Change of govt. delays India-SL talks on ECT


By Shamindra Ferdinando

Talks between Sri Lanka and India over the latter seeking control of the Colombo harbour East Container Terminal (ECT) in terms of an MoU signed in April 2017 has been delayed due to the sacking of the UNP-led government.

President Maithripala Sirisena dismissed Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and the UNP-led administration on Oct 26.

Ports and Shipping Minister and SLFP spokesman Mahinda Samarasinghe yesterday said that planned talks couldn’t be held due to the current situation.

Minister Samarasinghe said that he would meet Indian High Commissioner Taranjit Singh Sandhu soon after the reconvening of parliament on Nov 14.

At the last cabinet meeting attended by President Sirisena and the then PM Wickremesinghe on Oct 23 before sacking of the government, the UNP leader had requested the final decision on the ECT delayed until they discussed the matter with the Indian High Commissioner, Samarasinghe said.

Samarasinghe presented a cabinet paper on Oct 16 to give the responsibility of running the ECT to the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA).

Samarasinghe said that Sri Lanka wouldn’t abide by an MOU finalized in April 2017 in New Delhi in respect of the ECT though the UNP erroneously asserted that it covered the facility.

The then Development Strategies and International Trade Minister Malik Samarawickrema and Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj signed the MoU on behalf of Sri Lanka and India, respectively.

According to Samarasinghe, President Sirisena was ready to accept Indian investment on West Container Terminal (WCT) of the Colombo harbour.

The Indian High Commission sources acknowledged the query raised by The Island on the ECT yesterday. Sources promised to get back to The Island soon.

Well informed sources pointed out that India had already told Sri Lanka that the 2017 April MoU covered the ECT which was to be operated as a joint venture.

Long before the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government sought to attract external investments to the Colombo port, President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga and Mahinda Rajapaksa had secured 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. SAGT secured 85 per cent of the partnership and the balance 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. At the moment, only the CICT can accommodate the largest vessels and once the SLPA fully equipped the ECT, it, too, will be able to accommodate such vessels.

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

Education and Higher Education Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakse told Derana 360 Monday night that India demanded Mattala airport and ETC at the Colombo harbour because the Wickremesinghe government handed over Hambantota port to China on a 99-year-lease.

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