In what is described in political circles as a possible showdown between the government and those who oppose the Norochcholai Coal Fired Power Plant, the bishop of Chilaw, who has been the staunchest opponent of the project, yesterday expressed his strong opposition to the signing of the project agreement with China and criticised President Chandrika Kumaratunga`s proposal to lay the foundation stone within a few days.
`The president of a country is quite free to lay a foundation stone where and when she chooses to do so,` Rev Dr F Marcus Fernando says in a strongly worded statement.
`As far as we are concerned, our position regarding this project remains unchanged.`
`We are totally against the erection of a coal power plant at Norochcholai,` he added. `We have clearly stated our reasons right from the start.`
`As responsible leaders, we have advised one and all against any confrontation on this occasion,` Bishop Fernando continues.
`At the same time, we are aware that the authorities have been working day and night during the past few weeks to win over the people in the immediate vicinity and create the impression that the local people welcome the project.`
`For the past few weeks, the CEB (Ceylon Electricity Board) has been busy intensifying its propaganda drive, cutting down coconut trees and fixing high tension wires in the areas promising people an immediate supply of electricity,` he noted. `Other forms of enticement, too, have been employed.`
`One might question how ethical it is (in fact, some are asking how legal it is) for a leader of a country to commit the country to a staggering foreign debt at the tail end of one`s tenure of office and tie down the future,` Bishop Fernando asserts.
`It is also to be remembered that this project has all along been a highly controversial one. History shows that such hastily signed agreements have not un-often been selfishly motivated and deeply flawed.`
It is reported that an influential business tycoon (who is very much in the news these days) is handling the Norochcholai project.
`We place on record our strong disapproval of the signing of this agreement with China and the laying of the foundation stone on the eve of a crucial presidential election.`