Government Jumps The Gun On Colombo Port City

Ranil Wickremesinghe, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, Keheliya Rambukwella and Xi Jinping

Maithripala Sirisena, who ascended to Presidency on January 09, took part in his first Independence Day ceremony last week as the Executive President of Sri Lanka. The Independence Day ceremony this year showed a remarkable difference from the ceremonies that were held under President Rajapaksa’s government. The Independence Day state ceremonies, under former President Rajapaksa, were characterised with pomp and demonstration of grotesque power of the country’s military which crushed the LTTE in May, 2009.

Even the traditional speeches made by the Head of State during Independence Day ceremonies were shaped by pro-war rhetoric and chest thumping patriotism. The Ceasefire agreement, which was signed between the UNP government and the LTTE in December 2001, came under severe criticism during Independence Day speeches when President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in power.

This time, the Independence Day speech showed a clear paradigm shift. President Maithripala Sirisena, who was in fact the Acting Minister of Defence of the country during the final days of the last Eelam war, emphasised the need of winning peace in the aftermath of the victory of war. He clearly said that the hearts of the people of the North and South were yet to be connected and a strong bridge had to be constructed.

Another unprecedented move was the unveiling of the Declaration of Peace which was read out in all three languages. The Declaration of Peace also reiterated that the new government was intent on walking the path of unity and national reconciliation. Therefore, one has every reason to believe that the Independence Day state ceremony this year sent out a positive message to every group pressing for ethnic and religious harmony and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.


Maithripala Kevlar Polymer jacket creates questions

However, in addition to President Sirisena’s keynote speech at the Independence Day ceremony, his dress code too drew the attention of media and spectators. Resembling the days of his election campaign, President wore a beige colour waist coat above his national dress and some dubbed this as an attempt to imitate Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. But, the true story behind his beige colour waist coat had nothing to with India or the Indian Prime Minister. Sources close to President Sirisena said the beige colour waist coat was completely a security measure.

“The President did not make any attempt to imitate the Indian Prime Minister during the Independence Day ceremony. He was wearing a Kevlar Polymer bullet resistant jacket beneath his dress and that was why he had to wear a beige colour waist coat as part of his attire. Kevlar Polymer jacket is made of synthetic fiber and it is considered as a highly effective security measure for VIPs and people who face security threats,” a spokesman close to the President said.

“During the election campaign too, President Sirisena had to face numerous security threats and that was why he was compelled to resort to strict security measures. But unfortunately things haven’t changed even after his ascension to Presidency. Still, the President of Sri Lanka has to wear a bullet proof jacket when attending the Independence Day ceremony. This is something that everyone has to take into serious consideration,” he also added while indicating that there is still a sense of distrust on the part of the government when it comes to certain quarters of the country’s military.

“The new government has not taken any action against any military officer who had close affiliations with the previous government. We are aware of the fact that some Military officers, even the top rung figures, went beyond their call of duty to serve the interests of the people who were in power. But, even under the new government, they still serve in the Army and we haven’t taken any action against any of them. As a result, the President now has to look after his own security,” he said.


Why was MR absent during Independence Day ceremony?

The notable absentee during the Independence Day state ceremony was former President Mahinda Rajapaksa who was invited for the event by the internal Affairs Ministry. Although an official invitation was sent to him, the former President did not turn up at the Independence Day ceremony. It was learnt that on February 04, the former President was spending time with his supporters at Weeraketiya.

However, former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga attended the Independence Day ceremony after a hiatus of 10 years. Her last Independence Day ceremony was in 2005 when she was the President of Sri Lanka. The former President was welcomed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and she was given a front row seat alongside Wickremesinghe.

There were some questions about the government protocol when it came to the arrival of former President Kumaratunga at the Independence Day state ceremony. The former President was officially welcomed by Prime Minister Wickremesinghe who is actually the second in command of the government.


President occupies Keheliya’s residence

Maithripala Sirisena, even after being elected as the President of Sri Lanka, used the official residence which he received as a Minister under President Rajapaksa’s government. During the election campaign, he pledged that he would never turn the Temple Trees or the President’s House in Colombo into his personal residence. However, after becoming the President, Sirisena realised that there were issues with his official residence mainly due to lack of space.

After exploring several options, the President finally decided to use the official residence of former Minister Keheliya Rambukwella as the official residence of the President. “The official residence of former minister Keheliya Rambukwella is to become the official residence of President Maithripala Sirisena,” President Sirisena tweeted, on Friday. The President’s decision to occupy the official residence of an ordinary minister was welcomed by many as it was a clear demonstration of his will to lead a non-extravagant life as the President of Sri Lanka.

Keheliya Rambukwella was the Minister of Mass Media and information under former president Rajapaksa’s government. Sources close to the President said he would use the President’s House at Fort only for official purposes. Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who held the office for nearly 10 years, used both Temple Trees and President’s House for his official and personal purposes. Temple Trees was previously the residence of the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe too has already decided that he would only use Temple Trees for official purposes.

Meanwhile, the new government found itself in a position of embarrassment when Cabinet Spokesman Rajitha Senaratne announced that the government had decided to proceed with the Colombo Port City project, run by a Chinese company. The ruling party, when it was in the opposition, said in no uncertain words that it would halt the project under a UNP government. That was exactly why the decision to proceed with the same project came as an embarrassment to the government.

However, the government decided to reevaluate the deal before agreeing to proceed with the Port City. During the reevaluation some interesting revelations were also made pertaining to the handling of the project.

Top government sources told The Sunday Leader that a plot of land within the Colombo Port City had been earmarked for a certain family that played a key role in Sri Lankan politics by China Communications Construction Company Limited (CCCC), the Chinese company which was handling the project.

According to the Colombo Port City deal proposed deal, 108 hectares would be given to the Chinese firm, including 20 hectares on an outright basis and the rest on a 99-year lease. The earmarked plot of land, according to top government sources, was within the 20 hectares which was given to the Chinese firm on an outright basis.

“Through the revaluation, we had to rectify the issues of the initial plan. You cannot hand over a plot of land to a foreign country on an outright basis,” a high profile spokesman who spoke to The Sunday Leader said on Thursday.


Colombo Port City issue brings embarrassment to new government

In addition to problems in the agreement, India had also raised concerns over the port city project saying it was a threat to the national security of India.

A Reuters reported two weeks ago said that Indian diplomats had raised concerns over the deal saying the the 20-hectare plot is a security concern because of the large number of India-bound cargoes that pass through Colombo port.

Construction of the Colombo Port City project was launched on 17 September 2014 by Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The project approximately reclaimed around 230 hectares and it was decided that the Port City would include roads, water, and electricity, communication facilities to set up shopping areas, water sports area, mini golf course, hotels, apartments, recreation areas and marinas. According to the initial plan, there was a move to include a new Formula One track, constructed in the vicinity of the Colombo Harbour. This drew heavy criticism from the United National Party which was then in the opposition, especially from the then Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe.

This reevaluation alone did not solve all the problems pertaining to the Colombo Port City. There are so many questions that the UNP and the government should answer with regard to their decision on Colombo Port City.

The Prime Minister, who was then the Opposition Leader, posed some solid questions to the government on commercial and economic benefits of the project, its environmental impact, absence of tender procedures and feasibility studies and several other issues. The government has still not stated whether the problems it pointed out earlier still exist.

When Cabinet Spokesman Dr. Rajitha Senaratne said yesterday that the government had decided to proceed with the project after a detailed revaluation he did not disclose whether some measures have been suggested to address the issues pointed out by the Prime Minister when he was in the opposition.

According to the Cabinet Spokesperson, the matter has been reconsidered in the context of the new government’s bilateral relations with China. Senaratne also said that the President would visit China in March and he would hold discussions with Chinese authorities on this deal. The visit will take place after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Sri Lanka which is also scheduled for March.

Therefore, it leaves ample space to speculate that the new government too has decided to move on with the controversial project without paying much attention to its negative impact.

The questions that Wickremesinghe raised in Parliament in February, last year, are as follows.

“What is the reason for launching such a project? Is it because the required lands cannot be found from the city of Colombo that the sea is filled for this project? What is the total amount spent for the construction of this city. How would that be found? Were the tenders and proposals called for such a huge project? If so, what are the dates and in which media they had been published? Or else, on what basis the investors and companies were selected for the purpose? On what basis was it decided that nearly half of the Colombo Port City be offered to a Chinese Company? What is the extent of land of this city that the government of Sri Lanka would keep in its possession after this construction? What is the authority with powers vested to carry out this project? What is the tax concessions offered, if any? Under what regulation had they been offered? What are the commercial and economic benefits the country would gain out of this project? Will there be hotels, cafeterias, or flats built in this city for the general public? If so, what are they? Will the cost preservation and environment be adversely affected by the sea filling made for this project? Have the reports been received from recognised institutions on the environmental impact and other matters pertaining to this project? Will he present all reports and letters pertaining to the above questions and the said project to parliament?”

Interestingly, the government which is technically being led by the same Wickremesinghe also remains tight-lipped on these questions. The real problem here is that the UNP, during its election campaign, jumped the gun without taking its repercussions into serious consideration.

6 Comments for “Government Jumps The Gun On Colombo Port City”

  1. Frederick

    Whatever the issue best to sort it out quickly and present an united front. One Minister saying it is going ahead and another contradicting it does not instil confidence. One thing is for sure.It is too big a project to get it wrong.

  2. sg

    New government should be followed a balance policy with regard out side world without going one side bias policy. Especially, government should not bias with Europe specifically, President speech on independency day was highly appreciated. According that it was nightlight that a neutral policy with all the countries will implement by the new government. Specially, China is one of the historical friends to Sri Lanka. Recently Chinese government has been invested huge amount of investments in Sri Lanka. Any body should not keep ideologically or politics doubt or conflict about Chinese investment in Sri Lanka. In recent history ,there was lot of issues were raised with not Chinese investment or Chinese government . All those problems were connected with financial management of the local politician and their corrupted actions. Therefore, at this momentum time new government should not be complicated relationship with their real Sri Lankan friends in the world.

  3. When Tamils demand self-determination & autonomy, it is a threat to the sovereignity of SL, yet Chinese hegemony gets the GREEN flag too. How about a Port City in KKS financed by the Diaspora & NPC?

  4. daggy

    Do not play around with China. If you do GOSL will be playing around with the Fire of a Dragon.

  5. Manuelpillai

    Politics is that. It is one thing when you are in the Opposition and another thing when you are in the Ruling… . The Prime Minister Wikramasinghe will be no exception.”Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”.

  6. Kalum Wedimuttugama

    Harry Lee Kuan Yew – not Percy Mahendra Rajapaksa, was the first Prime Minister of Singapore, governing for three decades. He is also widely recognised as the founding father of modern Singapore. Lee’s eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, a former Brigadier-General, became Prime Minister of Singapore in 2004. Several members of Lee’s family still hold prominent positions in Singaporean society. His youngest son, Lee Hsien Yang, was also a former Brigadier-General and former President and CEO of SingTel. Lee Hsien Yang was also educated in the University of Cambridge, where he read engineering and graduated with first class honours. He is currently the Non-Executive Director and Chairman of Fraser and Neave Ltd and Chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore. Lee’s daughter, Lee Wei Ling, runs the National Neuroscience Institute. Lee Hsien Loong’s wife, Ho Ching, is the Executive Director and CEO of Temasek Holdings. Temasek owns and manages a net portfolio of SGD223 billion – which is about USD177 billion as of 31 March 2014, mainly in Singapore and Asia. It owns DBS Holdings, Neptune Orient Lines and Singapore Airlines, and until recently owned the Raffles Hotel group.

    Stop me if any of this sounds familiar. By comparison, MR is a beginner, and only didnt get rid of all his opposition like the 1963 Operation Coldstore where he locked up all the communists and Marxists. There has been no viable opposition to LKY government since 1959 to date. But they say Singapore has the least corruption and is the best place in the world not only in Asia to live. All this came at a price, with a handsome reward for those who made it happen.

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