Govt going ahead with 99-year H’tota port deal ‘Have hope, we’ll deliver’ says Premier

The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government yesterday reiterated that it would sign an agreement tomorrow (29) to hand over the Hambantota Port to a Chinese company for a period of 99 years.

The agreement will be signed at the Ports and Shipping Ministry at 9.30 am.

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made the announcement at the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) soon after the Joint Opposition (JO) disrupted a scheduled adjournment debate in Parliament on the Sri Lanka-China agreement on the Hambantota port.

Addressing the media at the CBSL, Premier Wickremesinghe explained the circumstances leading to the coalition going ahead with the Hambantota port deal. He said the national economy had been in such a bad shape that the UNP-SLFP coalition had to take tough decisions to stabilise the situation.

The PM maintained that the agreement that worked out by the government was certainly much better than the previous administration’s plan.

Wickremesinghe said the JO had avoided the adjournment debate as it couldn’t face it. “They didn’t ask for an adjournment debate. We gave it to them.”

Responding to a media query, the PM said a joint Sri Lanka-Indian team would examine the Trincomalee harbour-oil tank farm development projects. Trade unions, too, would be consulted, he said. Underscoring the pivotal importance of deepening economic relationship with India, the UNPer emphasized that it wouldn’t be inimical to Sri Lanka.

While attributing the decision to bring in the Chinese to set up a joint venture to halt heavy losses suffered since 2011, PM Wickremesinghe also revealed that an agreement on the Mattala airport would be finalised before the end of the year. Wickremesinghe estimated the accumulated losses there at Rs 46 bn.

The PM ruled out the possibility of finding a foreign partner to run the Sooriyawewa cricket stadium.

Commenting further on the Hambantota port deal, Premier Wickremesinghe said that in addition to USD 1.12 bn investment, there would be a further input of USD 300 to 400 mn in Hambantota. The Premier emphasized that Hambantota port security would be handled by Sri Lanka.

Having explained various projects undertaken by the government in different parts of the country and plans for Jaffna and Batticaloa, Wickremesinghe expressed the belief that USD 2-3 bn in investment could be attracted in the next two years.

At the onset of his brief remarks, the PM said contrary to assertions that severe drought and floods would have a negative impact on the national economy, the CBSL was confident of achieving 4.5 to 5 per cent growth this year.

“We are on the right track,” the premier said.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera said Hambantota port would be of critical importance to Sri Lanka’s development. Declaring that the Hambantota economic zone wouldn’t be exclusively Chinese, FM Samaraweera said investors from any part of the world could come in.

Sri Lanka has allocated 1,115 hectares for the Hambantota project with Hambantota International Port Services Company (Pvt) Ltd (HIPS) and Hambantota International Port Group (Pvt) Limited (HIPG) with Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) and China Merchant Port responsible for operations. The SLPA will have 50.7 per cent of HIPS with China Merchant Port having the rest. However, China Merchant Port will have 85 per cent of shares of HIPG with the SLPA having 15 per cent.

Ports and Shipping Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe told The Island that the basis for HIPG is on the lines of two projects at the Colombo harbour namely South Asia Gateway Terminals and Colombo International Container Terminals.

Samarasinghe said only 1,115 hectares had been allocated for the Hambantota project with the Chinese in spite of gazette notifications issued in 2007 and 2008 referring to 1,574 hectares.

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