Prez stands firm on East Container Terminal issue


By Shamindra Ferdinando

President Maihripala Sirisena has reiterated that the development of the East Container Terminal (ECTA) of the Colombo Port would be handled exclusively by the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).

Ports and Shipping Minister and SLFP spokesman Mahinda Samarasinghe yesterday explained President Sirisena’s stand, at the weekly media briefing at the SLFP office on T.B. Jayah Mawatha.

Samarasinghe said the Cabinet would finalise the matter on Tuesday (Oct.30). Responding to media queries, Samarasinghe ruled out the possibility of the President giving in to combined pressure from India and the UNP.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is reported to have expressed his concerns over the delay in finalizing an agreement on the ECT.

Samarasinghe, in his capacity as the Ports and Shipping Minister presented a Cabinet paper on Oct. 16 on the development of the ECT.

President Sirisena and PM Wickremesinghe are reported to have clashed over Samarasinghe’s Cabinet paper with the latter pushing for Indian investment.

Samarasinghe said Prime Minister Wickremesinghe must have explained President Sirisena’s stand to Indian leader Modi during his recent visit to New Delhi.

Having reiterated President Sirisena’s stand on the ECT, Samarasinghe revealed that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, following his return from New Delhi, had requested that the decision on the Cabinet paper be deferred by one week. "Prime MinisterWickremesinghe wanted to meet Indian High Commissioner on this matter. So, we’ll inform the Indian High Commissioner of our position."

Commenting on statements issued by the Office of Modi as well as Wickremesinghe’s at the conclusions of deliberations in New Delhi, Samarasinghe faulted both parties for misinterpreting an MoU finalized at Hyderabad House, New Delhi on April 26, 2017 to involve India in ECT. Displaying a copy of the MoU that dealt with Indian role in major economic projects in Sri Lanka, Samarasinghe said that it didn’t make any reference to ECT, at all. The MoU referred to a container terminal in Colombo port as a joint venture including Indian investments, Samarasinghe said, adding that India could invest in the proposed West Container Terminal (WCT). Samarasinghe said Japan might be interested in investing in the WCT besides India.

In accordance with the MoU signed by Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema, in the presence of Modi and Wickremesinghe at Hyderabad House, New Delhi, the awarding of tender in respect of a ‘container terminal in Colombo’ was to take place on May 17, 2017.

Responding to queries, Samarasinghe accepted India’s concerns as regards the delay in the implementation of the port project as well as other programmes. He said that it would the responsibility of the relevant line ministries to accelerate them.

Samarasinghe pointed out that long before the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government sought to attract external investments to the Colombo port, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa had accommodated major private investments.

A consortium running the South Asia Gateway Terminal (SAGT) took over the operation and management of the Queen Elizabeth Quay (QCT) in Sept 1999 on a 30 year Build-Own-Transfer (BOT) contract. Samarasinghe said that SAGT secured 85 per cent of the partnership and the balance was held by the SLPA.

President Rajapaksa allowed Colombo International Container Terminals Ltd. (CICT), which is a joint venture involving China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited (85 per cent of the partnership) and SLPA the rest. The agreement is for a period of 35 years. Samarasinghe said that at the moment, only the CICT could accommodate the largest vessels and once the SLPA fully equipped the ECT, it, too, would be able to accommodate such vessels.

Currently, SLPA runs Jaya Container Terminal at the Colombo port.

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