Former Transport Secy condemns move to privatise railway

By Rathindra Kuruwita

Former Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and academic, Dr. Lalithasiri Gunaruwan yesterday criticised the government’s decision to privatise the railway service in the Hambantota District. He said the sale of strategic assets to foreign companies had become a national policy for all practical purposes.

The Cabinet last week approved a proposal to call for an international tender to build a 100 km railway line linking Beliatta to Hambantota, Kataragama and the Mattala airport on a Build-Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis. The estimated project cost is USD 800 million (Rs. 127 billion).

"The Secretary to the Ministry of Transport has proudly claimed the chosen company will also install a signaling system and operate the services within the district. The company will also be able to set up restaurants, cargo storage facilities and shopping complexes in the areas coming under its purview."

Gunaruwan added that it was but a continuation of the policies of the Rajapaksa administration, which handed over the construction of southern railway line to a Chinese company and the Northern railway line to an Indian company. "These contracts were given to these foreign companies though the Sri Lanka Railways had the ability to carry out the projects at a much lower cost. Successive Sri Lankan governments have also not developed local enterprises capable of carrying out large scale projects that require technical expertise.

"The privatisation of railway services has not worked anywhere in the world and what is worse is that we are transferring the ownership of a vital asset to a foreign company. The Opposition is not opposing the project because it will also do the same if it comes back to power."

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