By Shamindra Ferdinando
Top Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) spokesperson Mujibur Rahman yesterday (18) alleged that the Wickremesinghe-Rajapaksa government was continuing with controversial projects launched by the previous Gatabaya Rajapaksa administration.
The former SJB lawmaker said so, referring to the high profile ‘investment of South Asia Logistic Centres in the port of Colombo’, a project initiated during Rohitha Abeygunawardena’s tenure as the Ports and Shipping Minister.
Rahman said that they would like to know whether the Cabinet of Ministers had taken a decision on 26 July, 2021, consequent to a Cabinet memorandum, dated 21 July, 2021.
Rahman, who is the SJB Colombo mayoral candidate at the indefinitely postponed local body election, told The Island that on behalf of the main Opposition party, he submitted a set of questions in this regard to the Ports, Shipping and Aviation Ministry yesterday in terms of the Right to Information Act.
“We want to clarify the appointment of a Negotiation Committee as envisaged and determinations made by the aforementioned committee,” Rahman said after having handed over the RTI application. “We asked for the names of the members of the Negotiating Committee.”
RTI became law in 2017 following a campaign spearheaded by the likes of the Yahapalana Speaker Karu Jayasuriya and civil society.The one-time Colombo District UNP MP alleged that the SJB sought information regarding this particular deal as the party was aware 14 acres of land, situated within the area, coming under the purview of the Colombo port, was to be given to a Chinese project at terms highly unfavourable to Sri Lanka.
Rahman said that they also sought documents pertaining to the deal after Nimal Siripala de Silva succeeded Kalutara District MP Rohitha Abeygunawardena as Ports, Shipping and Aviation Minister. Pointing out that de Silva took over the Ministry after Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s ouster in July 2022, Rahman said that they asked for legal opinion expressed by the Attorney General as regards the BOT (Build-Operate and Transfer) agreement pertaining to the large infrastructure project.
According to a copy of the RTI application seen by The Island, Rahman has sought the observations made by President Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Finance, Economic Stabilization and National Policies Minister as regards this project that involved an investment of USD 150 mn and working capital of USD 25 mn. Accordingly, China Merchant Port is represented by Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT).
CICT is a joint venture between China Merchants Port Holdings Company Limited, a listed blue chip company in the Hong Kong stock exchange, and the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA). China holds 85% of the partnership whilst the balance 15% is being held by SLPA.Responding to another query, the former parliamentarian said that they were very much interested in the valuation of the land allocated for this project.