?

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When there are several ‘tivus’ in the North, why was Iranativu selected for Muslim Covid burials? Why select an island with people living there, with Catholic priests, too? Why not an island with no humans at all: Is that so difficult for the Burial Experts in the Covid management?

Looks like the disposal of dead bodies, if they happen to be of Covid-infected Muslims, is the biggest problem Sri Lanka is facing  today. This is bigger than any economic issue, or any other aspects of development the country and people may be facing. It looks like there is no possibility for a “Saubhagye Dekma” or Vision of Prosperity & Splendour if any Covid Muslims are buried in this Sinhala Bauddha Dupatha.

We tried to send these bodies all the way to the Maldives, on an official request. But failed. This time it is Iranativu – and once again a failure.  So why not keep trying at Neduntivu, Sampaltivu, Vidataltivu or any other ‘tivu’ in the North or East; and till a suitable place is found, keep the dead bodies frozen at taxpayer expenditure? 

Now that the US has decided to take some un-Trump moves about Saudi Arabia, why does not the former and present US citizens  that rule Sri Lanka, think of sending all Covid Muslim corpses to Saudi Arabia, for sacred burials? With the Saudi leaders thinking of new plans for investment, Sri Lanka could become a new target of Saudi funds pouring in. But will this lead to the Sri Lankan Muslims getting any stronger than they are now?

Or, will we wait till we discover or develop a new “Gotativu or Nandasenativu” off Sri Lanka, an Isle of Saubhagya?

Are the Indian Aircraft flying in the special  70-year celebrations of the Sri Lanka Air Force an assurance of new Indian warmth  in Sri Lanka-India relations?  Did the power of the Indian Air Force, displayed over Galle Face Green, make the government take a quick pro-Indian decision on the West Container Terminal (WCT) in the Port of Colombo? 

Can President Gotabaya or PM Mahinda give any explanation why handing over the development of the WCT to the same Indian company, involved in the ECT, could be any better for Sri Lanka? Apart from the Port Trade Unions  that are likely to launch a new protest, will the Weerawansa-Gammanpila-Vasudeva team also carry out protests about the WCT? Or, will they be silenced by the realities of pro-Gotabaya Politics? 

Has Gotabaya Team’s new position that the Provincial Council elections will be held under the new Constitution, an assurance given to India  that the 13h Amendment will remain part of the structure of governance in Sri Lanka? What happened to all those voices of the Pohottuva political players who had virtually written off the 13A? Have they been silenced by the flight of Indian aircraft in the Air Force celebrations?

The Nandasena Gotabaya Team of the Rajavasala had better think of how the yellow robes of sections of the Maha Sangha would react to the WCT deal with India? 

The problems of Iranativu and the WCT or Muslim burials  and the Port of Colombo are certainly pushed back by the realities of Geneva. The Sri Lankan TV stations that have been very strong in their criticism of Michelle Bachelet, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, about her handling of Human Rights, have given big coverage to her statements critical of the Myanmar coup and its military leaders. Will Michelle Bachelet have a big score against Sri Lanka? Keep guessing.

The issues facing Sri Lanka in Geneva are more about the policies of the present Gotabaya-Mahinda Rajavasala, than issues involving the defeat of the LTTE and matters of responsibility and accountability in the post-war period. 

The Easter Carnage that took place, long after the end of the war against LTTE terror, and under the previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Yahapalana regime, is certainly at the height of the Rajavasala problems today. Having promised the people that the truth about this carnage will be found and revealed, and the planners and manipulators identified and punished, the Rajavasala is trying to escape its promises and responsibilities. 

This is certainly no easy task as it involves the hopes and expectations of many thousands who voted for the Gotabaya and the Pohottuva at the last Presidential and General Elections. Just look at the thousands in the Wattala-Negombo area who turned away from the UNP, did not support the Sajith Premadasa – Telephone, – and voted for the Pohottuva. It was the biggest Catholic turn away from the UNP, as took place in votes for the left in 1956.

We are now moving to a Black Sunday, when Catholics have been asked to wear black in protest at church services, seeking divine intervention to reveal and punish the Easter Sunday killers nearly two years ago. The response that divinity will provide remains to be seen, but with the voice of the Catholic Cardinal echoing the pain of hundreds who have suffered in this carnage, we are certainly moving to a period of much sorrow and even disaster.

Black Sunday may come and go, but by April this year, when black flags are to fly over houses, mainly Catholic, throughout the country, we certainly face a new rise of a major Majority/Minority conflict. Do we have to think of the possible revival of all the pains of the war against the LTTE terror, or think more in terms of peace and cooperation among people, with or without divine intervention.

This will certainly not be easy in the coming months, as we see so much of nature destroyed, forests cut down, sand mined and transported without permits, the greenery of the country rapidly vanishing and only hearing the call of a painful Saubhagya! 

Will the call for Divine Help bring us to be an Isle of Peace and Understanding, and not a large Isle of Pain and Destruction?

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Opinion

Go forth boldly against global enemies

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At the UNHRC meeting the true friends of Sri Lanka emerged to speak and defend the country battered mercilessly for defeating the world most brutal terrorist organization, i.e., Tamil Tiger terrorists in 2009, who held 20 million Sri Lankans to ransom for well over 25 years.

Leading the Sri Lanka bashing were the UK. Germany. Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands. Belgium and the USA, all of them having a chequered history in violating human rights at different times. India, our friendly neighbour, while thankfully taking a fair distance from the punitive stance of others, opted to emphasize on “the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils and their ‘aspirations’ insisting on the FULL implementation of the 13 A”. India should be requested to point out whether any Tamil person in Sri Lanka is deprived from enjoying a basic right because he or she is being purely a Tamil. On the 13th A, which was thrust on Sri Lanka along with the so-called Indo-Sri Lanka agreement, most Sri Lankans are of the view that it was a faulty restructuring effort of Sri Lanka’s government by India, and the Police and Land powers under the 13 A are a direct threat to the sovereign Sri Lanka. Further, the Provincial government system has not benefited Sri Lanka in any measurable manner, and has been an exercise in colossal wastage of hard-earned funds of the central government.

As regards aspirations, we are amazed how we can consider ONLY the aspirations of Tamils, as all other ethnic groups and the individuals too have aspirations, and it will be impossible to walk that talk. We need further training in the recognition of aspirations of different groups from India, and we pray for further comments from the HR specialists in India how they have reconciled the aspirations of other than Hindu religious groups — Sheiks, Kashmiris and other minority groups in Northernmost India.

But, many nations at UNHCR rejected the proposition of the Sri Lanka bashers who directly and indirectly were supportive of the LTTE armed insurrection and the separatism, threatening the unitary Sri Lanka. They also rejected the ‘the preventive prescription’ of the Secretary General Bachelet. The nations who supported Sri Lanka stood for the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a democratic country. Any weaknesses in Sri Lankan affairs should be allowed to be rectified domestically, in keeping with the constitutional provisions of the country, rather than to be dictated and decided upon by the holier than thou sloganeers. Most of the nations who attempt to foist their plan on Sri Lanka are from the Western bloc who killed and maimed millions of persons living in the colonized countries and subsequently destroyed other nations as pawns of the world power games. Their “adherence”to human rights are completely at variance with their practices on the ground.

Now, Sri Lanka should re-examine their directions and resolve to work with the friendly nations who supported her to extricate from the trap laid out by the countries who desire an unstable Sri Lanka. The Government and the people should resolve to reduce our dependence on Sri Lanka bashers, and re-design our imports to suit the geo-political reality and to avoid any plot to impose sanctions by the wounded nations. Time has arrived to consider the nation’s priorities by curtailing the luxuries even for a given period. We should try to get our requirements from the friendly nations, and try to improve our trading relationship with our friends.

This the ONLY way to extend our hand to REBUILD a new world order, to be less dependent on the predatory countries who always insist on their pound of flesh from the developing nations. While we thank the President, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Government for having rejected co-sponsorship of resolution 30/1 at UNHRC, we urge the Government to plan to reshape our trade and foreign relations, to play our role as an independent member of the international community.

 

RANJITH SOYSA

 

 

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Opinion

Gama Samaga Pilisandara  Round 2

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Gotabaya Rajapakse’s election manifesto “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” says on its page 4, “This policy document tilted ‘A Vision for a Resurgent, Prosperous Country’ is the result of a series of discourses, ‘interaction with the village’, conducted in 25,000 villages throughout our country during the past one year. We have identified the requirements of housing, electricity, drinking water, access roads, and irrigation facilities in every village”. That is about 65 villages per day and as we have only about 14,000 Grama Niladhari (GN) divisions, coverage would have been about 100 GN divisions in a day. Whatever it is, why did the President decide to repeat this discourse? Is it because he does not accept what was given in his Manifesto as true or is he trying to restore the trust people had in him which is fast dwindling? President may also be thinking that as most of the masses in urban areas who voted for him have become disillusioned with his government’s performance, it would be more prudent to resolve some minor issues in the villages and keep them still faithful to him.

 Rohana Wijayawardhana

 

 

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